Dr. Ghulam-Nabi Fai
May 14, 2014
I am honored by the opportunity to share my views with such an esteemed audience who are participating in the ‘United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’ at UN headquarters in New York. The issue of global sustainable development is the issue of the twenty-first century. Never before have so many suffered amidst liberty and luxury for the few. The wealth of single individuals exceeds the wealth of many nations. In highly developed countries, the number of persons living past 80 years is soaring. In deprived and convulsed countries, the average longevity is but half that age. While citizens of some African and Asian countries are starving, the rich countries are beset with obesity. Discrepancies of these types are morally disturbing. The United Nations is ideally suited to ending these shocking inequalities because it hosts all the nations of the world and endows each with identical voting power in the General Assembly. The poorest and the weakest are equal to the richest and the strongest.
(1). The most urgent approach to promoting global partnership for sustainable development is the ending of warfare. War, whether intramural or international, wreaks havoc on the elements necessary for health, housing, education, employment, the rule of law, the environment, and happiness generally.
i. War is enormously expensive. It diverts resources from schools, hospitals, roads, and telecommunications to AK-47s, Kalashnikovs, missiles, bombs, and artillery shells. Moreover, wars regularly entail the use of child soldiers, for example, in Sierra Leone, Angola, Sri Lanka, and Sudan. The children are deprived of educational opportunities. Their skills in killing are non-transferable to a civilian economy. Many are maimed and become permanently disabled from productive employment. Others become emotionally and psychologically disturbed, an ailment that routinely finds expression in criminal or sister anti-social behavior. By killing or deracinating the flower of youth, war keeps a country immersed in misery and underdevelopment;
ii. War also arrests economic development. Capital flight is staggering. Foreign investment withers. Infrastructure is destroyed. Lawlessness hikes the risks of any business enterprise. The consequence is widespread poverty;
iii. War also fosters disease and physical ailments. Individuals are more susceptible to crippling bacterial and viral illnesses when their housing and food is shortchanged. Further, war destroys hospitals and handicaps the supply of medicine. Medical workers frequently shy from dangerous conditions. And refugee camps are notorious for insalubrious quarters;
iv. War also creates a culture antithetical to democracy and the rule of law. It teaches that disputes should be resolved by the bullet in lieu of the ballot box. It engenders suspicion and distrust that confound democratic politics resting on a confidence that elections will be free, fair, and accurate;
v. I admit that denunciation of warfare is easier than prevention. The Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 outlawed aggressive war. But wars of aggression soon followed in Manchuria and Ethiopia. But if mankind can assemble knowledge to send men to the moon and Land Rovers to Mars, the knowledge necessary to end wars cannot be far behind. As is said in the Song of Solomon, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Accordingly, the United Nations should summon all Nobel Peace Prize winners to devise principles of international law and conduct that will abolish the scourge of war from the face of the planet. These exceptionally gifted individuals can be trusted to succeed by standing on the shoulders of other great men and women who have crusaded for the cause of universal peace, justice, and non-violence. The goal may be ambitious. But as Robert Browning versified, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”
(2). The second urgent global sustainable development objective should be universal literacy and education. As Socrates explained, the unexamined life is not worth living. Or as philosopher Sam Johnson amplified, there is the same difference between the learned and unlearned as between the living and the dead. These observations are made not to deride or degrade the uneducated, but to underscore the criticality of education to making life morally meaningful and fulfilling between ashes to ashes and dust-to-dust.
i. Education is also human capital that fuels economic growth.
A worker’s productivity and compensation general rise commensurate with educational achievement. In addition, education correlates with a worker’s ability to shift jobs and master new skills in an ever-changing global economy. Education also is a central ingredient to self-government and freedom. As United States President Thomas Jefferson lectured, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be;”
ii. Mean-spirited and wicked politicians regularly exploit ill-educated voters to pursue divisive racial, ethnic, or religious agendas. That explains why free and compulsory public school education is a feature of every flourishing democracy;
iii. The United Nations should thus develop educational yardsticks that a nation must satisfy to receive economic or military aid from third parties, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The yardsticks should be incorporated in a treaty to be ratified by all United Nations members. Moreover, every United Nations official and employee should be required to donate 0.5% of his or her salary to sponsor the education of a child in poverty. A civilization lives by symbols, and what could be more inspiring than United Nations personnel sacrificing on behalf of underprivileged children;
iv. The idea of educational yardsticks with teeth creates an agonizing moral dilemma. Suppose a misgoverned nation falls short. Economic aid ends, but the suffering is felt by the common citizen, not the typically coddled rulers. That juxtaposition seems unjust and immoral at first glance. But think of the consequences of continuing aid to a brutal government, either directly or through international or private indigenous organizations. The aid relieves misery, and dulls the popular incentive to revolt and to install a more enlightened regime that would eagerly educate the nation’s citizens. Future generations would forever inherit an uneducated nation and despotic government. Morality in public life should be the greatest good for the greatest number. And to decline sanctions on a living generation despite the greater wretchedness visited on posterity would seem to fail that test.
