The Experience of ‘Las Abuelas de la Plaza del Mayo’ (Grandmother’s of the May Square) “Accompanying the Development Process”


The Experience of ‘Las Abuelas de la Plaza del Mayo’
(Grandmother’s of the May Square)
“Accompanying the Development Process”
Interview: Ana Vivori, Project Coordinator, Abuelas de Plaza del Mayo, Argentina
Interview By: Emilie Filmer-Wilson, HURITALK, in collaboration with Julia Kercher, UNDP New York and Julian Bertranou, UNDP Argentina.

Background: Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of May Square; APM) was founded in 1977. APM is an NGO that has for the most part focused on civil and political rights – specifically, locating and identifying individuals who were born in captivity to mothers imprisoned for political reasons during Argentina’s most recent military dictatorship. APM enjoys wide support among Argentine civil society and provides a coordinative role to other national NGOs. APM has been partnering with UNDP Argentina to implement the project  ‘Targeting MDGs at a local level with a Human Rights Based Approach’, which aims to produce human rights based local action plans for realising the MDGs in three pilot municipalities . The partnership is an example of how NGOs that enjoy strong legitimacy can help expand engagement in development processes and generate momentum for the MDGs. For more information on the project, please see:

1) As a human rights organization, what do you see as your role in ‘development processes’, such as the MDG agenda?

Our role is to accompany the development process in our country through various initiatives, such as exposing the non compliance of the state with existing laws, monitoring the activities of the executive, reporting the failure of public authorities to fulfill their duties or responsibilities, supporting the initiatives of vulnerable or minority groups, proposing new laws or policies, forming part of joint State and civil society committees and consulting bodies, participating in national and international fora, dialoguing with academia, participating in publications and in the social mass media  etc.

2) From your experience in development projects, such as the UNDP project ‘targeting MDGs at the local level’, how have you felt that linking different areas (Civil and Political Rights  with Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and/or, human rights and the MDGs) has made a valuable difference to development outcomes and processes?  

Focusing on rights means transcending the general perception that government action is there to respond to the needs of the people. This perspective emphasises that many needs are in fact human rights, encompassing every aspect of an individual’s life and of his or her community, and it is the government’s duty to promote them, and the duty of civil society and its social organizations to demand that they are met.
All human rights demand the same attention, advocacy and protection, and it is the duty of the State to ensure – using all necessary means – that they are properly enjoyed by all citizens without any kind of discrimination. Our National Constitution and the International Human Rights Treaties signed by our country, guarantee this to be so.
If we want to align the efforts to achieve the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals with the progressive implementation of human rights, State entities at all levels or jurisdiction must take these basic principles into account when designing their plans and initiatives.
At the same time, it will become much easier to clearly identify the responsibility of the State, as well as the role of civil society and different public and private organizations.

3) From your experience, what do you believe is the benefit that the human rights community can provide to the MDG agenda?

To start with, it allows us to root poverty reduction strategies in a universally-accepted normative framework, based on general principles that can be considered as the “foundation” for all plans of action.
Human rights as such, are universal and indivisible. Every woman, every child, every man has the same human rights whether they are civil, political, economic, social or cultural rights, or whether they are individual or collective rights. All rights are equally important for living a life in dignity.
Secondly, this approach allows us to go beyond civil and political rights, to include those referred to as second and third generation rights- those related to economic, social and cultural rights and those that are collective rights. It is these rights that are addressed by the Millennium Development Goals. While there is no doubt of the importance that local communities give to the challenges presented by poverty, decent employment, health, education and issues such as gender and the right to enjoy a sustainable environment, these issues are often not perceived as matters of ‘rights’ or – even less – as rights that can be claimed. The rights that are generally perceived to be so are the civil and political ones.

4) From your efforts to incorporate civil and political rights into the MDG process, what have been some of the common obstacles that you have faced; and what are some lessons learned for addressing these obstacles? 

Having the adequate information is vital to achieving real participation by the community. The knowledge that the population has of the mechanism and criteria needed to benefit from a given program is key to them being part of the group of potential beneficiaries. Besides, citizens have the right to be able to access public information, which in turn generates an obligation on public authorities. This obligation relates not only to generating data but also to ensuring it is easily accessible and promoting its dissemination.

5) How can UN agencies contribute to your work in enabling participation in local development processes?

If we consider that many local governments lack basic statistical information, have poor human resources training, and that there is an absence of administrative careers based on merit and qualifications, there is a clear role of UN agencies. For example they have contributed to the project carried out in Argentina through providing technical assistance, training and advice to local governments’ personnel and to individuals in civil society organizations. Their support to civil society organisations has focused on providing them with the capacity to improve the quality of their participation in projects jointly managed with the state.
Besides, given the fact that Argentina is organised as a federal state, we often have problems unifying national, provincial and local stakeholders; this an area where the United Nations can help in ‘facilitating’ better coordination between various levels and initiatives.

6) What do you believe the UN can do to ensure human rights are brought into the national development process?

The UN can establish mechanisms for permanent consultation with human rights organizations. In the case of Argentina, these organizations have a level of development, institutional capacity and social and political credibility that guarantees that their opinions and suggestions are meaningful.

Those mechanisms should be permanent and formalized in a manner similar to the Argentinean Monitoring Committee of the International Convention on the Right of the Child (CASACIDN), which is a network of organizations working with children. The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo are part of that Committee. The Committee keeps a permanent “watch”, voices complaints, assists in creating rules and procedures, trains personnel and publishes independent reports.


[Summary by Interviewer] How can UN Development Agencies contribute to the work of civil society in applying a human rights based approach to development?

  • Facilitate the establishment of permanent mechanisms for dialogue and engagement at national and local level, between state actors and civil society on development processes, including the MDGs.
  • Support capacity development for local government actors and civil society organizations to be able to effectively participate in development processes; this is particularly important for civil society in the case of co-managed projects with the state

Support the wide availability and accessibility of information on development policies and programmes; for example, using the media, supporting the collection and dissemination of disaggregated data; facilitating dialogue and debate on development issues. Greater access to information will enable better participation of all stakeholders in the development process.