During the last half of the twentieth century, international human rights became a worldwide and increasingly important political and legal project. After the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the ensuing four decades were mainly concerned with standard-setting and the development of a system of legal instruments. In contrast, and since the 1990s, we have witnessed a more structured focus on the implementation of human rights throughout the world. In recent times, there have also been enthusiastic efforts to address the issue of ‘development’ in human rights terms, and debates, research and policy initiatives have emerged around the concepts of ‘the right to development’ and a ‘human rights-based approach to development’. A key actor in these debates has been the UN Independent Expert on the Right to Development, the Indian economist, Professor Arjun Sengupta, who has made significant contributions in making human rights as central pillars in our conceptual and analytical understanding of development as a rights-focused normative concept.
Over the past few years, the international development discourse on human rights and development has emphasised the conceptual and operational linkages that exist between human rights and poverty reduction. The abolition of poverty is also increasingly being spoken of as a matter of international redistributive justice, and as a human rights problem. An important reflection of this was the UN Millennium Declaration (2000), where world leaders reaffirmed their commitment to do their utmost to help individuals and groups facing ‘the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty’ and committed themselves ‘to making the right to development a reality for everyone and to freeing the entire human race from want’. A further manifestation of this commitment was the appointment – by the UN – of an Independent Expert on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty. Since completion of his term as the Independent Expert on the Right to Development, this position has been occupied by Arjun Sengupta from 2004. Thus, the appointment of Professor Sengupta in two consecutive mandates as Independent Expert offers a unique opportunity to address the challenge of poverty reduction in the context of work on rights-based approaches to development.
Research will be organised within the structures of SUM’s research area on Poverty and Development in the 21st Century headed by Dr. Dan Banik, in close collaboration with the NCHR/the Law Faculty Research Group on Human Rights and Development headed by Dr. Bård Anders Andreassen. Extending and formalising the University of Oslo’s relationship with Professor Sengupta over the next three years will facilitate topical research on the notion of rights-based approaches to poverty eradication, and the use of law – including human rights law – in combating poverty. The project aims at studying these topics in empirical contexts, discussing research results in conferences and publishing and disseminating its findings in refereed journals and books. We also anticipate that Professor Sengupta’s position as a member of the High Level Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor will represent an interesting and fruitful link to global development discourses in this field.
Together with Dr. Andreassen and Dr. Banik, Professor Sengupta will share responsibility to initiate and take part in organising a series of three international (but regionally-based) conferences addressing experiences, opportunities and constraint on human rights and rights-based approaches to poverty eradication in the period 2007-2010, with local academic institutions as responsible partners. These conferences are planned to take place in October 2007 (Uganda/Malawi), December 2008 (India) and March 2010 (Hong Kong). They may be viewed as mechanisms or tools for producing and exchanging research on human rights and poverty with the aim of disseminating findings through international publishing and encouraging relevant stakeholders in the development community. The conference in Africa will address experiences of rights-based approaches in a selected number of countries, including Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa; the second conference will address issues in South Asia, examining experiences in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal; and the third conference in Hong Kong will highlight Chinese experiences and those of selected South East Asian countries.
These conferences will be organised in co-operation with local academics. Participants at the above-mentioned conferences will consist of regional scholars and practitioners together with a team of international experts on the topic.