Universal Rights Indicators 

Intro to Design, Monitoring & Evaluation

Walter Sebastian Adler

7 March 2014

    The most divisive problem facing the respective fields of peacebuilding, development, humanitarian aid and human rights advocacy today is the total lack of agreement as to what drives the source of violent conflict & mass poverty.

Somewhere between the Washington Consensus and Chinese foreign policy are some valid and unrecognized middle pathways that circumvents power in delivery of capability to the wretched of the earth. Neither the free market nor the command economy have provenly brought security and opportunity to the global poor. But had something succeeded could we have even really measured it?

    The second major problem is that we have no agreed to means of measuring the effectiveness of our efforts. 

We have vehement suggestions, but no common agreed to set of indicators either economic/rights-based/or peace-promoting that have been adopted across the four humanitarian sectors in question. And of course there is no current way to coerce or incentivize mandatory, objective monitoring and evaluation to see if our operations are even effective at either alleviating poverty or preventing war. We are in short at both a crisis of ethics and meaningful qualification of our effort’s collective results.

    Find me one actual human rights respecting democracy on this earth to negotiate with or proposition for aid dollars. Perhaps you tell me the name of some Northern European country and I will still assert that democracy means more than free press, two parties and stability. I will tell you that all these international frameworks and all these high minded conferences are ultimately funded by hegemon powers which do more to “aid violence” and violate rights than any developing nation dictatorship or military junta; simply by scale of hegemony. If it is from these hegemons and corporate behemoths that we draw our payrolls, budgets and form projects that are acceptable to the whims of the donor or calculations of the government supporter then we are immediately subjected to produce politically useful products.  Can a peacemaker draw his or her salary granted by an engine of violation? How does one even clearly say that come humanitarian good has been achieved? What makes a thing sustainable and by who’s methodology of ranking?  

Universal indicators should be developed and applied across many different conflict contexts.  

    We are in a business, and to use banal language, our business is poverty alleviation/ violence reduction-mitigation. We require a means to gauge return on investment.

    Because anything besides that calculation is called ideology, politics, idealism or assertions of universal paradigms that cannot be proven. We must focus on tangible measurements guided by just & universal principles. Not ideas that have no basis valid in reality.

    The various practitioners of “humanitarianism” increasingly take the language and approach of running a small to medium sized racket in a booming poverty business. They cloak any unpalatable indictments of the nation state system in a self-serving “nativity of politics”. They balance almost psychotically the bipoles of “doing no harm” without “aiding violence”, which is to say for the most part accepting the “realities” in which they operate. The business acumen that this fosters within our four sectors brings the need to be more cost effective; to apply logical frameworks of results based management, or to apply M&E to appease donors.

To be accountable.

    Universal indicators if imposed across the board on NGOs, corporations and governments could make the game quite interesting. Let’s think about the state in play as is. One attempts to measure development based on the new (2010) human development index; life expectancy at birth, mean years of schooling/ expected years of schooling and the GNI per capita. One mostly measures human rights based on degree of violation. One tries to think that their aid is “conflict sensitive”. One attempts to measure peace using a variety of indicators demonstrating non-violence or perceived inter-communal cooperation. But as we know peace is not an absence of war, human development is highly, highly subjective and human rights is still a noble rhetoric not an enforceable legal framework. It is time to tie all these sectors into at the very least a common operating language and since human rights is such an adequate paradigm this is how we must measure our work. They provide civil, political, economic, social and cultural measurements for human progress. The means to aggregate and analyze big data is obviously available. 

What would be some of the strengths and weaknesses of using universal indicators?   

Human rights indicators rank our institutions and initiatives in (58) disaggregated categories. You can apply them to conflict mitigation as a well as a small scale literacy program. Both corporations and governments are now at work to use this language in their frameworks. “Corporate Social Responsibility” and United Nations programs desire a system that allows them to show their donor dollars matter. Too much of the current development enterprise fixates on Social Entrepreneurship.  Microfinance, ecotourism, “livelihoods”, “small and medium enterprises” and the creation of jobs. Are we in essence in the profession of indirectly profiting off the poor? “There is no money in this line of work” so we attract visionless people myopically focused on a symptom of poverty, a region of concern and not the disease itself or more important the pathology of poverty. Which runs from state and corporate impacts. Impacts which persistently imperil rights, development and peace in the name of a) national interest and b) profit.  

