Why are we not allowed to talk about individual rights in development?

Individual rights for rich countries Individual rights in development discourse
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” “Implementing the strengthened approach to governance … will require … …careful development of a … detailed results framework, consideration of budget and staffing implications … and further consultations with stakeholders…The specific initiatives needed to fully operationalize this strategy will be outlined in an Implementation Plan…”

The text on the right comes from the World Bank 2007 report: STRENGTHENING WORLD BANK GROUP ENGAGEMENT ON GOVERNANCE AND ANTICORRUPTION, which heroically manages to spend over a hundred pages on the nature of government without ever mentioning individual rights. There is an obsessive focus on corruption as a problem allegedly treatable with technocratic fixes.  None of the following words appear in the main text of the Governance Strategy Paper: human rights, democracy, liberty, freedom, or equality.

These latter words are sometimes manipulated for political purposes and their meanings blurred, but they still have powerful resonance because of their historical association with the battle for equal rights for all. Yet development discourse almost entirely avoids these powerful words.

It instead resorts to meaningless buzzwords that inspire no one, convey no meaning, and identify no violations of rights and no rights violators: country ownership, civil society, stakeholders, participation, inclusiveness, mainstreaming, empowerment. The word “governance” itself is a pathetically empty concept, capturing nothing of the battle between the oppressors and the oppressed that has marked human history and that continues unabated today.

The courageous work of organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International opens a small window into the real world concealed by “governance” discussion:

In Kenya, Oscar Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulu of the Oscar Foundation, a legal aid organization, were murdered by unidentified assailants in Nairobi in March after they had briefed UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston on summary executions by the police.

In Cambodia, more than 60 community activists were imprisoned or awaiting trial during 2009…for helping to organize and represent fellow community members facing eviction or illegal confiscation of their land by private companies linked to high-ranking government and military officials.

In Iran, members of Kurdish rights organizations have faced…lengthy prison sentences, including the death penalty, for their work reporting on rights violations affecting the Kurdish community. In 2008, the government sentenced to death Farzad Kamangar, a member of the Organization for the Defense of Human Rights in Kurdistan…

In [Cameroon in] late February 2008, security forces killed as many as 100 civilians during demonstrations against the escalating cost of living. Amnesty International has received photographs and testimonies suggesting that some of the victims were shot at point blank range, without any effort made to arrest them.

Is this what you don’t want to talk about?


Related post: Participation of the poor in mainstreaming gender empowerment for civil society stakeholders to promote country ownership of good governance for community-driven sustainable development

See also: All posts in the blog category Rights and development