Add a comment

Food for a thought that does not represent the people


Human Rights Reader 270


The role of claim holders and duty bearers*

1. With an emphasis on development results that actually ought to be seen as fulfilled human rights, duty-bearers become accountable in a variety of ways: through budgetary allocations, through building capacity on work to realize specific rights, as well as through securing rule-of-law in general and, more specifically, securing judicial-enforcement mechanisms for human rights (HR).

*: It is important to be reminded here: a) that most development texts still use the term ‘stakeholders’ instead of the more appropriate terms ‘claim-holders’ and ‘duty-bearers’, and b) that claim-holders and duty-bearers are roles into which individuals (or groups of individuals) are expected to enter. This means that the same individual may be both a claim-holder and a duty-bearer at the same time, but in relation to different individuals and/or institutions.


2. It is further important to understand that an issue chosen becomes a right only if it has been codified in a HR Covenant or Convention. This then means that all people have that right  –in HR parlance they are bona-fide rights-holders. If a country (state party) has ratified that treaty, individuals move from being just rights-holders to being a claim-holders with valid claims on others, i.e., the correlative duty-bearers. This forms a ‘claim-duty pattern’ in society, in which, most often, the state is the ultimate duty-bearer**.  So, remember: It is claim holders that support the indispensable demand side of human rights!

**: It is said that non-state duty-bearers do not have duties, but rather responsibilities.


Donors as duty bearers?

3. It is interesting to note that donors consistently choose the term and pursue ‘equal opportunities’ rather than ‘equal results’. It can be argued that the second term is more human rights-reflective than the first since, in HR work, it is results that ultimately count.


4. It is not a surprise then that, in donor meetings, the discussion has been deliberately avoided of the two currently competing trends in the emerging paradigm struggle of international development cooperation, i.e., ‘the aid effectiveness’ and ‘the realization of human rights’ paradigms.

A major reason for donor countries to avoid HR commitments and even, in some cases, HR language (and the Right to Development, in particular), is their rejection of the idea that there is an obligation of donor countries to provide and to increase their aid.***

***: In the Millennium Declaration negotiations, MDG 8 (‘A global Partnership for Development’ that includes the demand for predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial systems; addressing the special needs of the least developed countries including landlocked and small island developing states; and dealing comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries) was not proposed by the donor countries, but by the developing countries who refused to sign the Declaration unless it was included.


5. Additionally symptomatic is the fact that HR and the right to development are not mentioned in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (March 2005), in spite of the fact that MDG 8 is about developing a global policy for donors, with seven targets. Paris did not address any of the targets of MDG 8 either. (R. Bissio)


6. So, after March 2005, we were left with the question that should have been answered in Paris in the first place, namely: What is, and what should be, the place of human rights conditions and indicators in the frameworks governing the flow of donor funds?


7. We have always thought that the human rights framework is a good starting point for a political dialogue between donors and partners to define the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ boundaries of acceptable behavior with respect to HR and related political governance issues****. Such a dialogue has regrettably not happened openly. Strong pronouncements thus need to be made by civil society and by poor countries’ governments to move donors beyond broad political statements, including only generic references to human rights.

****: Indeed, HR do make a contribution to the governance agenda.


The Paris Declaration and HR

8. It should first be made very clear that the Paris Declaration is not a human rights document. One could maybe even say that the Paris Declaration is an anti-human rights document in that it systematically missed any reference to HR at a point in time when most development-oriented documents did make such a reference. (In all honesty, the Paris Declaration implicitly does ‘refer’ to human rights in just a few places). It is by now thus openly admitted that the Paris Declaration does not provide any ready-made and fully-consensual framework for the integration of the HR framework in foreign aid.


9. The issue of mutual accountability, for instance, is the least developed Paris Declaration principles; it would have benefited from a human rights perspective. Civil society’s capacity to hold donors accountable thus needs to be strengthened. Therefore, capacity development in HR (i.e., HR Learning) for civil society is, again and again, a key challenge.


10. Actually, the most prominently missing element in the Paris Declaration is its almost total lack of attention to the governance context. We are clear: Only by integrating HR into the Paris Declaration principles can we  compensate for the low attention it gives to governance; only such an integration will: a) strengthen the link between aid effectiveness and the achievement of desirable development outcomes, and b) compensate for the pitifully narrow and technocratic focus of the Paris Declaration. The remaining challenge, therefore, is to find the practical way to bring the HR perspective to the implementation aspects of the Paris Declaration.


11. On the one hand, the Paris Declaration does offer good potential entry points for HR-inspired approaches by promoting a model of partnership that explicitly addresses accountability gaps and focuses on stronger and more balanced accountability mechanisms. But, on the other hand, it fails to provide institutional mechanisms to address ever-present asymmetries in power. That leaves out the discussion of the serious democracy and legitimacy deficits we see in the present aid architecture, dominated as it is by donor countries of the OECD, the World Bank and regional development banks. The UN lacks any leverage to promote its priorities in the Paris Declaration, because it was not involved in its genesis from the start! (Y. Tandon)


12. More seriously, and through the back door, the Paris Declaration brings-in quite a bit of what developing countries had already turned down. Why? Because it really does not distance itself from the Bretton Woods institutions so that it suffers from the same credibility and legitimacy gap than those institutions.


13. The relationships between the Human Rights Principles of equality/non-discrimination, participation/inclusion, transparency and accountability, and the five Paris Declaration Principles (ownership, alignment, harmonization, mutual accountability and management for results) must be somehow merged in a formal way —beyond the perception that HR are one of many equally important concerns.


14. Finally, the Paris Declaration makes little mention of the donors home-based, domestic accountability to its citizens. Human rights can contribute to strengthened domestic accountability in both donor and partner countries.


15. Bottom line, HR thinking and practice do have the potential to help in filling the rather substantial gaps that exists for the operationalization of the Paris Declaration.


Claudio Schuftan in Ho Chi Minh City


Adapted from ‘How to integrate and strengthen a human rights-based approach in program-based approaches’, Urban Jonsson, February 2010.


Postscript: All the above made it extremely difficult to include any type of HR language in the Accra Agenda for Action that reviewed the Paris Declaration in 2008. Even if  HR are mentioned in a few places in the Accra Agenda for Action, this does not, in any way, qualify the Agenda to be a ‘human rights document’ or even a document that has included the ‘human rights perspective’. At best, it gives it rhetorical lip-service –mostly to please some of the critical civil society organizations that attended… Depressing?  You bet! A lutta continua.



Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks


  1. No Comments

Leave a Reply