The Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) UK has said development is less impressive if it does not include freedom from fear, violence, ill health, life threatening environmental pollution and abusive employment practices.
David Mepham, the guest speaker at the 32nd Marlborough Brandt Group Lent Lecture on Wednesday in United Kingdom, spoke on the theme of “putting development to rights” (integrating human rights into development policy and practice),
To believe in human rights, Mr. Mepham said, is to “believe there are some things that it is simply wrong to do to another human being, no matter what. And there are some things every human being, whoever they are, wherever they live should be entitled to, no matter what.” Anything less is a denial of their basic humanity.
“It is wrong to torture people or subject them to degrading treatment. Wrong to prevent them from expressing themselves freely or associating with others. Wrong to deny people fairness and equality before the law. Wrong to discriminate against them on grounds of gender or sexuality or ethnicity or disability. Wrong to deny people access to essential health care, educational opportunity or adequate food.”
The human rights boss said all of these are set out in international and regional human rights conventions and covenants and governments have obligations to them. He noted that human rights are designed to safeguard human autonomy and dignity and serve as checks on abusive governments, abusive power and the tyranny of sometimes the majority.
The former DFID senior policy adviser made a strong link between development and human rights and warned that while there is progress made in certain areas of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), most would not come close to being achieved by the end of next year. Back in September 2000, he said a special UN summit endorsed a “commendably holistic Millennium Declaration” of freedom, equality, solidarity and tolerance.
He said progress making depends on good governance within each country. Depham urged governments to make tangible efforts to promote democracy, strengthen the rule of law and respect internationally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms. He noted the absence of targets in political freedom or democratic participation, equality for ethnic minorities, or people with disabilities, freedom of expression or right to peaceful protests and assembly in the MDGs as if they are less important. This, he said doesn’t mean that MDGs haven’t scored progress on other areas such as increased international public investment in health and education. His critique of rights free development are lined into: (a) unequal development, (b) abusive development and (c) unsustainable development. While the first two are common in the developing world, the latter relates to the so – called first world.
He described unsustainable development as the unsustainable consumption of the world’s wealthier countries and people that is primarily responsible for global environmental problems, particularly, climate change which the world’s poorest could suffer acutely from. Mr. Mepham called on the developed countries to make decisive shifts towards more sustainable patterns of production and consumption if global environmental catastrophe is to be avoided and further harm to the poor is minimised. Under unequal development, he said many governments around the world are unwilling or unable to address discrimination in their development strategies and broader social and economic policies.
“Nowhere is this more pronounced than the wide spread and systematic discrimination against women and girls in large parts of the world”, he noted. Progress is being made in the area, he said, as most development organisations have identified gender discrimination as a major obstacle to inclusive development. The plight of the world’s over one billion disabled people, eighty per cent of whom live in developing countries was also highlighted in the lecture.
Mr. Mepham said his organisation works in 90 countries but doesn’t know why the Gambia is not included. He said he is aware of serious human rights challenges in the West African country, promising to discuss with colleagues the possibility of having researchers in the Gambia.
David Mepham, an Oxford graduate, had earlier worked in a number of policy and advocacy roles including Save the Children UK.
The lecture was chaired by life peer, Lord Judd of Portsea, patron of the Marlborough Brandt Group and one time Minister for Overseas Development.
Lilli Loveday of Marlborough introduced the speakers. Previous lecturers for the annual event included Secretaries of State, prominent politicians and humanitarian workers.