Helen Clark: 2013 Hands Lecture on "Development in Practice: Rule of Law, Transitional Justice, and Human Rights”

May 1, 2013

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
2013 Hands Lecture,
Mansfield College, Oxford University
1 May 2013, 5:00 pm
 “Development in Practice:
Rule of Law, Transitional Justice, and Human Rights” 


I thank Mansfield College for the invitation to deliver the 2013 Hands Lecture. I also wish to acknowledge Baroness Helena Kennedy, Principal of the College, for her commitment to linking human rights thinking and expertise with its development and practice, including through the establishment of the new Oxford University Institute for Human Rights.

In my role now as head of UNDP, the UN’s largest development organization, and previously over many years as Prime Minister, a Minister, and Member of Parliament in New Zealand, I have greatly valued the interaction between the academic and research communities and practitioners which supports evidence-based approaches and policy innovation.  This process can apply as much to the advancement of human rights as it can to any other area of policy.  

Without doubt, the rigorous scholarship exhibited at this great university can and does inform the work of practitioners to promote the three inter-connected pillars of the United Nations’ mission established in its Charter in 1945: peace and security, development, and human rights.  

Therefore the vision for the new Oxford University Institute for Human Rights, “to ensure that law, policy, and practice can be more closely informed by the work of human rights scholars, and that academic research agendas can in turn be more closely informed by the needs of policy-makers, legislators and practitioners” is particularly relevant and welcome to UNDP and the UN at large.

I understand that the Institute, to be housed here at Mansfield College with its commitment to inclusion and to access to education for students from diverse backgrounds, will bring together expertise from across the University.   

Law professors and students at Oxford have long provided support to practitioners working in diverse settings.  Building on that, I understand that the Institute aims to become the pre-eminent resource hub in Europe for a range of actors in the field of human rights – whether they be, for example, practitioners from the more recent members of the Council of Europe, civil society advocates in Arab States, legal scholars from the Commonwealth, or students seeking training in human rights.

In line with the vision for the Institute, the title of my lecture tonight is “Development in Practice: Rule of Law, Transitional Justice, and Human Rights”.  

A disclaimer: I am not a legal scholar, and UNDP has neither a normative nor a monitoring role in human rights. Thus my remarks will reflect a practitioner’s perspective on how development work can support the realization of human rights, and help build the institutional capacity for more inclusive, responsive, and accountable governance.  

Human Rights and Development in the United Nations

Article 1 of the UN Charter, signed in 1945 in San Francisco, states that beyond maintaining international peace and security, the purposes of the United Nations include:

“To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”

Building on the Charter, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights document the range of civil, social, cultural, political, and economic rights, which all people should enjoy.

The solid body of human rights conventions, treaties, and declarations which has developed at the global level, and at regional levels too, has greatly influenced the language and commitments found in national constitutions.

Advocacy groups continue to turn to these landmark documents to push for reform in their countries, and to advocate for drafting new constitutions which reflect international norms and standards. We see this most recently in a number of Arab States undergoing complex transitions.

Other core human rights treaties concluded under the auspices of the UN are crucial to development too: for example, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). All such conventions convey a vision of a better, fairer, more just world, and, directly, or indirectly, guide the scope of work of organizations like UNDP and sister agencies in the UN, and the values and priorities of our practitioners in UN Country Teams around the world.  

The links between human rights and development are of particular interest to UNDP.  The Declaration on the Right to Development (1989) noted that: “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 realized.”

This year, the UN is celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted by the second World Conference on Human Rights on 25 June 1993. It established that human rights are inter-related, indivisible, and inter-dependent and noted that “extreme poverty and social exclusion constitute a violation of human dignity.”  

The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action called for the establishment of a High Commissioner for Human Rights, and encouraged the creation of more National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs).  Over the last twenty years, the numbers of NHRIs have grown significantly.

There has been growing awareness too of how development actors can contribute to the realization of human rights. In response to a drive for UN Reform in 1997 when all UN agencies were called on to mainstream human rights in their work, UNDP adopted its first formal human rights policy in 1998 – Integrating Human Rights with Sustainable Human Development.   

