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Launch of the 2002 United Nations Development Program

UNDP Human Development Report (onshi/Flickr)

UNDP Human Development Report (onshi/Flickr)


Thank you, Gita. We have heard from all three of our speakers about the challenges posed by the different directions the two major trends in the world seem to be taking: the processes and trends of democratization, at least of formal institutional mechanisms, and the processes of economic globalization. We have also heard I think both in the report and in Princess Basma's presentation and in Gita Sen's, the complexity of promoting democratization or deeper democratization in environments of regional and personal insecurity. So those to me are the three pillars that have emerged both in the report and have really been highlighted in the presentations. I'd like to, since we only have 15 minutes or so, to turn the floor over to all of you and ask that you raise your hands and wait until the mike comes to you and identify yourself before you pose the question and please say who your question is addressed to. Thank you.

QUESTION: to Princess Basma. I was a little disturbed to hear that you appear to put a lot of the responsibility of the conditions within the Arab countries on outside forces. I have recently read the UNDP report by the representatives of Arab nations addressed to governments in the Arab world and it's a very sad report. Apparently on almost every criteria: education, gender equality, death and childbirth, connectivity, human rights, the Arab nations come lowest. I would suggest that perhaps the responsibility lies with the types of regimes in the Arab nations and with the rulers and that perhaps that is where the concentration should be.

PRINCESS BASMA: Thank you very much for your comment. First of all I think we have to bear in mind that the Arab Human Development Report was both a challenge and a courageous initiative and the fact that it is a regional human development report does not necessarily reflect in the way that it could or even should the diversity of the Arab region. So I think we have to bear in mind that yes, there are indices at the end and yes, there are statistics and figures but I think we risk, to some extent, generalizing. Having said that, I think it was very important that the Arab region honestly and frankly addresses some of the very disturbing issues that we in the region feel and know keenly as much as anybody does elsewhere. So I think that is something that we need to bear in mind. I think it is a cutting edge initiative. I think it puts us on the right road because through it we start publicly, and when I say publicly I mean publicly through an international kind of discourse, looking at our shortcomings and seeing how we need to improve and where we need to be going.

So I don't actually see it as a sad report. I see it as something very promising and something that will enable decision makers and politicians and practitioners and development activists to take on these issues. It will also open doors because if we are stating in a report that this is our reality, take the situation of women or the issue of gender, and this is an area where I have been working for many years, I can actually use the report and say well, look, here we are and we are admitting and we are saying this and we need to do this, that and the other.

So it actually facilitates in many ways a proactive approach to many of the difficult and complex issues that it tackles.

But I think it is slightly simplistic to say that it's basically the fault of all the Arab regimes and that that's what we need to do. I don't think and if I did give the impression that I was laying blame elsewhere, that was certainly not my intention in any way. I think we are very aware in our region and particularly in Jordan of many shortcomings that we have but we are also equally aware, and I can only speak for Jordan, of the need to redress some of those problems and that's what we are trying to do under extremely difficult circumstances. And when I say difficult circumstances because we haven't had natural resources or economic resources in which to rely. We have struggled for years and years in a gravely serious political context. We have been buffeted and bashed around really by the nature of regional turmoil and we have tried to withstand that. And we have tried to be, to a great extent, an island, often, of moderacy in a very unstable and very volatile area. So if I have given the impression that I am laying blame elsewhere, I certainly didn't mean to do that. And we are keenly aware of our shortcomings and we struggle to try to address them, as I say, under sometimes very challenging circumstances. But thank you so much for your comment.

QUESTION: for Gita Sen. What are they doing about the religious conflict in India and the genocide in India? What are they doing about this in India?

QUESTION: for Gita Sen. How do you address the issue of tradition and democracy because there is a lot of hierarchy when it comes to customs and tradition?

QUESTION: for all panelists: Yesterday Robert Rubin spoke on global economy and leadership. Not one of the panelists mentioned leadership directly. I was wondering their thoughts on how leadership relates to human development.

QUESTION: for Princess Basma. Please discuss the role of religion in the democratization of the Arab region and please address the fact that the 9/11 terrorists were religious fanatics produced by your region.

GITA SEN: There are many many people in India who are appalled at what happened in Godhra and are trying to build a relationship between religious groups and communities, to reestablish harmony. Our problem at this point is to figure out how to deal with this crisis we are facing.

Tradition and democracy arise most strongly in relation to gender because it is in the context of gender democracy that tradition and cultural relativism keep rising up against any notion of universal human rights as applicable to women. It is not an unaddressed question.

PRINCESS BASMA: While customs and traditions and religious interpretations do have some bearing on behavioral patterns within the society, we have to also remember there are enormous strengths within many of those customs and traditions and within religious practice as well. What I would like to highlight here is for instance, the strength of social cohesion and solidarity, societal solidarity and protection, which comes from this tradition and many of these customs and whereas we have seen a fragmentation of social cohesion in many other societies where customs and traditions have no longer, or even religious belief or practice, has no longer been so much a way of life. So yes, they do have a down side but they also have a positive impact in many ways on society itself.

Finally to end my comments, I don't think that I can go much into explaining why the frightful atrocities of 9/11 were committed by people of one region. We all know that they were. And certainly myself and my country and many people in our religion bitterly condemn these acts. And we don't believe in them and we don't support them and we don't think that this is the way to go forward or to have a human relationship with anyone. So I thank you for giving me the opportunity to put the record straight on that, just in case you are harboring any doubts. Because certainly I am very pleased to be able to do that. The only thing I can say and this certainly doesn't excuse what happened and never can but I will say and I think that this has been mentioned by all of the distinguished panelists is that not necessarily in this context but in other contexts where there is a feeling of hopelessness, where there is a feeling of loss of dignity and nothing to lose and inequity and poverty and despair, those are the breeding grounds, unfortunately, for the most awful forms of behavior. It is people who are in those kinds of situations who can fall prey to very negative influences. But I would like to end by saying that the majority of people in my region and specifically in Jordan because I can speak for Jordan certainly do not condone and we abhor this kind of act and this kind of violence. So thank you for enabling me to set that record straight.


I think like someone said, culture is like a virus. Whenever you go to a doctor and he tells you you have a virus, when he has no idea what you really have. And he has no idea what to do about it. Well, I think tradition, leadership and religion are often raised as issues when people really don't know what the problems are or what obstacles to democracy are. In a sense, these are red herrings. I would like to quote from the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Anan, from his contribution to the Human Development Report when he said "Obstacles to democracy have little to do with culture or religion and much more to do with the desire of those in power to maintain their position at any cost. This is neither a new phenomenon nor one confined to any particular part of the world. People of all cultures value their freedom of choice and feel the need to have a say in decisions affecting their lives."

As for leadership, I think this is the critical thing. A lot of people talk about leadership as the critical ingredient in successful development efforts. Well, what is important about that leadership is that it is accountable leadership. And that the public accountability of that leadership whether it is in the private or public sector means there has to be some institutional arrangements that actually curb arbitrary power and tyranny and susceptibility to tyranny and this giving into this temptation to maintain their position at any cost. So public accountability is the key to successful leadership that will deliver on human development.

Thank you.