Human Rights for Development

Despite the limitations and problems associated with development, the term and associated actions are present and ongoing. Approaching “development” cautiously then, let us consider what a human rights approach means for development. Does it help address some of the concerns outlined by Estava?

The FAO uses the acronym PANTHER to coordinated a development approach that is consistent with human rights.

  • Participation
  • Accountability
  • Non-discrimination and attention to vulnerable groups
  • Transparency
  • Human Dignity
  • Empowerment
  • Rule of law

In my work, I am particularly interested in participation so I will expand on it briefly here. The idea of participation as fundamental to a human rights approach to development means that people should be able to participate in development, national planning and at all levels of policy making.  A human rights-based approach requires a high degree of participation and seeks both to assist in the participatory formulation of policy and legislative frameworks and ensure that participatory processes are institutionalised locally and nationally. The UN Declaration on the Right to Development (1986) states that participation is to be active, free and meaningful.  Artcile 2.3 states:

States have the right and the duty to formulate appropriate national development policies that aim at the constant improvement of the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals, on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of the benefits resulting there from.

What is lacking are clear ways to ensure this type of participation and this is a question I will be reviewing carefully over the next few years.

A human rights approach to development puts individuals first, promotes human-centered development and stresses liberty, equality and empowerment while also adding a legal dimension to traditional development approached. It seeks to address both process and outcomes of development. However, what are the implications of such an individualistic approach?  Does putting humans at the center of the project allow for ample consideration of environmental, cultural and economic concerns that are fundamental to ensuring such rights and often central in their violation?

The Human Rights Based Approach to development Cooperation: Towards a Common Understanding Among UN Agencies (The UN Common Understanding) (2003) includes 3 main points for a human rights approach to development:

  1. All development programmes should further the realization of human rights.
  2. Human rights should guide all sectors and phases of development cooperation and planning.
  3. Development cooperation should contribute to the capacity of duty-bearers (governments) to meet their obligations and/or the rights-holders to claim their rights.

The FAO argues that through a human rights based approach, development initiatives can become more sustainable and effective by way of: enhanced accountability; higher levels of participation and empowerment; improved conditions for the most vulnerable; clarification of goals; safeguards against unintentional harm by development projects; more effective and complete analysis; and a more authoritative basis for advocacy and claims on resources. I am not completely sold on the idea that a human rights approach accomplishes all of these things, especially safeguarding against harm and improving conditions for the most vulnerable. I need to undertake more research to see how this works on the ground and how development projects designed around a human rights framework actually work on the ground.

How does a human rights approach support or strengthen the Millennium Development Goals?

At the 2000 Millennium Summit, UN member states adopted the Millennium Declaration, committing themselves to a global project designed to reduce extreme poverty.

There are 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with specific targets related to the Millennium Declaration:

1           Eradicating poverty and hunger in the world

2           Achieving universal primary education

3           Strengthening gender equality

4           Reducing child mortality

5           Improving maternal health

6           Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

7           Ensuring environmental sustainability

8           Developing a global partnership for development.

Approaching the MDGs from a human rights approach leads to at least five benefits, according to the FAO. First, it adds legitimacy to the goals by building on established human rights obligations taken on by governments. Second, it takes advantage of the power and mobilizing potential on human rights language. It supports longer term goals and strategies to address the root causes of poverty and underdevelopment. It also prioritizes participatory and empowerment strategies. Finally, a human rights approach can strengthen transparency and accountability of efforts to achieve the MDGs by engaging human rights processes and institutions.

Concluding Thoughts

My major concern in all of this links back to the idea that human rights relates to the individual and imposed these rights, which are arguably universally held, and if not should be, through a western legal framework. They uphold the Liberal value of individual freedoms and rights in contrast to community rights and community freedoms and community needs and while protecting the individual is of utmost importance, no man is an island. Furthermore, more work and dedication is needed to participation. How is it meaningful? How do you feed it back into policy? Who ends up being represented, how and why? Who is being left out?  I am left wanting more concrete examples and ideas on how this approach has been applied and what the results have been. Are people applying the language of human rights or actually embedding the ideas and principles into their programme design?

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