Human rights and human development

Print edition : March 02, 2002

The integration of human rights and human development policies can result in significant improvements in human society, facilitating the dignity, well-being and freedom of the individual. An analysis in the Indian context.


DRAWING on Amartya Sen's work on democracy and development in general and his research on famines in particular, it may be argued that there is no such question of fulfilling some preconditions before a nation or a people becomes ready for human rights. On the contrary, it is through the institutionalisation of human rights and democracy that individuals become fit and worthy and possess dignity in human development terms. It is the opportunity for the exercise of democratic rights itself that gives training for democratic claims for development of all. Sen summarises the case for human rights from a development perspective in three aspects: "1. Their intrinsic importance, 2. Their consequential role in providing political incentives for economic security, and 3. Their constructive role in the genesis of values and priorities." Human rights, in other words, have intrinsic as well as instrumental value: without freedom, there is no development, and with freedom, development as a process of uplifting personal well-being is enhanced (Fortman, 2000). Alternatively, it may be argued that the "path of human development through the assistance of human rights" confronts all struggles and competing claims that arise because of this new integration (Majumdar, 2000). But this integration needs to be supplemented with policy changes at all levels of decision-making in the government for it to be effective.

The integration of human rights and human development policies rests upon an examination of the similarities and differences between these two conceptions (Amartya Sen, Human Development Report 2000, UNDP). They are ideologically close enough to derive motivation and concern for each other, promoting compatibility and mutual understanding. From an enforcement strategy standpoint, they are different enough to be able to supplement each other. Thus, an integral approach of these two conceptions can result in significant improvements in human society, thereby facilitating in numerous ways the advancement of dignity, well-being and freedom of individuals in general. An adequate conception of human development cannot ignore the importance of political liberties and democratic freedoms.

Learners in a village in Rajasthan. Development indicators, when couched in the language of rights, can be a vital tool in initiating reforms in governance.-

It remains to be seen how far the role of integration of human rights and human development policies has been performed by the Indian judiciary and whether its assertions of these rights and principles constitute enforceable policies for governance administration. Another important analysis may be with reference to an observation of how these principles, which could be transformed into enforceable rights, are perceived by the government and what its position is with regard to their actual implementation. This analysis would lead us to the inquiry of whether or not the judiciary's role in promoting Directive Principles of State Policy as fundamental human rights has resulted in Parliament making amendments to the Constitution, thus giving constitutional legitimacy to judgments and solidifying the rights-development combination. Further, the rights-based approach to development requires both capacity-building within existing institutions of governance and providing support to the protection and promotion of human rights through the creation of human rights mechanisms and organisations.

The Declaration on the Right to Development (U.N. General Assembly Resolution 41/128, 1986), which stated unequivocally that the right to development is a human right, was adopted by the U.N. in 1986 by an overwhelming majority, with the U.S. casting the single dissenting vote. The first Article of the text of the Declaration on the Right to Development lucidly delineates the concept of the right to development. It states: "The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realised." The Declaration on the Right to Development is a world consensus document that emerged after a series of negotiations amongst the nation-states on what would constitute its provisions. The four main propositions of the Declaration are: a. The right to development is a human right; b. The human right to development is a right to a particular process of development in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realised - which means that it combines all the rights enshrined in both the covenants and each of the rights has to be exercised with freedom; c. The meaning of exercising these rights consistently with freedom implies free, effective and full participation of all the individuals concerned in decision-making and the implementation of the process. Therefore, the process must be transparent and accountable, individuals must have equal opportunity of access to the resources for development and receive fair distribution of the benefits of development (and income); and finally, d. The right confers unequivocal obligation on duty-holders - individuals in the community, states at the national level, and states at the international level. Nation-states have the responsibility to help realise the process of development through appropriate development policies. Other states and international agencies have the obligation to cooperate with the national states to facilitate the realisation of the process of development (Sengupta, 2001).

