A human rights based approach to development cooperation

October 10, 2005 - nr.30
Summary

This approach considers the practical value of human rights in poverty reduction and development strategies. From an instrumental point of view, first of all, human rights serve as legal remedies in support of claims that enable people to enjoy their fundamental freedoms and gain access to whatever they require to meet their basic needs. In addition, human rights serve as political guidelines, as general criteria for assessing the legitimacy of the use of power or as a political tool in the context of processes of social change.

From a functional point of view, human rights play a protective and emancipatory role. Within actual strategies, first of all, they fulfil a protective function by providing legal and political protection in situations in which human dignity itself is at stake. In addition, from an emancipatory point of view, they encourage people whose rights have been violated to take control and push for social change. The protective and emancipatory functions of human rights both involve other actors in addition to the rightholders themselves.1

In many developing countries, the application and observance of human rights create certain tensions. The authorities argue that too much emphasis is placed on the individual and justify human rights violations by appealing to cultural diversity and arguing that economic and social improvements are needed before rights can be observed. In many cases, the only purpose of these justifications is to protect the incumbent regime from criticism or restrict the scope of certain fundamental human rights in order to strengthen the position of political elites. However, human rights are not luxury items that countries can only afford when they have reached a certain level of development.

The above-mentioned functions of human rights are based on the interrelatedness and interwovenness of civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights, as well as on the relevance of the rights of peoples. Against this background, this final chapter presents a number of policy principles, followed by the report's main conclusions. In the AIV's opinion, these principles and conclusions should all have repercussions on the government's overall policy in the field of development cooperation.

Principles

1. Poor people as a priority
The human rights based approach can serve as a strategy and a method in all development cooperation programmes. In this context, various forms of participation and accountability are incorporated into decision-making and implementation mechanisms, both in official development cooperation and in the development activities of NGOs. The implementation of the human rights based approach can thus give a voice to the poor and empower them to make their own choices. In everyday practice, it is all too often the case that only the governments of developing countries (or parts of these governments) and donor countries have a say in decision making. Government-led development processes often turn out to be ineffective and irrelevant in relation to the poor.2 When it comes to making policy choices, people – not countries, governments or economic targets – should come first.

Poor people are rarely able to gain access to legal remedies, because they cannot afford legal aid, even if it is available, or because the legal framework does not lend itself to a human rights based approach. In addition to legal measures, social and political mechanisms also play an important role. Specific attention should be devoted to strengthening the institutional framework. Equitable social development is most likely to succeed if citizens can count on participation in public administration, accountable government institutions and an independent judicial system that is accessible to all. The human rights based approach must always be tailored to the situation in each individual country. The approach also implies that substantial attention should be devoted to regional differences within developing countries during the formulation of development programmes. The reason for this is that, in many developing countries, certain regions – and thus certain ethnic groups – are often deprived of such amenities as schools, hospitals, water and sanitation.

The experiences of the donor countries and international organisations discussed in this report demonstrate that poverty reduction and other objectives of development cooperation come together in the human rights based approach. Their programmes focus on supporting the interests of the poor. In light of the existing balance of power in society, poverty reduction is not a politically neutral issue, but can be legitimised on the grounds of internationally recognised human rights. The human rights based approach involves decision making processes that grant a role to all parties, which understandably bring conflicts of interest to the surface, between poor people themselves or between the poor and the rich. These unavoidable conflicts of interest call for an approach that makes the parties involved, including governments, accountable, both legally and otherwise. In this context, development also implies political struggle, which can put donor countries under a lot of pressure vis-à-vis the government representatives with whom they are negotiating. Donor countries must side with the poor, but doing so can bring them into conflict with the governments of developing countries. In such cases, an appeal to internationally recognised human rights is appropriate. In fact, as developing countries become better democracies, the possibility for closer cooperation increases. A ‘neutral’ human rights based approach is not an option: it is essential to focus on people and their rights.

