This explains how human rights have gradually been incorporated in development practice.
The philosophical, moral and ethical thinking behind the concept of human rights dates back to the early civilisations. Struggles for fundamental human freedoms have changed forever the way human beings relate to each other, the relationship between the individual and the state, and expectations for social justice, agreed international norms and a global order.
Over the past 50 years, human rights have been recognised and codified at an international level, starting with the creation of the United Nations following the Second World War. During the next few decades, however, human rights did not have a central role in development practice. Rather, organisations striving to achieve improvements in human rights functioned in parallel to development practitioners.
It is only since the late 1990s that the two have converged. For some, improvements in development practice promoted working principles that were increasingly close to human rights principles. Others, particularly those fighting for civil and political rights of marginalised groups, broadened their mission to seek improvements in social or economic status. Whatever the motivation, human rights have now become a major focus for the international development community.
A key turning point for many development agencies occured in 1997 when the secretary–general of the United Nations, called for the mainstreaming of human rights across the entire UN system. Since then, the integration of human rights into development programming – the so–called rights–based approach – has increasingly gained the attention of practitioners, whether working in UN agencies (notably UNICEF and OHCHR), NGOs (both national and international), or government donors (such as SIDA and DFID).
Many would argue that bringing human rights and development together is leading to the creation of a new kind of development environment, in which improvements in equality, respect and dignity become key factors in judging progress. Indeed, some organisations, following the lead of economist Professor Amartya Sen, have adopted the stance that the realisation of human rights is the fundamental goal of development.
Others are less convinced that the rise of rights represents such a marked departure from existing development practice because rights have always been a fundamental part of their work. However, what is clear is that development agencies are increasingly looking to formalise the role of human rights in their work.
The following resources explain the background concepts and thinking behind human rights, and help answer why development organisations should invest in rights based programming.
IDS briefing paper: The Rise of Rights
ODI Briefing paper. Economic Theory, Freedom and Human Rights: The Work of Amartya Sen
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- 01/01/1900: Basic Rules of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols
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Last updated 12/03/2005 05:14:21