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Global Development Initiative and Human Rights: A Speech by GDI Director Ed Cain

This luncheon address was delivered on Sept. 30, 2003, by Edmund Cain, director of the Carter Center's Global Development Initiative, during the International Policy Dialogue held in Cologne, Germany. The topic for this year's forum was "Human Rights in Developing Countries: How can development cooperation contribute to furthering their advancement?" Mr. Cain has participated in the annual forum for the last three years.

How the Global Development Initiative Promotes Human Rights

Last year when President Carter heard he was to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he remarked "During the past two decades, as Rosalynn and I traveled around the world for the work of our Center, my concept of human rights has grown to include not only the right to live in peace but also to adequate health care, shelter, food, and economic opportunity."

During those same two decades, human rights activists and development practitioners have joined ranks in recognizing that human development cannot be achieved by fostering only civil and political rights. As fundamental as these rights are to freedom and human development, they must be joined with social, cultural, and economic rights if we hope to narrow the growing chasm between rich and poor, which President Carter stated in his Nobel lecture is the greatest challenge the world faces today.

Three years ago I ended my long career with the United Nations and joined The Carter Center as the director of its Global Development Initiative. I always regarded the Center as a beacon of light among U.S. institutions, an institution that is engaged with the international community in helping to define norms and standards for all countries to follow. President Carter was instrumental, for example, in securing support for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and he and the Center have been behind many other important multilateral initiatives, including the International Criminal Court.

It was therefore no surprise to me to find when I began my work at the Center that its activities reflected a full appreciation of human rights as defined in the United Nations Development Programme's 2000 Human Development Report, "Human Rights and Human Development." The Center, with its strong team of human rights specialists, has long recognized that promoting civil and political liberties by mediating disputes and monitoring elections-the most well known of the Center's Peace Programs-was not enough if its efforts to wage peace, fight disease, and build hope were to be effective and sustainable.

It was because the Center recognized this early on that the Global Development Initiative, or GDI, was made an integral part of the Center's Peace Programs. Formed in 1994, GDI contributed to the shift in development thinking from an economic to a human-centered approach. And it did it through action and not just words.

How does The Carter Center help operationalize this holistic approach to human rights? The most fundamental aim of the Global Development Initiative is to help developing countries take charge of their future by:

· Fostering country ownership of their development strategies,
· Ensuring broad-based participation in formulating these strategies, and
· Helping create an enabling policy environment for their execution.

Over the past decade, these concepts have become widely accepted by the development community-at least rhetorically. GDI has attempted to apply these concepts by helping countries exercise their right to chart their own destiny by building national capacity and by promoting a more fair international policy environment. We attempt to do this by working with only a few countries-currently Albania, Guyana, Mali, and Mozambique-and we share our experiences at our periodic high-level Development Cooperation Forums so these experiences can contribute to best practices for development community at large to follow. By focusing our attention on only a few countries, we have been able to demonstrate to not only the development community, but also to a wary public that is often confused or disinterested in development, that the seemingly insurmountable challenge of reducing by half the 1.2 billion people living on less than a dollar a day can, in fact, be achieved.

Operationalizing a holistic human rights agenda is difficult, and other nongovernmental organizations like Oxfam and CARE are to be commended for their commitment and leadership to this approach. Recognition that oppression has many forms represents important progress. Yet it is no longer excusable to rest only on the rhetoric that economic and social rights should be co-priorities with civil and political rights. As the "Commitment to Development Index" compiled by the Center for Global Development reveals, while political leaders from the worlds richest countries regularly proclaim their fervent desire to end poverty worldwide, the hard truth is that even the best-performing nations in the index have a long way to go to make their policies as helpful as possible for the poor in the developing world. Donor countries fail to act on social and economic rights with the same vigor they selectively devote to civil and political rights. And as President Carter has recently remarked, the United States is even losing its moral authority to be a convincing proponent of civil and political liberties

International financial institutions play a vital and indispensable role in advancing development. U.N. conferences have regularly urged the IFIs to assess the impact of their policies and programs on the advancement of human rights. While the Poverty Reduction Strategies, or PRSPs, promoted by the World Bank have made great strides in recognizing the neglected economic and social development needs of the poor, the process has come under heavy criticism for failing to be flexible and sufficiently participatory in defining how those needs might best be met. While the PRSP has great potential, experiences thus far reveal that countries have little control over the structure, content, and policy prescriptions in their respective PRSPs. This contradicts the rhetoric of "nationally driven development," which is country owned, publicly accountable, and broadly participatory.

