The Human Rights Approach to Development Management

Academic Paper, 2017

14 Pages



The paper analyses the human based approach to development management. It traces its development from the industrial era the basic needs approach and structural adjustments to the current status. It is basically a desk research that sought to find out what is the human rights approach to development? its application, challenges and benefits. The approach is the brain child of the UN agencies that sought to have development with a human face. The human rights based approach traces its origins in the principles of human rights. It is from these that basic tenets of the approach are got. The tenets are participation, inclusion and fulfilling obligation. These rotate around two basic stake holders –the duty bearers and rights holders. From the studies done it is noted that though the approach is new and has some challenges, it still sets a new face towards development management. It has further found that a good number of countries and development cooperations do not necessarily apply all the human rights principles to the development projects. This is human rights perspectives to development as opposed to human rights based approach to development, which perspective marks the first step towards a full blown implementation of the human rights approach to development management.


This chapter discusses the human rights based approach to development management. Development issues have been and continue to be a subject of debate in political, social, development studies and management academics as well as practitioners. The prominence of the subjects arises out of the need to reduce poverty and consequently lead to human development.

The chapter briefly defines development as being about actively fomenting institutional and organizational changes that increase human freedom and wealth and hence development. It then traces the evolution of human rights based approach to development from the early years of industrial development to capitalistic models and its criticisms, through to the redistributive with growth strategy to the basic needs theory whose failure to meet the desired outcomes led to the 1980s IMF and World Bank strategy of Structural Adjustments. This like its predecessors never gave the expected results and hence the birthing of the Human Rights approach to development.

The human rights approach originates from the UNDP (1996) coming up with a new idea to the definition of human development. Within the new face, development was seen from three perspectives of capability of ability to be well nourished and healthy, capability for healthy reproduction and capability to be educated and knowledgeable. With this definition, people were no longer seen as passive recipients of goods and services but as key actors. This led to the normative approaches that are linked to the human rights based approach.

Later the chapter gives a broad definition of the human rights approach to development management, its application, benefits and challenges.

The chapter is useful to students of development studies and development management as well as practitioners in development cooperations and agencies. It gives an insight into what human rights approach to development is and how to apply it.

What is development management?

Development management is about actively fomenting institutional and organizational changes that increase human freedom and wealth, and hence development. It is opposed to laissez- faire approach, which waits for change to happen autonomously with no attempt at co – ordination or catalyst (pose enterprises 2007).

Development management is the deliberate conscious and informed attempt to move institutions and organizations towards higher levels of efficiency and effectiveness in a way which is faster than their autonomous rate of progressive change and to the extent that is more co – ordinated. It is an integral part of the spatial planning process; it puts spatial development plans into action and seeks to achieve good design and sustainable development.

Evolution of Human Rights based approach to development.

Development is concerned with people. The role people play in development has been a subject of debate in political, social and political science for a number of years. In the early years of industrial development entrepreneurs, economists and critics of capitalism focused on accumulation of capital as the main factor driving economic growth and therefore development. After the Second World War, UN was established and with it the adoption of the ‘Declaration of Human Rights’ this birthed the idea that the main objective of development should be human well-being (Johnson 2003:6). The words of Nyerere (1974:28) affirm this ‘Every proposal must be judged by the criterion of whether it serves the purpose of development, and the purpose of development is the people.’

The above contradicted what the Marists thought that rapid economic growth was the key to development. By 1970’s it had become clear that economic growth did not necessarily benefit the poorest people. This resulted into a new strategy of ‘Redistribution with growth.’ This aimed at stimulating development by distributing the surplus from additional growth to the poor but without reducing the income or assets of the rich (Chenery 1974). This too, however, did not reduce poverty significantly and consequently, a new approach, the Basic needs strategy emerged. The Basic Needs strategy had three objectives -: increasing the income of the poor through labour intensive production; promotion of the public services to reduce poverty and encouraging popular participation. Majority of the countries adopted the second objective, resulting in many developing countries resorting to external aid to finance public services. Where aid could not meet the purpose, or was not available, borrowing was the resort.

By mid 19980’s poor countries had borrowed too much with foreign debt reaching worrying levels to the extent of failing to invest in economic growth. The IMF and World Bank came in to avert the trend with the launch of structural adjustment strategies. The purpose was to stabilize the economies through reducing budget and trade deficits, cutting public expenditure, reduction of wages and raising of interest rates in a bid to restore external balance and economic growth.

