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Busan: mutual accountability isn't a one-way relationship


World leaders have been meeting in the South Korean city of Busan this week for the 4th High-level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4), where some 2,000 delegates have gathered with the aim of improving the quality of development assistance. With the enduring global financial and economic crisis pushing more than 64 million people into extreme poverty and forcing states to adopt extensive and sometimes excessive austerity measures, the stakes are higher than ever.

"Mutual accountability" is on everyone’s lips, yet until now the aid effectiveness agenda has largely centered on improving the accountability of recipients to donors, while the responsibilities of donor countries are either left aside or addressed solely in terms of official development assistance. Too little emphasis is placed on the many ways governments in the North affect and can better contribute to the universal fulfillment of economic, social and cultural rights, in accordance with their extraterritorial human rights obligations.

There are some incipient signs of change, however. The draft outcome document from high-profile meeting, building on the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action,  affirms that promoting human rights, democracy and good governance are a key part of development efforts, and acknowledges the importance of transparency and accountability for delivering results, including both “mutual accountability and accountability to the intended beneficiaries of co-operation, as well as to our respective citizens, organizations, constituents and shareholders.”

Civil society is for the first time able to provide feedback to the draft statement, rather than being limited to participating as mere observers as in past fora. A civil society statement coming out of the Busan Global Civil Society Forum convened just before the HLF4 calls on donor states to meet commitments made in Paris and Accra on transparent and untied aid, ensure their own accountability to people, focus on building local capacity in countries, and ensure monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are based on human rights norms and standards. At the same time, civil society is demanding that a human rights based approach to development be adopted by recipient countries so as to ensure non-discrimination, empower vulnerable and marginalized groups to claim their rights, protect the space for civil society to participate in development processes, ensure sustainable and equitable outcomes and promote democratic ownership, decent work, gender equality, and women’s rights and empowerment.

Much remains to be done if human rights are to be transversally mainstreamed into the aid effectiveness agenda. The draft document suggests donor countries are seeking to avoid firm commitments to improve transparency and boost direct budget support, opting instead for non-binding statements of intent. All indications are that poor performance in meeting previous aid commitments will continue into the near future.

While backsliding in aid commitments, many donor governments are simultaneously making it more difficult to mobilize the maximum available resources for human rights fulfillment. Illicit financial flows out of developing countries surpass those of official development assistance by a 10 to 1 ratio, according to experts. Paradoxically, many wealthy, donor countries allow and at times actively encourage the use of their jurisdictions as tax havens, with Switzerland, the USA, Japan, Germany, the UK and Belgium amongst the top 15 on the Financial Secrecy Index. Financial secrecy and the use of tax havens in rich countries permits an international enabling environment prone more to corporate tax dodging and tax evasion and avoidance, than to human rights-based development.

There will no doubt be much discussion of a global partnership for development as initial efforts towards the design of a post-2015 MDG framework unfold. The aid effectiveness agenda should reinforce the key accountability relationships between human rights duty-bearers and human rights-holders to shape an effective, but also equitable, development architecture. Rich countries and poor countries each have duties regarding the universal fulfillment of economic, social and cultural rights. Mutual accountability after all isn’t a one-way relationship.

Photograph of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressing the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness courtesy of Eskinder Debebe, UN Photo.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of CESR.