What Works? Cruel challenges

What works?

There is a debate and doubt whether human rights standards and law really work especially at poor and conflict prone countries. Two important questions are associated with it. i) Does it work?, ii) Where does not it work and why?

If it does not work, it is nation sate’s failure to respect and implement for the citizens within its territory. It is discussed earlier that limited resources is not an excuse for not implementing human rights. Germany can because of richness and Ghana can not because of poverty; this logic may not valid here. Thus, Resource and wealth may not be the only reasons; there are other causes for the failure of human rights standards. It is all about changing “attitude” of people and nations towards human rights.

Legal/moral obligation or Conscience

Commitment of governments for international human rights standard is often found weak in developing countries. Moral obligation seems almost absurd. Individual, groups, private, and corporate bodies are found busy within greater capitalist frame. These entities are becoming greedy, exploitative, and manipulative, which are some of the outcomes of capitalism. Moral degradation is happening in a faster pace.

For legal obligation state party must respect human rights first and foremost. Many state parties lack in “respecting”. Myanmar, North Korea, and China are some examples of repressive regime about human rights. A country having strong legal framework and democracy may appear incompetent. ODI (1999: 6) gives a good example,
The legal recourse is the hardest hurdle to jump in achieving rights, especially so in countries where legal recourse is most needed, but also in others: for example in India, which has a well-developed legal framework, it has been estimated that it would take 350 years to clear the current backlog of court cases, even if no new cases were added. It is also easy to think of countries where any dialogue about rights would be extremely difficult.

Thus any prescription is difficult to be given under above circumstances for fulfillment of human rights. However, coherence between national, regional, and international legal framework could give a better result in terms of “respecting” and “protecting” human rights. European Union (EU) and Organization of American States (OAS) are good examples. Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is in a process to develop human rights legal frame for the region. South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is still found ignorant about human rights. Nonetheless, SAARC’s usefulness and effectiveness is also under doubt comparing with other regional entities in the world.

Moral or legal obligation may not alone work. Both can be mutually complementary to each other. In addition, conscience, which is inward ability, faculty, or sense of right or wrong, is needed. Conscience is connected to moral values. Moral values are things held to be right or wrong or desirable or undesirable. Different cultures have very different moral value systems. Moral values, along with traditions, laws, behaviour patterns, and beliefs, are the defining features of a culture.[1] There is no generally accepted definition of what conscience is and how it works. Formation of United Nations at the end of devastating World War II was a kind of universal conscience of the nation states to unite the world with out any discrimination, which is reflected in UN Charter and UDHR. However, educating or awaking people about conscience and moral values could be hardest challenge. This issue needs more study and research for human development in general.

Changing global context and new age challenges

Changing global context and challenges may worsen situation that ever imagined. We are not the programmer or designer of the world and subsequently we can not come up with any “magic bullet” for poverty alleviation along with a time frame. Perhaps we will be watching one such effort MDG’s fatal end at the end of 2015. According to AAI at the current rate of progress, it will take 120 years to reach the Millennium Development Goal and WFS commitments to halve hunger by 2015. Therefore, it is time to have alternative thoughts and solutions rather prescriptions. As long as we do not have unusual magic bullet, we keep trying with whatever we have such as MDGs, PRSPs, SLA, RBA, Human Security, and so on. But we do not have time much for experimentation. It is time for action,

In a world overflowing with riches, it is a outrageous scandal that more than 826 million people suffer hunger and malnutrition and that every year over 36 million die of starvation and related causes . We must take urgent action now. (Jean Ziegler, April 2001, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food)

Cornwall and Brock (2005: 1) says, “Open the newspaper and the first few pages often have enough talk of violent death, inequity, deprivation and misery to make one feel the world we live in is hardly a place where a “world without poverty” could ever come to exist.” Is not it true for most of the countries in the world. And what about Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Darfur, and other conflict prone African states where death toll is gradually increasing day by day.

Sustainable livelihood, rights based approach, participation, empowerment, good governance, accountability, poverty alleviation etc are. the concepts that had been discussed so far in this paper. I am afraid, if critics say all these are buzzwords of development industry. Arguably there could be many set of buzzwords and each set could have some purposes or messages. Is it new fashion to play with jargons in the development world? However, arguably these buzzwords are not empty at least. Each of the “jargon” is carrying intention to do good to bring change in institutions, processes, and practices. “Human development”, “rights based approach”, and “human security” have their distinct dimension for addressing human sufferings and substantially looking for way out for human wellbeing though have not succeed yet. They may not come up with any absolute solution over decades, which may further upset development practitioners.

How long should we be continuing this effort to end poverty? It may appear pessimistic prediction that hunger, poverty, and food insecurity may continue till dooms day. Academics and activists of transnational civil society agree that there is enough food in this world to feed the population in hunger. Where does the surplus food of the world go? Is not it the politics to trash food rather feed hungry? And this power politics of wealthy groups is no more a secret. The amount of food they waste and the amount of money they spend in arms production and in war could be surplus for solving hunger and poverty issue in the globe. This is not supposed to happen. Politics, conspiracy, and exploitation are dominating over good will for serving humanity.