2. The role of civil-society actors
In certain cases, support via socioeconomic interest groups and non-governmental channels can be more effective than support via government channels. This realisation is important in relation to developing countries as well as in relation to the donor countries’ taxpayers. It also makes the deployment of development funds easier to justify. In the past, people-oriented aid in the field of human rights was almost never controversial, either in the eyes of recipient countries or in the eyes of donor countries and taxpayers. The Netherlands already provides a lot of aid, for example, through the cofinancing organisations (MFOs), but the majority of Dutch development cooperation flows through other channels. Specific projects aimed at strengthening the rule of law and human rights do not always target the poorest groups in society, although they are relevant to the poor in the long term. This applies, for example, to programmes combating discrimination against women. This focus is not a problem, as long as care is taken to ensure that such programmes also take account of the interests of the poor. The human rights based approach can also contribute to the mapping of sectors and structures in order to facilitate focused policies.3

The human rights based approach thus offers specific benchmarks (e.g. the access of the poor to clean water and sanitation or health care) for setting objectives and monitoring and evaluating progress in development programmes. Likewise, a commitment by donor countries to strengthen the economic and social rights of the poor should not only involve a choice of social sectors such as education and health care, but should also place a strong emphasis on the access of the poor to resources, such as land and credit, that allow them to provide for themselves. A lack of opportunity to participate (exclusion) and a lack of control over one’s life are also aspects of poverty. Aid provided by current donor countries generally focuses on organisations that seek to strengthen civil and political rights. At the same time, human rights NGOs need to increase their awareness of the importance of human rights in development processes. There is often a substantial difference between the experience of NGOs dealing mainly with development issues and that of NGOs focusing mainly on civil and political rights. The same difference also occurs in relation to governments (or parts of governments) and international institutions. Investment aimed at increasing awareness of the role of human rights in development is therefore vital.

The question of whether all human rights and development organisations are adequately equipped to deal with civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights is justified. Civil-society organisations and NGOs should be targeted for investment, for example, via the MFO channel, to ensure that they are adequately equipped.4 In order to shield the poor from further hardship due to lack of cooperation as well as from grave human rights violations, an even larger proportion of Dutch activities in the field of development cooperation should flow through non-governmental channels, including competent MFOs, NGOs and other socioeconomic interest groups, such as legal aid organisations.5

In this context, however, it is important to avoid situations in which NGOs are funded almost exclusively by foreign donors. Despite good intentions, an excess of foreign aid can sometimes impair the independent development of a broad range of socioeconomic interest groups and put great pressure on the relations between them, especially if there are substantial wage differences between employees funded by donor countries and the employees of NGOs that are largely dependent on local funding.

3. Compliance with human rights conventions
Among other things, the earlier description of experiences in relation to the human rights based approach indicates that human rights conventions can provide a legal and normative tool in decision making regarding the provision of aid. In practice, the risk of the concept of human rights becoming inflated because all development issues are also regarded as human rights issues appears to have been contained. In fact, it would be more accurate to speak of the specialisation and refinement of substantive human rights norms and the development of a system of monitoring mechanisms. Not all development issues are related to human rights, but development cooperation policy as a whole is pervaded by human rights. In this context, it is also worth mentioning the value of the right to development, which lies mainly in its connective and integrative nature. By emphasising this nature, it is possible to achieve an even better correlation between development policy and the principle that the promotion and observance of human rights as a whole should form the basis of the human rights based approach to development.

An efficient national legal system is an important condition for compliance with international human rights obligations. Well-informed, well-trained, incorruptible and effective national judges are essential in this regard, as legal certainty and justice are closely connected. In addition, human rights courts (in America, Europe and – in due course – Africa) and commissions (in Africa and America) play an important complementary role in the development of legal protection. These institutions deserve support in the framework of the human rights based approach.

Besides compliance with international human rights obligations, compliance with reporting requirements under human rights conventions leaves much to be desired. Governments report late, incompletely or not at all, and the parliaments of recipient countries and donor countries are either not adequately equipped or not sufficiently vigilant to respond. This problem has already been identified and discussed in previous advisory reports of the ACM and the AIV.6 If the reporting process in recipient countries is hindered by a lack of expertise or resources, then this presents an opportunity for donor countries to provide temporary aid to remove such obstacles. Reports produced in accordance with UN human rights and ILO conventions – and their discussion in the relevant convention committees – can serve as a basis for analysing development requirements in human rights terms. This confirms the need for improvements in the exchange and linkage of databases and collections of reports. The information thus obtained can then be used to determine whether current development cooperation programmes are tailored to such an analysis and how to increase the focus on the monitoring of compliance with obligations. Civil-society organisations and NGOs can also help to improve compliance monitoring. One way of doing this is to create opportunities for these organisations to produce serious ‘shadow reports’ and circulate them widely in the relevant countries. Donor countries should make sufficient resources available for this purpose in their development programmes.

