ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Human Rights and Human Development

Human Rights and Human Development Human Development Report 2000 by United Nations Development Programme; Oxford University Press, New Delhi, pp 291 + xiv.

The release of each Human Development Report has become a significant global event. This year’s Report focuses on the relationship between human rights and human development. As passions and preoccupations of the cold war era are on their way out now, the time is perhaps just right for a report of this kind. After all, no useful purpose will be served if we hold on to the belief that the term ‘human rights’ is nothing more than another beautiful slogan by which great powers rationalise their interventionist policies. This is of course not to deny the fact that human rights have become a regular subject in international relations and that western, particularly American, diplomacy often behaves in the most self-righteous way. What is important is that many of the salient social issues are now being discussed locally in rights terms, and they involve new claimants in the form of local groups and new non-state violators, such as corporations. Thus, local concern for rights is often an indigenous process and a reaction to new realities, not simply a function of western pressure.

While the idea of human development has been thoroughly discussed mainly by academics and development practitioners, discussions on human rights are hopelessly diffuse. It is not easy to make one’s way through the thick web of arguments and counter-arguments spun by a wide range of sources – from classics in philosophy to pamphlets produced by rights activists. There are too many easy ways of complicating the rights discourse. The Human Development Report 2000 has tried hard to avoid them. The Report is firmly anchored to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (supplemented by the International Human Rights Covenants). As a result, it puts on a rather deceptive appearance. It looks like an assortment of various pieces of information strewn liberally with pious statements. Like all the previous reports, this Report too is replete with earnestness. And the logician in the reader is humbled by the sheer weight of this earnestness. Linguistic expressions to persuade others often take on an emotive load. Such loads may impede processes of communication, particularly when it comes to transmitting precise, unambiguous information about definite facts. However, their use for persuasion, to shape people’s emotive attitudes, is undoubtedly a matter of great social importance. The Human Development Reports seem to have been aiming at striking a good balance between these two different functions of linguistic expressions: transmitting information and shaping people’s emotive attitudes. That the balance occasionally gets tilted towards the latter is not a matter of great concern for UNDP.

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