9. The Role of Human Rights in Politicizing Development Ethics, Development Assistance and Development Praxis – I

“The vast majority of humanity just has the right to see, to hear… and to remain silent.”

– Eduardo Galeano

A Touch of History

  1. The newly emerging Human Rights framework in development work comes as a reivindication to old time radicals who have been advocating and fighting for a more political approach to the ‘maldevelopment’ the second half of the 20th century has witnessed.
  2. Gone are the heydays of Latin American revolutionary fervor and of African Socialism, of President Allende’s Unidad Popular and of President Nyerere’sArusha Declaration and Ujamaa. But the role of an avant-garde remains the same: to cause fermentation. (1)
  3. Historically, countries in the South first saw the arrival of Northern-led infrastructure/public works builders who attempted to set up the backbone of Third World economies. Then, in the 1970’s, came basic human needs backers who attempted to provide people with their bare bones necessities for survival. Now, we have the greens reminding us of the environmental limits of development. But, so far, these approaches only weakly touched the political dimension, failing to tackle it as the principal stumbling block to genuine people’s development.
  4. I have personally been a witness to this snail-paced process of politicization of development work; I have seen it evolve in slow, incremental steps over a period of roughly 25 years. My experience has mostly been in the field of nutrition.
  5. My journey started with the rise and fall of the ‘Food and Nutrition Planning’ era from 1974 on. At the time, many of us critiqued that newfound panacea to solve the problems of malnutrition in the world. (2, 2a)

It eventually died a quiet death. Systems analysis techniques and models, devoid of a political vision/ perspective, simply led to a dead end alley. It took us years to figure that out.

  1. Furthering the fight for a more genuine grassroots development, a second breakthrough, to me, came in 1984. At that time, the first steps were taken in coming up with what later became the ‘Conceptual Framework of the Causes of Malnutrition’ with its different levels of causality. (3) The accompanying AAA approach (assessment/analysis/action) came as a consequent companion to such a causal analysis.

It called for the entire AAA process to be carried out by the beneficiaries themselves. (The AAA approach contended that only when those living in poverty are understood 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. (4).

  1. As is now well known, the Conceptual Framework’s basic causes focus more proactively on the people’s access-to and control-over the resources they need to develop and on the structural underpinnings of underdevelopment. The Conceptual Framework/AAA approach thus represents the acceptance of a dialectical approach that looks at the major and minor contradictions in society that result in worldwide ill-health and malnutrition of women and children as an outcome. The adoption of this approach was, therefore, a step towards further politicization of the development paradigm.

It called for a dialectical unity of knowledge and action. (5)

  1. In 1990, the Conceptual Framework/AAA approach actually became UNICEF’s flagship approach to solving the problems of malnutrition the world over. For a long period thereafter, the international public nutrition community got side-tracked and concentrated mostly on acting on the underlying causes of malnutrition insisting though that each of them (food, health and care) was necessary, but not sufficient. Not surprisingly, such a shortcut approach ended up being “too timid and too narrow”. (4) Again, it took us years to figure that out.

In a way, this was a comparable phenomenon to that which, a decade earlier chose reductionistic approaches to PHC such as GOBI or GOBI/FF (growth monitoring, oral rehydration salts, breastfeeding, immunizations, food security and family planning) that led us only half-way to ‘Health For All 2000’. (Moreover, a sizable portion of the world’s nutrition community got more heavily involved in the micronutrients field -and away from the Protein-Energy Malnutrition field– which also de-emphasized the political aspects of combating malnutrition.) (6).

  1. Roughly ten years after the Conceptual Framework/AAA approach was launched, came the (complementary) ‘Human Rights Approach’ encompassing:
  • a revival of the role of the Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in development work,
  • a drive to explicit ‘poverty redressal objectives’ in development work making it paramount that we need to work with the poor as protagonists, and
  • a further bid to more concretely operationalize the newly approved rights such as those enshrined in the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC), the Right to Food, and the (upcoming) Right to Development.

The New Discourse

  1. The main areas of concern of this Human Rights approach are eight:
  • Population and Gender,
    · Mortality and Fertility,
    · Health,
    · Education,
    · Income and Employment,
    · Habitat and Infrastructure,
    · The Environment,
    · Human Security, and
    · Social Justice.
  1. Because Human Rights derive from the dignity and worth inherent in the human person, when deprived of rights, a wo/man does not represent the human person whom the Universal Declaration regards as the ideal of a free wo/man. (7)

What I am focusing on hereunder -let me clarify– is not (directly) on the need for the overall Political Rights of people to be universally upheld. I am rather interested here in the politics of enforcing (all) Human Rights using a people-centered AAA process. This, since, for me, Human Rights are the resurrection-of or the return-to a greater focus and action on the basic causes of the Conceptual Framework which still remain unaddressed at the base of the causality pyramid.

  1. The Human Right approach reiterates, in no uncertain terms, that a relationship exists between Human Rights and economic and social development. And within a Human Rights-based development, it is the politics of equity that ultimately counts.
  2. Orthodoxy aside, politicization is here meant to be a process that transforms anguish into anger and into the search for being ultimately relevant –keeping in mind that a political climate is something one creates, not something that is found out there.
  3. In that same sense, Human Rights is about breaking the silence of powerlessness that keeps the needs and desires of the poor from being part of national political agendas. For the disempowered to get voice is not enough; Human Rights is about getting them influence, and about the processes that lead from having voice to having influence.
  4. In sum, the added value of Human Rights is that they cannot be relegated to a mere social aspiration: they are rights; even if, at present, some of them are not enforced (or enforceable).
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