4. Human rights: positive and negative approaches
The literature on human rights and development cooperation distinguishes between positive and negative linkages of human rights and development cooperation. In the case of negative linkage, donor countries reduce or even discontinue aid at governmental level in response to grave and systematic human rights violations or the stagnation of democratisation (e.g. a refusal to hold multi-party elections).7 In the case of positive linkage, donor countries use their development policies to promote human rights and democracy. This includes activities such as strengthening the rule of law by supporting programmes related to the police and the judiciary, supporting projects and programmes aimed at giving poor people a say in their own lives, supporting human rights organisations and providing financial and technical support for elections.

Although positive linkage has many advantages, the AIV is of the opinion that both approaches should continue to play a role in Dutch policy. In order for there to be negative linkage, grave or systematic human rights violations in partner countries must have consequences for official aid relations. There is consensus on this issue at international level, as expressed, for example, in the Cotonou Agreement. On the basis of this agreement, donor countries may suspend or terminate aid in response to human rights violations or widespread corruption. However, it is also vital that donor countries address these matters in the framework of their policy dialogue with the government of the recipient country in question. Experience further teaches that this kind of pressure can only be effective if donor countries act in unison.

With regard to the management of aid relationships, the human rights based approach implies that civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights should both receive a fixed place on the agenda for the dialogue between the governments of the donor country and the recipient country. This is because human rights can serve as a benchmark for evaluating the programmes funded by the donor as well as the socioeconomic policies pursued by the recipient country. In these policies, it should be clear how the government in question is prioritising sectors that can help to reduce poverty with the limited resources it has at its disposal (e.g. rather than spending them on defence). The human rights based approach also implies that the government of the recipient country can consult the donor concerning the choice of aid programmes. In practice, however, there is no real reciprocity in the aid relationship. In its recent advisory report on pro-poor growth, the AIV concluded that the PRSP process is heavily dominated by donors, too focused on countries and not sufficiently attuned to individual poverty and participation by directly involved parties. In addition, it appears that donor countries, including the Netherlands, do not always follow the priorities identified in the PRSPs when it comes to choosing sectors.

In the target country policy pursued by the Dutch government during the 1998-2002 period, the above-mentioned conditionality appears in the criteria for the selection of partner countries, as the criteria for good governance touch upon civil and political rights, and the pursuit of sound socioeconomic policy (in practice, a sufficient focus on poverty reduction) has an impact on the implementation of economic and social rights. Bilateral aid policy offers a particularly suitable framework for contributing to the promotion of human rights, provided that it is geared to this purpose. However, from the point of view of the human rights based approach, the Dutch government’s choice of countries with which to cooperate deserves a fair amount of criticism.8 In fact, the human rights based approach is almost non-existent in current policy. Based on the desirability of the human rights based approach, the Netherlands should seriously reconsider the criteria on which it has based its choices. The choice of criteria, and the manner in which they are subsequently elaborated, should be such that aid is only granted to countries where it can make a real contribution to the promotion of human rights.9 These criteria and choices should be applied consistently in a manner that is also transparent for the recipient countries.

A shift in funding from specific projects and programmes to a collection of related activities in a specific area of government policy is characteristic of the sector-wide approach. This approach involves an emphasis on cooperation and dialogue with recipient governments and high levels of donor coordination. Since the sector-wide approach is only implemented in countries that qualify for a structural aid relationship (and thus meet the relevant criteria), the emphasis of the aid is thus rightly being transferred from donor-controlled projects and programmes to cooperation in a specific policy area with the government of the recipient country. With regard to the selection of sectors and the evaluation of the relevant policies, however, the human rights based approach implies that it is important to establish the extent to which the sectoral policies contribute to the promotion of human rights in general. The provision of aid for health care, water and sanitation, education or the judiciary is in harmony with the human rights based approach, if the objective of the policy is to grant poor people the widest possible access to facilities and services. For example, the provision of aid to (or within) the agricultural sector should focus mainly on granting poor people in rural areas access to land, tools and credit. These points call for a critical assessment of existing programmes in the above-mentioned partner countries. Such an assessment, based on a solid analysis, should produce clear guidelines for future policy. It is also possible to make a connection between macroeconomic aid and human rights. While an unhealthy macroeconomic climate is bad for the private sector and reduces economic growth, it also has an impact on poor people’s chances of survival. Macroeconomic problems such as double or triple-digit inflation hit poor people hard and, in extreme cases, can make it impossible for them to participate in the official economy. In the past, the frequent overvaluation of currencies had a negative effect on the export of farmers’ agricultural crops, and shortfalls in the balance of payments had an impact on the price and availability of consumer goods. Macroeconomic aid, which by definition is provided to central governments, can increase poor people’s chances of survival and thus also has a bearing on the economic and social rights of the poor. However, the human rights based approach to development cooperation requires that countries explicitly elaborate the relationship between macroeconomic aid and human rights and that they allow this relationship to influence the form in which such aid is provided. The Netherlands should try to meet these requirements in its own bilateral policy and in the relevant donor consultation bodies and financial institutions