The approach was criticized by some agencies such as UNICEF which came up with the concept of Adjustment with a human face (Cornea & Jolly R 1987). The argument here was that development should be people centred and should not to further marginalization of the poor but rather empowerment. In 1990, the UNDP came up with the new vision of human empowerment. Later in 1996, it came up with a new definition of human development as comprising of three vital components of capability to be well nourished, and healthy, capability for healthy reproduction and capability to be educated and knowledgeable.

According to UNDP – Human development approaches emphasize basic needs but go beyond conventional basic needs approaches by focusing on enlarging peoples’ choices (Johnson 2003). This implies that people are no longer seen as passive recipients of services and goods but recognized as key actors of their own development in that it embraces participation. This leads to normative approaches that lead to Human Rights based approach to development.

The Human Rights Based Approach to Development management

Human rights approach to development is a recent approach to development. It a rose as a result of growing recognition that the needs based or service delivery approaches have failed to substantially reduce poverty (UNICEF 2007:9). The rights based approach to development is grounded in the international Human Rights framework. It is value based development that works for the ethical inclusion of all people without discrimination in holding a fair, just and non-discriminatory society. This is achieved through an understanding of the full context of people lives – their geographical, social political, cultural and economic circumstances. It works to increase people’s access to and power in decision making which affects their lives and work. The approach is based on human rights principles (Sarah B.D et al 2006) as outlined:-

To begin with there is the principle of universality and inalienability. All people in the world are entitled to human rights. The human being cannot voluntarily give them up nor can others take them away from him or her.

Indivisibility is another principle. All rights have equal status as rights and cannot be valued apriori in hierarchical order.

The rights are also interdependent and interrelated. The realization of one right often depends wholly or in part, upon the realization others.

Besides the above, there is equality and non – discrimination. All human beings are entitled to their human rights without discrimination of any kind such as race, colour, sex, ethnicity, age, language, religion… disability, property birth or other as stated by human rights treaties.

Every person and all peoples are entitled to active free and meaningful participation in contribution to and enjoyment of civil, economic, social cultural and political development through which human rights and fundamental freedoms can be enjoyed. This is the principle of participation and inclusion.

Related with the above is the principle of accountability and rule of law. Human rights approaches raise the levels of accountability in the development process through identification of rights holders and corresponding duty bearers and to enhance the capacities of duty bearers to meet their obligations. The obligations are either positive or negative. Positive obligations promote and fulfill human rights whereas negative one abstains from rights violation. Governments and other actors also carry responsibilities for the realization of human rights. International communities have obligations to provide effective co-operation in response to shortage of resources and capacities in developing countries. This principle requires the development of laws, administrative procedures and mechanisms to ensure the fulfillment, entitlements as well as opportunities to address the denials or violations.

The above goes hand in hand with the principle of empowerment. Empowerment is the process by which peoples’ capacities to demand and use their human rights grow. Citizens are empowered to claim their rights rather than simply wait for policies, legislation or the provision of services. Efforts are focused on building the capacities of individuals and communities to hold those accountable to account. The purpose is to give people power and capabilities to change their own lives, improve their own communities and influence their own destinies UNICEF (2007:11).

Accruing from the above, the Human Rights approach to development identifies three man elements that must operate for the approach to be successful-: These are -:Participation – enabling people to realize their rights to participate in and access information leading to the decision making prices which affect their lives.

Inclusion is the building of socially inclusive societies based on values of equality and non – discrimination through development which promotes all human rights for all people

Lastly there is fulfilling obligation – which is the strengthening of institutions and policies which ensure that obligations to protect and promote the realization of all human rights are fulfilled by states and other duty bearers. All these actors are summed up as Rights holders, duty bearers and other actors. The state as a duty bearer has two basic obligations to the rights holders as prescribed by the international human rights law namely: - The obligation to respect obliges the state and all its organs and agents to desist from carrying out, sponsoring or tolerating any practice, policy or legal measure violating the integrity of individuals or improving on their freedom to access resources to satisfy their needs. It also requires that legislative and administrative codes take account of guaranteed rights.

The obligation to protect obliges the state and its agents to prevent the violation of rights by other individuals or non – state actors. Where violations occur, the state must guarantee access to legal remedies.

Obligation to fulfill involves issues of advocacy, public expenditure, government regulation of the economy, the provision of basic services and relates infrastructure and redistributive measures. The duty of fulfillment comprises those active measures necessary for guaranteeing opportunities.

