What is the relationship between human rights and development?

“Human development and human rights are close enough in motivation and concern to be compatible and congruous, and they are different enough in strategy and design to supplement each other fruitfully,” according to the Human Development Report 2000. Human rights and development both aim to promote well-being and freedom, based on the inherent dignity and equality of all people. The concern of human development is the realization by all of basic freedoms, such as having the choice to meet bodily requirements or to escape preventable disease. It also includes enabling opportunities, such as those given by schooling, equality guarantees and a functioning justice system. The human rights framework shares these concerns (see chap. I above).

Human rights and human development share a preoccupation with necessary outcomes for improving people’s lives, but also with better processes. Being people-centred, they reflect a fundamental concern with institutions, policies and processes as participatory and comprehensive in coverage as possible, respecting the agency of all individuals. For instance, in the human rights and human development frameworks, the development of new technologies for effective malaria prevention is a legitimate and even desirable outcome. But in rolling out these technologies development actors should clearly assess and explain the possible negative effects of the testing, as well as ensure that the technologies are accessible and affordable and that vulnerable groups are not excluded.

Human rights contribute to human development by guaranteeing a protected space where the elite cannot monopolize development processes, policies and programmes. The human rights framework also introduces the important idea that certain actors have duties to facilitate and foster development. For people to be enabled to assert a legally binding claim that specific duty-bearers provide free and compulsory primary education (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, art. 13) is more empowering than it is to rely on “needs” alone or to observe the high economic returns on investments in education, for example.

When human rights go unfulfilled, the responsibilities of different actors must be analysed. This focus on locating accountability for failures within a social system significantly broadens the scope of claims usually associated with human development analysis. In the other direction, human development analysis helps to inform the policy choices necessary for the realization of human rights in particular situations.


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