Stringent policy prescriptions protective of the prevailing global development architecture are not effectively responding to the growing chasm between rich and poor. Poverty, some have argued, is being used as window dressing to peddle more or less the same, one size fits all, macroeconomic policies and structural adjustment programs known as the Washington Consensus. As long as the international financial institutions refuse to allow countries to genuinely debate macroeconomic policies and tailor their development strategies in a way that can be more responsive to poverty and human suffering, the notion of developing countries "owning" their strategies will remain an illusion and constitute a violation of a countries right and the right of its citizens to develop and shape its own future.

The Carter Center, through its promotion of participatory, long-term national development strategies, or NDS, processes, attempts to provide countries with the methodologies and mechanisms that facilitate the shaping of such a broad, country-owned vision upon which PRSPs should be based. Using a fully participatory, cooperative, and inclusive design, the NDS process models a rights-based approach to development. The Carter Center maintains a constructive dialogue with the Bank on how long term nationally owned visioning processes could inform and strengthen the PRSP process. Thus far, such visions have been completed in two of our partner countries, Mozambique and Guyana.

The Center has worked in Mozambique as the sole international nongovernmental partner of the national committee organizing the country's national development strategy process, called Agenda 2025. In a country emerging from two decades of conflict and where the president and the leader of the opposition rarely agree, Agenda 2025 is serving as a unifying vision for Mozambique's political, economic, and social future.

In Guyana, where the Center has operated for more than a decade to help the country overcome deep ethnic divisions and rebuild its economy, the NDS is the one unifying vision agreed to by that divided society. In fact, the NDS was used by the Guyana government and the World Bank to help guide that countries PRSP process. GDI uses an analytical tool, developed by the Millennium Institute, to support the translation of national development strategies into action plans that include budgets and measurable time-bound indicators of progress that can be used for monitoring and evaluation. Unlike the RMSM-X model of the Bank that counts all the costs of social and environmental programs-but none of the benefits-the model we promote provides a seamless integration of economic, social, and environmental aspects of development including the costs and the benefits. The model has provided a mechanism for fostering debate on not only economic but also social and environmental ramifications of different policy prescriptions. This fosters true participation in the process, which helps ensure that strategies are nationally owned and implementable.

Ownership of a strategy is meaningless if a country lacks the capacity to implement it or finds itself placed in a hostile international policy environment. The Carter Center works with its partner countries to build such capacity and seeks to ensure bad donor practices and policies do not exacerbate the weak internal capacity constraints of most developing countries.

To earn support for such national capacity building measures such as budgetary support, transparency remains a key concern when donors contemplate the degree to which they are willing to foster greater country ownership. It is often a lack of trust that leads donors to work outside government systems. Donor practices, such as conditional aid and implementation of ad hoc projects, undermine any notion of national ownership or leadership. Moreover, donors impose a myriad of divergent procedural requirements that overburden what little capacity developing countries often possess. Until these practices are changed, there can be no national ownership.

To this end, The Carter Center is currently working in Mali to encourage donors to harmonize their policies and procedures. Furthermore, we are helping Mali to reform and rationalize its own institutions so that Malians can take charge of their development destiny. Only with these reforms will Malians be able to claim ownership over their development future.

As I mentioned earlier, ownership and the ability to chart a country's own destiny have little hope of succeeding in an incoherent global policy environment. The most blatant example of this incoherent environment can be found in the prevailing international trade regime where we see a lack of political will to change the rhetoric of Monterrey, Doha, and Johannesburg into reality. The Center for Global Development's annual "Commitment to Development Index" looks beyond the aid yardstick to the policies of donor countries affecting immigration, trade, investment, peacekeeping, and the environment. These indicators determine which donors are really committed to helping the poor. Of the 21 countries ranked, the world's two largest aid givers, the United States and Japan, finished last. (Germany was sixth.) Aid matters, but its positive effects can be and often are negated by a litany of rich country policies that undermine the poor's right to development.

This lack of true commitment is the message that we have been getting from each of our partner countries. In Mali, U.S. cotton subsidy policy alone is estimated to cost the country $45 million a year. That's almost 2 percent of Mali's entire gross domestic product and exceeds by almost $10 million the $37 million the United States provided to Mali in aid.

