And the failure by the report to differentiate countries in
terms of their place on the vicious or virtuous circle continuum
is a cause for some further concern.
An interesting case in this
regard is Nepal. In Nepal there is little doubt that just
such a vicious circle has been established. There
is no space here for an in-depth analysis but it is important
to be clear about the nature of the regime. Nepal is not like
the rest of South Asia. Nepal has neither rule of law,
nor checks and balances nor any notion amongst the Army of
a need for civilian oversight. India, it is worth noting,
is one of the few Ďfriendsí of Nepal that appears to understand
the implications of these fundamental differences. To sum
up, Nepalís conflict is being driven by systematic violations
of human rights and the perpetration of war crimes by both
the security forces and the Maoists. These abuses are further
compounded by the total impunity enjoyed by both sides.†
The cycle of violation and impunity that has been established
has, in a large part, pushed the country into an increasingly
feudal looking dictatorship.
What has UNDP done? The
report presents the following:
Support to the National Human Rights Commission
A pilot project on access to justice
A basic training for UNDP staff on human rights (carried out
two years ago)
Two workshops on mainstreaming human rights.
- Support to developing the governments National Human Rights
Action plan (and what has become the principal defense of
the regime for its record Ė see Nepalís statement to the third
We must ask if this response
is appropriate to the scale of the problem of human rights?
Most observers would conclude that the above is, at best,
Moreover, UNDPís report
is very limited in scope. It looks only at positive actions
Ė only items clearly marked Ďhuman rightsí are included. What
the report fails to do is examine how the wider work of UNDPís
program may also affect the human rights sum. Surely such
an examination is appropriate for an organization that supports
the idea that human rights are mainstreamed. One example will
suffice: the financial support of UNDP to any country is a
powerful measure of political support to that country. If
any countryís regime has a policy of violation (and the reports
of the various working groups, rapportuers etc of the Office
of the High Commissioner with regard to Nepal would support
that view) then by definition UNDP is supporting a regime
that commits serious violations of human rights. And by inference,
such political support should be factored into UNDP account
of its actions.
The above is obviously a
simplified case. I am not, of course, necessarily arguing
for unconditional suspension in the case of UNDP but rather
that the spending is at least conditional on engendering a
climate for meaningful development, and that, going by the
logic of UNDPís annual report, would include serious human
rights measures. Again with these arguments in mind we can
return to the measures set out in the UNDP and again ask Ė
now, with no small measure of concern - does UNDP consider
its human rights work sufficient?
Even if we are to exclude
human rights factors from UNDPís sums, it is interesting,
in this regard, to compare the approach with the World Bank.
On 8 March, the World Bank suspended loans to Nepal worth
$70 million. The loan was suspended over the failure of the
government to carry through reforms. The point is the Bank
makes such decisions based on a very restricted set of conservative
criteria. It does not believe in human rights as part of the
development equation but nonetheless the Bank is signaling
that it does not believe that its reform program can be sustained.
UNDP might equally respond that its development is not aimed
wholly at reform and much of its work is now more humanitarian
in character. Most seasoned Nepal observers would wonder openly
about any development agency actually reaching the poorest
even before the conflict. First, they would cite a host of
reports that demonstrate the failure of the development community
to reach or impact on the lives of the target populations.
Secondly they would then point out basic market logic: unequal
players entering an unequal market leave with unequal rewards.
Take away the rule of law and replace it with the chaos that
now reigns, and dysfunctional markets favour the strongest
(and best armed); the poorest and most vulnerable leave with
nothing. Development is not possible without an equitable
distribution system and without the rule of law this is simply
Key to understanding the
relationship between UNDP and human rights is to understand
the interdependent relationship between UNDP and the domestic
government. Put simplistically, UNDP works through governments
and hence UNDP is there because the government wants it to
be there. To carry out development work UNDP needs the government
and in most cases the government needs UNDPís money. On the
other hand, violation of human rights, by definition, involves
the state: and herein lies the problem. While UNDP depending
on the political dexterity of its staff can work with a certain
level of rights violation, systematic violation is a more
difficult issue that challenges this basic structural relationship.
UNDP is not wholly to blame.
UNDP organizationally, and as a whole, has little capacity
for human rights work though UNDP Nepalís response of a basic
training of staff two years ago nonetheless does seem a little
poor. And from the evidence presented here it clearly has
little capacity to understand that basic structural contradiction.
Human rights remains at best ill understood and at worst performed
for the donors. And as we have seen, institutionally UNDP
is liable to shy away
from issues that push it away from its basic purpose. The
behavior may lack morality but it is organizationally logical.
But these are excuses. UNDP in its report talks of its purpose
to protect human rights, the essential link to development
and to mainstreaming. If UNDP wishes to hold to its public
commitment it would do well to examine its own performance
in Nepal against its own logical frame.
But this is not the real point of this article. Clearly,
while UNDP has internal contradictions with human rights,
the Office of the High Commissioner does not. And its organizational
responsibilities are clear.
One must ask to what extent
the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (by agreeing
to operate under these institutional arrangements), is actually
providing support to the current regime in Nepal and its policies
- policies that include widespread and systematic violation
of fundamental rights, including most recently Ministers flying
to Kapilabastu (Western Nepal) to celebrate and encourage
the emergence of a vigilante movement. In mid February 2005
Ďthe mobí beat to death at least 30 persons. The weapons used
were sticks, axes, knives and paraffin. The Ministers encouraged
the actions of the vigilante groups and even agreed to consider
a request for shotguns. This is not tacit
complicity with violation; this is the policy.
If anyone needed more official evidence of a state policy
of violation they need to look no further. And they might
also ask - where was the response of the Office?
The really worrying thing
is that Nepal is just one example. The problem is across the
board. Is this what we meant by mainstreaming?†
And the critics do have a point when they argue that
human rights is being diluted by wider UN field operations
into non- existence.
Ignoring human rights is
a false reality. This is demonstrated by the example Ė the
UN can argue forcibly about a return to democratic government
in Nepal. This is, of course, a desirable objective, but unless
that return addresses the fundamental issue of impunity and
civilian control of the military, such a return would simply
let impunity develop. Accepting modifications to Emergency
laws while there is no rule of law would be similarly ill-advised.
A return to democracy means addressing human rights. Human
rights are an inconvenient but imperative part of the solution.
For the Office of the High
Commissioner for Human Rights, Nepal (and indeed all the other
technical assistance that it offers) is a challenge to the
credibility of the institution. Surely the OHCHR must examine
delivery of technical assistance through UNDP. It must ask
if the arrangement may compromise with its own institutional
purpose as the actions of human rights advisers will be limited
to the organizational logic of UNDP.
Organisations have tended to back away from overt criticism
of the OHCHR in the past. Given its history of failure the
OHCHR has really had an easy ride.† The OHCHR has been mostly ineffective, but
more rarely valuable. But the move toward the current crop
of technical assistance through UNDP needs to be re-visited.
Time is running out. The test case is Nepal.