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A Human Rights-based approach to development programming in UNDP – Adding the missing link

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

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There exists global consensus around the international development goals, the Millennium targets, as testified by the 160 plus world leaders who came together to endorse the United Nations Millennium Declaration in 2000i. UNDP has placed these targets at the centre of its development strategy. Obviously these elaborate development goals cannot be achieved without poor people’s participation in the decisions and processes that affect their lives. It is therefore natural that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms features prominently in the Millennium Declaration. Human rights provide a means of empowering all people to make decisions about their own lives rather than being the passive objects of choices made on their behalf.

UNDP’s Results Oriented Annual Report (ROAR) 2000, registers as a key finding: “Emergence of human rights- including political, social and economic dimensions- as a key focus in governance, with almost 40% of country offices providing assistance for advocacy, awareness raising, action planning and development of the underlying framework”. This is all very encouraging, but human rights is only gradually finding its way into regular UNDP programming approaches. It is now time that UNDP, generally, starts applying a human rights-based approach to development programming. Such programming rests on the needs and aspirations of individuals, focusing not on development in general, but on human development. Human rights does not only provide a vision of what development should strive to achieve (to secure the freedom, well-being and dignity of all people everywhere), but it also provides for a set of programming tools and essential references (human rights standards and principles) that ensure pertinent analysis, focus on important human development goals, ownership by the concerned people and sustainability of development efforts.

Both processes and practices in development will change as a result of the application of a human rights-based approach. A human rights perspective calls for enhanced attention to the phase of assessment and analysis providing, among others, full understanding of the legal framework of a country, and the factors that create and perpetuate discrimination and social exclusion and hinder people from realising their potential. A human rights-perspective, therefore, helps us to fully understand how laws, social norms, traditional practices and institutional actions positively or negatively affect peopleii.

As the Administrator has stressed, applying a rights-based approach will require from UNDP innovative and strategic thinking and leadership to mobilise support of decision and policy makersiii. Important will also be the cultivation of new partnerships and alliances with civil society. Human rights values, standards and principles should be underscored during all phases of programme development and in all UNDP activities, in democratic governance, pro-poor policies, crisis prevention and recovery, information and communications technology, energy and environment and HIV/Aids.

The following note touches upon both the normative and operational aspects of a human rights-based approach to development programming and attempts to deal with the why, what, how and when questions that are regularly raised by colleagues in the field and in HQs. The paper will moreover show that UNDPs programming process offers ample opportunities for the application of a human rights-based approach to development programming.

The paper is written in full awareness of the fact the application of a human rights-based approach to development programming is not the concern only of UNDP, but also of our UN partners, bilateral donors and major civil society organisations.

  1. UNGA 55/2 United Nations Millennium Declaration
  2. Taken from: A Human Rights Approach to UNICEF Programming for Children and Women: What it is, and some changes it will bring, UNICEF New York, 17 April 1998.
  3. Administrator’s Note on Implementing UNDP Policy on Human Rights in the New Millennium; 22 September 2000.

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