Aid Skepticism Part III: Rotten Apples – Human Rights Violations in USAID programs
August 8, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Foreign Policy published an article criticizing USAID for not exercising enough vigilance over their programs, resulting in affiliated organizations committing human rights abuses, examples of which are provided for multiple countries around the world. Crux of the article:
“Despite an extensive process for planning, monitoring, and evaluating projects, USAID has no systematic way of considering unanticipated or undesirable human rights-related side effects of its programming. Essentially, it sets goals and then establishes indicators for meeting them — but it does not monitor for unintended consequences of its actions.”
This undermines USAID as an organization. USAID is a massive bureaucracy and despite Rajiv Shah’s push for reforms, clearly there are a lot of existing projects that aren’t subjected to enough scrutiny. In addition, there’s also the problem of programs outlasting their effectiveness and efficiency – contributing to wasting time and money that could be spent elsewhere.
The article states:
“USAID also has to be willing to drop or find alternatives to non-essential programs in countries where programming is more likely to further repression than provide any real support to vulnerable populations.”
One suggestion is developing a more robust mechanism for monitoring within USAID – this poses obvious problems that come with all internal investigations – or more dialogue with civil society groups in countries where projects are located that can act as watch dogs/monitors/etc. (we could send more people to DynCorp’s training on how to be a watchdog reporter – private security companies just love watchdogs). Again, this brings us back to giving more agency to local groups/entities (where possible), complimenting existing structures rather than fully supplementing them.
However, both of these fairly obvious suggestions are in vain. Regarding the obvious problems with internal monitoring – well – it was deemed too expensive and unnecessary. As for local coordinators – well:
A formerly mandatory policy requiring USAID to analyze a project’s social impact during the planning phase was made optional and effectively discontinued in the early 2000s; it was dismissed as time-consuming and unwieldy, and nothing has replaced it. A position for an indigenous peoples’ coordinator at USAID was also scrapped. Today, no specific mechanisms exist to prevent harm to indigenous people or forcible displacement of local groups in conjunction with economic, agricultural, mining, or infrastructure programs.
This is actually sort of shocking. The first step is to bring back local coordinators and safeguards within USAID. For the ‘what’s next,’ private sector involvement could be a great source of money and advice. I’m sure there will be cries that they are likely to ignore similar abuses or worse, perpetrate them. However, if USAID has a partnership with a company, they’ll be held somewhat responsible for abuses committed by that company via affiliation - a check on the private sector. Private sector involvement could push for greater efficiencies measure, which is a strength they have compared to large, public bureaucracies, as well as local involvement to build better business relationships for the ‘business’ aspect of their in-country roles. There is room here where both sides can improve the other, and hopefully help curtail the incidences of human rights abuses perpetuated by USAID programs.