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Food for an out of context thought


Human Rights Reader 351


In the right context, human rights are relevant to all dimensions of sustainable development. They must shape the purpose and content of all its goals, its targets and the metrics used to measure progress, as well as the way duty bearer commitments are implemented and accounted for. (CESR) But is this the case in the post 2015 development agenda under discussion?


Development blues


Inequalities are pressing at the seams of our social fabric. (Christine Lagarde)


  1. At present, in the development arena, the so-called ‘international community’ has proclaimed itself as a replacement of the UN. Media of dominant powers keep repeating the phrases: “The International Community believes this or that, decides this or that”. Looking more closely, we discover that the ‘international community’ they refer to is made up of the United States, the European Union and two or three handpicked countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. (Or, as P. Craig Roberts says: What is the international community? Is it the assemblage of US and Europe’s plus its vassal states?) Actually what is required is the resurrection of human rights in the UN, the only acceptable frame for the expression of the international community. (Samir Amin)


  1. More and more today, in-the-distorted-way-things-are, higher growth rates correlate with increasing inequalities, increasing sections of the population being rendered vulnerable and no decreases in discrimination. International summits end up reiterating the same problems rather than identifying new solutions that break with the ruling paradigm. Governments and international NGOs seem to be celebrating not the achievement and follow through of any decisions, but the fact that a certain summit took place and the fact that ‘it provided opportunities for encounters and for networking’. The most central of issues are over-and-over systematically left to be addressed en passant, with no really relevant break-through resolutions and decisions made. Equity, equality, political issues, structural change, empowerment (especially of women and youth), the need for more policy space for developing countries, debt forgiveness*, issues of global economic governance, and the need for a new economic order and financial architecture are rarely touched upon. (SID) No surprise that only shy and woolly recommendations come out. In sum, we live in a stage of development where promises are deceivingly stimulating, but achievements in human rights (HR) are, at best, worrisome.**

*:   Debt is considered manageable for poor countries if it remains below 40% of GDP. (F+D 47:4, Dec. 2010)

**: Most people who work in development jobs do not have much commitment to HR and lack real de-facto political clarity about them; so the world keeps turning and only little, non-quantum changes are achieved. (Adapted from the poet Jerome Koenig)


Looking with hindsight should instill in us a greater sense of urgency


  1. The first generation of development economics (1950 onwards) stressed state-led development. The second generation (1970s onwards) stressed a greater market orientation. Now the focus (of the ‘international community’…???) is on communities. Or is it? But the problem is that when inequalities become too great, it is claimed the idea of community cohesion becomes more elusive. (R. Arons) So, just claiming the obvious, namely that greater equality is needed, simply does not fit the bill of what is really needed. The times call for less rhetoric and more action. (A. Arora)


  1. No more taking advice! Advice pitched mainly by technocrats in the capitals of the North to technocrats in the field in the South –with little or no concern for how such advice may be applied (and less so communicated) to citizen as claim holders.***

No more centralization of development functions! Functions that keep chaos and instability (decentralization at least offers the hope of greater incentives leading to more stability).

No more development merely as a relief effort! Development is a human right –one that is too often violated primarily by not engaging actively with communities.

***: Many community members, long away from the classroom, will lack the patience (rightly so) to digest a lecture from somebody who does not live the problems of underdevelopment first hand. They favor crafting the content of development messages themselves so as to ensure they spread and achieve real grassroots ownership. (F+D 50:4, December 2013)


Grandiose top-down policies mostly do ruin initiatives born at the local level


-Top-down mostly means normative, i.e., such policies seek to align value systems and standards of multiple technical actors and build consensus. But do they really align and build …or do they impose…?

