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human rights

Universal principles in revolutionary times

Nicholas van Praag's picture

 

   Demonstrating for the right to rights

I remember a Russian diplomat in Geneva in the 1980s telling me that his country believed strongly in the centrality of human rights. It was just that back in the USSR the hierarchy was different from countries on the other side of the iron curtain: individual rights mattered, but less than people’s collective rights to health, education, jobs and so on.

I was not much impressed; and the collapse of the Soviet Union soon gave the lie to that regime’s paternalistic take on the relative significance of different categories of rights – political, social and economic.  

 

Encouraging leaders to do the right thing

Nicholas van Praag's picture

“Spare the stick, spoil the child.”

Rewarding the rewardable

That was the advice from proponents of the tough love approach to parenting that prevailed in Victorian times.

 

Plus ça change. Looking around the world today, encouraging leaders in fragile states to do the right thing, whatever that might be, is more about punishing them for erring in the performance of their governance duties than rewarding them for doing good.

 

There is a panoply of international sanctions to punish leaders who abuse human rights, undermine constitutionality or indulge in corruption. Some are regional, others global. Some are formal, others informal. Whatever their provenance or legal standing, the stick remains the instrument of choice.

 

Mechanisms to recognize or reward good leadership are few and far between. Yet leaders are human and, unless they are beyond redemption, they are more likely to respond to recognition and rewards than sanctions and reprimands.

 

The Nobel Peace Prize and the Ibrahim Prize are both strong incentives and could be emulated to acknowledge the contribution of leaders who consistently do well.  Why not find ways, for example, to reward ministers who make a lasting impact on corruption or top brass in the military who reform the security sector peacefully? 

 

Overcoming past traumas to build a stable future

Nicholas van Praag's picture

Skulls of Khmer Rouge victims. Photo by Adam Carr, February 2005.

If your child is murdered or your friend is tortured or someone tries to kill you, it is tough to forgive and forget.   Animosities that spring from these kinds of brutality run deep. Yet moving on emotionally and psychologically is an important part of rebuilding society after the trauma of conflict and violence.

 Different societies deal with these things in different ways. This week Hilary Clinton visited a former prison in Cambodia where thousands were held before being sent to their deaths in the killing fields. She urged the authorities to proceed with trials of the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge so that the country can ‘confront its past’.

This followed the decision by Prime Minister Hun Sen that there would be no more prosecutions after the trials of four senior Khmer Rouge leaders already charged.  The prime minister says the country needs to bury the past. Ms. Clinton argues that a country that is unable to confront its past is a country that cannot overcome it.

 

The same day, there was another story describing how East Timor’s President Jose Ramos Horta plans to free Gastao Salsinha, the former rebel who shot and badly wounded him in 2008. The UN Secretary General, rights groups, and the opposition have reacted to the decision with dismay, saying it will undermine the rule of law.

 

For President Horta, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, it is about mercy and reconciliation. With internal tensions still strong in his impoverished Asian nation, he believes offering clemency is an opportunity to consolidate peace and stability which outweighs arguments for punitive justice.

 

Is there a right approach to this thorniest of post-conflict problems? Research for the WDR finds that over the last three decades almost 40 countries have implemented various measures to redress serious human rights abuses.

 

INTERVIEW: Land Rights and Internally Displaced Persons in Colombia

Daniel Maree's picture

In this exclusive interview with Senior Social Development Specialist Elena Correa, we discuss the results and lessons-learned from the project on Protection of Land and Patrimony of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Colombia. To read the background paper on the workshop click here.

Alec Wescott contributed to this post.

 © Charlotte Kesl / World Bank 
   © Charlotte Kesl / World Bank  

 Q. Since its inception in 2002, your focus has developed from “land protection” to “land titling” and “land restitution”. What is the difference between the two strategies, and what prompted the change?

A. Land rights protection was the starting point for the project because of the large number of population displaced. However, land right protection is not enough to diminish the risk of impoverishment of IDPs as was established as the main objective of the project.  According to the circumstances and the evolution of the project, land titling was incorporated to formalize these land rights of IDPs who do not have legal titles.

Land restitution was included in the project as a result of the enactment of the Justice and Peace Law in 2005. Land restitution is the ultimate goal in the protection of land that has been lost due to displacement. The project had gathered information since its start in 2003 that could be built on to achieve land restitution.  This is a good example of new emerging legislation and how the project adapted itself to the opportunities provided by this law.

International norms and local realities

Nicholas van Praag's picture
  Outcomes matter

All too often, donors and development organizations push pre-fabricated institutional models on developing countries despite the checkered history of these arrangements.  This is something we are grappling with in the context of the WDR as we look at the functionality of the institutional forms that the international community often encourages fragile states to embrace. 

Elections are a case in point as countries vulnerable to violence are urged to put in place this particular pillar of democracy without much attention to the other elements of democratic architecture.  We have seen in many places how this can backfire, triggering tensions and undermining progress towards more resilient societies. 

It is not just elections.  In addressing corruption and human rights there are plenty of examples of institutional implants placing major strains on fragile societies.  While there is no question that international norms and standards are central on many crucial issues, there is too much emphasis on institutional models and too little on outcomes.

Humanitarian action and state-building in Conflict?

Bruce Jones's picture
   Photo © Arne Noel / World Bank

The past few years have seen the revival of an old debate about the relationship between humanitarian action, military/peacekeeping intervention, and state-building. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the military, humanitarian and development actors are working together in new ways, have raised concerns in each community.

Humanitarian actors worry about the loss of perceived impartiality and access to vulnerable populations. People in the military worry about their effectiveness if not backed up by humanitarian and economic assistance. Development actors worry that military actors are undertaking state-building functions without adequate understanding of the implications of their actions.

Given that the renewed debate derives from Afghanistan and Iraq, the argument is probably overplayed, since it is highly unlikely that the specific mode of engagement in those two cases—grounded in large-scale U.S. military deployments—is likely to characterize the predominant form of response to humanitarian crises or fragile states in conflict. Nevertheless, changing forms and patterns of violence will pose new challenges to these communities.