Mali is not unique among our partner countries in its suffering from an unfair trade regime. Rich country policies, which affect the vegetable industry in Albania or cashew production in Mozambique, contradict their development friendly rhetoric. The global community has articulated the actions necessary to provide an environment conducive to sustainable development. A decade of U.N. conferences, the Millennium Declaration, and the subsequent Monterrey Consensus documented what needs to be done. The problem is not a lack of knowledge of what it takes for a society to develop. The problem is one of politics, specifically the inability of the development community to get the necessary political traction behind doing it.

Political systems oriented towards serving narrow special interests and offering strong incentives for legislators to focus primarily on local issues is one of the greatest impediments to an enabling and effective development environment. Despite their undeniable strengths, the political system in too many industrialized country democracies ensures that narrow vested interests exercise disproportionate influence over the policy-making process. Politicians dependent upon donations to finance their campaigns respond to political pressure often designed to elevate the interests of a few over those of the many. In such an environment, what incentive does a legislator have to defend the rights of a poor African farmer? The principle of dispersed costs and concentrated benefits ensures that shallowly informed voters are unaware that they are paying higher taxes and higher prices to subsidize these interests.

The Carter Center is addressing this problem through its financing democracy project that seeks to find ways to make democratic processes more responsive not only to the poor but also to the common good. While voters might vaguely recognize that the world's resources are inequitably distributed, most would be surprised to learn that the gap between the richest and poorest countries in the world is nearly a hundred to one; or that three-fourths of Malians live on less than a dollar a day; or that this growing chasm between the richest and poorest people on earth is a serious problem because it is also contributing to global instability.

As GDI's partner in Mali, President Amadou Toumani Touré noted recently, "Effectively addressing poverty is the best way to avoid terrorism and conflict." The challenge is to educate voters. When people choose their leaders they must understand that the failure of those leaders to implement policies that address poverty has many serious ramifications. Not only are the world's poor deprived of their right to develop and achieve a more secure future, but the future and security of the affluent is threatened as well.

President Carter has always said The Carter Center was never meant to be a think tank but a "do-tank," an action-oriented organization. It is in this spirit that every couple of years GDI holds a Development Cooperation Forum. The purpose of the Forum has never been to be just another high-level conference deliberating on what needs to be done. The purpose of our Forum is to show what is or is not being done in our partner countries to make development cooperation work.

Last year's Forum did just that. Scheduled in advance of the U.N.'s International Conference on Financing Development in Monterrey, our Forum demonstrated what policy changes would make a difference in improving human conditions in our four partner countries. The sometimes heated exchanges at our Forum, which included senior U.S. officials, we feel influenced the U.S. administration's last minute decision to announce at Monterrey the doubling of U.S. development assistance through a mechanism called the Millennium Challenge Account.

In his keynote address to the Forum, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin lamented the absence of what he called political traction in the United States on the development agenda. He called for a "multiyear, intense, and broad-based public-education campaign" similar to the American campaign against smoking or drug addiction that would counter the lack of any "meaningful degree of political energy or any broad-based sense of urgent self-interest." The Carter Center is committed to helping create the political traction Rubin rightly recognized is necessary if we are ever to move the development agenda to the top of decision makers' priority list and influence decisions like the one made by the U.S. administration before Monterrey.

We need to awaken the sleeping giant of public opinion to the development imperative, which is both a moral imperative and, as Sept. 11 demonstrated, a survival imperative. As U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated in his 2001 Nobel address, "No walls can separate humanitarian or human rights crises in one part of the world from national security crises in another."

Over the last decade the United Nations has painstakingly constructed the case for both imperatives. The U.N.D.P. 2000 Human Development Report expressed bafflement over how torture of one person causes public outrage, while the deaths of more than 30,000 children every day from preventable causes goes unnoticed. That is why GDI focuses on so few countries-to give such overwhelming statistics a reality and context to which people can relate. We try to give a human face to poverty, to the denial of opportunity, and to human suffering.

What those who can influence the fairer sharing of resources need to understand is that development serves everyone's interest; that there are links between poverty, human rights, and security. As a U.N. document described it, "Poverty is a nexus at which the violation of various human rights converge; the condition of a sustained and chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security, and power necessary for an adequate standard of living and other civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights."

