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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

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    1. Gugerty, Mary Kay & Mitchell, George E. & Santamarina, Francisco J., 2021. "Discourses of evaluation: Institutional logics and organizational practices among international development agencies," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 146(C).
    2. David Mosse & Sundara Babu Nagappan, 2021. "NGOs as Social Movements: Policy Narratives, Networks and the Performance of Dalit Rights in South India," Development and Change, International Institute of Social Studies, vol. 52(1), pages 134-167, January.
    3. Vandenhole Wouter, 2019. "Towards a Fourth Moment in Law and Development?," The Law and Development Review, De Gruyter, vol. 12(2), pages 265-283, June.
    4. 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.
    5. Collins, Tara M. & Wright, Laura H.V., 2022. "The challenges for children’s rights in international child protection: Opportunities for transformation," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 159(C).

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