 

5. The role of international organisations and the European Union

The UN institutions and specialised agencies and the international financial institutions play an important role with regard to human rights and development. They have a lot of power when it comes to formulating and implementing policies in this area. The guidelines developed by the OHCHR are just one interesting example of this. The way in which the organisations are increasingly cooperating with each another is also a promising development. At present, not much can be said about the practical elaboration and results of this cooperation, as various programmes are still under development. In this context, specific mention should be made of the UNDP’s HURIST programme, UNICEF, which has integrated the human rights based approach in all its activities, the ILO’s technical cooperation programmes and the OHCHR’s coordination activities aimed at integrating human rights throughout the UN system. These and other projects and programmes emphasise the participation of all sectors in society. This dovetails with the current approach to development cooperation, which also includes the human rights based approach. In addition, human rights have acquired a prominent position in the EU’s development policy, even though there has been no explicit decision to adopt a human rights based approach. The World Bank and the IMF, finally, are legally obliged to ensure that their activities do not have a negative impact on the capacity of states to comply with their human rights obligations, although it is not always clear how these two institutions integrate this obligation into their programmes. The AIV’s recent advisory report on pro-poor growth recommended a number of initiatives to improve this situation. If they are implemented, these recommendations will contribute to the further development of a human rights based approach by the World Bank and the IMF. The Netherlands should do its best to encourage these institutions to make human rights a more explicit theme of their development policies in the future.

6. Coherence
Even when the relationship between human rights and development cooperation is defined in coherent policy documents, it can be extremely difficult to implement in practice. Donor countries often lack good coordination and cooperation between relevant ministries at national level, and there is often also a big discrepancy between the experiences of the poor and the marginalised and the policy proposals formulated by the donor countries and the governments of developing countries. Donor policy should not only be coherent in the sense that it is free of contradictions, but also in the sense that all aspects of the policy support each other. Such policy therefore concerns all ministries. The objectives outlined in the MDGs are a good example of this, as they can only be achieved if all the parties involved, both in the donor countries and in the recipient countries, cooperate in a coherent manner. Although the Dutch government is in favour of policy coherence, a lot still remains to be done in this area.10 Only part of its relations with and funding of developing countries flows through development cooperation channels. Transactions in the area of economic relations and arms exports do not suggest that coordination and cooperation, on the basis of human rights, is taking place between the relevant ministries. The lack of coherence between EU policies in the fields of human rights and development, trade and agriculture also stands in the way of effectiveness. Due to the shared nature of competences in relation to foreign policy and development cooperation, there is often friction between the policies and decisions of the EU’s institutions and those of the individual member states. This is an important factor that often leads to incoherence. The continued existence of agricultural protectionism in the European Union, for example, is a major obstacle in this regard and should be terminated. Finally, the decision-making processes in such international bodies as the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO should aim not to undermine the objectives and effects of development cooperation.11 To this end, the IMF and the World Bank should in any case interpret their mandates more broadly than they do today.

7. Improving human rights awareness within the system
The introduction of the human rights based approach will require an additional outlay for training officials, embassy staff and the staff of development organisations and other NGOs in the Netherlands and abroad on the subject of international human rights conventions and implementation and monitoring mechanisms. This is an investment that will pay off in the long term. It is vital for all concerned that a choice is made in favour of a human rights based approach that is implemented throughout the ministry.

Conclusions
In the AIV’s opinion, the above-mentioned principles should have repercussions for the government’s policy as a whole. The conclusions that can be drawn from these principles offer guidelines for development cooperation policy and Dutch policy in general. The main conclusions are as follows:

  • Not all development issues are related to human rights, but development cooperation policy as a whole is pervaded by human rights.
     
