Development Co-operation Directorate (DCD-DAC)

Human Rights and Development (DACNews Nov-Dec 2005)


There can be no doubt that human rights and development have been converging in the past couple of years. The late 1990s and early 2000s have seen the UN system leading the way in developing a more strategic approach, beginning with the mainstreaming of human rights and then, in 2003, agreeing on a landmark common understanding of a shared definition of a “human rights-based approach to development”. Other multilateral agencies and the majority of bilateral agencies have adopted or are in the process of adopting or updating human rights and development policies.

Yet rationales put forward for the rights-based approach are not convincing all donor agencies to the same degree. Some prefer to work on aspects of the human rights agenda in indirect ways rather than using explicit human rights language, perhaps because of a restricted political mandate or because of other priorities. Others consider that aid based on human rights standards and principles may constrain, rather than facilitate, poverty reduction, conflict resolution or other objectives.

Against this backdrop, the DAC Network on Governance (GOVNET) is working to increase understanding in this area and build a consensus among donors on why and how to work more strategically on the integration of human rights and development. Over sixty professionals from bilateral and multilateral donor agencies and the OECD met in October 2005 for a Workshop organised around two key contibutions: a GOVNET report “Integrating Human Rights into Development: A Synthesis of Donor Approaches and Experiences”, which will be available as an OECD publication in 2006; and a presentation from practitioners from Kenya who illustrated how they managed to integrate a nationally-owned human rights-based approach across a donor’s country programme.

The report makes a strong case for  the relevance of human rights to the quality and success of development. It also includes a series of case studies which underline that there are various ways for donors each with different mandates, modes of engagement or comparative advantages, to take human rights more systematically into account.

The GOVNET will continue this work in 2006, with a particular focus on the integration of human rights into thinking and practice around the new models and partnership commitments on which aid is increasingly based.