RIGHTS AND DEVELOPMENT
Today, among the most talked about issues in politics is human rights and its growing acceptance that human beings, irrespective of where they live, have certain common goals related to life and well-being both at individual and collective levels. The human rights-based approach to development gained momentum in the 1990s against the backdrop of growing criticism of the relative failure of so-called conventional development strategies, encouraged and pursued by national and international agencies, to eradicate poverty. The solution, many argued, was to adopt the approach which demands the process of human development that is normatively based on international human rights standards and operationally aimed at promoting and protecting human rights for all. An important notion that has gained considerable attention in recent years is legal empowerment of the poor, in which poverty persists partly due to the poor not being able to exercise or the power to exercise legal rights. The goal of empowering the poor requires more than simply a transfer of resources; it entails the creation of sound legal and political frameworks which specifically address the needs of poor and vulnerable groups in the population and hold political and administrative leaders to account for policy failures. The Center’s research on rights and development focuses on critical studies of how these approaches can be operationalised in practice in selected countries in Africa and Southeast Asia. Empirical research examines social justice and accountability of states and explores public policies and judicial reforms aimed at legal and social empowerment of the poor by promoting, protecting and fulfilling human rights. Specific areas of focus including the rule of law and access to justice, the informal sector and labour rights.
HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE UNITED STATES
The United States has a vibrant civil society and strong constitutional protections for many basic rights; however, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, immigration, and national security, its laws and practices routinely violate rights. Often, those least able to defend their rights in court or through the political process, racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, children, the poor, and prisoners, are the people most likely to suffer abuses. Economic and social rights are a natural, and in fact necessary, outgrowth of the United States founding ideals of equality, freedom, and human dignity. Social movement leaders have often recognized this relationship. Around the time of his launching the Poor People’s Campaign, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to this stating:
We read one day. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. That they endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these, are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But if a man doesn’t have job or an income, he has neither life, nor liberty and the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.
—Martin Luther King, Jr. (March 1968)
Issuing a dramatic challenge, Dr. King called for a Bill of Economic Rights and recognized that:
We have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights, an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society. We have been in a reform movement. But after Selma and the voting rights bill, we moved into a new era, which must be the era of revolution. We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power, this means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together, you can’t really get rid of one without getting rid of the others, the whole structure of American life must be changed. America is a hypocritical nation and [we] must put [our] own house in order.
—Martin Luther King, Jr. (May 1967)
There are powerful messages that are worth reviewing; they should not be overlooked. Current human rights abuses extend to many facets of culture and countries and challenge the very Constitution of the United States, including the amendments, its state constitutions, conferred by treaty and enacted legislatively through the United States Congress, its state legislatures and its state referenda and citizen's initiatives. As the global superpower, the United States, as a country falls short in procuring the global vision its political establishment calls American freedom and democracy.