What does the principle of accountability mean for programming?

Good development programming requires stakeholders (including donors and development agencies) to be accountable for specific results. A human rights-based approach goes further by grounding those accountabilities within a framework of specific human rights entitlements and corresponding obligations established under international law.

To ensure accountability, a human rights-based approach to programming starts by identifying specific obstacles that dutybearers face in exercising their obligations. This analysis sets a baseline for formulating development strategies to remove them. But for accountability to be effective, it needs to be demanded. Therefore a human rights-based approach also requires an analysis of the capacities needed for rights-holders, especially the poorest and most disadvantaged, to claim their rights effectively. Accessible, transparent and effective mechanisms of accountability are called for at central and local levels.

Ensuring accountability can be difficult in practice, particularly where national capacities are weak or duty-bearers are unwilling to act. There are no ready answers for all situations. Strategies can be supportive or confrontational and could include:

  • Raise awareness of rights and responsibilities, and develop the capacities of duty-bearers at central and local levels to fulfil their obligations. Understanding and ownership by duty-bearers can be built by involving stakeholders in analysis, programme planning, implementation and reviews.#
  • Build relationships between rights-holders and dutybearers by working together.
  • Increase the incentives for better performance by duty-bearers, through educating people about their rights, creating broader alliances for social change in society, promoting transparent budgeting and building capacities for budget analysis, supporting advocacy for information and statistics necessary to monitor the realization of human rights, building capacities for policy analysis and social impact assessment, encouraging media freedom, and building the capacities of claim-holders to demand their rights.
  • Strengthen central and local accountability mechanisms— judicial, quasi-judicial and administrative. Informal justice mechanisms, including traditional and indigenous justice systems, should be factored in together with the formal justice system, seeking alignment with international standards regarding the administration of justice.
  • Strengthen the capacities of national human rights institutions, including their capacities to monitor the realization of economic and social rights.
  • Ensure that national laws are harmonized with international human rights treaty standards, with duties spelled out as clearly as possible at national, provincial, district and local levels.
  • When duty-bearers are private corporations or non- Government actors (for example, when governance functions are privatized), advocate adherence to international human rights norms and voluntary codes of conduct, monitor performance and publicize the results. Ensure that duties are made clear in national laws and policies, and that the regulatory framework includes provision for redress in the event of violations.
  • Where weak institutions are being re-established, such as in post-conflict States, development actors should strengthen not only State institutions but also those institutions that fulfil a servicing and monitoring role.#
  • Foster greater knowledge of and buy-in into the national reporting processes under the international human rights treaties in force in the country concerned, widely publicizing the treaty bodies’ recommendations.
  • Encourage greater recourse to human rights “special procedures” and international petition procedures available under the international human rights treaties.

The principle of accountability also has a number of implications for the process of programming:

  • Use qualitative data (such as opinion surveys or findings of expert bodies) as a supplement to quantitative data (such as the global Millennium Development Goal indicators) to reveal whether particular policies are helping to achieve the desired behaviour change.
  • Ensure that monitoring takes place on an ongoing basis throughout development programmes. Monitoring should be participatory, involving all stakeholders as far as feasible, allowing them to assess both progress and any revisions required. This should be tied in to agencies’ reporting processes and staff performance systems.
  • Establish monitoring systems at United Nations country team and agency level. United Nations country team theme groups should ensure that human rights are cross-cutting in their activities. A stand-alone human rights theme group could help to monitor this. Other monitoring systems may also be needed, such as civil society organizations’ oversight bodies, advisory boards and regular stakeholder meetings (Government, civil society organizations, donors and the most disadvantaged groups) to assess progress and impact.

Ensure that programming processes are coordinated with those of other agencies and donors, priorities are aligned with national priorities and delivery is through national systems rather than project implementation units.

  • Undertake social impact analysis, including gender analysis, throughout the course of the programme.
  • Make information available on stakeholders’ entitlements under the project or programme, including any grievance address mechanisms.


Using treaty body recommendations to strengthen human rights accountability – Philippines Common Country Assessment (CCA)

The Philippines CCA (2003) highlighted a key comment made by the Committee on the Rights of the Child on the country’s report on the Government’s failure to comply with international standards concerning juvenile justice, especially the use of incarceration to punish rather than rehabilitate.

The Philippines CCA also identified certain traditional beliefs and practices that tolerate the abuse and exploitation of children, and cites the ILO Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour (No. 182) as an important tool for Government and private sector actors to end this scourge. The use of ILO conventions in the analysis led to the identification of a variety of duty-bearers.


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