  • The human rights based approach forces actors to make choices. It is a broad and ambitious approach that has an impact on development policy as a whole. Human rights provide a legal and normative framework that can give direction to all areas of development cooperation policy. In this context, the observance of internationally recognized human rights should be the guiding principle.
     
  • When it comes to making policy choices, people and their rights – not countries, governments or economic targets – should come first. Donor countries should side with the poor. Involving and supporting civil-society actors in developing countries is a crucial part of implementing the human rights based approach.
     
  • Aid should only be granted to countries where it can make a real contribution to the promotion of human rights. This should be assessed on the basis of clear, uniform and transparent criteria that are applied in a consistent manner, as well as a coherent country analysis. For this purpose, sufficient attention must be devoted to systematic data collection and to monitoring and evaluating the human rights situation in each country.
     
  • The decentralisation of the bilateral development cooperation budget has provided a clearer picture of the activities and achievements that take place at local level in recipient countries. However, there is not enough insight into this branch of development cooperation, partly due to inadequate feedback to the ministry in The Hague. This makes it difficult to set general policy priorities, which are essential.
     
  • More resources should be invested in training ministry staff and the staff of development organisations on the subject of international human rights conventions and implementation and monitoring mechanisms. In this way, the knowledge and awareness of each individual regarding human rights can be increased, in order to introduce more synergy between development policy and the human rights based approach.
     
  • Realising both civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights deserves a fixed place on the agenda of the dialogue between the governments of donor countries and recipient countries. Human rights can thus serve as a benchmark for evaluating the socioeconomic policies pursued by recipient countries as well as the programmes funded by donor countries.
     
  • In general terms, the concept of human rights is not becoming inflated. Instead what we are witnessing is the specialisation and refinement of substantive human rights norms and the development of a system of monitoring mechanisms. Due to the sheer number of developments in the field of human rights, however, it is difficult to obtain a balanced overview.
     
  • An efficient national legal system is an important condition for compliance with international human rights obligations. Well-informed, well-trained, incorruptible and effective national judges are essential for this purpose. Permanent human rights education and the establishment of national human rights agencies and ombudsmen should also be a top priority.
     
  • It is very important that countries consistently honour agreements and commitments in the field of human rights and development cooperation (such as the Copenhagen agreements, the MDGs, the Monterrey Consensus and the Johannesburg Declaration) once they have been established. The United Nations, industrial countries and developing countries all have a role to play in this regard.
     
  • The UN institutions and specialised agencies and the international financial institutions play an important role with regard to human rights and development. The Netherlands must make sure that these organisations and institutions maintain human rights as a key theme of their policies and help them in doing so. Contributions towards improving the effectiveness of the human rights policies of these organisations in the fields of data collection and analysis, increasing expertise and systematic cooperation are essential in this regard.
     
  • Dutch development policy as a whole should be coherent. It should be free of contradictions and all aspects of policy should support each other. These principles apply to the policies and implementing activities of all Dutch ministries, but should also be followed by international organisations such as the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO.
     
  • In the AIV’s opinion, the true value of the right to development resides mainly in its connective character, that is to say, its ability to unite the individual human rights to life, food, primary health care, education and participation in political and cultural life as well as to connect between the rights of individuals and peoples. Through the combined impact of these effects, the right to development can play a positive role in the promotion of respect for the entire corpus of human rights.
     
  • The draft guidelines presented by the OHCHR in a document entitled ‘Draft Guidelines: A Human Rights Approach to Poverty Reduction Strategies’ are interesting and provide a useful tool for the further operationalisation and evaluation of future Dutch policy in the framework of the human rights based approach to development cooperation.
     
  • In conclusion, the AIV wishes to emphasise the basic principle underpinning this advisory report, namely, that the widespread existence of extreme poverty makes it impossible for those affected to realise their human rights effectively. The international community must therefore continue to prioritise the reduction and eventual eradication of poverty. The common denominator of human rights policy and development cooperation policy is and must remain the promotion and protection of human dignity.

 


1 See B. de Gaay Fortman, ‘Persistent Poverty and Inequality in an Era of Globalisation: Opportunities and Limitations of a Rights Approach’, paper presented at the Tilburg University Lustrum Conference, 26-28 March 2003, p. 14.

2 For a discussion of this issue, see for example Deepa Narayan, ‘Can Anyone Hear Us?’ (Voices of the Poor series), World Bank/Oxford University Press, 2000. In this context, the AIV however prefers the term ‘counterproductive’ to ‘irrelevant’.

