464. USING HUMAN RIGHTS ONLY RHETORICALLY MERELY PROVIDES A PATINA OF LEGITIMACY TO WHAT IS A VACUOUS UNDERSTANDING OF DEVELOPMENT. (Alicia Yamin)

Human rights: Food for the wrong use of a thought

Human Rights Reader 464

-He who controls the definition controls the policy.

1. The current main beneficiaries of development are people who have political influence, have credit in a bank, have education and have access to the ears of power and to land. So, on the one hand, development does not add value to the common people (!); on the other, people are producers, as well as consumers. Given favorable social, political and economic conditions, people will indeed produce more resources than they consume.*
*: Underdevelopment thus primarily is a structure set up by the center to avoid that the subjugated peoples think for themselves, feel with their own heart and walk with their own legs. (Eduardo Galeano, Apuntes para Fin de Siglo)

Would you not agree?

2. Because development is not value free (or rather a ‘technocratic art’) in isolation from ideology, Northern-led development tends to focus on what is exotic rather than indigenous, what is mechanical rather than human, what is chemical rather than organic, what is marketed rather than consumed, what is male-based rather than what is female-based.

3. The shifting current geopolitical context with its resurgence of power politics is devastating what was left of consensus-based processes of decision-making in development**. To begin with, the pervasive narrative of ‘hyper-valuing’ the role of the private commercial sector in development creates a very weak negotiation context for public interest CSOs and social movements, particularly because of the attempts to ‘seduce’ the private sector invariably result in the actual seduction of the State.
**: So, unless power is dispersed, it will always remain dangerous.

4. But things do get complicated further. Private ownership is increasingly shifting from physical assets to financial capital (separating the ownership of physical capital from the ownership of financial capital, progressively shifts the center of gravity of the economy away from production and consumption and towards financial speculation). This being so, the ‘private sector question’ is often wrongly posed.

5. It is probably true that the engagement of the private commercial sector is to hold many of the keys to the success in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Development. But the premise for such an engagement needs to be the recognition that the current hegemonic economic framework is responsible for unacceptable levels of exploitation of people, communities and of natural resources that are damaging our ecosystems and continue to reproduce a global neocolonial division of labor that relegates many developing countries to the lower end of the global organization of production. Furthermore, this framework (that comes in many forms) thrives on patriarchal structures that continue to exploit women’s social reproduction role. (Stefano Prato) …So, are we in for more of the same?

Important: Life never confronts us with the many uneven power circumstances which clearly lead us on a path to total oblivion

6. Instead, life puts us in circumstances in which we have the option and the capacities to ‘manage’ what is happening. It is us who let ourselves feel defeated by adverse circumstances; we see them as insurmountable, as if we cannot do anything to overcome them. But there is nothing further from the truth than that. Do not let anybody sell you truths that are not such. Only things that we reason-out and plan-for eventually fall under our control. Do not wait till you are being oppressed, to clearly see the face of injustice –only to act then. Be aware that those in power easily forget all they had gone through and learned before they got into a position of power and then become perpetrators of atrocities. (Laura Esquivel, La Ley del Amor)

7. The fever of power, the pursuit of glory and of transcendence badly erode development workers’ ideals and can result in their being forced to abandon the most just human rights (HR) causes –and this, you may have noticed, is always done by those in power in the abused name of the-common-good-and-the-best-interest-of-the-country. (Leonardo Padura, La Novela de mi Vida)

Foreign aid has not solved and is not solving poverty as an overarching problem

-To a (too) large extent, we are not even catching up: We still use well proven 20th century findings to (way too late) address 21st century issues. (adapted from Harold Alderman)
-Foreign aid is usually harmful, because it makes recipient governments more accountable to foreign donors than to their own people.

8. The real problem with the ‘aid effectiveness’ craze that pervades the development literature is that it narrows our focus down to micro-interventions at a local level that yield results that can be mostly observed in the short term. At first glance, this approach may seem reasonable and even enticing. But it tends to ignore the broader macroeconomic, political and institutional drivers of impoverishment and underdevelopment.*** Aid projects may yield satisfying micro-results, but they generally do little to change the systems that produce the problems in the first place. What we need instead is to tackle the real root causes of poverty, inequality and climate change. (Fifteen leading economists, including three Nobel winners in The Guardian)
***: Foreign (and domestic) funding for truly HR-based development initiatives is painfully scarce and this will only change when funders/funding provide/s core support that allows grantee organizations, representing claim holders, to make their own locally-relevant decisions and to forcefully demand the needed changes. (adapted from Barbara Klugman)

9. Taken to the field level, development NGOs have locked themselves into a pattern of projects that stimulate a lot of activity, achieve great results on a micro level, but contribute pitifully little to systemic change. This is a huge failing since we were meant to ‘make poverty history’ as far back as 2005: We have not. Unfortunately, individual donors are not asking why.

10. Basically, a paradigm shift is needed. Especially international NGOs cannot go on delivering projects that leave the root of the problem unmoved. This is an uncomfortable truth, not just for the development NGOs that have been running projects in the developing world for several decades, but also for their supporters and donors. It begs the question: Why, if we have been giving billions of dollars in aid for over 40 years, are more than half of the world’s population still living below the
poverty line? (The Glacier Trust)

11. Since aid projects yield satisfying (?) micro-results they generally do little to change the systems at the base of the problems in the first place. As said, what we need instead is to tackle the real root causes of poverty, inequality, HR violations, and climate change.

12. Donors increasingly want to see more ‘impact’ for their money so practitioners in the field are searching for ways to make their projects more effective as politicians want more financial accountability behind aid budgets. One popular option has been to audit projects for results. The argument is that assessing ‘aid effectiveness’ –a buzzword now ubiquitous in the development literature– will help decide what to focus-on.

Bottom line

13. Since development still ultimately means people’s liberation, social justice, HR and equality (Jan Pronk), does the diplomatic merry-go-round in UN agencies matter any more? Why would social movement leaders expect these intergovernmental organizations to resolve problems that these agencies themselves have partly caused? Without a commitment from the world’s rich countries, it is very hard to see how the multilateral institutions will function exerting their clear pro-people mandate. Affected member states too often put their heads in the sand on this. What public interest civil society organizations and social movements are after is accountability as relates to multilateral organizations’ obligations, especially the social determination elements of the Sustainable Development Goals.

14. I am not leaving out the issue of the grossly unfair multilateral trading system: The same urgently also needs to change if the world is to respond to the challenges of climate change, economic inequality, HR violations, social exclusion, and the growing monopoly control of transnational corporations across the board. There are enough rules telling countries what they may not do. It is time to engage in the struggle for trade rules that give countries a positive agenda to promote truly sustainable development. (Tim Wise, Sophia Murphy) The change is not going to come from above!

15. Therefore, I would say we have deceived our students worldwide only making them believe they are learning key issues about the ins and outs of a HR-responsive sustainable development. (Mirentxu Anaya) Are our universities using human rights only rhetorically…?

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
Your comments are welcome at schuftan@gmail.com
www.claudioschuftan.com

Postscript/Marginalia
-Stretched end-to-end in dollar bills, poor countries’ foreign debt would now reach from here to the sun, no less than 93 million miles. Admitting at last that debt is a development rather than a banking problem would be a major advance. (Daniel Nelson)

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