(3). Third on the global sustainable development agenda should be the elimination of poverty and the securing for every man, woman, and child a right to flourishing health, a clean environment, comfortable housing, and nutritious food. The goal is not a choice but a moral obligation. A preferred position for the poor is the North Star of all religions. Thus, rich countries should transfer much of their riches to poor countries.
i. The rich should cancel debts;
ii. They should provide at least 1 percent of gross domestic product for international humanitarian assistance;
iii. They should eliminate all tariffs, quotas, or other trade restrictions on imports from impoverished nations;
iv. They should grant royalty free licenses on intellectual property, such as patents or copyrights;
v. They should provide tax credits for donations to poverty-stricken nations;
vi. But poor nations must undertake reciprocal actions;
vii. They should embrace free enterprise and privatization;
viii. They should fiercely punish public corruption;
ix. They should embrace low tax schedules and strict spending limitations;
X. They should celebrate the rule of law and enshrine independent and
impartial judicial systems;
xi. They should entertain the employment of private customs collectors to thwart a prevalent source of corruption and anti-competitive behavior;
xii. And they should permit the free importation and exportation of capital and labor to fuel an economic takeoff;
xiii. There is no moral excuse for regimes in poor nations to forfeit the rich self-help opportunities for economic growth. As Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan teach, economic prosperity turns more on human capital and the rule of law than on the flukes of natural resources. Think of some oil rich nations mired in misery and destitution.
(4). A fourth global sustainable development should be the eradication of AIDS. It has been characterized by no less an authority as the United States CentralIntelligence Agency as a national security priority. And AIDS is a question of virtual survival for some nations. In Africa, for instance, the incidence of AIDs or HIV infection are staggering.
i. The ramifications of the AIDS crisis are enormous. It creates orphans with the attendant difficulties of overcoming the many economic, mental, and physical handicaps of orphanage. It kills productive workers. It spikes medical costs. It occasions intra-family torment and tragedy;
ii. The United Nations through the World Health Organization (WHO) has a key role to play in curing or mitigating AIDS. First, an international convention should be established that would prohibit the sale of drugs to treat the disease for a profit. No one should profit because of a hideous disease. It would be like profiting by arms sales to a nation engaged in aggressive war. And the regulation of human organs is instructive. In the United States and many other countries, the sale of organs is a felony even when indispensable to saving a life. It is thought immorality would blight the profiting off another’s misery or plight. Further, if organs were sold, the rich would outbid the poor and live longer and more pleasantly. That shocks the conscience. Similarly, drugs to treat AIDS will be dominated by the wealthy if the price is not fixed and depressed to a level affordable by the penurious. How can persons be equal if they do not enjoy equal access to life-saving drugs;?
iii. The WHO should also sponsor research seeking a cure or vaccine for AIDS. It should be endowed with power to levy a tax on every medical provider in the world to create a pool of research funds. The tax should be a credit under national income tax laws. All research results should be transparent. No patent protection should be permitted. And all new discoveries should be provided free to all persons suffering from AIDS. A goal should be set by the year 2020 to make AIDS as rare as smallpox.
(5). Next on the list of global sustainable development priorities should be the ending of all racial, ethnic, or class hatreds or enmities. Think of the horrifying quantity of violence in the world whose fundamental cause can be traced back to such social divisions. It infects every country on the planet. And if even one person suffers from invidious discrimination, then all are threatened and civilization has been tarnished. The United Nations Human Rights Council is ideally suited to fashion a program to achieve the desired result. It can assemble the best thinkers and models to draft laws and educational programs that will deter and prevent the abomination of sharp social divisions.
(6). The attainment of equality for women is another pressing yardstick of global sustainable development. Experience and intuition both demonstrate that women are as intelligent as men. They are as entrepreneurial and disciplined. They contribute every bit as much to economic growth and social cohesion as men. It is thus imperative that women receive the same legal rights and social dignity as men if global sustainable development is to advance.
i. The United Nations should spur this goal by sponsoring a code of conduct for all member nations. Persistent and egregious violations should occasion a member nation’s exclusion or expulsion from the General Assembly;
ii. Females should receive the same educational, employment, business, and professional opportunities as men. They should be equally eligible to serve in public office or to seek elective office. Women should enjoy the same social rights as men, including the right to drive a vehicle.