Some of us had hoped that the tragic events of Sept. 11 might have had a silver lining. With the collapse of the twin towers, rich nations' security suddenly became connected to the developing world. What was needed, however, was bold leadership that could articulate the need to challenge this reality through pre-emptive development strikes rather than pre-emptive military strikes. The developed world, and particularly the United States, still needs to awaken to the fact that the conditions that keep people in abject poverty are the very same conditions that breed hopelessness, despair, and violence.

This connection has been slow to crystallize in the larger public consciousness and absent leadership to explain it has been a neglected part of the war on terror. An empirical link between development and the security of developed nations has been difficult to isolate. Still, interviews with terrorists and terrorist sympathizers conducted in recent years support the idea that feelings of alienation and humiliation, as well as the lack of political and economic opportunity-that is to say the denial of basic human rights-can drive young people into the arms of extremists. When terrorists have resources to seed unrest and when governments cannot provide citizens' with hope and opportunity, the hearts and minds of the oppressed are fertile ground for supporting violent change.

Ensuring that terrorists do not receive support from the wider population is an important way for developed countries to fight their influence. However, to mobilize the resources required, it will be necessary to educate the citizens of rich countries about the human rights and human security connection. We need more people questioning why only $50 billion is being spent on development world wide-half of what is annually needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals-compared to $400 billion, and soon to be $500 billion a year, by the United States on arms-related expenditures alone.

When issues of national security ignore human rights, we sacrifice both. In a veiled reference to U.S. anti-terrorism policies at home and abroad, Annan warned recently "There is a danger that we may retreat from some of the important gains made during the 1990s, as human rights come under pressure both from terrorism and from the methods used by countries to fight it." President Carter shares this concern and has warned Americans against curtailing human rights in the name of national security, saying that it not only violates the very principles upon which the United States was founded but also undermines America's credibility in promoting such rights in countries struggling with oppressive governments.

For those who are not persuaded by the moral or enlightened self-interest imperatives-and I would include the so-called neoconservative ideologues in this group-it needs to be argued that the freedom of the individual that they purport to champion can not be achieved if individuals are denied the opportunity to develop. Amartya Sen eloquently makes this case in his book "Development as Freedom," when he says, "Development is a process of expanding real freedoms that people enjoy. Development requires the removal of major sources of 'unfreedom:' poverty, as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities, systemic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities, and intolerance or overactivitiy of repressive states."

He points out, "Despite unprecedented increases in overall opulence, the contemporary world denies elementary freedoms to vast numbers, perhaps the majority, of people." The logic behind Sen's description of development as freedom is compelling. Yet a willingness to commit to it continues to elude us. We need to reach the hearts and minds of those three different constituencies: the moralists, the survivalists, and the ideologues. We need to challenge them on their morality, their concern for their children's future, and their commitment to the true meaning of individual freedom.

We must aggressively confront political systems hostile to the logic behind a holistic definition of human rights. A widespread campaign, centered upon this broader vision of human rights and targeted at average citizens, might go a long way in helping to change voters' perceptions on everything from farm subsidies to the percent of gross domestic product mspent on foreign aid. Only when citizens make it clear to elected officials their concerns over poverty, human rights, and security will the political process that hinders good development policy begin to change.

We are currently in the planning phase of our fifth Development Cooperation Forum. It is our hope to hold it in May of next year with an eye towards influencing the G-8 conference at Sea Island, Ga., the Doha trade talks, and the 2004 presidential elections. Our conference will look at the policy incoherence of rich nations that I have spoken to you about today. By focusing in on just one incoherent set of policies, trade and aid, we hope to lay bare to both legislators and the public what the failure to foster the right to development has meant for the people of Albania, Guyana, Mozambique, and Mali.

I am going to end by quoting from the closing remarks of President Carter's Nobel address:

"Tragically, in the industrialized world there is a terrible absence of understanding or concern about those who are enduring lives of despair and hopelessness. We have not yet made the commitment to share with others an appreciable part of our excessive wealth. This is a potentially rewarding burden that we should all be willing to assume. War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other's children. The bond of our common humanity is stronger than the divisiveness of our fears and prejudices. God gives us the capacity for choice. We can choose to alleviate suffering. We can choose to work together for peace. We can make these changes - and we must."

We at The Carter Center hope to work with those of you who understand the full meaning of human rights. Together we can influence others in adopting this enlightened path to peace, prosperity, and human security.

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