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The Rising Need for Societal Development


Address to the European Leadership Conference on
Eurasia and Europe: Cooperating for a Culture of Peace & Human Development
Paris, France – December 3-4, 2013

The global agendas for the 21st century are marked by an enhanced focus on the human being, on the citizen and on societies in addition to the traditional addressing of issues related to governments and states. Peace is not any more the achievement of governmental armament, defended borders and related policies but, as the title of our meeting indicates, the result of value structures of societal cultures carried by the human being and by societies. This realization of the central focus and role of the citizen and society for achieving the objectives of “our common future” has been the subject of a new focus in our approaches to development and to our understanding of peace and security and of the role of the human being/citizen as actor, victim or beneficiary. We are looking for human development, for human security, and we have learned the fundamental role that a human rights-based system of societal values and behavioral patterns play in the appropriate responses to our challenges in development, sustainability and peace and security.

Human development

The former Pakistani Minister of Finance and Vice President of the World Bank Mahbub ul Haq developed the concept of human development in the 1980s in meetings of the UNDP Study Programme and then with the UNDP Human Development Reports moving the international development strategies from an exclusive focus on economic development measured in GDP to human development which encompasses economic growth but also non-economic achievements which are of fundamental importance for the human being and for societies, such as maternal health, child mortality, access to health services and to safe water, sustainability in the development and use of natural and environmental resources, female literacy, adult literacy, school enrollment, life expectancy, individual well-being and civic and community well-being, etc. Mahbub ul Haq defined human development as a process of change towards enlarging people’s choices. That means human development is a process towards broadened individual and societal freedom.

In this sense human development is to be understood as implementing the core values of our international community which are based on the respect for human dignity, freedom from fear and freedom from want of every human being, which can be realized only if governments and citizens respect and promote the full range of human rights of all people, without discrimination.

Human security

Our international peace and security agenda has been marked by a similar change in focus. State security has been complemented with a rising significance of human security. While more than one hundred years ago 95 % of victims of military violence were soldiers and only 5 % civilians, current data show a complete reversal of the patterns of victims of war: 95 % are civilians and only 5 % are military. But human security is related to more than the victimization in wars. Human life, health, freedom and perspectives of life are threatened by many different impacts from economic, social, societal and environmental change and disasters. After the hurricanes in the Philippines and in the United States during the past months we all understand why the “climate change and human security” agenda item was addressed not only by the foreign ministers of the inter-regional network on human security but also, under British presidency, by the Security Council.

The privatization of military violence conducted by non-state militias, criminal gangs and the impact of illegal drug dealings, human trafficking, terrorism and new forms of slavery in which, according to some studies, several million people are involved reveal that human security is not granted in absolute terms by the governmental security system but depends on the values and behavioral patterns of the citizen.

The rising multitudes of ethnic, religious, linguistic, cultural, ideological identities in our societies have made the myth of the single-identity nation state a flawed idol of the past. The new freedom of the citizens to define and develop their own identity has provided us with pluri-identity societies in which otherness is not the enemy beyond national boundaries but next to you in the subway and the neighbor in your apartment building. Today almost 40 percent of Viennese are not Austrian-born; people with 189 different passports are permanent residents. Islam is the second largest religious community in Austria. Research of the Catalan language institute Lingua Dom found that in Barcelona, due including to massive migration from Africa, more than 400 different languages are spoken. But urban centers in other regions are also marked by the same process and a rising plurality of identities. In Korogocho, a suburb of Nairobi, a settlement of 150,000 migrants from the different tribal communities, people of 36 different ethnic and cultural identities had to learn to live a spirit of community and inclusion. The relations among people different identities, sometimes still marked by racism and xenophobia, have become a key challenge to our human security agenda.

An example is the rising religious plurality, which is sometimes not easily internalized by societies resisting a certain relativization of the absolute truths of traditional faiths. In this context interreligious dialogues assumed a role of relating supposedly inimical beliefs over the past 20 years with meetings in Teheran and in Vienna. An important contribution in this regard has been the recent creation of the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) in Vienna. Only three weeks ago the KAICIID held there its first Global Forum on “The Image of the Other” bringing together personalities and representatives of all major religious communities with experts in education and civil society and from cultural and political life.

These fundamental changes in our societal structures and relationship patterns have, however, also been marked by processes of disintegration. Societies in all regions of the world move through a certain fragmentation with multi-dimensional gaps that counter the potential of integration.

