Linking Human Rights and Development

Linking Human Rights and Development

April 21, 2016, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.9 No 19, April 22,2016 (Baisakh 10,2073)

More than a decade after the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) adopted the ‘human rights-based approach to development’ as a Common Understanding, we are still struggling to link between human rights and development at global, regional and national levels.

Commitment to human rights was a missing link in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It has now been largely addressed by the post-2015 Agenda, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  During SDGs, we must realize human rights of all, ensuring that no person regardless of class, caste, ethnicity, gender, geography, disability, race or other status is denied universal human rights, basic standards of well-being and basic economic opportunities. Further, we should tackle exclusion and uneven development going beyond national averages and aggregates.

The Common Understanding of Human Rights-Based Approaches to Development Cooperation and Programming adopted by UNDG in 2003 emphasized that program of development co-operation, policies and technical assistance should further the realization of human rights as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.

Further, development cooperation contributes to the development of the capacities of ‘duty-bearers’ to meet their obligations and/or of ‘rights-holders’ to participate in decisions that affect their lives and claim their rights. Human rights add value to the agenda for development by drawing attention to the accountability to respect, protect, promote and fulfill all human rights of all people. Increased focus on accountability holds the key to improved effectiveness and transparency of action so that no one is left behind.

Leave no one behind is a challenge that every nation must address, and obviously this is a challenge for Nepal too.  Let us look at some of our realities:

·         Bottom 20% of the households receive less than 5% of the national income compared to over 50% by top 10%

·         Dalit women literacy rate is 35% compared to 56.39% for female and 78.86% for male

·         Life expectancy in the Mid Western mountains is 63.64 compared to 70.13 in the Central Mountains

·         Percentage of children under age five who are malnourished in Humla district is 65.7% compared to 16.2% in Lalitpur district

·         Thousands of Nepali girls drop out of schools every year to get married mostly in central terai districts

Can SDGs really have no one behind? It is not impossible if the government, civil society, business and citizens were to work together to ensure that every person has a fair opportunity in life no matter who or where they are and people who are most who have least opportunity and who are the most excluded will be prioritized.

In Nepal, we have a real opportunity here to link human rights and development now as the country is preparing 14th national periodic plan based on SDGs and implementing human rights recommendations based on the Universal Periodic Review aimed at improving human rights situation on the ground.  The government must seize this opportunity rather than entangling with a nasty exchange of words between the Prime Minister and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), as reported in the Press, on UPR reporting by the NHRC.  This is the time to build strong collaboration between development agencies and human rights organizations.  Human rights and development are inseparable parts of the same process of social transformation.

I strongly suggest that the National Planning Commission and the NHRC sit together for integrating human rights and development in the forthcoming plan. The new departure is the fact that development work is not a service or an aid, it is a duty and a contribution to the creation of claims. We should focus on structural causes of poverty, inequality and vulnerability. We should work on development indicators in the plan to that are properly anchored in human rights to support monitoring, advocacy, accountability and action of human rights and development linkages.  Moreover, we should hold each other and ourselves accountable for designing of plans and building inclusive institutions that leave no one behind.

Everyone deserves the chance to survive and thrive!

Dr. Manandhar is an expert of international development. Currently, he is working as Country Director of The Lutheran World Federation. He is also a visiting faculty at the Kathmandu University. He can be reached at

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