Besides the state as a duty bearer, there are other duty bearers. These too, have their roots in the preamble to the Universal declaration of Human rights. Ljungman (2004) identifies the following moral duty bearers.

i) Primary duty bearers:These include parents for children, teachers for students, police for crime suspects, doctors/Nurses for patients and employers for employees.
ii) Secondary duty bearers: - These comprise of institutions and organizations that have immediate jurisdiction over the primary duty bearers.Examples include school principals/heads, community organizations, hospital administrators and all others in managerial and responsible positions.
iii) Tertiary duty bearers: - These are institutional organizations at higher levels and or more remote jurisdiction.Non- governmental organizations (NGOs), aid agencies and private sector organizations fall under this category.
iv) External duty bearers -:This embodies countries, institutions, and organizations with no direct involvement.Such include, African Union (AU) UNO, WTO EU etc.

Each of the above has got obligations to fulfill. In sum, the Human Rights based approach to development, envision the poor as actors with the potential to share their own destiny; and defines poverty as exclusion that prevents such action. The approach is against the notion of governments and states as producers and distributors of goods and services and in case they fail the use of aid; and instead identifies the key systematic obstacles that keep people accessing opportunity and improving their lives. Development is seen as assisting poor communities to overcome obstacles rather than about the never ending pursuit of grants for social goods (Offeniheiser R C and Holcombe S 2003). It is the practice of applying the norms and standards set out in international human rights law to policies and practices related to development (Mungao W 2013).

Application of Human Rights approach to development management

A number of co – operations dealing in development have tried to apply the approach to their projects and development activities. Some governments and states have also tried doing so. However, as Ljungman (2004) argues most of these are applying human rights perspective to development assistance and poverty reduction. Ljungman argues further that there is a need to first fully develop capacities and methodologies so as to employ a human rights based approach; and hastens to add that until this is done the rights based perspective may be a first step in the gradual process towards a full scale application of a rights based approach (2004:6). Human Rights perspective recognizes an intrinsic link between poverty and human rights at the policy and strategy level. Human Rights perspective tries to apply human rights concepts consistently throughout the development co – operation but is not guided by the realization of all human rights for all people as the first and foremost.

Three basic features distinguish the human rights approach from other approaches to development. There are the legal basis, the normative framework and the process of realizing the over all goal in which the process is a goal in itself.

The legal basis asserts that others have duties to fulfill to facilitate the fulfillment of peoples’ rights and fundamental freedoms which thereby necessitates action. It is grounded in the international law which specifies obligations that are legally binding under international law. When states ratify to the international human rights treaties, they agree to abide to these binding international legal obligations that require them to take necessary legislative, administrative or policy measures and promote appropriate remedies in case of violations. States further commit themselves to report on their practices and performance relating to implementation.

Ljungman (2004:7) stresses the roles and obligations of duty bearers and rights holders as the core of human right based approach. The strategy is two pronged by strengthening duty bearers to fulfill the obligations and empowering rights holders to invoke their rights. This finally results into accountability. This is illustrated in the figure below.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1. The Rights –Based Approach (Ljungman 2004:8).

The normative framework offers a road map for development to policy makers and practitioners that follow a right based approaches. The framework is embedded in the principles of the human rights instrument alluded to earlier. The human rights approach must embrace all the said principles. Where some and not all are taken, then it becomes human rights perspective.

Process goals ensure that the process of achieving human rights is central. An individual is presumed to be a subject of his/her rights and as well as an active participant in his or her development. Human rights are therefore actively dependant on the participation of individuals and groups; and practical. They must be applicable in the daily lives of people. Rights therefore, need not only be promoted and protected by duty bearers but also practiced and experienced by rights holders. Johnson (2003:7) avows that to achieve human development outcomes, human rights must be realized by those whose development is at stake.

In its application, the Human rights approach to development uses the Triple A Approach. In the approach, capacity has to be developed at all social levels. All decision making is seen as an iterative process of assessment of a problem, reassessment of the result on impact of action, reanalysis, new action and so forth. Triple action approach is a mental construct of rational decision making in society. It reflects a learning process in which the actor constantly improves one’s capability to cope.

Triple A approach represents a process by doing and self evaluation. The capability to assess and analyse a situation, to make informed decision for action and learn from the results of the action are all important parts of capacity and capacity development.

Information is a catalyst of the Triple A process; thus the importance of communication in Human rights based approach to development application. Communication is the vehicle through which individuals within a group or organization ensure that-:

a) Agree that there is a problem.
b) Agree on the major causes of the problem.
c) Agree to put their resources together to address the causes.
d) Agree on the major lessons learnt in the process.This leads to deciding on how they could do better.

The outsider actors (external duty bearers) improve the triple action by employing one or a mix of advocacy, information, education, training, and service delivery. This improves assessment, analysis and action. All these lead to development and individuals attaining human rights thus the Human Rights based approach hitting its goal.

