15-16 JUNE 2016 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

Will a rights-based approach make development more human?

Will a rights-based approach make development more human?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 -
16:00 to 17:30

Key points

  • A human rights-based approach is a development goal as well as a means to achieve development.
  • Human rights are indivisible and must be given the same weight.
  • With an increased emphasis on public-private partnerships in the post-2015 agenda, governments and businesses must work closely together to ensure there is a human rights focus in these partnerships.
  • The United Nations Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework provides a global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity. 

Synopsis

For many years, the development community has talked about the importance of taking a human rights-based approach to development. Too often these have been empty words. This is starting to change. The overwhelming majority of development actors are realising that it is vital to put it into practice.

Historically there was a divide between political and civil rights on one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights on the other.  However, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna on 25 June 1993, affirmed that all human rights are indivisible and must be given same weight.

The post-2015 agenda should ensure that any new or emerging human rights issues are fully aligned with existing conventions.

One key issue for the post-2015 agenda is public-private partnerships. But by nature, the private sector is concerned about the bottom line, always looking for ways to cut costs and increase profits. The development community is concerned about how to ensure there is a human rights focus in these partnerships. Just as the development community learned the importance of a human rights-based approach over time, the business community is now going through the same learning process.

In June 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council endorsed a new set of Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights to provide for the first time a global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity. The new standards outline how Member States and businesses should implement the UN Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework to better manage business and human rights challenges. The framework sets out the role of governments in regulating business; the role of business, which is to respect human rights; and the role of both in providing remedies to victims of human rights abuse.

Other international frameworks around investment agreements should be updated as part of the post-2015 agenda.

Governments have the responsibility to provide businesses with regulations governing human rights. There are governance gaps, particularly with businesses that work across borders. Businesses should meet international human rights standards even without regulations in place. However, that message has not resonated around the world. There remains resistance from some who say ‘the business of business is business’. However, this is point of view is becoming less popular. In the post-2015 agenda, the roles of the private sector and human rights must be equally important. The challenge will be to marry the two.

There are ongoing conflicts of interest in terms of whose rights will be promoted. But international standards on non-discrimination and equality must be upheld. It is important to pay attention to cultural sensitivities when taking a human rights-based approach to development. However, it is also crucial that donors do not compromise their adherence to human rights by accepting or overlooking certain cultural practices of a country that discriminate against a specific group of people. Female genital mutilation is an example. This is a highly disputed issue, but donors must remain firm. In some instances, especially when human rights are being violated, aid must be conditional.

Security should never be accepted as a justification for curtailing human rights. Think of the ‘war on terror’ and the terrible abuses and curtailment of human rights that were justified in the name of national security, or the invasion of privacy that is occurring today in the name of national security. We must be very sceptical whenever security is used as an excuse to curtail human rights.

 

Insight

A Lebanese youth ambassador in the audience commented that when she hears people blame Lebanon’s government for not ensuring human rights, she tells them, ‘In Lebanon, we are the ones who elect the government so you are partially responsible.’