The rights-based or citizen-centered approach, tensions and contradictions in implementing the approach: reflections on the Chad-Cameroon Pipeline project.

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2012

11 Pages, Grade: none



This paper makes a brief introduction of the human rights movement, its evolution from the US and French revolution to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Vienna Conference, and to present day practice of the Rights-Based Approach (a citizen-centered approach). In the following pages, the paper critically explores the newly conceived approach of human rights: the rights- based or citizen-centered approach. The Human Rights-Based Approach (RBA) places or sees human rights as an integral component of all human development programming, be it at the local or international level. The paper go along to identify the practicality and added value in the application of the RBA. In particular it looks at some of the strengths (community empowerment, local ownership, inclusion, etc) of the RBA, how that makes the RBA different from other development concepts. According to the paper translating this complex approach into practice is a big challenge to development experts, agencies and international organizations involving tensions and contradictions. Using the Chad-Cameroon Pipeline Project as a case study the paper brings to light some of the limitations of the RBA in today’s highly politics-driven world. It reveals how some other materialistic accomplishments can be placed high above citizens’ freedom and at the expense of the environment on which they depend on for their survival.1

I. Introduction

The identification of rights and its importance in human society dates as far back as in the French (Rights of Man and Citizen adopted in 1789) and American (US Declaration of Independence in 1776) revolutions. These dates are significant contributors to modern-day human rights movement (Evans 1998: 4; Anton 2009: 3). It portray instances where individuals renounced the feudal and hierarchal system of society; the abuse of power by the state, the reign of kingdoms and the demoralizing practices of some individuals to whom power was invested. During this era the relationship between the individual and the state began undergoing gradual social transformation. The state was hereby seen as a collective effort of all individuals operating under unanimously acceptable principles of social organization (Social Contract). This theory of social contract states that ‘life without rules or enforcement mechanism will be a state of constant war’. Hence, men by virtue of their rights as humans, refused to be seen as slaves, property or pawns. In time to come, therefore, continued violations of people’s rights resulted to mobilizations, protests, revolts and conflicts. Examples include slavery, apartheid, the communists regimes in Eastern Europe, etc. were men denounced injustice and adhere to claim their natural rights as human being in a ‘state of nature’. According to Gready and Ensor:

“…state legitimacy and consent to be ruled, were [at this stage] founded on human rights… and rights thereby constituted the justification for rebellion in the event of their violation” (2005: 3).

These protests and rebellions have greatly improved on the present day status of human rights and in December 10, 1946 the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted and proclaimed by the UN. Article 1 of the UDHR states that: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. According to the United Nations ‘recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world’ (UN 2003).

Human rights are therefore fundamental moral and legal entitlements that relates to basic wellbeing and dignity. Donnell (1989) describes them as ‘social and political guarantees necessary to protect individuals from the standard threats to human dignity posed by the modern state and or modern markets’. Recognizing these moral and legal entitlements is in a way defining and reaffirming our status quo as human beings. Human rights law recognises two main groups of agents; rights-holders and duty bearers. All human beings fit into the first group; we have human rights as result of just being humans by nature. Concordantly, these rights are supposed to be held equally and inalienably. The responsibility of the duty- bearer includes meeting its obligations of respecting, promoting, protecting or fulfilling citizens’ rights. Like any other development paradigm, the human rights discourse has also witnessed a great deal of paradigm shift and criticisms overtime in its approach and practice particularly in the field of international development and cooperation.

An attempt to establish a clear link between human rights and development gave way to the 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development. However, this approach also was highly contested by development agencies and scholars, as highly political and self-interested (Piron 2005: 20). And recently in the human rights discourse we have been working on a new approach based on States’ responsibility to meet their obligations and the citizen’s sense of ownership and power to claim their rights from the State: the rights-based approach.

II. The Rights-Based Approach

A right based approach to development according to Mary Robinson (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 2001) is ‘a conceptual framework for the process of human development that is normatively based on international human rights standards and operationally directed to promoting and protecting human rights for the essence of achieving development’. Basically, a right based approach incorporates the norms, standards and principles of the international human rights system into the policies, plans and processes of development agencies. These norms and standards are those contained in the literatures of international treaties, development agendas and approaches designed and adopted by States around the globe. According to DFID (2001), the rights-based approach is all about ‘empowering people to take their own decisions, rather than being the passive object of choices made on their own behalf’. Under this contextual framework, the rights based approach is envisioned by its proponents as an agent for accountability, participation, non-discrimination, equality, equity, good governance and the rule of law.


1 Alumni Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, Email:

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The rights-based or citizen-centered approach, tensions and contradictions in implementing the approach: reflections on the Chad-Cameroon Pipeline project.
University of Sussex  (Institute of Development Studies)
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Chad-Cameroon pipeline project, rights-based approach, Elangwe Linus, human rights movement
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Linus Elangwe (Author), 2012, The rights-based or citizen-centered approach, tensions and contradictions in implementing the approach: reflections on the Chad-Cameroon Pipeline project., Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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