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writing for godot

Relegating human rights to oblivion: What do buzzwords do for development policy?

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Saturday, 10 July 2021 15:26

Human rights: Food for demoting/devaluing a thought  ‘HR and maldevelopment’


Human Rights Reader 585


[TLDR (too long didn’t read): This Reader is about how deceiving catchphrases in the development lingo seriously hinder human rights work. For a quick overview, just read the bolded text].


1. Development work is plagued with myths that work through emotional identification, not through rationality.* (Georges Sorel) The utopias that are shored up by myths in  the development arena are profoundly ideological constructions** --the development establishment clearly having stolen their signifiers (they are now cheap talk). [It really is development double speak that muddles the issues. (Rajni Kothari)]. The ‘extravagance-in-promising-future-benefits’ is a means to attract people to what would otherwise appear an insuperable struggle ahead. Development buzzwords (participation, empowerment…) function to provide the basis for the management of planned, ultimately insincere, interventions that provide external funding agencies with what is a veneer of rightness and human rights (HR), i.e., lending them legitimacy to intervene on behalf of ‘the poor’.

*: Myths are not descriptions of things, but expressions of a determination to act. (A myth cannot be refuted since, at its bottom, it is identical with the convictions of a group). Therefore, myths safeguard utopias against the true fulfillment of HR.

**: The current development ideology (mythology?) works, because it does more than convey what looks like a ‘good argument’; it compels people to listen rather than being protagonists and the main subjects of development. (Louis Althusser)


2. ‘Participation’ and ‘empowerment’ are promoted by advocates really at the margins of true grassroots development as a means to purportedly giving people rendered poor more of a voice in shaping policies and projects aimed at assisting them. But really, what is now paraded as ‘participatory’ and ‘empowering’ is little more than the Emperor’s New Clothes. (Robert Chambers)


3. Moreover, development policies are usually planned to have one primary aim. Unintended effects, good or bad, are seen as secondary. This is rarely considered especially in the areas of HR, the environment, health and nutrition.


4. It is only by deconstructing the ways in which buzzwords are used that we can begin to identify fissures in the narratives they support, so as to focus on viable alternatives in the direction of a HR-based approach. To do so, we need to look beyond the appearance of consensus and one-size-fits-all ‘poverty reduction’, as well as look at empowerment and participation recipes to actually expose the diversities in the ways in which concepts like these take shape in different bureaucratic, political and social contexts in which HR are violated. For all the pressures on us to talk of ‘donor co-ordination’ and ‘policy coherence’, maybe it is time for many more of us (who support a development agenda that is about words like ‘solidarity’, ‘redistribution’, ‘disparity reduction’ and ‘a world free of oppression’) to begin to carve out something more distinctively HR-based that will lead to a different other-possible-world and inspire claim holders to struggle for it, rather than simply subscribing to the most grandiose development myth: the myth that all-purpose development solutions can transcend context, culture and politics and apply to all. (Andrea Cornwall, Karen Brock)


5. Talking about development myths, private philanthropies (or philathrocapitalism in general) can be (and is) a threat to democratic accountability and to a just society. Reverence for big donors (external funders!) implies that billions of underpaid and exploited people should be satisfied with philanthropic crumbs from a self-appointed aristocracy rather than entitled to economic justice. What is really needed for a fairer, more equal society is not charity and technology, but justice --though Gates has long presumed otherwise.*** One cannot stop repeating: Relying on a charitable model falls back on the ideology of the-private-sector-as-a-savior instead of on being a justice model. (Lindsey McGoey)

***: One can wonder whether technology transfers are gift horses for the South or ultimately Trojan vacuum cleaners sucking the South’s resources into Northern coffers.


6. So much of external funding still today available (although much, much scarcer…) treats lives-to-be-saved as bare lives, not as lives-with-a-political-voice. (Jenny Edkins) If people are to be addressed as dignified human beings, they must have a say on how they are treated. Period. This is why every HR-based program ought to have safe and effective recourse mechanisms available to the claim holders themselves. People are entitled to have institutionalized remedies available that they can call upon if they feel they are not being treated properly. The core of any HR system lies in the way in which it ensures claim holders’ active demands are heard and acted upon.


7. People must be able to claim their own rights, and not depend on others claiming their rights for them. For instance, if (other than in dire emergencies) displaced people have no chance to influence what and how they are being fed, if they are fed pre-packaged rations or capsules, their right to adequate food is not being met, even if they get all the nutrients their bodies need. The hunger problem thus needs to be handled not as one would approach livestock management. An empowering development program is one that steadily reduces the beneficiaries’ need for it. It builds the capacity of individuals and communities to make their own good decisions. If the claim holders are silent, the system has failed. (George Kent) We are not talking about community-located, but community-controlled decision-making.


8. Work in development is about change. And change brings conflict, pain, confusion. Only out of this emerges a new understanding. This being so, we might as well face change straight-on and, in our case, this means for us to start deconstructing the whole existing development delusion with its myths that have led us to the unwarranted situation in which people have come to accept scarcity and poverty as inextricable facts of life. But the universe does not have unmovable laws that lead to poverty (!); it has habits --and habits can be broken. (A. Anand, W. Morehouse, and T. Robbins) How? Through social organization and mobilization that are the basis of a strategic resource for a sustainable HR-based development --and sustainable development cannot be achieved through micro-projects divorced from the people.****

****: The word sustainability is not found in standard English dictionaries. It is a process rather than an outcome and requires long-term commitments. Just looking at the affordability of current interventions is a very short-sighted indicator of sustainability. (Angelo Stefanini)


9. The development perfectionists --leading exponents of the efficiency-above-all-school-- never show distributional concerns. Ignoring this continues to lead us to the kind of disasters in development schemes that we have grown so accustomed to accept with remarkable little criticism.


[A caveat here: Totalitarian interventions may occasionally achieve progress in social policies. This does not make them less totalitarian!].*****

*****: Totalitarian ideologies have always liked to wear a mask of 'reason', but have also skillfully exploited the emotional inclinations of their subjects.  (Friedrich Durrenmatt, Swiss playwright)


Bottom line


10. Current changing circumstances require that we more-than-think about new approaches. At this juncture, then, we need people who can rescue themselves from their own modest objectives (and others’ myths); we need development thinkers (and practitioners) of consequence. (E. D. Jaffe)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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-The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion (to which few members of other civilizations were converted), but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do. (Samuel Huntington, 1927–2008)

-The intention across current global development governance institutions is for Multistakeholderisms (PPPs) to actively replace multilateralism (UN).****** By way of example, consider the ACT-Accelerator which includes COVAX (run by GAVI). The Accelerator was deliberately constructed outside WHO so that the voices of developing countries in the World Health Assembly would have no say in the policies put in place around medicines, diagnostics, vaccines and health systems regarding Covid-19. The Accelerator includes Gates, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), the Global Fund, UNITAID and the Welcome Trust, among other. It was this group that designed the COVAX Facility including the limit of COVAX to 20% of the populations in participating countries --nice reinterpretation of HR… (David Legge)

******: Multistakeholderism simply increases the (undue) influence of big business and those rendered rich. Better late than never, in these platforms, trust must be replaced by vigilance and accountability --long recognized conflict of interest principles are thus in need of revival! (Judith Richter) your social media marketing partner
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