Effects of applying human rights based approach to development management.

The use of Human rights Approach to development has some positive effects. The major effect is enabling the achieving of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). MDGs are the eight international development targets that were agreed upon by the UN member states in 2000 to be achieved by 2015. (Todaro and Smith 2009:2). They are milestones for realization of the often neglected economic and socio rights. (UNHCHR 2006:8). Human rights improve and sharpen strategies for achieving goals by addressing the discrimination, exclusion, powerlessness, and accountability failures that lie at the root of poverty and development problems. Human rights approaches help build capacity and empowering strategies upon civil and political rights and factoring in human rights processes and institutions such as courts, national human rights institutions, informal justice systems and mechanisms at international level. These strengthen transparency and accountability for achieving MDGs (UNHCHR 2006:8).

Rights based approaches challenge deep held cultural attitudes that add discrimination. This is done by actively bringing different stake holders together in dialogue and action thereby reducing vulnerability. (UK Interagency to RBA 2007).

Poverty reduction and indeed development relies on good governance. Governance is the mechanisms, institutions, and processes through which those in authority conduct public affairs. Human rights approach strengthens good governance framework. Governance and human rights are mutually reinforcing and are both based on core principles of participation, accountability, transparency and state responsibility. Kalema (1997:281) stresses this by saying that ‘transparency systems and processes, accountability of public servants and the capacity to provide services are essentials of good governance’. Governance is pivotal in development as it complements sound rules and economic policies. All these are brought forth in applying human rights based approach to development hence the promotion of good governance.

The human rights approach exerts influence on national budgets. According to UNHCHR (2006:12), a budget is the outcome of systems and relationships through which varying needs and desires of a nation are heard, prioritized, and funded. Choices are made by governments as to how money is allocated and distributed and which rights are realized and for whom are not value free or politically neutral. This then mandates poverty eradication (development) approaches to design strategies that put pressure on those involved in budgeting process to ensure that none is excluded in the distribution of resources which exclusion leads to poverty. The rights based approach hence seeks to analyse the national budgets to develop bases to exert the necessary pressure on the state to pay attention to the poor. Budget analysis is a vital instrument for monitoring gaps between policies and action, ensuring the progressive realization of human rights, for allocating alternative policy choices and privatization and ultimately for strengthening the accountability of duty bearers for the fulfillment of their obligations(UNHCHR 2006:12). The human rights approach demands that budgetary choices be made basing on transparency and accountability, non-discrimination and participation. These principles should apply at all levels of the budgeting process from the drafts through to approval by parliament. The parliament must have proper amendment powers and time for thorough evaluation of the proposals, implementation and monitoring.

Human rights standards furnish guidance to policy makers and legislators in weighing competing demands on limited resources, helping to ensure for instance that basic education is free for all. Further, human rights contribute to ensuring that particular rights are not deliberately realized at the expense of another say health is not compromised by over emphasizing the transport sector. Teis (2004) in Mungao (2013) suggests that states and other duty bearers should allocate bigger budgets and more resources for the poor marginalized and risk people.

The human rights based approach promotes social justice. Human rights address poverty including social and economic exclusion and supports struggle for social justice at national and international levels. Human rights put to the forefront the root causes and dynamics of poverty. They also offer operational guidance for governments, civil society and donors. Action Aid (2011:9) asserts that poverty violates human rights because of un- equal relations which start in the family and extend up to the global levels. Often times violations of human rights are as a result of failures in governance which is about the relationship between citizens and the state and the way the state uses its power and authority to manage its political, economic and administrative affairs.

Relatedly, the rights based approach contributes to the expansion of civil and political rights. These play a crucial role in advancing the cause of poverty reduction and aids in legitimacy to demand for meaningful participation of the poor in decision making process.

The human rights approach adds a new dimension to poverty reduction and development strategies. This serves a crucial purpose in poverty reduction and indeed development by providing a proper understanding of what it means to be poor. According to the rights based approach, a poor person is one who is deprived of basic capabilities such as the capability to be free from hunger, to live in good health, to be literate etc.(UNHCHR 2006:6). The human rights approach thus gives a new dimension to the definition of poverty.

The use of human rights approach increases the choices of people’s ability to withstand shocks and encourages positive risk management. The approach emphasizes ownership of project processes and production of constituents. Where people have greater ownership they appear also to be better able to embed skills and capacities gained through the project. As fears of insecurity are addressed, people in rights based approach projects gain ability to take and assess risks and as a result they get used to using diversified strategies to cope with shocks and also develop and rely on community safety nets. (INTRAC 2005:16).

