Promoting Human Rights in Less Developed Countries

Human Rights Developing CountriesA key challenge faced by those engaged in international human rights policy and practice is adopting an effective framework for protecting and promoting human rights around the world in a way that preserves and articulates their universal nature, while at the same time respecting local values and practices.

One way to approach this challenge is to examine values, norms, customs and practices in non-Western cultures which can act as ‘receptors’ for human rights principles and practice. A new Dutch collaborative research project adopts just such an approach (and is thus called the ‘Receptor Approach’). It brings together experts from around the world and from a variety of disciplines – law, anthropology, sociology, political science, international relations and philosophy among others. Continue reading

Improving the Rule of Law in Fragile States

fragile states legal law think tankMany fragile states suffer from incoherent legal systems. Whereas in developed countries, one single system exists and is effectively enforced, in fragile states multiple systems work side-by-side, each weakly enforced, and often operating in contradiction with each other. Creating a unified and robust system of law is one of the biggest challenges these countries face.

In most cases, this incoherence is a direct product of colonialism. One system, often with the greatest relevancy to local populations, has roots in the precolonial system of governance. It may have evolved a lot since then, but is still based on local circumstances and institutions. The state, itself a product of foreign rule, follows another system, based on Western legal tradition, imported from abroad. Neither is consistently or equitably implemented. Corruption distorts outcomes. Officials (whether those of the state or local leaders) lack training. Favoritism is common. Continue reading

Is Corruption Always Bad?

Corrupt Money

Corruption is generally vilified as an unmitigated evil. It disenfranchises the poor, weakens public services, reduces investment, and holds back whole societies. And yet, in some instances, corruption can actually be very useful, lubricating business in a way that promotes growth, creates jobs, helps smooth the introduction of needed reforms, and reduces poverty.

What explains this paradox? Continue reading

Is Pakistan an emerging market?

Most people in the West believe that Pakistan is an unstable country on the verge of imminent collapse or an explosion of violence. It is consistently portrayed—by politicians, policymakers, and the media—as the most dangerous and dysfunctional state in the world, struggling with terrorism, an out-of-control military, and interreligious conflict.

And yet, Pakistan is included on Goldman Sachs’ list of the next eleven (N-11) most important emerging markets. Although it has (along with Nigeria and Bangladesh) “broad and systematic issues across a range of areas” that will prevent it from fully delivering on its growth potential, the country’s large population (it currently has 180 million people) assures its inclusion. Indeed, within a generation, Pakistan will have the fourth largest number of people in the world, behind only India, China, and the United States, and be a market too significant to ignore.

It was possible to see this potential before 2007. Ranked highly for the openness of its markets, the country drew billions in foreign investment in the mid-2000s while chalking up growth rates of seven percent per year. Its equity markets were one of the best performers worldwide. The middle class was expanding rapidly, reaching into the tens of millions. Goldman predicted in 2007 that Pakistan could “ultimately have the potential to become similar to the smaller of today’s G7 in terms of size.”

Of course, much has changed since 2007. Or has it? Continue reading

Why do some countries have so few NGOs?

Homegrown nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) play crucial roles providing social services to the poor, holding governments accountable, aggregating the political power of the disenfranchised, and helping to shape public policies. Their importance to development is well known.

But what explains the reason why some developing countries possess so few independent organizations while others have a multitude?

Take Pakistan for instance. Whereas in Bangladesh, the former East Pakistan, NGOs have played such a prominent role that they have supplanted the state in some crucial areas, in Pakistan they are far less influential. Despite having 180 million people, the latter has relatively few important NGOs, think tanks, and independent monitoring organizations (IMOs), as pointed out by former ambassador to Pakistan William B. Milam in his book Bangladesh and Pakistan. Despite a generally positive government attitude (at least towards domestic organizations) and much growth in recent years, the number of important institutions pales in contrast to Bangladesh’s total. Continue reading

What’s Wrong With CGD’s Pakistan Initiative

The Center for Global Development has been organizing a Study Group on a U.S. Development Strategy in Pakistan. It published a report listing its recommendations last June.

Nancy Birdsall, CGD’s president, has also issued a series of open letters to the US government, such as the one posted recently.

CGD should be praised for undertaking such an initiative. Getting aid right in Pakistan matters a lot to US national interests, as well as to the idea that donors can contribute to state building. No fragile state is as important as Pakistan. Its governance problems have allowed terrorists to use its territory to plan attacks, and make its growing stockpile of nuclear weapons less secure. On the other hand, its strategic location and growing population (the country will be the 4th largest in a generation) ought to make it an important emerging market.

It is also rare that any think tank so closely examines aid policy in a specific country, though the importance of Pakistan means that two Washington organizations have done so in the last year (the Wilson Center issued a report in December).

But, CGD’s approach is flawed. Although the report makes sensible recommendations (on things like opening markets, promoting investment, engaging reformers, and improving USAID operations), it says almost nothing specific about Pakistan. There is no attempt to understand the drivers of its political economy, and the causes of its weak governance. There is no attempt to delve into the reasons why its leadership has consistently failed the country or why its state apparatus works so badly, especially for the country’s tens of millions of poor people. All its ideas more or less repeat verbatim what could be said about U.S. aid to almost any developing country. There is no context. Continue reading