“Under the Aegis of Man”: The Right to Development and the Origins of the New International Economic Order

On September 23, 1966, the Senegalese foreign minister Doudou Thiam gave an impassioned speech to fellow delegates assembled in New York for the opening of the 21st Session of the United Nations General Assembly.It began as a reflection on the preceding twenty years of UN history. Despite some modest progress that the UN had achieved in meeting its three primary objectives—the maintenance of peace; the liberation of colonized peoples; and the economic and social development of mankind—this period was more notably exemplified by failures and setbacks: the war in Southeast Asia; the failure of decolonization in Southern Rhodesia and South Africa; and the failure to meet the goals of the UN’s first “Development Decade.”2

It was on this third point that Thiam ruminated for the remainder of his speech. The achievement of political and legal sovereignty by newly decolonized states did not resolve the existing imbalance of power between the developing and developed worlds. Thiam cited growing inequality in the share of global income between developed and underdeveloped countries: in 1938, the income disparity was 15:1; by 1966 it was 35:1, and projected to be 40:1 by 2000.

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