3 See also I. Boerefijn, M. Brouwer and R. Fakhreddine (eds.), ‘Linking and Learning in the Field of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’, SIM-special 27, Utrecht, 2001.

4 See, for example, Oxfam’s action programme, ‘Towards Global Equity’, 2000.

5 For a number of critical comments on the role of NGOs in general, see AIV, ‘Commentary on the 2001 Memorandum on Human Rights Policy’, The Hague, September 2001, pp. 13-14. See also AIV, ‘Pro-Poor Growth in the Netherlands’ Bilateral Partner Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Analysis of Poverty Reduction Strategies’, Advisory Report no. 29, The Hague, 2003.

6 See for example ACM, ‘UN Supervision of Human Rights’, Advisory Report no. 22, The Hague, October 1996 and AIV, ‘Commentary on the 2001 Memorandum on Human Rights Policy’, Advisory Report no. 24, The Hague, September 2001.

7 Ibid., note 16. See also O.B.R.C. van Cranenburgh, 'Development Cooperation and Human Rights: Link-age Policies of the Netherlands', in P. Baehr, H. Hey, J. Smith and T. Swinehart (eds.), Human Rights in Developing Countries, 1995, p. 29 et seq. and K. de Feyter, K. Landuyt, L. Reydams, F. Reyntjes, S. VandeGinste and H. Verleyen, 'Ontwikkelingssamenwerking als instrument ter bevordering van mensenrechten en democratisering' (Development cooperation as an instrument for promoting human rights and democratisation), VLIR-ABOS, Brussels, 1995.

8 See AIV, 'Comments on the Criteria for Structural Bilateral Aid', Advisory Report no. 7, The Hague, November 1998 and D.J. Koch, 'Herfkens' selectiviteitsbeleid onder de loep: een beoordeling en voorstellen ter verbetering' (Examining Herfkens' policy of selectivity: an evaluation and suggested improvements), Internationale Spectator, vol. 57, no. 2, February 2003, pp. 71-76.

9 For more detail, see also Humanist Committee on Human Rights, ‘Matching Practice and Principles – Human Rights Impact Assessment: EU Opportunities’, Utrecht 2002.

10 See for example the policy document on development cooperation and agriculture, House of Representatives of the States General, 2002-2003, 28318, no. 2, December 2002.

11 See for example L. van Maare, ‘Coherentie in de ontwikkelingssamenwerking: hoe verder?’ (Coherence in development cooperation: Where do we go now?), Internationale Spectator, vol. 57, no. 2, February 2003, pp. 81-87.

Advice request
Mr F. Korthals AltesHuman Rights and
Chairman of the Advisory CouncilPeacebuilding Department (DMV)
on International AffairsBezuidenhoutseweg 67
Postbus 200612594 AC The Hague
2500 EB The Hague 


 

 

Date5 April 2002
Our ref.DMV/MR-078-02
ContactKanta Adhin
Tel.(0031) 70 3485061
Fax(0031) 70 3485049
Emaildmv-mr@minbuza.nl
  
Re:Request for advice on development cooperation and human rights: the practical application of the human rights based approach to development.

 

 

Dear Mr Korthals Altes,

In its Memorandum on Human Rights Policy 2001, sent to the House of Representatives on 14 May 2001, the government indicated that it was seeking to achieve better integration of the concept of human rights in the daily practice of development cooperation, with the aim of increasing the synergy between the two policy fields. The main concern is to give form and content in daily practice to concepts such as the transparency and accountability of government, and people’s participation in decision-making and development processes. Development cooperation is an important instrument in achieving this objective.

The primary focus in development relations is the main aim of development policy: poverty reduction. In 1987, the Advisory Committee on Human Rights and Foreign Policy, the prede-cessor of the AIV’s Human Rights Committee, produced an extensive advisory report on the role of human rights in development policy. In its response, the government concluded that the principles expressed in the report were the same as those underpinning government policy, i.e.:

  • that development cooperation should help to promote the realisation of human rights;
  • that promoting respect for human rights, including in the framework of development cooperation, should always be based on an integrated approach of both categories of human rights. In other words, activities to promote civil and political rights must not be separated from those to promote economic, social and cultural rights;
  • that, in promoting respect for human rights through development cooperation, greater priority should be given to ‘positive’ than to ‘negative’ instruments.

