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Who practices rights-based development? A progress report on work at the nexus of human rights and development


  • Nelson, Paul J.
  • Dorsey, Ellen


Human rights-based approaches to development have attracted practitioners’ support and scholarly interest for at least 20 years. After two decades of interest, how are they being implemented? This paper is an update and re-assessment of the record of development and human rights agencies’ involvement in human rights-based work on development policy. We find that some development agencies have adopted rights-based approaches and made systematic changes in practice, but the rhetoric has far exceeded substantive changes. Drawing on documentary evidence and the extensive literature, we analyze the factors constraining implementation in development agencies (political, conceptual and organizational), and document broader, more transformative changes among human rights NGOs. Their expanded work on development policy issues has featured new research and advocacy agendas, the embrace of new skill sets, significant new methodologies, and the formation of many new, specialized agencies that provide much of the dynamism in the human rights-development interactions. The findings suggest that we need a careful assessment of the extent of “rights-based” work among development funders and NGOs, and its impact; and they highlight the increasingly influential role that human rights NGOs play in framing and influencing important social, economic and environmental policies.

Suggested Citation

  • Nelson, Paul J. & Dorsey, Ellen, 2018. "Who practices rights-based development? A progress report on work at the nexus of human rights and development," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 104(C), pages 97-107.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:wdevel:v:104:y:2018:i:c:p:97-107
    DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2017.11.006

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sakiko Fukuda‐Parr, 2010. "Reducing Inequality – The Missing MDG: A Content Review of PRSPs and Bilateral Donor Policy Statements," IDS Bulletin, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 41(1), pages 26-35, January.
    2. McGranahan, Gordon, 2015. "Realizing the Right to Sanitation in Deprived Urban Communities: Meeting the Challenges of Collective Action, Coproduction, Affordability, and Housing Tenure," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 68(C), pages 242-253.
    3. Steven Friedman & Shauna Mottiar, 2005. "A Rewarding Engagement? The Treatment Action Campaign and the Politics of HIV/AIDS," Politics & Society, , vol. 33(4), pages 511-565, December.
    4. Alicia Ely Yamin & Vanessa M. Boulanger, 2014. "Why Global Goals and Indicators Matter: The Experience of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in the Millennium Development Goals," Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 15(2-3), pages 218-231, July.
    5. Nelson, Paul J. & Dorsey, Ellen, 2003. "At the Nexus of Human Rights and Development: New Methods and Strategies of Global NGOs," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 31(12), pages 2013-2026, December.
    6. Sakiko Fukuda-Parr & Terra Lawson-Remer & Susan Randolph, 2008. "Measuring the Progressive Realization of Human Rights Obligations: An Index of Economic and Social Rights Fulfillment," Economic Rights Working Papers 8, University of Connecticut, Human Rights Institute.
    7. Nelson, Paul J., 2007. "Human Rights, the Millennium Development Goals, and the Future of Development Cooperation," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 35(12), pages 2041-2055, December.
    8. Hilson, Gavin, 2012. "Corporate Social Responsibility in the extractive industries: Experiences from developing countries," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(2), pages 131-137.
    9. Gauri, Varun, 2004. "Social Rights and Economics: Claims to Health Care and Education in Developing Countries," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 465-477, March.
    10. Banks, Nicola & Hulme, David & Edwards, Michael, 2015. "NGOs, States, and Donors Revisited: Still Too Close for Comfort?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 66(C), pages 707-718.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jenderedjian, Anna & Bellows, Anne C., 2019. "Addressing food and nutrition security from a human rights-based perspective: A mixed-methods study of NGOs in post-Soviet Armenia and Georgia," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 84(C), pages 46-56.


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