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FOCUS September 1999 Volume 17

ODA and Human Rights

Editorial

Less aid for infrastructural projects such as building highways and dams and more for "soft infrastructure" such as education, skills- training and other capability-building activities may now be the new thrust of Japanese official development assistance (ODA) program. Recently, the approval by the World Bank of a loan to China to support a resettlement program for poor Chinese farmers was criticized for violating the bank's own rule on six-month environmental review, on consulting local residents, and on disclosure of loan information in a timely fashion. The fear that the loan will be used to upset the demographic dominance of Tibetans inside Tibet, Automous Region of China, was also raised.

In the process of reviewing ODA's role in development, it is time to seriously analyze how they have contributed to human rights violations. How many lands of the farmers, indigenous people and other poor people were lost without due process to development projects funded with ODA? How many people have been illegally detained, injured and even killed by security forces guarding these development projects? How many of these projects mostly benefit well-funded business enterprises, government officials and political leaders rather than the poor who live in the project areas?

It is time for ODA to serve the needs of human rights protection, promotion and realization. Support for "soft infrastructure" may indeed be a much better policy as it directly benefits people. Human rights education falls under this category. Technical support for increasing skills, knowledge and commitment to observing proper procedures for members of police and security forces in dealing with legitimate exercises of rights and freedoms, of curtailing criminal activities, and in securing peace in the community is much needed.

Needless to say, ODA support for strengthening social safety nets is important. But it has to be remembered that as long as development policies remain fiercely free market oriented where only the biggest and the fittest business interests survive, those who are weak will perpetually be in need of ODA support for social safety nets. ODA must therefore be clearly on the side of making ordinary people exercise their right to meaningful existence rather than be a mere protector against the perennial excesses of free market. In sum, ODA needs to serve human rights rather than the markets.


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