Global Policy Forum

Development, Democracy, and Human Rights

An important aspect of development policy is the relationship between economic growth, on the one hand, and democracy, human rights, and responsive governance on the other. While it is true that growth and democracy sometimes go together, there is no necessary connection between the two. There have been numerous instances where high levels of growth occurred under authoritarian political regimes. A key problem therefore is how to ensure that economic development policies reflect the values of everyday individuals and not those of international investors or entrenched elites.

Articles and Papers

2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | Archived Articles


Eradicating poverty by valueing unpaid care work (October 24, 2013)

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty urges States to recognize and value unpaid care work, and ensure it is better supported and more equitably shared between women and men. The UN expert states that the unequal distribution of unpaid care work, fueled by damaging gender stereotypes, is a major human rights issue. Therefore it was put on the Agenda of UN meeting in Geneva on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. (Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights)

UN experts call on world governments to be guided by the Maastricht Principles (October 1, 2013)

A group of United Nations human rights experts urges governments worldwide to take into account a set of guidelines on extraterritorial obligations adopted by leading specialists in international law and human rights on 28 September 2011 in Maastricht, the Netherlands: the Maastricht Principles. (UN Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights)

Urgent call to halt Odisha mega-steel project amid serious human rights concerns (October 1, 2013)

Construction of a mega-steel plant in Odisha in Eastern India should be halted immediately, United Nations independent human rights experts have urged, citing serious human rights concerns. The project reportedly threatens to displace over 22,000 people in the Jagatsinghpur District, and disrupt the livelihoods of many thousands more in the surrounding area. (UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty)

The First Iraqi Social Forum Takes Place in Baghdad (August 26, 2013)

The World Social Forum, known for its inception in Porto Alegre, is in fact the starting point for a number of regional, thematic and local forums. Since its first meeting in January 2001 in Porto Alegre, the World Social Forum has gathered together more than 2 million people. This year, among many events, there will be a Social Forum in Iraq. As there is no real democracy without participation, the attempt to transcend ethnic, religious and political divisions, to open a path for participatory democracy in Iraq, deserves support.

The situation of Roma: Discrimination and human rights violations in the middle of Europe (August 2, 2013)

Throughout Europe, the situation of Roma is worsening – from a bad starting point. New laws and practices as well as a worsening racist discourse are putting pressure on an integral part of European societies that has been marginalized for decades and longer. GPF’s Tim Pfefferle gives a short overview of recent developments in this ongoing story. (Tim Pfefferle/GPF)

Petition: The Hague Civil Society Call to Action on Human Rights (August 2, 2013)

The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD)Beyond 2014 took place from July 7-10. As a product of the conference, participants developed The Hague Civil Society Call to Action on Human Rights and ICPD Beyond 2014. If you would like to support the conference's work on the themes of women’s autonomy and reproductive rights, sexual health and well-being and human rights and gender-based discrimination and violence, please sign the petition. (DAWN)

Declaration Adopted at Vienna+20 Conference Calls for Primacy of Human Rights (June 28, 2013)

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Second World Conference on Human Rights, which produced the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action, a wide range of civil society organizations gathered in Vienna this week. They adopted the Vienna+20 CSO Declaration, which emphasizes the primacy of human rights and calls for rights to be made operational. (FIAN International)

State of Human Rights in Hungary (June 10, 2013)

In its National Report on Hungary, the NGO coalition Social Watch describes the dire conditions people in Hungary currently face. The Fidesz government has produced a regressive tax system, which has contributed to leading many into poverty, while the respect for the country's constitution has deteriorated and human rights are infringed.

Crackdown on Civil Society in Saudi Arabia (May 28, 2013)

In a statement, the global civil society alliance CIVICUS has denounced the escalating violations of human rights in Saudi Arabia. CIVICUS states that the Saudi state systematically silences protest, while making it impossible for activists to make their voices heard through a combination of intimidation and legal proceedings. (CIVICUS)

Position Paper from German NGOs on Business and Human Rights (April 2013)

CorA Network for Corporate Accountability and the German Human Rights Forum have published a position paper on business and human rights. The paper has been prepared and is supported by several major civil society organizations such as Amnesty International. They demand that the German government formulate and implement an action plan for business and human rights. The paper calls attention to the continuous human rights abuses committed by business enterprises, including those with German involvement. (CorA & German Human Rights Forum)

Towards a Framework Convention on the Right to Development (April, 2013)

The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Right to Development in 1986. Since then, different political groups have interpreted differently this resolution entitling people to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy development, in which all human rights can be fully realized. In his article “Towards a Framework Convention on the Right to Development” Koen De Feyter states that drafting a Framework Convention is the best way to accommodate the various interests of the Global South, the North as well as the Non-Aligned Movement. He provides a sketch for such a framework and argues that it would complement the current human rights regime with a treaty that would go beyond individual state responsibility. (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung)


Damming the Ngäbe: Aftermath of an AES Power Project in Panama (October 15, 2012)

The US headquartered global power company, AES Corporation is Panama’s largest US investor, generating over 35% of the nation’s energy. “Chan 75” is its latest and most controversial project in Panama’s rapidly expanding portfolio of hydroelectric plants.  In this article, Jennifer Kennedy looks into the plight of the Ngäbe community, the country’s largest indigenous group who are directly affected by the project. Opening up the dam for hydroelectricity production has caused flooding in the region, displacing a community so heavily reliant on their land for subsistence farming. (CorpWatch)

