International Workshop on Human Rights and State Fragility – A New Paradigm in Development Assistance
Key messages from the workshop
Linkages between HR and SB: norms
• Current thinking and practice exploring the complex nexus between human rights and state fragility – especially in conjunction to state-building – is still relatively new and requires further exploration.
• The set of principles for ‘good international engagement in fragile states’ approved by the OECD DAC in 2007 constitutes what is perhaps the most explicit effort to link these twin priorities at the policy level.
• For much of the second half of the 20th century, there was a tendency to separate human rights and development (including state-building), both in theory and practice, leading to the creation of false distinctions and hierarchies among rights, the distortion of the nature of fundamental rights, and the creation of different disciplines or discourses with competing priorities and sometimes even contrary purposes.
• However, there may now be a policy and organizational base in place to support the integration of human rights in state-building in fragile settings.
• A human rights framework provides not only a moral vision but also a normative base – both conceptual and practical – to guide approaches and priorities in state-building.
• Firstly, the principle of the universality of human rights implies that human rights define the nature and role of the modern state rather than vice versa.
• Human rights are also normative in that they establish a set of core principles to guide the relations between state and society. These include equality and non-discrimination; participation and empowerment; and accountability.
• In addition, human rights standards provide a clear set of criteria for determining priorities for implementation of state duties. These are, primarily, deprivation; exclusion; vulnerability; and justice.
Linkages between HR and SB: practice
• The normative approach can impose an extremely high standard on what the state ought to be.
• The devil is in the detail and how that normative framework translates into practice and what empirical experiences can tell us about that.
• It is also not clear that the evidence base exists to support the normative claim that HR is an indispensable component of successful (and inclusive) SB. In fact, there is no real evidence that promotion of HR can turn fragile states around, although there is considerably more evidence that violations of HR can lead to state fragility. This is also particularly clear in the case of what Frances Stewart defines as ‘horizontal inequalities’, whereby targeted discrimination and exclusion tend to be strongly associated with fragility.
• In addition, there may be competing visions and moralities to the Western discourse on HR and democracy. This raises the issue of where the demand for HR comes from.
• On the other hand, at least at the level of international discourse, some considerable ground had been gained in terms of recognising the centrality of HR: there is no longer a debate on the legitimacy of an international HR framework, even if there is increasing recognition that the fulfilment of such a framework remains a distant goal in actual practice.
Concepts and definitions:
• There is a need for greater conceptual clarity about many of the terms being used and discussed in relation to SB and HR.
• Frances Stewart’s work on state fragility attempts to do this by disaggregating the concept along three different dimensions: authority failures, service delivery failures, and legitimacy failures.
• Still, the concept of legitimacy itself can be interpreted in many different ways, and how different conceptions of legitimacy have come to be understood both internally and externally is an issue of recurrent debate. An enduring point of contention is whether legitimacy should be defined primarily in terms of its democratic attributes (which is the definition that currently dominates international discourse), or whether other attributes are equally (or more?) important (e.g. delivering on economic growth).
Priorities and trade-offs: do all good things go together?
• Issues related to setting priorities, sequencing activities, and managing trade-offs remain a considerable challenge in SB, especially from a HR perspective.
• For instance, from a normative perspective, civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights are meant to be indivisible, inter-dependent, and equal among them. Thus, as noted by some observers, within the HR field there can be an inbuilt resistance to sequencing/prioritisation.
• In practice, however, working towards the fulfilment of all these rights at once represents a particularly daunting task.
• The field of transitional justice (TJ) provides an interesting example: thus far, TJ processes have proven much more successful in incorporating civil and political rights than social and economic rights, in part because addressing the latter may threaten the interests of powerful elites whose engagement is crucial if the peace process is to be successful.
• Regardless, priorities must be identified based on contextual factors and needs, rather than derived from fixed hierarchies.
With the advent of the new millennium, human rights and state fragility have emerged as two leading concerns in the international development community. However, until very recently, these two agendas have each constituted their own separate sphere. The set of principles for ‘good international engagement in fragile states’ approved by the OECD DAC in 2007 constitutes what is perhaps the most explicit effort to link these twin priorities at the policy level. Principle 3 emphasises state-building as the central objective of international involvement in fragile settings, and lays out an ambitious agenda of state-building based on a strong focus on state-society relations. Principle 6 on non-discrimination includes a specific focus on human rights. However, for the most part, current thinking and practice about the nexus between human rights and state fragility – especially in conjunction to state-building – is still relatively new and requires further exploration.
This was the main objective of the workshop was to stimulate debate among a carefully selected group of academics and development practitioners on the linkages between these two agendas from the general perspective of international engagement in situations of state fragility.