In the course of time, the concept of good governance has become central to (the Dutch) development cooperation policy. Good governance encompasses the concepts of trans-parency and accountability of government and of people’s participation mentioned above. In addition, it has become accepted that sustainable development requires both economic.growth and human development. Poverty is no longer seen purely in terms of a lack of income. Greater importance is being attached to security and to opportunities for people to develop themselves. The World Development Report 2000/2001 ‘Attacking Poverty’ speaks of opportunities, empowerment and security.

In recent years, a number of UN agencies (including UNICEF, UNDP and UNIFEM) and bilat-eral donors (including the UK and Sweden) have introduced a human rights based approach to development in their work. This approach provides a conceptual framework for the empowerment of people by focusing on their participation in the development process and in the fair distribution of prosperity. There is a clear link here to the right to development, which places people at the centre, both in the development process and in the way the results of development are distributed. At the same time, this approach offers opportuni-ties to integrate human rights into everyday practice. For example, a connection can be made between activities to improve health care and the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as contained in Article 12 of the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

In the past year, several steps have been taken to achieve better integration of human rights policy and development cooperation. Sector specialists have been acquainted with the human rights based approach and an internal paper on poverty reduction and human rights has been drafted in the context of the Mainstreaming Poverty Reduction project at the ministry in The Hague. These are the first steps in a process that must ultimately lead to guidelines for embassies on justifying poverty reduction activities from a human rights perspective, as a supplement to existing strategies. Conversely, poverty reduction argu-ments can be used when broaching human rights issues. For example, in a country where there are concerns about the increase in genital mutilation, the importance of healthy and independent women to economic growth could also be emphasised.

That development is a matter of achieving respect for human rights and not of charity is beyond dispute. Yet the human rights based approach to development does raise a number of questions. Does the concept of human rights not become overinflated if everything to do with development is seen as a human rights issue? Is there not a danger of focusing on rights that exist on paper but which are not embedded in the social context? Generally speaking, poverty is not the result of a specific violation of a human right by a clearly iden-tifiable perpetrator, but of a situation of general malaise in which it is difficult to point the finger of responsibility at or take legal action against individuals. Countries where the right to development is an issue often lack an efficient legal system. Does use of the term ‘rights’ in the context of development then not arouse expectations that cannot be fulfilled in practice? It is, however, perhaps useful to take a pragmatic view and see to what extent the human rights based approach can be translated into concrete strategies and measures which can be applied in everyday development practice to strengthen the coherence between development cooperation and human rights policy.

With all the above in mind, we would greatly appreciate the advice of the Council on this matter. We are not concerned here with the general question of the role that human rights should play in development policy. As mentioned previously, this has already been the sub-ject of an advisory report. In addition to the questions posed above, we would like your advisory report to address the following:

  • the way in which the human rights based approach to development can be applied in the everyday practice of development cooperation in general and the sector-wide approach in particular;
  • possible problems arising from the sensitivity of a number of countries about human rights (for example, the rights of women in relation to reproductive health) and ways in which these problems can be addressed;
  • ways in which the human rights based approach can be promoted in the specialised agencies of the UN (especially other then the aforementioned UNICEF, UNDP and UNIFEM);
  • the relationship between the human rights based approach and the IMF/World Bank concept of PRSPs (Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers), particularly how the latter can contribute to the former;
  • concrete ways in which the right to development can be promoted. In this connection, you might refer to the activities of the UN’s Independent Expert on the Right to Develop-ment, Dr Arjun Sengupta.

Later in the year, an internal workshop is to be held, partly on the basis of the AIV’s report, which should lead to the drawing up of guidelines to help the missions integrate human rights into the daily practice of development cooperation and to the mutual strengthening of policy on human rights and on development cooperation.

We look forward to your advice with interest.

Yours sincerely,

 

(Signed) (Signed)
  
Jozias van Aartsen Eveline Herfkens
Minister of Foreign Minister for Development
Affairs Cooperation

 

Government reactions

Human Rights Division
Human Rights and Peacebuilding Department
Bezuidenhoutseweg 67
Postbus 20061
2500 EB Den Haag

Mr F. Korthals Altes
Chairman of the Advisory Council on International Affairs
Postbus 20061
2500 EB Den Haag

Date   September 2003
Author   A.P. Hamburger
               
Subject   Response to the AIV advisory report,
'A Human Rights Based Approach to Development Co-operation'

 

Dear Mr Korthals Altes,

Thank you for your advisory report entitled 'A Human Rights Based Approach to Development Co-operation'. We fully endorse the basic conclusions and recommendations of the report.

