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Food for a thought that does not represent the people


Human Rights Reader 271


Accountability in foreign aid


The international legal regime established through the various human rights treaties is the existing global accountability framework which we should  be drawing upon much, much more.


1. Efforts to increase the type of foreign aid that strengthens human rights institutions and accountabilities should go in tandem with the actual disbursement of foreign aid funds. But is this the case?


2. As I had said earlier, mutual accountability is the least developed Paris Declaration principle that would definitely benefit from a human rights (HR) perspective so that civil society’s capacity to hold donors and their own (recipient) governments accountable needs to be strengthened.


3. A number of the deep-seated problems in the current foreign aid system stem from an imbalance of accountabilities –with ‘upwards’ accountability to donors prioritized over ‘downwards’ accountability to the poor countries and to the people aid is supposed to help. (ActionAid) Such an accountability towards the ultimate recipients of aid is simply missing.


4. Domestic accountability requires a certain level of democracy and of functioning institutions for individuals to be able to claim their rights and participate in decision making. In a democracy, this duty must be met by the  recipient government. But, as long as many governments are far from democratic, it is legitimate to expect the donors to take up such a duty.


5. In the donor countries, citizens can better hold (and have a history of holding) their government to account for the way their money is spent and by providing leverage for the negotiation of HR issues. So, through demanding greater legal accountability of donor agencies, leverage can be used to demand the respect of HR standards and principles in foreign aid, as well as the setting of annual benchmarks to measure progress in that aid.


6. The ever-present pressure on donors of showing results turns accountability further outwards on them instead of supporting the national inwards processes necessary for achieving ownership and domestic accountability.


Aid darlings and aid orphans


-We have to recognize the existence of aid darlings and aid orphans and must, therefore, improve the unfair global allocation of aid resources.

-On the other hand, aid is not the route to development anyway; it creates dependency and erodes self-reliance.


7. Many of the bilateral donor agencies and development banks use the phrase ‘respect, protect and promote’ instead of the correct phrase ‘respect, protect and fulfill’. The omission of ‘fulfill’ is deliberate (!), reflecting these countries rejection of the Right to Development which is seen by them as an acceptance of an obligation to provide development assistance. (As much as the very uncritical acceptance of the ‘aid effectiveness’ dogma which is widely prevalent, other rhetorical terms are also often used to avoid blatant existing contradictions). Development today must be seen within the realm of the HR framework and, in so doing, development assistance must now be seen as a right rather than an instrument of solidarity.


8. Ultimately, human rights work exposes the political dimension of aid and of poverty. This being so, it is claim holders who have to ensure that the technical assistance on offer through foreign aid is truly demand-driven. For this, both donor and partner patterns of behavior must change; but this will only happen if the underlying incentives shift. I had said earlier that country ownership of development programs should not be equated with government ownership. So, for example, if gender equality is not an explicit national priority (and in many cases it is not), the incentive is not there. The rhetorical question here is: Will gender equality then be entirely excluded from donor agendas …as HR in general are?


9. The emphasis in current (and past) foreign aid is (has) simply (been) too much centered on the ‘plumbing’ or ‘mechanisms’ of the aid delivery system and not enough on reducing poverty and inequality as called for by the Right to Development.


10. Under the pretext of making aid more effective, the aid effectiveness paradigm has become a form of collective colonialism by Northern donors when engaging with Southern countries that, through weakness, vulnerability or psychological dependency, allow themselves to be subjected to it.* (Y. Tandon)

*: The explicit recognition of the importance of South-South cooperation is another important issue and is not explored here.


11. There is simply no aid effectiveness without development effectiveness and the gender equality, environment and human rights perspective must be crucially incorporated to even have a chance to achieve this century’s development goals. (J. Cedergren)


12. In closing: The lessons learned from this Reader are quite dramatic. There is a need for more training. The fact is that there is a fundamental misunderstanding in multilateral and bilateral agencies, governments, NGOs and other civil society organizations; it is about the real need for training. The move from a traditional basic needs or human development program thinking to an understanding of the human rights-based framework to development and to development programming requires a total mind shift. This cannot be achieved by one or two four-day workshops; it requires at least such workshops several times a year for 2-3 years! No agency or government has come close to that, and it is exactly this lack of serious training that has hindered an accelerated adoption of the HR-based framework.


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.



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  1. 1Cheikh Hassan

    En principe je crois pour avoir une chance d’atteindre les objectifs de développement de ce siècle il faudra une efficacité du développement ,de l’égalité des sexes, l’environnement et perspective des droits incorporé et, un équilibre de l’aide étrangère au développement dont la considération de cette aide comme un droit qui vise en priori le renforcement des institutions qui fonctionnent sur les conceptions démocratique pour mieux rendre la participation des individus et collectivités locale efficace dans la prise de décision et la revendication des droit.

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