There has also been a process of greater convergence between the human rights and development agendas - both conceptually and in practice.  This is in part due to the emergence of the human development paradigm with its people-centered approach.   

The very first global Human Development Report published by UNDP in 1990 declared that “people are the real wealth of nations”, and defined human development as a process of enlarging people’s choices, freedoms, and capabilities to lead lives they value. The concept encompasses the right to human dignity, the right to have a say in decisions affecting one’s life, and principles of empowerment and equity.

Our focus at UNDP on human development owes much to the lifetime contribution and thinking of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen – notably both an economist and a philosopher – and his colleague, Mahbub ul Haq.  Their pioneering work made the conceptual leap beyond the conventional equating of GDP growth with development to judging development progress on how it impacts on people’s lives.

This was a breakthrough in development thinking and practice, facilitated by bringing academics and practitioners together.  
Building on this paradigm, which also recognized that poverty has many dimensions, UNDP, following collaboration with the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI), introduced the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) in the 2010 Human Development Report.  
The MDI examines deprivations at the household level beyond low income – ranging from having no household member who has completed five years of schooling, to having had one or more children die, and to not having access to clean drinking water, electricity, or adequate sanitation – and the overlapping of these deprivations.  It seems self-evident to me that those experiencing multi-dimensional poverty to that degree are in effect having the right to development denied to them. That is unjust.
From theory to Practice: Mechanisms for the Realization of Human Rights

Just as the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative’s work led us to new insights on poverty, so, in the same way, the new Oxford Institute for Human Rights can introduce new thinking on how to translate human rights principles into practice, and facilitate knowledge exchange.  

At UNDP we encapsulate our mission in the simple, yet powerful, motto: “Empowered Lives: Resilient Nations”.  Our work is guided by the principle of national ownership and the long term objective of building and strengthening national capacities and institutions which drive development progress, empower civil society, and expand opportunities for marginalized individuals or excluded groups to participate in the decisions which shape their lives.  This work is highly relevant to the advancement of human rights.

The Global Human Development Report in 2000 on Human Rights and Human Development, argued that: “Human rights and human development share a common vision and a common purpose – to secure, for every human being, freedom, well-being, and dignity”.  The same year the Millennium Declaration called for respect for all internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development.  

UNDP’s mandate to promote sustainable human development and inclusive governance enables us to support countries to incorporate the human rights principles and standards associated with the conventions and treaties to which they have subscribed in their national policies, development plans, and strategies.

The high level of trust in UNDP as a development partner, and our commitment to national ownership of development, enable us to work on what are often highly sensitive topics for countries.  

In response to Member State requests, our work in more than 100 countries has focused directly on supporting the national human rights machinery, and, more broadly, on efforts to strengthen the rule of law and justice.

Allow me to give you some examples.

Support for National Human Rights Machinery

UNDP has worked to strengthen the capacity of national human rights institutions and to help create them where they don’t exist in a wide range of countries.  For example:

•   In Timor Leste, we supported the Provedoria for Human Rights and Justice (PDHJ) to strengthen its capacity, by helping to introduce new legal and operational management policies, train staff, draft relevant policies and legislation, and design methodology and tools for strategic planning.

•    In Croatia, UNDP supported the establishment of the Croatian People’s Ombudsman (CPO) as one of the main institutions providing a redress mechanism for citizens. UNDP helped to clarify the institution’s mandate and responsibilities, improve its internal and external co-ordination, and increase its visibility and accessibility as it worked to uphold new anti-discrimination legislation. In conjunction, UNDP also assisted the national government to develop a witness and victim support system in Croatia, primarily focused on the conflict-affected population. This system has become a model for the region.

•    In Sierra Leone, UNDP worked to support the Human Rights Commission to hold its first public hearing in 2011. It invoked its quasi-judicial powers for the first time, and rendered a decision in favour of 235 ex-soldiers who had been discharged and denied end-of-service benefits. In this decision, the Commission upheld the constitutional provisions providing a right to privacy and protection against discrimination.

