Human Rights Based Approach and pitfalls on its pathway

Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) came through paradigm shift after decline of charity based development interventions. Charity based development has had clear mission to help distressed people at developing and underdeveloped countries with food, grains of wheat or rice, shelter, cloths, family planning help, books and pencils, tube well, sanitation, cows, goats etc., in fact, supporting disadvantaged people with relief goods and survival kits. Charity organizations and donor agencies accumulated money and goods from citizens of rich and wealthy nations and gave that to the people of miserable nations somewhere in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The equation was simple like taking help from the people ‘who have’ and then assisting people ‘who do not have’. We have watched 60s, 70s and 80s development in “Eastman Color” where development assistance had been triggered out of sympathy. This ‘sympathy’ is a human behavior originated from human emotion and there is nothing wrong about such emotional act. There are rich and well off class within every miserable nation where they out of same emotion sometimes do help poor and vulnerable class; though sometimes their charity activity is fueled by God’s fear. However, God-fearing and emotional charity based development paradigm had been shifted to HRBA during 90s and on. 

It was already too late for HRBA to appear in the later part of 90s because UDHR came into this world on 1948. Then there were series of conventions and treaties; civil and political rights came along the way for political empowerment of people in miserable nations and for protecting their civil rights. During 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s most of the ‘miserable nations’ in the so-called second and third world were either ruled by military or by authoritarian autocrat. They governed keeping people at their gun point; these mischievous leaders with their families led happy lives accumulating mountainous wealth suppressing people’s freedom of expression and exploiting people’s resources as well as entitlements. Thus, ‘human rights talk’ was very much irritating for these leaders and more precisely agreeing with convention on civil and political rights was almost suicidal for them. Leaving power in the hand of people means leaving control over resources and losing pleasures, which was unacceptable to these leaders and their autocratic regime either ended by rebellion or by people’s movement. Western democracy has so far expanded in all direction on the planet but till date civil and political rights are not adequately translated into the state machine of these ‘miserable nations’.

Economic, social and cultural rights, on the other hand, came into light through continuous lobby and advocacy of socialist countries at United Nations, which promoted economic development, social development and more importantly people-cantered development. While European group was more concerned with political freedom of people, socialist group’s concern was freeing people from poverty and hunger. However, many socialist countries failed to incorporate economic and social rights into national legislation and eventually failed to protect people’s economic and social rights. There are significant dropout of students from primary and high schools in India despite ‘right to education’ is protected by law. And many countries are afraid to enact ‘right to food’ law fearing  once the law is enacted there would be hundreds and thousands of cases in the court. 

Right to development declaration on 1986 was another impulse from southern developing nations to recognize development as right. However, it had been difficult to agree on this declaration by the well off western nations and poor southern nations, and thus, the declaration did not appear as treaty or legally binding document. Then Amartya Sen came on the floor of UN with the idea of ‘human development index’ based on his ‘human capability’ theory and range of researches on poverty, hunger, justice, and human rights. He is standing out of the crowd of economists in the world who sees development using human rights lens. It happens probably because he witnessed ‘Bengal famine’ on 1943; thus, he could feel that it’s not only availability of food at the national reservoir but also accessibility and distributive justice of food that could potentially stop famine and hunger; and institutional framework may not guarantee justice unless and until ‘morale of the society’ complement such institutions. Hence, he complements HRBA to take humanity to the next level. 

Range of international laws had been produced along with forming treaty bodies to promote and protect human rights across the world. And HRBA built on these international laws has become the engine of many development agencies. It seemingly appears that ‘miserable nations’ still fail to adapt all these international laws at their national legislation to protect and promote human rights for her citizens. Though some international human rights standards are interpreted into national laws, poor and vulnerable people are not able to reach to the door of institutional justice because everyone knows that it’s an expensive process. If some legal aiding organizations bear expenses, only then landless people can reach up to the door of court for claiming their ‘right to land’. Well it is impossible and mountainous task for legal aid organizations to bear expenses of tens and millions of vulnerable people. So, back to Sen’s ‘The idea of justice’ that we need morale of entire society complementing institutional justice. And when it comes to morale of a society, skeptics may label it as ‘the idea of Utopian’. 

Pitfalls on the pathway of HRBA is lack of ‘morale’ of the society besides lack of institutional framework, lack of political will, lack of bilateral and multilateral donor conditions,and  lack of good people in governance for operationalisation of HRBA. We observed how powerful policy conditions of World Bank, IMF, WTO and other international financial institutions had been in the 60s to 80s, which caused structural adjustment programs and eventually created negative consequences in the lives of people living in underdeveloped nations. A question may raise why donors addressing social justice and human rights are not imposing policy conditions on ‘miserable nations’ for the greater good of the society. Such ‘positive policy conditions’ would be highly appreciated by the poor and vulnerable people living in injustice at the darkest corner on planet earth. Though ‘miserable nations’ legally agree with the range of international laws on human rights, they are not yet morally ready to operationalise it across their territories. (To be continued…)



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