Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Human rights based approaches to developmen t: concepts, evidence, and policy

This paper assesses the benefits, risks, and limitations of human rights based approaches to development, which can be catalogued on the basis of the institutional mechanisms they rely on: global compliance based on international and regional treaties; the policies and programming of donors and executive agencies; rights talk; and legal mobilization. The paper briefly reviews the politics of the first three kinds of human rights based approaches before examining constitutionally based legal mobilization for social and economic rights in greater detail. 

Litigation for social and economic rights is increasing in frequency and scope in several countries, and exhibits appealing attributes, such as inclusiveness and deliberative quality. Still, there are potential problems with this form of human rights based mobilization, including middle class capture, the potential counter majoritarianism of courts, and difficulties in compliance. The conclusion summarizes what is known, and what remains to be studied, regarding human rights based approaches to development.

Human rights are probably the dominant normative conception in the contemporary globalized world. It is common for struggles for national self-determination, the recognition of alternative identities, class-based and labor empowerment, gender equality, democratic inclusion, property rights protections, rectification of state violence, and consumer goods to use rights discourse – in spite of varying political orientations and alliances among the actors involved. Development is no exception. Whereas it was understood primarily in the terms of economic output from about 1950 to 1970, and concerned with poverty from around 1970 to 1990, development has in the past two decades increasingly been framed in the language of human rights and related concepts, such as fundamental human capabilities and multi-dimensional poverty. The objectives for doing so, on the part of advocates, have been, broadly speaking, to characterize the elimination of extreme poverty as a moral imperative, and to underscore that the kind of political power associated with the assertion of claims by the poor themselves is a prerequisite to the elimination of extreme poverty. The first point is commonly thought of as speaking to the ―intrinsic‖ dimension of human rights, and the latter to their ―instrumental‖ dimension.

The intrinsic dimension is instrumentally useful, however, if it mobilizes rich country governments and citizens, as well as the privileged citizens of developing countries, to contribute more resources to development, and to do so more effectively. So perhaps it is better to say that there are aspects of human rights based approaches to development (HRBAs) that target duty-bearers by raising the moral pressure, and other aspects that target rights-holders by instilling the dignity and self-respect necessary for political, social, and legal mobilization; and that both can, arguably, reduce poverty and inequality at the global and national levels. In other words, HRBAs work both on the supply and demand sides of development.

Author: Gauri, Varun ; Gloppen, Siri. Document Date: 2012/01/01. Document Type: Policy Research Working Paper. Report Number: WPS5938


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