To respond more effectively to requests for assistance, in December 2010, UNDP and OHCHR together launched a toolkit for collaboration with National Human Rights Institutions to provide practitioners, including UN Country Team staff, information on best practices and strategies to encourage collaboration between NHRIs, government, Parliament, judiciary, and civil society.  
Similarly, in the Asia-Pacific region, UNDP and OHCHR, in partnership with the Asia Pacific Forum on National Human Rights Institutions, developed a methodology for capacity assessments of NHRIs, and undertook assessments in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Malaysia which helped identify areas for targeted support.

From our work, we know that many NHRIs continue to be short of resources, capacity, and expertise – including legal expertise – despite the important role they play. Institutions like the Oxford Institute for Human Rights could play an important role in offering such legal support, including by hosting training and serving as a resource for practitioners.  

UNDP also works in support of the Universal Periodic Review process of the UN Human Rights Council, through our partnership with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  We support governments to strengthen their capacities to complete their reports, and then to follow up on the recommendations made. Such support has been given to a diverse range of countries from Yemen to Ecuador, Rwanda, Turkmenistan, and Laos.  

Beyond engaging with human rights machinery and strengthening national systems of human rights, UNDP is also very active in supporting the rule of law, justice, and security sector reform in this context, which are essential for sustainable human development.

Rule of Law

Last September, the UN General Assembly held its first ever High-Level Meeting on the Rule of Law.  There, Member States stated their conviction that: “the rule of law and development are strongly inter-related and mutually reinforcing; that the advancement of the rule of law at the national and international levels is essential for sustained and inclusive economic growth, sustainable development, the eradication of poverty and hunger, and the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, all of which in turn reinforce the rule of law...”

In line with this thinking, UNDP has been working to support the rule of law in more than 100 developing countries, including 37 affected by crisis. Through this work, we can help strengthen the capacity of governments to govern better, and deliver justice and the capacities of citizens to access it.  Some examples:

•    In Georgia, UNDP has worked with legal aid lawyers and a public television station to build public information campaigns raising awareness among displaced persons about their legal rights.  

•    In Vietnam, UNDP has partnered with civil society groups and universities to develop clinical legal education programmes to develop the skills and knowledge of law students and to provide accessible legal services for the poor and marginalized.

•    In India, UNDP supported a training programme for 1.5 million poor people – a third of them women – on their legal rights and entitlements.  The programme also trained an additional 4,000 paralegal personnel, community justice workers, and elected women respresentatives to assist people to access justice.

•    In Turkmenistan during my visit in May 2011, I opened the first Human Rights Resource Centre in the country, as part of our joint project with the Government of Turkmenistan, the European Union, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Since then, an additional four Human Rights resource centres have been opened, which aim to increase access to human rights information for people in each of the five provinces of Turkmenistan. We are now also supporting the Government in drafting its National Human Rights Action Plan.  

UNDP, along with UNICEF, UNIFEM, and the Danish Institute for Human Rights, carried out a comprehensive study of Informal Justice Systems, including country-specific case studies on Bangladesh, Ecuador, Malawi, Niger, Papua New Guinea, and Uganda.  It aimed to identify the human rights implications of informal justice processes, particularly for women, children, and vulnerable groups to better inform our work on the ground

UNDP has also partnered with women’s organisations, including in Ghana, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, to strengthen their capacity to advocate for women’s rights in formal and traditional justice systems.  

We were pleased to see in Botswana last year a case brought to the high court, with support from the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, which overturned a customary law which had prevented women from inheriting their family home.   

Conflict and Transitional Justice

In societies emerging from conflict and/or long periods of authoritarian rule, trust in the authorities and processes tends to be low, and social cohesion has generally been weakened.  Here, new institutions with integrity can provide the foundation for building inclusive governance.  Capacity development of institutions and national actors is critical for making mechanisms sustainable and effective.  

Transitional justice is particularly critical as countries tackle the challenges of dealing with past abuses while moving forward without relapsing into violence.  Indeed every civil war which has begun since 2003 was in a country which had previously experienced civil war.  Without accountability for abuse, old wounds can fester, and that infection can erode peace processes. Much of UNDP’s work on transitional justice is directed towards facilitating national dialogue which engages government, civil society – including victims’ groups, and the general public.

