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[afro-nets] Food for some assorted thoughts

Food for some assorted thoughts

Human Rights Reader 120


History is always written by the winners; the losers are oblit-
erated and the winners write the history books which glorify
their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. By its own na-
ture, history is always a one-sided account. "What is history
but a fable agreed upon?" (Napoleon)

1. International aid is purported to be helping in the quest for
improved human rights (HR). But the crucial flaw of interna-
tional aid (ODA) overall is that states cannot be made to work
from the outside. So, are donors looking at or focusing on the
wrong side of the coin?

1a. [Aid has become increasingly skewed --away from lower income
to middle income countries. Moreover, aid is becoming a window
dressing since, compared to their income, rich countries give
only half as much foreign aid as they did in the 1960s].

2. Corruption is importantly linked to foreign aid. The more
corrupt a country, the more its internal tax revenue declines
when it receives grant aid (or direct foreign investment, for
that matter). The fruits of capitalist globalization then make
the formal economy and the tax revenue of states smaller --ergo,
the right-less are (as always) the bottom-line victims.

2a. [To grasp the magnitude of the problem of corruption here
are some figures: Corruption is worth 400 billion USD/year, i.e,
seven times the entire global budget for development aid; and if
India were to cut its corruption level to, say, Italy's, then
its growth would rise by one percentage point per year].

3. But uprooting corruption is not a solution to HR violations
per-se. You and I know that a substantial, rights-respecting de-
mocracy requires more than that, and more than just formal elec-
tions.  And you and I also know that governance by manipulative
means is endemic in many societies with large marginalized popu-
lations in which the institutional tools of formal democracy are
unable to function, precisely because of the poverty and eco-
nomic dependence of the many. Such regimes, unfortunately, have
remarkable longevity --and are the ones that should be our prime
targets in HR work.
To make things even worse, around half of the world's poorest
countries are embroiled in an acute or latent armed conflict.

3a. [Under this scenario, it is not surprising that world hun-
ger, for instance, is rising. A dozen children <5 die every min-
ute from malnutrition-related conditions. 842 million were mal-
nourished in 2003, an increase of 2 million over 2002. Hunger
levels have risen every year since the world Food Summit in
1996. (Jean Ziegler, Special UN Rapporteur on the Right to
Food). That is why the rights-based approach struggles to posi-
tion nutrition as a central development and social justice con-

4. So, yes, democracies are flawed and imperfect. Under such
circumstances, to claim that they can do something more premedi-
tated than trial and error is often an exaggeration. True reform
processes take more than that. But democracies are also flawed
from the side of their purported beneficiaries. Have you noticed
that once a regulation (often a bad one) has been in place for
some time, its users will evolve in such a way that they will
become political defenders of that regulation?  Giving the
right-less legitimate-and-forceful-claiming-capabilities thus
depends on whether we can provide the impoverished with new
prospects --and creating a new consensus on these prospects is a
political task towards democracy.

5. The corollary of this is that building participative systems
of social decision-making is the way ahead to revert HR viola-
tions. Beneficiaries may not always 'know best' but, given their
life experience, they sure do know best who is likely to gain or
lose from reforms in the making --and that is critical. This is
said, not as a crude attempt to gain accolades, but as an appeal
to reason. We must, therefore, not give-in in these efforts even
if we cannot easily reach the end goal.  (Interestingly, the
progressive control of more of the needed development resources
through active social mobilization has been said to be a 'weapon
of mass salvation' by no other than Geoffrey Sachs).

5a. [To stay on the issue of development and HR, be reminded
that what we call 'mal-development' started already in the colo-
nial era.  Since then, it has become abundantly clear that
states do not fail, political leaders and systems do, either be-
cause they are corrupt, or are incapable, or because 'underlying
conditions are too unfavorable'.and the latter must be carefully

6. Reforms in the HR area have sometimes been implemented piece-
meal, tried out on a small scale, and most often not expanded if
they work. (it is like the 'crossing the river by feeling the
stones' of Deng Xiaoping --but never really fully crossing).  It
is also true that in HR, as much as in other development work,
one size does not fit all; what works depends on a country's
initial conditions.

7. We often fail to realize that institutions that we have to
deal with in HR work are often a proxy (just a front) for the
political and economic forces behind them. Too often, these in-
stitutions try to make us accept that resource constraints are
immutable, so we wrongly engage in various forms of pat solu-
tions --and disassembling those may sometimes be difficult.
In this time of unprecedented economic abundance, we must rather
-become directly engaged in the underlying contemporary, ongo-
ing, local political debates (Ted Schrecker), and - struggle for
the reforms that tackle the redistribution of resources. And,
keep in mind, the economy is for the people and not vice-versa!

7a. [In Amartya Sen's words: Social and HR changes come best
from public argument rather than from dispensed privileged ad-

8. Our closest partners in HR work are thus, above all, people,
people's movements and organized communities, trade unions,
health workers unions, teachers unions, civic associations, pub-
lic interest and consumer groups, and other such.

8a. [Our allies are not the 3,000 CEOs of the world's trans-
national corporations and business-interest NGOs or their prox-
ies that meet at the yearly World Economic Forum. UNICEF and
WHO, for instance, should be at the People's Health Assembly and
at the World Social Forum and not at the Davos meeting every
year. (A. Katz) Furthermore, WHO country representatives (WRs)
need to be made to understand by the Director General that not
only governments and ministries of health are their working
partners, but also local civil society organizations and local
people's movements].

9. A new generation of efforts is thus needed. It is our turn to
make the difference. With no grassroots involvement, we will go
nowhere; with it, we can stop or la unch anything. So, if the
determinants of health and nutrition are social and political,
so must be the remedies.

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
People's Health Movement

Mostly adapted from Development and Cooperation (D+C) 31:11, Nov
2004; 31:12, Dec 2004; 32:1, Jan 2005; 32:2, Feb 2005; and 32:3,
March 2005; and Finance and Development (F+D) 41:3, Sept 2004;
and 41:4, Dec 2004.

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