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UN experts urge more action on inequalities that threaten peace and security, development, and human rights

GENEVA (4 December 2018) – UN human rights experts* have issued an urgent call to intensify efforts to combat economic inequality and discrimination. In a statement marking the 32nd anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development on 4 December, the experts stress the critical need to promote societies that are less unequal and to improve equality of opportunity and outcome within and between countries: “Inequality and discrimination are some of the defining challenges confronting the world today. They not only pose an obstacle to the realisation of the right to development, but also remain among the major threats to peace, security, and human rights worldwide. As such, they count among the strongest drivers for migration.

More than 30 years ago, the Declaration on the Right to Development recognised that inequality was inherently undermining human rights. Calling for more equitable development at the international and national levels, the Declaration highlights the importance of ensuring the fair distribution of the benefits of development and the equality of opportunity for all in their access to, inter alia, education, health services, food and housing. However, this remains an aspirational statement for a large part of the world’s population.

Today, we live in a world that is wealthier but also more unequal than ever before. Social and economic rights are being denied for too many people across the world, including the 800 million still living in extreme poverty. Income inequality is on the rise, with the richest 10 percent of the world population earning up to 40 percent of total global income. Some reports suggest that 82 percent of all wealth created in 2017 went to the top 1 percent, while the bottom 50 percent saw no increase at all.

Wide gaps between women and men’s economic empowerment and opportunity also remain pervasive across the globe. The inequalities women face in many area of their lives infringe upon their rights to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development.
Demands for development justice around the world have remained unanswered. Inequality in income, pay and wealth is plaguing developed and developing countries alike. According to OECD figures, income inequality in OECD countries is at its highest level for 50 years. The average income of the richest 10 percent of the population is about 9.5 times higher than that of the poorest 10 percent. Wealth inequality is even more pronounced, with the top 10 percent holding half of total wealth, while the bottom 40 percent holds only 3 percent. These disparities are even starker in developing countries and emerging economies.

Systemic inequalities embedded in the global economic architecture combined with structural discrimination – on the basis of sex, gender, age, disability, race, ethnicity, religion, and legal, economic or other status – mean that many individuals, minorities and groups remain marginalised and entirely excluded from development. This not only undermines human dignity but also the rule of law and the realisation of all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

In addition, inequalities in our global governance system mean that countries facing the greatest difficulties in implementing the right to development – especially the least developed countries, displacement-affected countries, landlocked developing countries and small-island developing States – are left behind and unable to enjoy the benefits of development on a fair and equitable basis. 

Even worse, some are being pushed further behind due to the disproportionate impact of adverse global trends such as climate change, environmental degradation, natural hazards or imposed austerity policies resulting from financial and economic crisis.

Overcoming inequality and combatting discrimination are not only a necessity, they are in fact legally binding obligations. Equality and non-discrimination are fundamental guarantees at the core of international human right law. States must respect their duties and combat the various forms of discrimination and inequalities in order to ensure a future that is based on just, inclusive and equitable development.

“Next year, States will report to the High-level Political Forum on ‘Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality’. We urge all stakeholders to seize this opportunity to promote the right to development, economic and social rights, and to strengthen advocacy for more equal societies,” the UN experts concluded.


* The UN experts: Mr. Saad AlfarargiSpecial Rapporteur on the right to development; Mr Obiora C. OkaforIndependent Expert on human rights and international solidarity; Mr. Livingstone Sewanyana, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order; Mr Dainius Puras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental healthMs. Koumbou Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Mr. David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; Mr Felipe González MoralesSpecial Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Mr Fernand De VarennesSpecial Rapporteur on minority issues; Ms. Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons; Ms. Ivana RadačIć, Chair, Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice.

The Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
For inquiries and media requests, please contact: Ms. Elena Dietenberger (+41 22 917 9836 / srdevelopment@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rightswww.standup4humanrights.org