Let me give you examples of the kind of work we do in these more challenging settings:

•    In Yemen, which has embarked on a two-year transition timetable, UNDP and other parts of the UN are  supporting rule of law, justice, and security sector programming, which includes assistance to strengthen  the national human rights architecture, transitional justice processes, and the national dialogue.

•    In countries of the former Yugoslavia, UNDP has been working to strengthen the capacity of national justice systems to tackle crimes related to past violent conflict. We have found that such support, if appropriately designed, can benefit a country’s justice system overall. It may inform the local judiciary about international law and promote its use in domestic practice. In turn, justice sector-wide development support can improve a country’s ability to prosecute crimes against humanity committed by their citizens. In addition, limited but significant successes of domestic prosecutions of war crimes in Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia could contribute to conflict prevention for the future by signaling that impunity will not be tolerated.

•    In Somalia, UNDP has provided support to the justice and security sector, from building courts and police stations, to training police units and members of the judiciary, as well as helping establish nine mobile courts and numerous legal aid clinics. Since 2006 the number of people accessing the formal justice system has increased from approximately 1,500 to over 10,000. UNDP has also provided support to female law graduates, through internships and other opportunities, and many now work to prosecute crimes against women and children, and to address gender-specific injustices, including those related to child custody, inheritance, and land and property rights.

•    In Guatemala, UNDP has helped bring together the key actors working on a broad range of transitional justice-related processes, from archiving, exhumations, and forensic analysis, to reparations, psycho-social care, historical memory and awareness rising.

•    In Gaza, a UNDP-supported legal aid network provides an array of advanced legal services, including representation, litigation, mediation and arbitration. Women account for 88 per cent of the visitors to the clinics. Since April 2011, eighteen clinics across the Gaza Strip have been operating, bringing together the Palestinian Bar Association, civil society organizations, and academic institutions.

As well, UNDP has been involved in national restorative justice initiatives.  We have been providing institutional support to various kinds of truth-seeking and reconciliation bodies across regions from Peru, to Kenya, Timor Leste, and elsewhere.  

In Rwanda UNDP supported the government in setting up the gacaca courts, the traditional justice mechanism wet out to deal with massive human rights violations there during the genocide of the 1990s.  

Conclusion: Freedom from Fear and Want in the Post-2015 Development Agenda

As the target date of 31 December 2015 for reaching the Millennium Development Goals nears, discussion is fully under way on what a subsequent global development agenda might look like.  In the consultations – and there have been many – human rights principles – especially participation, equality, and non-discrimination, along with the rule of law and honest and effective governance, are being raised as very important enablers of development.

The Report of the UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda suggested that a future development agenda should be “based on the three fundamental principles of human rights, equality and sustainability” and that “These core dimensions are consistent with the notion of “freedom from want” for present and future generations, building on the three pillars of the sustainable development concept (economic, social, environmental), and that of “freedom of fear.”

A recently published report on the post-2015 consultations, “The Global Conversation Begins: Emerging views for a New Development Agenda,” summarizes key findings to date, noting that people want: “an expanded development agenda that reflects strengthened public accountability, equity, and human rights, and remodels itself to respond to new realities, including the ongoing jobs crisis, good governance, growing and moving populations, resource scarcity and environmental degradation, and peace and security”.

In 2005 former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, argued that:  “Humanity will not enjoy security without development, it will not enjoy development without security, and it will not enjoy either without respect for human rights”.  Recent events in the Arab States region and beyond, give weight to setting development in this broader context, so that citizens of all countries can live in dignity with their human rights respected and upheld.
Exchanges between academia and practitioners working on human rights and development can play an important part in realizing this vision.

In closing let me again commend the proposal to establish the Oxford Institute for Human Rights, and the hard work of Helena Kennedy and other colleagues to make it possible.  I hope that UNDP can link to the Institute’s work, and I wish it every success.


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