Income differences between the upper and lower five percent of the population in OECD countries have risen to 1:26 (OECD report “Growing Unequal”). On the global level, gaps that 25 years ago were 1:60 have now have reached 1:180.

The myth of the single-identity nation-state or the single-culture “civilization” ultimately reduces the capacity to relate to those segments of our societies which are different. Conflicts between religious communities have been rising in some countries. Ethnic and tribal diversity in several regions has led to violent attempts to territorial segmentation. Some states today find themselves in a process of dissolution. How can we respond to these challenges? Is the building of walls and the gating of housing communities in the cities the appropriate answer? The response of gating societies behind barbed wire and walls reflects in urban body language the new threats to our security agendas marked by societal disintegration, exclusion, discrimination and the denial of human dignity leading to violence and rising criminalization in our societies.

How can we assure peace and security in our societies? How can one avoid violence, directed against governments, institutions, people and business enterprises?

As in the challenges for human development, human security is increasingly also defined and assured by the citizen as actor, as perpetrator and as victim. Human security, therefore, includes the need for addressing the societal dimension. If we live in a society where the citizens do not respect the legal framework of the state, we will be threatened by a lack of an effective rule of law. The suffering from climate change impacts is the result not only of governmental failures in formulating and implementing policies for a sustainable use of our environmental resources endowment but also of failures of society and of the citizen to contribute to the protection of the environment and the achievement of intergenerational sustainability.

What causes a human being/a citizen to get interested in the common good, in the public space where the common good is defined and implemented? What is the key dimension of capacitating societies for the common good of now and of tomorrow?

Human rights

Human rights were identified as the key linkage between development and security in Kofi Annan’s report “In Larger Freedom” to the UN Summit in 2005 and are now being “mainstreamed” in the post-2015 development agenda to be approved by the General Assembly at its 69th session. The appeal to the international community is to recognize that our multidimensional agendas will achieve their objectives only upon the integration of human rights as a central element of the development process.

The Human Development Reports of 1994 and 2000 underlined the interdependence and interrelatedness of these three fundamental agenda objectives of humanity: human development, human security and human rights. All three provide freedom, a broader spectrum of choice.

The enhanced self-determination of citizens living in conditions of democratic freedom has led to new patterns of horizontal interaction in societies, replacing traditional command and obedience relationships. This de-verticalization of our societies implies, however, also a new set of responsibilities of the citizen and of local communities, moving them from victim to responsible actor in relation to our agendas.

Human rights, traditionally marking the relation between state and citizen, have become a defining element of the relations among citizens. Human dignity is enhanced and supported by fellow citizens who contribute to inclusion and to plurality-related openness of our societies and identities. The single-identity nation state or “civilization” has become a concept of the past. The “dialogue among civilizations” is being replaced by pluri-identity societies in interaction, inclusion and internalization of otherness. The history of successful societies and economies is marked by their internalizing otherness as an asset and not rejecting it as a threat.

Our state structures, government and governance processes achieve their objectives only as they value and are committed to the common good. Societies and their institutions are, however, only capable of recognizing and implementing the common good in the shared public space in relation the societal capacity for otherness. The common good, whether now or in the future, can be achieved only in the setting of inclusive societies characterized by a spirit of community.

The concept of the “rule of law” has been brought onto our agendas, including of the UN Security Council. It has been noted that respect for legal regulation has decreased in many states. The corruption of governmental structures has broadened, leading to a breakdown of predictability and engagement of governments and the public space. The respect for legal norms requires a capacity for internalizing the common good. Citizens who do not acknowledge or understand the common good of their society would not be expected to respect the rule of law.

There is thus an urgent need to recognize the importance of the citizen’s relational capacities. The global agenda discourse at the United Nations in New York has adopted a new term, “societal,” as distinct from “social.” While the term “social” refers to the productive capacities of the human being and of communities in aspects such as health, education, age, hunger and poverty, the term “societal” refers to the relational quality and capacities of human beings and of communities. In societies with a plurality of identities, the capacity for otherness acquires a fundamentally important role in relation to our common future.

The significance of the societal quality and cohesion is related to practically all segments of our agendas – from economic development, social development, sustainable development and use of our natural resources to the achievement and granting of human security.