The greatest weakness of universal indicators is that if they are adopted in a way that allows gross subjectivity; prevents outsider monitoring and evaluation; if they focus on partial rights (progressive realization), or a narrow concern set (MDGs); worst if they are selectively applied then they will mean nothing. The greatest strength of universal indicators, using Human Rights Based Indicators, is that they frontload rights and politics back into peacemaking, development and aid delivery. In essence reasserting the completely political nature of this field.  We will in essence replace “do no harm” with “was a solid measurable good achieved?” And equally important to DME using human rights is M&E of institutions, governments included, that politically/economically negate and undermine the most noble of efforts to advance humanity. There must be one set of indicator standards. Universal rights touch on each and every aspect of the human condition and can be quantified. There is for instance a right to an education. There is a framework for how to apply it. We can therefore deduce a universal indicator by a) identifying the individual right and b) applying the AAAQ minimum obligation criteria; measuring availability of schools (#), measuring access to schools (enrollments), measuring acceptability of school to their communities (survey data), and the quality of education given (survey data, grad stats, post school employment stats). It will be difficult, contentious and potentially expensive to turn (58) rights into indicators. It will be highly contentious to impose this complex indicator standard across countries and sectors. There is a right to life, education and employment (the HDI indicators) but all 55 additional rights must be factored in too. Because these rankings when taken into account will tell us who by action or inaction is causing peace and prosperity and who is causing misery, poverty and war.

    Peace is not an absence of war. But all of the human rights guarantees and their advancement will remove primary drivers of war and poverty. If we can adequately measure the rights as qualitative/quantitative variables and see what institutional impacts and actions drive them then we can see how peace and prosperity is generated, and what parties sabotage both. The factors that exacerbate violent conflict are truly to be found in the systems and intuitions that deny or violate rights. 

Who should develop these?

Radical as it may seem, the poor actually do in fact know what they need and are willing to tell us. Technology allows us to analyze big data quickly and more importantly allows us to crowd source polls, open source indicator inputs, and rapidly coordinate collection and cross checking of data. When we use HDI for development, and separate sets of partial indicators for peacebuilding, aid delivery, or capacity building we are doing a great disservice to humanity. We are measuring the same suffering in incomplete and redundant ways. Once some basic rights based indicator guidelines are agreed to as the means to monitor, they ought to be placed in the hands of those we are claiming to serve. 

The world does not need more technocrats or grand conferences. It needs broad solicitation of indicator based human rights data coming from the people themselves. The United Nations is fine platform to introduce the measurement system, as is the field of M&E generally, but we cannot realistically expect such a massive indicator shift to happen top down and quickly. It should be imposed bottom up.    

I believe it to be a historically objective reality that the policies of Europeans toward the rest of the world are directly and completely to blame for the current state of global underdevelopment which seems established in nearly every former colony. That these same states would now dictate economic terms to others, dictate rights obligations to those they always violated or continue to, and hide exploitation under other names is a triple offense.

    Peacebuilding has proven little more than violence cessation/ mitigation. And these are not truly different “sectors” but instead “humanitarian approaches”. There are no human rights a nation is legally enforced to respect. There is no peace process that has done more but freeze a conflict in place. Development seems most suited to getting the ground ready for neo-colonialism; that is to say a hegemon power laying claim and ownership over the resources of an under developed country.

    There is crisis of conscience that is eating away at us and the intentions of our seemingly honorable fields. There is both a programmatic realization of the inadequacy of our tactics and there is a bankruptcy of ideology that subsumed by neo-liberalism white washing and enables structural violence by blurring the lines of blame and causality.

      I once asked an epidemiologist what is the leading killer of the poor in Sub-Saharan Africa and she responded that the disease in question was poverty itself. I then asked her what was to blame for this poverty most immediately and she replied that it was “corruption and government negligence and international complicity”. But she explained that for every corrupt military regime or personality cult was a great power foreign backer and whether that backer was a European, an American, Chinese or Russian it was never a question of so-called human rights, just aid in exchange for resource access and geostrategic loyalties.  

    At the heart of this void lies the true lack of a unifying paradigm useful in monitoring and evaluation of a globally interconnected system. A uniform tactical adherence to human rights indictor based DME must become the accepted norm. A big tent approach is inherently necessary because competing theories of change, tactical frameworks, ideological drivers, political realities and competing bases of funding generates anarchy in approach and thus stagnation of progress.

    Perhaps for most development practitioners and peace negotiators doing no harm is as good as they think things can get, but there violence in that thinking! For if we measure our works in rights achieved instead of markets improved we can claim in honesty that “development is a means to freedom.” But, if we view one vocabulary, one set of indicators, one language of measurement as a threat then we cannot effect the unreasonable “realty” of system at war with its inhabitants. And we should acknowledge the madness of measuring a thing only by small elements of its parts.

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