(7). Trafficking in women or children to provide sexually decadent pleasures for the rich and squalid also should rank high on the agenda of global sustainable development. Degradation as commercial sex objects is morally repulsive. The United Nations must do something to end the vile practice. It scars women and children both physically and emotionally. It enriches the wretched and rewards the worst lusts.
i. The United Nations should urge all nations to punish such trafficking with unforgiving criminal penalties. It should demand that every country make illegal the travel abroad by any of its citizens with the purpose of patronizing traffickers in women and children;
ii. It should appoint a commission to consider making the trafficking and patronizing crimes under international law subject to trial and punishment in any jurisdiction. It seems morally indistinguishable from the war crime of rape.
8. Similarly repugnant is trafficking in children for slave labor. The parental sellers, the buyers, and the users of child slave labor should be held accountable as criminals. Any nation found complicit or tolerant of the criminality should forfeit economic and trade benefits. And every nation must ban imports or exports of any goods produced either directly or indirectly with bonded children as workers. Children are the future of mankind. They cannot be permitted to groan, suffer, and wither to satisfy the greed and lust for pleasure of the wicked.
(9). Global sustainable development also requires universal access to the Internet, a technological marvel that brings the excitement of knowledge and the joys of instant communication to every user. The United Nations should play a key role in the universal access quest.
i. Every member nation with per capita gross domestic product exceeding $10,000 should be taxed to support a universal access fund. That fund would be employed to purchase broadband service for remote communities in impoverished nations;
ii. Recipient nations would not be permitted to censor Internet websites, except for pornography or other criminality. And no user charges would be permitted;
iii, Internet communications can dissolve ancient enmities and overcome mutual distrust. Ignorance between races, ethnic groups, or religions breeds fear and prejudice. When two human beings communicate and share ideas, apprehensions recede and stereotypes die. They see each other as equals, with equal rights, equal aspirations, and equal dignity;
Iv, The spread of Internet access thus may prove to be instrumental to promoting reconciliation and peace among long-estranged peoples.
(10). A clean environment is also essential to global sustainable development. Pollution is more than twice cursed.
i. It damages crops;
ii. It kills lakes and rivers;
iii. It occasions disease and illness through water and air, for example, lead poisoning or cholera;
iv. It may spike the risk of cancer by depleting the ozone layer;
v. And it may even cause the submersion of entire island nations through global warming, a variation on the biblical flood.;
vi. The poor are invariably the worst affected by environmental pollution. They are least able to afford medical treatment. They are least able to move or change their occupation. They are least able to pay for the costs of self-protective measures. A clean environment, therefore, is a key element of community fairness and justice;
vii. The United Nations should thus consider drafting a convention on global pollution. The idea would be to make nations pay in damages for the injuries caused to the people of other nations by pollutants which cross international boundaries. The recipient nations would be obligated to distribute the damages to injured citizens. Generally speaking, such a system of reciprocal compensation should operate to the betterment of the poorest nations at the expense of the rich. The industrialization and development of the latter have characteristically been associated with high emissions of pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide or carbon dioxide. Poor nations consume less, make less, and thus pollute less than their rich counterparts. They seldom are responsible for pollutants that stretch across international boundaries.
(11). Let me with great humility offer a few closing observations about the entire global sustainable development enterprise. It is characteristic that national or international organizations employ quantitative benchmarks to measure success in meeting enumerated objectives. For instance, a longstanding objective has been for each nation to contribute a specified percentage of its gross domestic product for humanitarian or foreign aid. Companion quantitative benchmarks have been set for literacy, vaccinations, annual income, longevity, smoking, etc.
(12). There is nothing inherently mischievous about these development yardsticks. But they should never distract from our recognition that the highest in sustainable development consists of non-quantifiable characteristics. These would include acts of charity, humility, courage, benevolence, magnanimity, self-restraint, and non-vindictiveness. It would seem to me to turn logic and morality on their heads to award higher sustainable development acclaim to a nation whose citizens were universally economically prosperous, literate, healthy, long-lived, non-polluting, but also mean-spirited, selfish, and egotistical than to a nation whose citizens were impoverished, plagued by disease, but were generous in time, effusive in hospitality, austere in habits, and selfless for the community.
During our chapters between ashes to ashes and dust to dust, let each of us live and comport ourselves so that our tombstones will inspire and uplift for the ages.
Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai is the Executive Director of the Washington based Kashmiri American Council /Kashmir Center. Dr. Fai is the founding chairman of the California-based World Peace Forum. He is the Chairman of the International Institute of Kashmir Studies. He is also the Chairman of the Kashmiri American Foundation & the London-based Justice Foundation. Dr. Fai is also the Member of the Board of Director of Istanbul-based the Union of the NGOs of the Islamic World.
Dr. Fai holds a Ph.D. in mass communications from Temple University, Pennsylvania, and an M.A. from the Aligarh University in India.