7. What Does the New UN Human Rights Approach bring to the Struggle of the Poor? – III

The Participation Factor in Human Rights

  1. Getting Human Rights implemented means not only engaging development agencies, but also the government. For the latter to happen, the people (those whose Human Rights are being violated every day) will have to be mobilized, and that is a political decision.
  2. While there is a fair spectrum of policies, legislation, structures and programs pertaining to the realization of Human Rights already out there, there are still many people who do not receive these basic rights. Human Rights are not yet being applied for many. We thus need social mobilization efforts of a more aggressive type to fight for the enforcement of such rights. (28)
  3. Under the existing Human Rights Covenants, it is one of the state’s obligations to actually facilitate the mobilization of civil society, to make them powerful actors in the process. But we all know the difference between doing and paying lip service…
  4. Therefore, fostering a viable civil society is key for pressuring governments into doing what they solemnly signed and are supposed to do in the first place.
  5. In the process, capacity building alone is not enough. We need to empower people along the lines of their rights being upheld.
  6. All this, because only when those living in poverty are understood by all to be the most effective analysts of their own problems and agents of their own solutions is it possible to formulate effective and sustainable interventions. (19)
  7. In short, to succeed, we need citizens action in a broad two-way consultative process aimed at enforcing Human Rights. (5)

The Use of Indicators in Human Rights Work

  1. Tools need to be developed to assess the impact of Human Rights.
  2. Under te new paradigm, activists in every country must demand verifiable benchmarks be set to monitor the evolving status of people’s rights; and they also will have to struggle for the adoption of a framework law to be used as a major instrument to implement the national Human Rights strategy. (16)
  3. On the other hand, a responsible research community also has much to offer, particularly in terms of collecting information on rights violations and feeding the same back to communities directly. (11)
  4. They also need to again reanalyze all the information stored in official data banks of routine data collection systems to try to reinterpret that information from a Human Rights perspective, i.e. disaggregating it by gender, socio-economic group and other pertinent parameters that can uncover flagrant or hidden inequities and Human Rights violations.
  5. An example can illustrate this need for reinterpretation: We can no longer celebrate growths in GNP/capita while nutritional status is not improving — and using that to argue that malnutrition is not significantly a poverty (or income) related issue… As it turns out, child malnutrition can and should be used as a prime indicator to monitor Human Rights violations. Stunting is a good poverty indicator as is the percentage of household income spent on food. (29, 30)

The World Bank, or A Position Full of Contradictions on How to Look at The Human Rights Approach

[For your judgment, I am here quoting from the intervention of James Christopher Lovelace, WB vice-president, in the ACC/SCN Symposium on ‘The substance and politics of a Human Rights approach to food and nutrition policies and programs’, Geneva, April 1999. (13) (Emphases are mine)]

  1. ”The WB recognizes that the Human Rights approach is an important new narrative (…?) of the international development discourse…

(Granted,) Sustainable Development is impossible without Human Right. (But)This realization does not imply the World Bank’s lending and non-lending decisions will always be governed by Human Rights considerations…

For the WB, the measure of its commitment on ethical, political or rights issues does not lie in its pronouncements, but on how its resources have been applied. Its loans have helped turn rights into realities (…?)…

(On the other hand,) The Bank’s Articles of Agreement clearly state that in all its decisions, only economic considerations shall be relevant.(WB, 1996). This criterion has, at times, been applied in too narrow a fashion, sometimes with negative consequences…

The question (then) is whether the limited mandate of the WB would preclude it from adequately confronting the issue of Human Rights…

(No matter what,) The Human Rights framework still leaves us with the practical challenge to make choices…

(I think) The principles of Human Rights must exert an abiding influence on the design of the operational details of WB projects…

(Actually,) We need a division of labor: advocacy for respect of Human Rights should be the task of the UN agencies, bilateral donors and NGOs; providing resources for scaling up projects that fulfill Human Rights should be the role of the International Financial Institutions…

The WB’s specific role and contribution will (thus) continue to be to bring to the debate a measure of economic rigor required to systematically weigh alternative means towards fulfilling the states’ obligations towards Human Rights”…

  1. One critic of Mr Lovelace’s portrayal of the Bank’s stance countered that the World Bank had been instrumental in making it very difficult for governments to respect, protect, facilitate and fulfill their Human Rights obligations. It had repeatedly created constraints such that people in many countries had not had their rights fulfilled. As a matter of fact, he said, Structural Adjustment constantly creates difficulties and constraints for Human Rights. (2)
  2. To this, Mr Lovelace replied: “I would agree that structural adjustment hasn’t always considered the human dimension, and in some cases has clearly worked against it”. (13)

[The above is not presented as an exposee or a mockery; it just is to show how the Human Rights approach also forces institutions to take sides: and they are not always well prepared to do so. I am confident the Bank will find some astute way out (or in) on this issue as well].

Human Rights from the United Nations’ and the NGOs’ Perspective

  1. As is well known to most readers, in his 1997 Reform Proposal, the Secretary General of the UN called for all UN agencies to mainstream Human Rights in all their activities. (2)
  2. UN agencies are considered to be duty bearers particularly in terms of monitoring and publishing indicators of Human Rights worldwide. (11)
  3. It is also the UN’s role to hold states accountable for non-compliance with their specific Human Rights obligations. In such a function, UN agencies act as political mediators. UNDAF, the United Nations Development Assistance Framework, is a new tool set up by the organization at country level to strengthen inter-agency cooperation and coordination in this mediation. (9, 8)
  4. Moreover, since the Covenants already delineate both state and societal obligations, civil society, NGOs, the private sector and others in the national and international community also are bona-fide duty bearers. (5)
  5. So, the more society is organized as a myriad of institutions that respect, protect and fulfill Human Rights and that act locally to assure the realization of these rights, the more we can expect progress in the future. (5).
  6. The role of civil society groups is to, among other, act as pressure groups. Therefore, to guarantee gains, civil society will have to continue its strong sociopolitical mobilization effort in a bid to hold national and international institutions with obligations in the realization of Human Rights accountable. (8)
  7. This, because development cooperation (ODA) does not automatically contribute to the respect of Human Rights. Civil society will thus have to oppose development activities that are ill-conceived and even counterproductive in Human Rights terms. Ergo, development agencies will need to fix their sights more on the Human Rights dimension of their work and civil society will have to create and sustain the pressure for this to happen. (31)
  8. The NGO community can indeed play a major role in this. Among other, they will have to:
  • keep asking the right questions that seek information on violations/fulfillment of Human Rights,
  • submit written statements (plus photo and video documentation when appropriate) to authorities and to watchdog groups on their assessments and findings,
  • follow up on corrective measures taken (or not taken),
  • detect bad faith in the implementation of Human Rights obligations, and publicly denounce this fact.
  1. Ideally, all development agencies should, in the near future, develop internal mechanisms to ensure that their own policies and programs de-facto execute Human Rights obligations.(2)
  2. In the meantime, the danger exists that organizations use Human Rights language as non-committal rhetoric just to feel good and ‘move with the tide’.
  3. Finally here, we still need to clarify the role of the for-profit private sector in the Human Rights discourse. Historically, small local enterprises have not been a threat to Human Rights; Transnational Corporations have. Now they need to be held accountable.

Little has been written on this topic so far. (6, 18)

Some breakthrough will be needed here. I declare my incompetence on this issue.

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