The advisory report came at an opportune moment, just before the basic principles of development cooperation policy for the next few years were reviewed in the summer. We endorse the report's conclusion that poverty and human rights are inextricably linked. And we share the Advisory Council's conviction that poverty reduction and the promotion of human rights must go hand in hand.

Promoting human rights must be an integral part of co-operation with partner countries. The advisory report concludes that although much has been done in recent years to promote human rights through development co-operation, this has not been adequately reflected in the programming.

We agree with your analysis of the policy pursued in the past years. The Minister for Development Co-operation is therefore resolved that, in future, the continuing focus of co-operation programmes will be on the relationship between poverty reduction and the realisation of human rights. This will be achieved not only by means of specific human rights projects but also by making human rights an integral part of sector programmes. For example, education specialists must become aware of the relevance of human rights to their work, and must ensure that sensitive human rights topics - such as the difficulties facing minorities in schools, or discrimination against girls in education - are addressed in discussions or support activities. Human rights should also be incorporated into policy dialogues with partner countries. The focus on human rights in co-operation programmes reflects our belief that sustainable development is impossible without respect for human dignity and essential freedoms.

The advisory report provides a good overview of the ways in which other donor countries and development organisations have tried to make human rights a permanent feature of their development activities. The main conclusion that can be drawn from their experience is that there is no blueprint for a human rights based approach to development. Dutch development co-operation, with its emphasis on integrated policy and a sector-wide approach, must therefore develop its own specific approach. The most inspiring example of a human rights based approach is that currently being developed within the UN by the specialised agencies. In his 2001 report, 'Reforming the UN: an agenda for further change', Kofi Annan declared that the UN's main task is to promote human rights, and that all UN activities must contribute directly or indirectly to the realisation of human rights. This includes civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was given a key role in the specification of these policy objectives, and has established guidelines for a poverty reduction strategy from a human rights perspective.

In the past few months, we have been discussing within the Ministry how to define the relationship between human rights and poverty reduction. A workshop on human rights policy with the development co-operation missions, which was held in June 2003, concluded that the Netherlands could learn a lot from the UN's experience in this area. It also identified a gap in the knowledge of many development co-operation missions concerning the practical implementation of the linkage between human rights and poverty reduction. To fill the gap, this topic will be covered in the regular courses offered by the Ministry over the next few years.

We also endorse the advisory report's recommendation to base development co-operation policy on a positive human rights based approach. This means that condemnation or steps to terminate aid relations must be viewed as a last resort. Even when a partner country is wrestling with problems in the human rights domain, it should be possible to work towards a gradual improvement in the situation by addressing the problems in a dialogue with the government in question. In this dialogue, it is important to include as many civil society organisations, interest groups and development partners as possible. We agree with the AIV that development co-operation must take account of capacity building within these organisations.

The advisory report concludes that in allocating macroeconomic support not enough attention is paid to the impact on the human rights situation in a country. This relates to the conclusions of another AIV advisory report, 'Pro-Poor Growth in the Bilateral Partner Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa'. We share the view that an unstable macroeconomic climate reduces poor people's chances of survival. Targeted macroeconomic support, however, increases those chances and thus also has a bearing on the economic and social rights of the poor. We must examine the impact that all our interventions have on the poor. This means, for example, that people's savings are protected during the reorganisation of a country's banking system, and that the poor are supplied with food when the devaluation of the national currency makes them dependent on imported products. We agree with the AIV that macroeconomic support should be pro-poor, both in the economic sense and from a human rights perspective.

Finally, we would like to respond to the AIV's criticism of the policy of international organisations such as the World Bank and IMF. In recent years, these institutions have started to pay more explicit attention to human rights and have implemented a pro-poor policy. The World Bank has taken a lead in this. Its 2001 report, 'Voices of the Poor', marked the beginning of a shift in the culture of the World Bank. The IMF structural adjustment programmes now also explicitly take into account their impact on the poorest groups and attempt to compensate for this through support measures. Nevertheless, we will continue to do our best to encourage these institutions to safeguard the interests of the poor.

Yours sincerely,

(signed)   (signed)
         
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer   Agnes van Ardenne-van der Hoeven
Minister of Foreign Affairs   Minister for Development Co-operation

 

Press releases

Press release related to this report has not been translated.