Acording to Bello (2006), “there has been too much dissonance between the promise of globalization and free trade and the actual results of neoliberal policies, which have been more poverty, inequality, and stagnation.” Hypocrisy is adopted so skillfully in neoliberal policies and executed so efficiently by agencies like WB and WTO that developing countries are feeling cheated. In one hand, these agencies had been talking a lot about poverty reduction, empowerment, governance etc., and on the other hand, exploiting with the help of trade rules and conditionalities. According to Bello, China is the country where 120 million had been lifted out of poverty during last 15 years. Interventionist state policies managed market forces to do that. Neoliberal prescriptions did not work. China’s success in poverty reduction may not be our role model because it is known as repressive regime in terms of human rights, governance, and democracy. It is not at the same time unavoidable to agree that political will and state interventions are the best way to control market forces and achieving food sovereignty.

UN came into existence from the conscience of the world because of devastation of World War II. And its range of conventions on international human rights standards and treaty committees are there for safe guarding humanity. There are some criticisms that UN is toothless and ineffective. Some angry activists call UN as “United Nothing”. MDGs seem to end by 2015 as commitments unfulfilled. UN could not give any comprehensive solutions to injustice, inequity, and conflicts around the world. Starting from Rwanda genocide to Darfur crisis, from Israeli occupation in Palestine to US invasion in Afghanistan and Iraq, from nuclear race between big powers to small countries like North Korea and Iran, from hunger to malnutrition and poverty; UN failed significantly. UN is reforming itself because of its set back and is trying to find a way out for its efficacy.

According to Kofi Annan (2005: 4), “divisions between major powers on key issues have revealed a lack of consensus about goals and methods.” He mentions, over 40 countries have been scarred by violent conflict, number of internally displaced people stands at roughly 25 million, global refugee population of 11 to 12 million, and some of them have been the victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity, HIV/AIDS, the plague of the modern world, has killed over 20 million and people infected has surged to over 40 million, more than one billion people still live below the extreme poverty line, and 20,000 die from poverty each day. Declining public confidence in the institution is observed. He also notes that dozens of countries have become poorer, devastating economic crises have thrown millions of families into poverty, and increasing inequality in large parts of the world means that the benefits of economic growth have not been evenly shared. In my opinion, these are the facts of present world. And we should not live anymore on dreams and wishes rather think about the truths, cruelties, and challenges of the changing global context. Nonetheless, it is time to come up with locally made innovative solutions appropriate in specific social, political and cultural context rather than depend on development prescriptions.

However, this is the last Institution of sovereign states in the world that has global human rights standard, which protects rights of the global citizens. It is the last mediator and negotiator for peace in this conflict torn world. If it fails and wipes out, the humanity may have to watch the collapse of civilization.

Huntington (1993) predicts, “Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.” In the last couple of centuries the conflicts were between princes, nation states, and ideologies within western civilization. Huntington defines “civilization” as a cultural entity. Thus, civilization is a kind of big picture where people are grouped in a bigger circle such as Chinese, Westerners, Arab etc. According to Huntington West is now at the peak of power in terms of military and economy. Thus, desire of west is translated through the policies and decision of multilateral institutions in the name of desire of world community, which is a double standard. Therefore, we are approaching towards dangerously conflicting world, as Huntington notes, “…conflicts between groups in different civilizations will be more frequent, more sustained and more violent than conflicts between groups in the same civilization; violent conflicts between groups in different civilizations are the most likely and most dangerous source of escalation that could lead to global wars…” The severity of conflict in the present could help us to imagine the brutality of the future. A relevant question may appear how poverty, hunger, and food insecurity will be reduced or alleviated? Even being optimistic, only the contrary could be imagined.

Global average temperature is going to increase between 1.5C and 4.5C so as increasing the green house gases. Rate of ice melting is getting higher, which will increase sea level at the end. Incidences of storms will be increasing along with frequent earth quakes. The 2007 report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the evidence of climate change and subsequently an emergency alarming for the human race. Persistent lobbying by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel overcame most American resistance, but she was unable to achieve implementation of binding emissions restrictions for G8 nations. Given the large rift over climate change that has existed between the US and Europe, however, Merkel and her allies still deemed the summit a success[2]. Bush Administration threatened to reject most of the German sponsored measures. Here, we see the imperialist’s “naive response” in the climate change issue. Climate change, that will cause more natural disasters, is going to add more vulnerability to human race.

End Notes:

[1] for detail see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_value, visited July 2, 2007
[2] for detail see http://earthtrends.wri.org/updates/node/206 , visited July 3, 2007


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