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Reviewed by:
  • The Right to Development and International Economic Law: Legal and Moral Dimensions by Isabella D. Bunn
  • Khurshid Iqbal, Adjunct Professor (bio)
Isabella D. Bunn, The Right to Development and International Economic Law: Legal and Moral Dimensions (Oxford and Portland, Oregon, Hart Publishing 2012), 297 Pages, ISBN: 978-1-84113-600-4.

In a 1986 Declaration, the United Nations (UN) proclaimed the right to development (RTD) as a human right, amid political wrangling and jurisprudential debate. According to the Declaration, the RTD is an individual as well as a collective right. There is little jurisprudential controversy regarding the RTD as an individual right. However, the collective nature of the RTD is much more complex. While legally, the RTD is not part of the international law, the Declaration, which is mainly a compromise document, links the realization of the RTD with a duty of cooperation among states. International cooperation, the Declaration further provides, should ensure development and remove obstacles to development. Since the 1960s, developing countries wanted the creation of a new international economic order that would recognize their economic inequality and help them create an enabling environment to promote human rights. Initially, developed countries ardently opposed the notion of the RTD as a collective right. The main reason behind their opposition lies in what may be called a conscious effort to avoid the accrual of an international legal obligation. The efforts made during the last two decades appear to be heading in a direction of international cooperation, though such efforts fall short of legal recognition of a duty to cooperate. Obviously, developed countries avoid legal obligation. The book under review—The Right to Development and International Economic Law: Legal and Moral Dimensions—examines the international aspect of the RTD in relation to international economic law and policy. It also explores the legal and moral dimensions of the RTD.

The book is divided in two parts. Part one examines the fundamental issues pertaining to the notion of the RTD. Part two analyzes the role of the RTD in international economic law. It explores the challenges of globalization and contextualizes the principles of the RTD in international economic law, seeking to discuss policy implications of the RTD for [End Page 267] an international trading system, financing for development, and corporate social responsibility. The book claims that it mainly draws “on both legal reasoning and moral reflection” and “argues that engagement with international economic law is indispensable to any meaningful realization of the [RTD].”1 “The book [also] argues in favour of leveraging the [RTD] to promote global legal reform.”2

The book discusses certain key legal issues surrounding the RTD. They are the sources (Chapter 2.I) and substance of the RTD (Chapter 6), the RTD as a human right (Chapter 4), meaning of “development” (Chapter 5), and the legal status of the Declaration in customary international law (Chapter 7). A rich literature has been developed on these issues. Hence, they are not new. However, an examination of such issues is inevitable in a research monograph like the one under review. The main contribution of the book thus lies in presenting an understanding of the moral basis of the RTD (Chapter 3).

Why is an investigation into the moral basis of the RTD extremely important? Isabella Bunn aptly answers: “[A]n appreciation of the moral foundations of the [RTD] is essential to both the normative elaboration and the practical realization of the right.”3 It is quite interesting to learn from Bunn’s analysis that Christian theology has played a pioneering role in the emergence and evolution of the RTD. Bunn successfully links Christian social ethics with globalization and human rights, arguing that in a world of greater inequality, several RTD themes, such as “human dignity, equality, care for the poor, promotion of the common good, pursuit of justice, [and] solidarity” play an important role in carving out an international order in which all human rights could be realized.4 Bunn builds the ethical context of the RTD on three main premises: first, the active role of the church-related groups in the origination of the RTD concept, even to the extent of their involvement in the UN efforts to shape...


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pp. 267-272
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