Where do human rights belong in development?

14 Jun 2011

Women benefiting from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in India that made the right to work an enforceable right. Images from remote villages in Dantewada district of central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. Women benefiting from a law in India that made the right to work an enforceable right. Photo: UNDP

While the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and human rights are often thought of as separate concepts, synergies exist in practice.

Human rights approaches seek to address the root causes of development problems. As former Secretary-General Kofi Annan once said, “Human rights can be found at the heart of every major challenge facing humanity.”

At the same time, human development embraces the range of social, economic, cultural, and political rights as defined by the international community.

Human development is about expanding the choices people have to lead lives which they value, the resources to make those choices meaningful, and the security to ensure that those choices can be exercised in peace.

Making these links between the human development approach and human rights instruments and international laws is consistent with the approach set out in the Millennium Declaration.

The words of the Millennium Declaration are clear. “We will spare no effort to promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law, as well as respect for all internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development.” Read the full Declaration

By signing that document in 2000, Heads of State and Government committed themselves to upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; strengthening capacity for democracy and human rights; implementing the Convention for the Elimination of the Discrimination Against Women; ensuring respect and protection for the rights of migrant workers and their families; working collectively for more inclusive political processes; and ensuring freedom of the media and public access to information. 

Looking ahead

As we move forward toward the targets set for the MDGs by 2015, human rights remain a crucial framework for thinking about human development. Read UNDP Chief Helen Clark's speech last year on "Human Rights: The Key to Keeping the Promise of 2015".

There is a pressing need to target women, rural inhabitants, ethnic minorities, and other excluded groups who often lag well behind national averages of progress on the MDG targets—even when nations as a whole are moving towards the goals.

Our collective challenge, however, remains translating the remarkable accomplishments of international human rights laws into meaningful and sustainable deeds on the ground, to advance human development. 

Talk to us: What role do you see for human rights in the development field to improve the quality of life of the most vulnerable?

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