The U.N. Declaration that was adopted in 1986 by the General Assembly has a lot of similarities, in terms of both text and interpretation, to Part III of the Indian Constitution, the Directive Principles of State Policy, which came into force in 1948. Some examples of these similarities may be: Article 1 of the Declaration speaks of "economic, social, cultural and political development" from a human rights perspective, while Article 38(1) of the Constitution speaks of creating a social order in which justice, "social, economic and political", shall inform all the institutions of national life. Article 2(3) of the Declaration speaks of people's "active, free and meaningful participation in development" and "fair distribution of the benefits", while Article 39(a) of the Constitution speaks of ownership and control of the material resources of the community to be "distributed as best to subserve the common good" and Article 39(c) speaks of the economic system not resulting in the "concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment". Articles 3(2) and 4(2) of the Declaration speaks of "full respect for the principles of international law concerning friendly relations and cooperation among states" and the need for "effective international cooperation with appropriate means and facilities to foster nations' comprehensive development" respectively, while, Article 51 of the Constitution speaks of the state endeavouring to "a. Promote international peace and security; b. Maintain just and honourable relations between nations; c. Foster respect for international law and treaty obligations in the dealings of organised people with one another". It is important for the Government of India, which includes the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, to understand the need to read, interpret and integrate the human rights and human development policies on the one hand and the Directive Principles of State Policy on the other to the United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development.

What is noteworthy is the fact that in some respects, the Directive Principles of State Policy go beyond the Declaration on the Right to Development, and hence it is all the more important for Indian governance administrators to take cognisance of these provisions and work towards their realisation. For example are provisions such as Article 39A (equal justice and free legal aid), Article 40 (organisation of village panchayats), Article 41 (right to work, to education and to public assistance in certain cases), Article 42 (provision for just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief), Article 43 (living wage, etc., for workers), Article 43A (participation of workers in management of industries), Article 45 (provision for free and compulsory education for children), Article 46 (promotion of educational and economic interests of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and other weaker sections), Article 47 (duty of the state to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health), Article 48 (organisation of agriculture and animal husbandry), and Article 48A (protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wildlife).

THERE are always indicators of economic growth and social development on the basis of which governance administration is measured. Typically, these may be economic indicators of growth, which may include certain human development variables such as the level of education or the participation of women in development. On the whole, notwithstanding efforts to include human, social and political indicators of development, they have so far not been successful in finding a place of influence beside the powerful index of Gross National Product/Gross Domestic Product (GNP/GDP). One important purpose of the inclusion of human rights and human development in an integrated approach would be to dislodge the monopolistic hold of GNP/GDP on our minds. It has been argued that poverty can be removed at quite low-income levels, and that high average incomes are no guarantee against widespread misery (Streeten, 2000). Thus, research in this area by conjoining the "language of rights" to governance measurement indicators can result in a paradigm shift of both the social and institutional approach to development. To have a particular right is to have a claim on other people or institutions that they should help, assist or collaborate to ensure access to freedom. This insistence on rights and corresponding duties takes the governance debate beyond the idea of human development and links the human development approach to the concept that others have duties to facilitate and enhance development. Further, with the involvement of duties come a host of other concerns, such as accountability, culpability and responsibility.

The following are some of the indicators of governance administration in India, which will have a significant impact on the integration of human rights and human development policies: the right to food, education, health, shelter, environment and livelihood; rights of women, minorities, tribal people, children, aged, manual scavengers and the disabled and so on; the right to good governance; the right against corruption-free administration; and even the right to information. The Supreme Court and other courts have recognised that education, health, livelihood and environment have been declared as coming under the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution. Of course, the problem of access to these rights and meaningful exercise of them needs to be examined and strategies have to be devised for their implementation. In pursuing a human rights-based approach to development, additional indicators that stress on participation, empowerment, transparency, accountability and democracy are required to measure the levels of enjoyment of human rights. These indicators, when couched in the language of rights, can be a vital tool in initiating reforms in governance and also in impressing upon the government that the task of implementing these reforms is no longer purely an administrative task but one which is a legal obligation and a duty of the government. Further, it may be argued that non-implementation of such duties may result even in sanctions under appropriate circumstances. Some of the needed creative indicators are those of access to justice, right to survival, right to development, and participative governance, including representation.


C. Raj Kumar, a Visiting Researcher at the New York University School of Law, New York, was a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford and a Gammon Fellow at the Harvard Law School.

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