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  • Writer's pictureManushya Foundation

Manushya's call at the Asia regional consultation of the UNSR on the right to development

BANGKOK, Thailand -- On 12 and 13 December 2018, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to development held an Asia regional consultation on the practical implementation of the right to development to identify and promote good practices in advancing development through human rights based approach. Manushya Foundation was invited to attend the consultation, including for a presentation at a thematic roundtable session on promoting equality in development.

At the consultation, Manushya’s Senior Adviser Prabindra Shakya highlighted two key challenges relating to disparities in distribution of income or wealth and harms of development disproportionate to benefits - particularly for marginalised groups with regards to implementing the right to development in Asia. He also called for attention to weak accountability mechanisms for remedy of those harms and increasing limitations to access remedial institutions in Asian countries, specifically focusing in Thailand and Mekong countries where Manushya has been primarily working. Manushya also made a detailed submission to the Special Rapporteur to describe those challenges, share few good practices from Asia and globally and provide some practical recommendations for implementation of human rights-based approach to development.

On unequal distribution of income/wealth, Prabindra shared that the Asia region as a whole is regressing in reducing inequalities as reported by the UN Economic and Social Commission for the Asia and the Pacific. South East Asia region even has increasing inequalities where despite rapid economic growth, distribution remains vastly unequal. That perpetuates an elite ruling society, whereby the rich control the State powers and further increase their wealth. Thailand presents a case in point which has reportedly been ranked in the Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Databank 2018[i] as the world’s most unequal country in terms of wealth distribution, followed by India and Russia. In 2018, the richest 1% Thais owned 66.9% of the country’s wealth compared to 58% in 2016. Similarly, in Laos, which is attracting increasing capital for economic growth exploiting its natural resources, the growth has concentrated in urban areas and rural poverty is three times as high than that in urban areas.

Further, with regards to benefits vis-a-vis harms of development, Prabindra stressed that development projects often cause greater harms than benefits to the local communities. Those communities usually comprise of groups already marginalised in the overall development of the country such as indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, whereas the investors and developers get most of the benefits. A 2018 baseline study by the Manushya Foundation found that communities in Thailand are neglected in the policy making and implementation of natural resource management, resulting in adverse development and environmental impacts. While the communities have little or no say or control over the identification, design, implementation and benefits sharing of the projects, the disparity between the actors benefitting and those negatively affected is further demonstrated when they claim redress for the harms, such as in the cases of the Moh Power Plant in Thailand[i] and the Heinda mine in Myanmar.[ii]

Finally, lack of access to justice and strong institutions in the Asia region when the affected communities and their defenders call for remedy is another area of concern, as highlighted in Manushya’s submission. UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific reports stressed that it is the second critical area where the region is regressing. Particularly alarming is the reprisals against environmental and indigenous human rights defenders by State agencies and corporate actors which can be seen particularly in Thailand whereby State agencies, State owned enterprises and corporations are filing lawsuits against defenders to discourage their legitimate actions to advance human rights (SLAPP cases).

In order to above the challenges, Manushya Foundation urged the Special Rapporteur on the right to development to consider the following recommendations, among others:

  1. States need to implement effective structural economic and social reforms to guarantee equitable distribution of benefits of growth to all sections of population and reduce inequalities among them. They should formulate development strategies through participatory process with primacy or priority to the needs of the marginalised populations, including women, rural poor, indigenous peoples and minorities, among others.

  2. The development approach of public-private-partnership should be revised as public-community-private partnership (PCPP) whereby the communities are at the center of development projects in terms of control and benefits sharing.

  3. States should require in law conduct of community-led or based comprehensive independent assessments of environmental, social and human rights impacts, including at transboundary level as needed, to undertake development project.

  4. States should enact laws to require businesses conduct effective human rights due diligence to address their impacts as well as to establish criminal liability for businesses that violate human rights in and outside the home States.

  5. The right to development for indigenous peoples should respect their right to self-determination and that to develop their own development priorities and require their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).

Further, Manushya contributed to the discussions at the consultation, including for negotiations of the outcome document, in order to call for attention to transboundary harms of development projects such as hydropower dams in the Mekong river and ASEAN Economic Corridors as well as the need of greater accountability of and access to remedies by international finance institutions and bilateral and multilateral development agencies funding development projects.

The new commitments, including from the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change, have provided a new momentum for the protection, promotion and fulfilment of the right to development at national and international levels. In this context, the Special Rapporteur has organized four consultations on the right to development, inviting civil society organizations to participate in identifying and promoting good practices in implementing the right to development at local, regional and international levels. Manushya hopes its contribution would effectively inform the final outcome document and provide sustainable solutions to better the rights and lives of marginalised communities it serves.

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