Human Rights Vs development: What does Marta Foresti mean?

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Having read Marta Foresti article in The Independent on 20 April 2014, I was left a little confused and here is why.

In the first instance Foresti’s title for the article HUMAN RIGHTS NEED NOT COME BEFORE DEVELOPMENT is a bold statement and one that needs justifying and having read her article I didn’t feel that I understood what she meant by that statement nor that she had sufficiently justified it. In addition, I couldn’t help but wonder whether we can separate human rights from development or rather have one without the other.

Foresti says that although she believes in human rights, she is less convinced that these rights should be a basis for development policies. What therefore is the purpose of development policies, if it isn’t to improve people’s lives and as such ensure their basic human rights to a dignified life? To illustrate my point further, I would like to invite you to consider this statement by Dr. A. Fagan.

Human rights are defined as moral guarantees for everyone by virtue of the fact that they are human and as such are said to be universal. Human rights identify fundamental requirements that enable an individual to live a minimally good life and these include the rights to health care and rights not to be tortured.

I agree with Forsti when she argues that, development programs should consider what works taking into account the reality of in country dynamics including institutional arrangements. A good example of this was a situation I came across in Masindi NW Uganda with respect to child immunization programmes as part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In this case, the community was encouraged to have their children immunized and whilst the parents were happy to have their children immunized the reality was this task was left to women who had to travel several miles often on foot to access the programmes . The nearest clinic didn’t always have the required medicines when the women attended.  Consequently when the women had done this a few times they gave up. The travelling to and from the clinic took time away from other activities such as finding that day’s food and water.  I don’t have to spell out the impact of this on the success or otherwise of MDGs in this particular village.

For whilst the United Nations had made big plans to halve child mortality, they could not stand over health officials in Uganda to ensure that all clinics in all parts of that country were stocked with the necessary medicines for immunization or that money donated for such programmes was not put to other uses.

The other point Foresti advances is with respect to conditionality.  Whilst the efficacy of conditionality as a policy is contested, I am unclear as to how this point fits into the rest of the article.

For the benefit of those who don’t know what conditionality means, the best definition I can find is from Martin Holland who distinguishes between political and economic conditionality as follows,

Political conditionality links rewards (such as preferential trading agreement, aid, or other forms of assistance) with the expectation of and the execution of policies in a third country that promote human rights, the rule of law and good governance

Economic conditionality is concerned with linking rewards to the adoption of and promotion of specific macro economic policies (such as structural adjustment programmes, liberalization and free trade areas)

I agree that political conditionality doesn’t always improve human rights for individuals as was recently demonstrated by the signing into law of the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda despite aid donors threats to withhold aid from the government of Uganda.  And let us not forget that donors do set their conditions aside if these conflict with their interests. The current situation between Ukraine, Russia and the EU comes to mind here not mention Syria

Finally it is my opinion that the final part of Foresti’s article conflates the human rights records of donor countries, development levels elsewhere and the link between development and human rights. Consequently, Foresti yet again misses the opportunity to address the question as to whether development can be separated from human rights

Whilst I agree that human rights is a global political agenda, I argue that the extent to which social contracts and or social protection programmes have been developed in a given country, impacts outcomes for citizens in that country. As such it may not always be possible to realistically compare progress on issues such as women’s rights and gender equality.

For instance, in the example provided by Foresti, women in the UK have a right to seek work outside of the home but are paid poorly compared to the men and that women are over represented in the low paying jobs sector. Whilst I don’t disagree with this particular point, I believe it would have been useful to qualify this point by pointing out that a woman in low paid employment in the UK has access to generous social programmes that for instance provide access to free healthcare and housing allowances which can amount to huge sums of money each week/month. So whilst the situation for women in UK might not be ideal I don’t agree that it is a reason for development policies to be divorced from human rights as not all women in other parts of the world have access to this level of social protection.

 A good example I have encountered are women in Kisoro SW Uganda who have no land rights and have to fight for the right to grow potatoes instead of coffee in order that they can feed their children. The women I met do not have work outside of the home and work on family owned farms. According to cultural practices in this community, women do not get involved in selling and buying of coffee and therefore cannot guarantee that when the coffee is sold the money will be available for family needs and therefore the women potatoes farming. This is because if the man misappropriates the money the woman can set aside potatoes to feed the family.

If a woman is in a country that has no social protections, cannot access work outside the home and has no means of generating income, how can she live a minimally good life or meet her health care needs.

Can development or human rights be said to exist in country where a woman is left to die on an operating table for lack of £60 for instance? I don’t know about you, but I would consider this a priority and as such something that should be addressed in a country’s development policy. I would also argue that, that sort of outcome would be unlikely for a woman in country such as the UK where social contracts and social protection is more advanced than elsewhere.

If you really want to know why human rights cannot be separated from development policies, I would like to invite you to read  Micheal Nest’s book on the Politics of Coltan as well as  well as the several articles that were written about the fire in the Bangladeshi clothing factory or indeed the incidents in the  Marikina mines

I would like to leave you with this question,

 Can a people that are denied basic human rights participate in the economic development of a given country?

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