Societies which are falling apart are neither suitable for investment nor conducive for economic development. The societal insecurity of fragmented societies puts brakes on economic development and causes investments to leave for more save locations.

Societies that are marked by xenophobia, racism, religious exclusion and hate are inherently insecure. The basic objective of human development to lead societies to broader spectrums of choice is thus prevented. A society where segments are discriminated and excluded is not only inherently insecure but is also one whose citizens are not free and not able to enjoy their human rights. Societies characterized by a rejection of otherness will remain stuck in their past and unable change and develop.

Societies in which people live the moment and have no capacity to relate the impact of their decisions and action to the future availability of natural and environmental resources deny the basic objective of sustainability. Sustainable development and the use of our full endowment of natural resources will not be achieved without a societal capacity to relate to the intergenerational impact, benefit and cost transfer into the future. The negotiations for addressing the challenges of climate change have made broadly visible the resistance to recognize the rights of our future generations.

Societal development

This societal dimension of the challenges we face in this century requires, however, not only attention but an action-oriented approach to development. If development is a process of change towards a broader spectrum of choice, the loss of freedom due to societal failures and disintegration has to be understood as a main impediment to a safe, secure future of well-being for all in equality and equity.

Societal development is a process by which the human being, the citizen and the identity communities enhance their capacity to relate to otherness and to identify and implement the common good. Societal development aims at cohesion, inclusion and the building of human dignity through processes of human rights-related socialization and learning. Knowing and understanding one’s own dignity gives one the capacity to understand the dignity of the other, thus leading to a new quality of societal relations and of communities.

This process of societal development moves the human rights agenda from its traditional juridical function of defining the relation between state and citizen to the defining element of the relations among citizens and among communities. Any “culture of peace” will have to be based on the relational capacities of the citizen for human dignity, for otherness, for change and for the common good at local, national and international levels.

In face of the fragmentation and even disintegration of our societies as one of the key challenges to peace and security, we will have to respond with societal development by promoting dignity on the basis of learning, knowing and understanding our human rights.

International discourse has reached the conclusion that societal development has to be implemented at local levels, where power in the public space still has a personal dimension and is not distant and anonymous, where the other is known and where relations can be personalized. The initiatives of human rights cities is an interesting example of using human rights-related socialization and learning processes as means of healing divisions and creating a spirit of community.

  • Rosario in Argentina, the first human rights city, successfully healed its societal wounds of the military dictatorship.
  • Musha in Rwanda, under the leadership of a Tutsi and a Hutu, rebuilt societal cohesion in a city marked by genocide.
  • Bihac in Bosnia, under the leadership of a Muslim and a Jewish woman, also focused on overcoming the divides in the city after Yugoslavia’s civil war.

These programs of human rights cities are implemented by fractal management: everybody, every public and private institution, the city administration, civil society, the private sector, the cultural sector and the media contribute to supporting a process of socialization and learning how to build dignity as the key societal infrastructure for development, peace and security in freedom.

Societal development programs will benefit and possibly be more effective if they are not limited to the local or national level. Ultimately, each otherness in a region will benefit from processes of inclusion and dignity-building if societal development programs are initiated at a regional level. These operationalized key values of a regional community can become the core value base for regional integration and cooperation, in particular in agenda areas where the citizen is directly affected, such as in inter-jurisdictional water management, in sustainable development and in environmental protection. A shared regional process of societal development delivers the “culture of peace” and enables human development and human security.

Dr. Walther Lichem has been President and currently is Vice-Chairman of the Board of Interpress Service, Rome, a news agency specialized in global and development news and is member of the Board of PDHRE, People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning, New York. With studies in law, oriental archaeology (University of Graz, Austria), and political science (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Institute for Advanced Studies, Vienna) he started his professional career at the United Nations Secretariat in New York in the field of International Water Resources. He served as Consul General in Ljubljana, Slovenia (1976-1980), as Ambassador to Chile (1980-1984), and as Ambassador to Canada (1993-2000). He also assumed responsibilities as Deputy Head of the Department for Security Policy and as representative to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, as Deputy Director General of the Austrian Development Cooperation Programme and as Director for international organizations and peace-keeping. He was also responsible for Austria’s membership in the Security Council. At the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 he served as Rapporteur on Human Rights, Democracy and Development. Dr. Lichem also serves as Chairman of the Advisory Board of the European Training Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Graz.