Finally, the rights based approach adds value to the quality of assets attained and the ways in which vulnerability is reduced. The approach encourages benchmarking and working towards standards to ensure greater access to quality services. Rights based approaches concentrate on changing attitudes of people in power towards those who are powerless. This change creates a mutual respect and an environment in which improvements in services can have most effect.

Challenges of applying human rights based approach to development management.

The human rights based approach is a new strategy and like anything new, it has challenges in applying it. These range from human resource, financial and many others. Being a new strategy, most staff is not well versed with the approach. The cadre of development workers lacks adequate knowledge of the human rights regime. They lack experience to draw from and even practical guidance.

The approach relies on the efficient state legal machinery to operate well. Unfortunately this is lacking in many states and governments. In most there are inconsistencies between law and practice. This is worsened by poor and or lack of awareness of human rights among state actors and citizens. True, many states are signatories to human rights treaties but majority have neither embraced nor codified the treaties into their domestic legal frameworks. Some even have laws that breach the human rights principles. This is aggravated by policies and practices that are contrary to human rights principles and lack of an efficient operating judicial system.

In cases where there is an operating judiciary system, deterrents do bar citizens from accessing it. High costs, time and distance to courts coupled with ignorance and of skills to engage in litigation processes impede the poor from accessing the judicial systems.

In addition, citizens are unaware of their rights and responsibilities. They are unable to claim their rights and actively participate in democratic processes.

The limitations of international human rights framework pose a great challenge to the application of the human rights approach to development management. The international community’s responses to violations of human rights are not only sluggish but also ambiguous and at times undermined by political agendas of some UN member states. Whereas the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been established, its operations are questionable and some countries are not signatories to the Hague based court. Even signatories to the same have at time rubbished off their obligations. For example indicted presidents of some countries continue to move freely in member states. Such actions undermine the role of the court and consequently lead to violation of human rights which are the pillar of the human rights based approach to development management.

Operationalization of the approach requires some good funding, which funding is not forthcoming. Activities of the rights approach are costly not only to states but also NGOs and other development cooperations. Rights based approach activities consume a lot of money without any immediate tangible results (Mungao 2013). Costs involved include training costs of duty bearers such as government officials and the judiciary. The duty holders also pose costs in terms of capacity building. Owing to these costs, states and NGOs find themselves in a fix as they have to seek for funding a situation that pushes us back to the Structural Adjustments era, where countries become indebted and NGOs collapse when funding is withdrawn.

Development programmes and approaches operate with and within orgainsations, and hence the importance of organizational culture. The rights based approach takes into account the roles of various stake holders to development. Each of these has got their own orgarnisational culture. Organizational culture affects the way each of the stakeholders relate to each other. Organizational culture is affected by among others staff. The attitude of staff has to be readjusted. INTRAC (2005:36) emphasizes that ‘There is a need to involve the entire staff in a training which should aim at challenging attitude’. Attitude depends on the level of knowledge. Mungao(2013) contends that lack of skilled staff coupled with unwillingness to embrace the human rights based approach is a major constraint to the implementation of the rights based approach. The fear to lose their jobs when a new programme is introduced makes some staff sabotage rights based projects.

Governance is embedded in organizational culture. Good governance is critical to not only the success of any organization but also the projects they handle. This is also true of both the NGOs (tertiary duty bearers) and the state. In many developing countries many NGOs often lack the institutional capacity and resources to operate. This is also true to some states.

The relationship between various duty bearers and state pose yet another challenge to the human rights approach to development. Using a rights based approach forces tertiary duty bearers to take a critical stand against the practices of the state where it is in violation of rights or not conducive to the promotion and protection of rights. Susceptibility to intimidation and violence from the states makes some NGOs avoid human rights approach. In cases where they become brave and point out they are closed and told to wind up. Many cases abound where Some NGOs have been forced to close due to conflicts with the states.


The human rights based approach though new and not yet fully embraced by all is the only hope to propel countries to higher levels of development. Putting the human rights principles at the core of development ensures all round development and well-being of human beings. Participation by those to whom development projects are meant to benefit creates a sense of ownership resulting in jealously guarding what is theirs. This results in sustainability. Good legal frameworks limit violations of rights and impede the misuse of the project resources. The rights holders awareness to and demand for what is duly theirs make the duty bearers meet their roles and responsibilities and improves accountability.

True there are some challenges but these can be overcome through advocacy, training and empowerment among others. Some states and organisations may have failed to incooperate all the principles of human rights but if they have tried to bring on board some, then all is not lost. The use of some leads to human perspective to development management which is the first step towards the human rights based approach to development.


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The Human Rights Approach to Development Management
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