Ministerial Declaration Negotiations: A North-South Divide

In the previous blog post, Right to Development vs. Human Rights-Based Approach to Development, I posed an open-ended question: Is the debate between these two developmental ideologies largely abstract and rhetorical or are there economic implications to each approach? In the following blog, I will recount the discussions that took place during the Ministerial Declaration (outcome document for the ongoing High-Level Political Forum) negotiations, many of which revolved around the development/human rights dispute.

The MD negotiations serve to prove that the divide between the ICCPR and ICESCR still exists between the global north and global south. Countries representing the global south are referred to as the G77 in the UN context, which is comprised of a group of 134 countries (plus China). An Egyptian delegate represented the Group of 77 during the MD negotiations. In the four days of deliberations, there was a contentious schism between the G77 agenda and the priorities of other global north delegates. With respect to human rights and environmental protections issues, such as gender equality and global warming, respectively, the dialogue between the G77 representative and representatives from global north countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States, Israel and European Union Member States (of which there are 28), was derisive and divisive. Hostilities seemed to escalate whenever delegates were providing recommendations on paragraphs related to development practices and human rights principles.

The G77 delegate voiced the need for developed states to provide increasing development assistance to developing states. He argued that developing nations have differing responsibilities in terms of ensuring equal rights to all citizens and that national opinions should reign supreme over the notion of universality to guarantee state sovereignty. He also maintained the stance that developed nations have a greater responsibility than developing nations in matters related to climate change and environmental stewardship given the lack of resources and capacity for global south states to meet SDG targets, which touches on the concept of progressive realization, or a States’ compliance with its obligations assessed in light of its resources.

Often, progressive realization takes into account a country’s capacities only with respect to economic, social and cultural rights, while states are obligated to implement decisions and policies immediately when it comes to civil and political rights. The G77 representative contended that progressive realization must apply to both classifications of rights (those in the ICESCR and the ICCPR). The G77 and Russian delegates gave precedence to the development pillar while obfuscating peace and security and human rights when recommending new language or amending existing language in the document.    

In spite of the G77 and Russia’s opposition to including language on gender equality (ex// promising equal rights to women and girls as those provided to men and boys) and other human rights parlance, the overwhelming majority of delegates professed the need for including such language. Additionally, there were a few heated debates over specific language alluding to territories under foreign occupation (i.e. Palestine aka West Bank and Gaza, among others), during which Israel and the U.S. were vehement dissenters and the G77 argued in favor. Furthermore, the G77 (and Russia) repeatedly attempted to omit sentences within the document that listed stakeholders and marginalized groups.   

In the second week of the HLPF, the Ministerial Declaration process continues. The co-facilitators (Jamaica and Austria) have handed over the leadership to the President of the ECOSOC Council. A silence procedure took place and the silence persisted for the first few days of the HLPF, until the silence was broken by CANZ, which is urging the President of the ECOSOC Council to include more language on gender equality and climate change, and by the U.S. and Israel, who are refusing to concede language regarding foreign occupation. The final MD document will be adopted today, July 19th and tomorrow, July 20th.

The issues were finally resolved and the MD was adopted by the HLPF on Wednesday, 19th July, and by the Economic and Social Council on Thursday, 20th July 2017.