-There is a danger in top-down policy making when ‘reason’ does not represent an intelligence that understands, but only an ignorance that refutes and argues baselessly. (Albino Gomez)


  1. Over the years, economic development policy making, because it has been imposed from the top, has mainly been an exercise in the-theory-of-second-best-social-policy-making. Policies might have had some kind of an internal rationale but, by different agencies not really communicating with each other, they were applied differently. As a result, not only delays have occurred, but work has been implemented at cross purposes –and still the urgent social improvements they were supposed to address are not being addressed, particularly because proper participation and representation was not considered. (F+D 50:4, December 2013)


  1. Because of this, we have been hearing more and more calls for policy coherence. The question is coherence for whom and for what? Often this has meant government/private sector coherence. And this is not what is needed! Actually, the lack of coherence is not the main problem. The main problem is that we, in public interest civil society, are not the owners of policy making –we are not even participants. More frequently than us, the private sector has been influencing policy, often contradicting policies put forward by us so we end up being the jedis fighting Dart Vader, i.e., Luke Skywalker fighting The Force. (Well, in the film, The Force is actually defeated…).


  1. We all know that moves to give the private sector an increased role in ‘delivering development’ are not being matched by efforts to, once and for all, holding businesses and corporations more accountable to their HR responsibilities. (CESR)


The lingering questions


  1. How then are the people to remain, or become, sovereign if they are in no position even to identify who, or what, is making the decisions that affect their lives? Democracy has in no way kept up with the pace of globalization. Whether nationally or internationally, authority is exercised without the consent of the governed. The people are given few tools and close to no information to understand who is actually running what. Corporations exercise power without taking up corresponding responsibility. Whereas voters can eventually sanction governments and throw them out of office, corporations are not only beyond popular reach through votes, but collect spurious privileges such as ‘personhood’ in the USA or full status in the United Nations. (Susan George)


  1. So, no more feeding into the governmental processes? In good part the answer here would be yes. Instead, feeding into the grassroots processes has the greater potential to bring us right where we want to be, i.e., to put HR at the center. As an un-postponable starting point, then, massive HR learning efforts are needed so as to build the capacities of claim holders and duty bearers for the path to be urgently pursued to use the appropriate process-centered metrics/measurements to assess progress towards the progressive realization of HR. The focus simply needs to shift to ‘where the rubber hits the road’. A change of paradigm is needed for this –a new paradigm that will be a true tectonic shift and that absolutely requires understanding HR beyond being only a new legal paradigm. It is much more than this!


A call to action


  1. The post 2015 development agenda preparation process shows us how little we, in public interest civil society, are able to influence the overall ‘international development community’ to embark in the so badly needed change of paradigm. Over and over, we face resistance from powerful nation states influenced by the interests of the corporate sector.


  1. This resistance is at work despite the development agendas at local, national and global levels having been increasingly marked by a series of failures attributable to decreasing social cohesion and processes of social disintegration. Religious, linguistic, historical and ethnic dimensions of identity are becoming not only a dividing element, but provide the motivation and justification for social segregation, discrimination and violence. Apart from the identification of these issues, there has been no discourse evolving on development strategies countering these challenges. This is one urgent reason why we need to work towards the affirmation and understanding of HR globally as the key element of urgently needed inclusion, as well as a means of everybody internalizing the impact and costs of non-action for the future of our grandchildren. I repeat: As an un-postponable starting point, massive HRL efforts are needed so as to build the capacities for the path to be urgently pursued at both national and global level. (W. Lichem)


  1. Making us aware and repeating over-and-over that the problems we face are complex and difficult to solve is not helpful. We have what we have and we are all expected to come up with solutions. Let the time not pass, for now is the time to act. The times definitely do not call for procrastination or despair, but call for action. I make an impassionate call for colleagues to become more literate in (and take up) the HR framework to development.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



-The concept of ‘paradigm’ involves the interrelated concepts of ontology, epistemology and methodology. [Ontology –What is out there to know?, Epistemology –What and how can we know about it?, Methodology –How can we go about acquiring knowledge? (What procedures should we use to acquire more of the needed HR knowledge…)].

-In line with the old adage, in HR work, you should never let a good crisis go to waste.

-There is light at the end of the tunnel: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr) or “Facing the old society, with its economic miseries and its delirious politics, a new society is on the rise”. (Karl Marx, 1870)

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