by Ryan Schlief (International Accountability Project)
In the past few years, more and more governments have tightened restrictions on the ability of people and civil society to access information and discuss issues relevant to their lives and livelihoods.
When the topic is ‘development,’ the added involvement of businesses and banks, whether national or foreign, significantly compounds the pressure against communities and civil society to discuss and organize around the development they want.
Within this evolving context, the Early Warning System supports communities facing restrictions on their freedom to assembly and association to promote their own development priorities and campaign against the human and environmental abuses all too often associated with today’s development.
When informed that a project is being considered for their area, communities and the organizations supporting can consider their options for response with a staff person or partner of the Early Warning System. Training materials, tactical guides and case studies organized by the global members of the Coalition for Human Rights in Development can also reinforce the community-led response.
One of the most extensive community-led research projects about development and human and environmental rights, was conducted by the International Accountability Project (IAP) and the Global Advocacy Team. IAP believes communities are the experts about what development will improve their lives for the better. Below, the Global Advocacy Team describes how and why they got involved.
(The Global Advocacy Team: Bernardino Morales Tera, Jamil Junejo, Melania Chiponda, Mohamed Abdel Azim, Moon Nay Li, Rowena “jessica” Amon, Sek Sokunroth, and Sukhgerel Dugersuren)
We come from eight very different countries and contexts: farmers and rural communities in Burma, Pakistan, and Zimbabwe; urban neighborhoods in Cambodia and the Philippines; and indigenous groups in Egypt, Mongolia, and Panama. Yet we have found that our diverse communities face strikingly similar challenges, experiences, and opportunities.
We ask you to understand that “development” has become a scary word for many people in our communities.
In our personal experiences and during our parents’ generation, development projects did not translate into visible benefits for local people. Instead, development was the word that government officials used to justify seizing our lands, bring violence at the hands of the military and police, and threaten us when we asked questions about what was happening. Many of us on the Global Advocacy Team have personally experienced the trauma and horrors of forced evictions. All of us have dedicated our lives to supporting communities that are struggling to survive under these difficult conditions.
Coming from this perspective, we believe human rights are inextricably linked to development. We are promoting a development approach that truly regards local people as equal partners and experts in the quest to find solutions to our countries’ development challenges. We are not representing invisible or expendable communities who can be sacrificed for the greater good.
Based on one of the most extensive community-led surveys on global development, involving 800 people in eight countries, the findings of the International Accountability Project’s (IAP) Global Advocacy Team show the darkest side of development and how local expertise is changing it.
This report calls for a return to the idea of what development could be – what many of us wish was happening today.
As one of the people surveyed in Zimbabwe said, “Development must be shaped by the people. Poverty cannot be eradicated alone by someone who is not affected by it. People must also fight their own poverty.”
A snapshot of the report’s global statistics are quite telling:
IAP started this initiative to document how development can be improved by those who have seen it change their lives for better or for worse. This report demonstrates that these local experts are actually best placed to advise on the development process and on specific improvements to the projects themselves.
At times, conducting this research was challenging. Three of us worked to collect the data in the midst of dramatic political change and protest in our countries. Each of us faced limitations in accessing bank and government information on development. In response to government restrictions affecting our freedom of assembly and association, most of us challenged these policies by using creative means to conduct this research and mobilize local communities. Two of us even had to meet with community members while armed soldiers stood nearby.
This initiative is directed to those who fund and design projects being considered as development. We hope local communities, especially those facing negative impacts, find helpful ideas in these eight chapters. And for everyone who believes development should be community-led—relying on local priorities, plans, and expertise to improve lives—we hope you are inspired and see this report as a continuation of ideas and actions that will return development to what it was once intended to be.