Do Central Banks Have Human Rights Obligations? (January 2012)

The independence of central banks is usually discussed in purely functional terms: as a robust check against the populist interests of politicians with respect to monetary matters. In this report published under the auspices of Center of Concern, James Heintz points out, however, that independence and narrowly defined goals may affect countries’ abilities to meet their (socioeconomic) human rights’ obligations; central banks are, after all, still governmental agencies. Monetary policy should be sensitive to human rights obligations, and therefore broader criteria should be introduced. (Center of Concern)


Legal Power to the People (November 9, 2011)

Movements for human rights and economic development attempt to empower individual human beings through the dissemination of human rights norms and development strategies respectively. According to Vivek Maru of Namati, however, such efforts are certain to fail if citizens are not legally empowered to hold their governments accountable in day-to-day life. Because “naming and shaming” campaigns by human rights NGOs and the production of abstract economic models are not up to the challenge, Maru argues that the international community should establish a global fund for local, context-sensitive legal empowerment. In this way, Maru contends, citizens will have more power over their own lives and be better able to hold their governments accountable. (Project Syndicate)

Colombia's New Index to Measure Poverty Merits a Cautious Welcome (August 30, 2011)

Columbia has adopted a new holistic poverty reduction plan to reconcile economic development and growth with poverty eradication. The plan is based on the Multidimensional Poverty Index, a new method of measuring poverty that identifies different areas of deprivation and captures interactions between them. The new plan also recognizes the need to tackle income inequality at the same time as absolute poverty. Although Columbia’s progressive new poverty reduction plan should be applauded, it is important to note that the index only looks at outcomes and fails to address processes such as displacement, an overriding problem in Columbia. (Guardian)

The Uncomfortable Reality of Development (June 29, 2011)

Vietnam and China “defy the current conventional wisdom about good governance as one of the preconditions of development”. Both states have one-party rule and little accountability, but have managed to lift 635 million out of poverty in the last few decades. Combining authoritarianism with national development goals allowed this to occur. However, some say that development should be viewed “in broader terms than material consumption” to also include citizen participation. Others point to growing inequality, regional disparities, and the Arab Summer to warn that good governance may still be a precondition of development. However, it is uncertain whether Western governance mechanisms automatically lead to improvements in such areas. (Guardian)

Israel Aiming Punitive Measures at Soft Targets (April 5, 2011)

Israel is increasingly moving to suppress internal dissent as a rebuke to international criticism of its occupation in the Palestinian West Bank. In early 2011, legislation was passed in the Knesset to establish a commission to investigate the finances of NGOs. Later, Israel-Arab politician, Haneen Zoab, had her parliamentary privileges revoked for participating in the Mavi Marmara flotilla to Gaza.  Additionally, non-violent Israeli activists have been beaten, arrested and subjected to surveillance, for protesting the demolition of Palestinian homes. (TerraViva)

How will Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution Affect the Arab World (January 24, 2011)

The world was surprised when Tunisians successfully ousted the country's president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.  Most surprising, the uprising occurred entirely through civil society mobilization, sparked by frustration with social and economic inequalities and a repressive government.  In the heady days that followed, many observers made optimistic statements about the power of protest and labeled it a "Twitter revolution."  However, Tunisia may have been uniquely receptive to an uprising; its path may be difficult for other democratic movements to repeat. (Brookings Institution)


UN Declares Water and Sanitation a Basic Human Right (July 28, 2010)

When food, clothing, shelter and medical care were included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, water and sanitation were excluded. Yet in a historic, albeit non-binding and politically divisive resolution, the UN General Assembly has cast its vote and rectified this omission. The decree, declaring water and sanitation basic human rights, states all nations must "scale up efforts to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable water and sanitation for all" - an endeavor that dollar for dollar provides some of the best poverty reduction returns. Forty-one nations abstained from the vote, many suggesting the resolution was rushed and could undermine the ongoing work on water and sanitation underway in the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council. (IPS)

Access to Clean Water is Most Violated Human Right (July 21, 2010)

On July 28, the UN General Assembly will vote on a historic resolution to declare "safe clean drinking water and sanitation" a human right. The resolution, drafted by Bolivia, is facing resistance from the rich countries of the North, who, fearing the economic burden and loss of resource sovereignty, speak of "ensuring access to," rather than a "right to," water: A difference that would enable the trend towards water as a marketable commodity to continue. Globally, since WWII, more people have been killed by contaminated water than from violence and war. (Guardian)

Haitian Earthquake Survivors Struggle for Social and Economic Rights (May 23, 2010)

Haiti is being governed by the Interim Committee for the Reconstruction of Haiti. Of the committee's twenty-five members, thirteen are foreigners. Grass roots civil society groups in Haiti are coming together to incorporate more Haitian people in the decision-making process of rebuilding the country. In keeping with their national constitution and the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, these groups are demanding that their government provide them with basic necessities. (Truthout)

Honduran Journalists Under Attack (May 20, 2010)

At least eight journalists have been murdered in Honduras in less than three months. The killings have raised concerns over the safety of reporters, especially those working on stories about human rights abuses. Honduras has become increasingly volatile since a military coup ousted President Zelaya from office in June 2009, and under the new Honduran government, authorities are unwilling to investigate the killings. Most Latin American governments have refused to recognize the post coup-regime, but the US and EU has voiced their satisfaction with the new Honduran president Porfirio Lobo. (Al Jazeera)

Aiding Yemen (January 20, 2010)

As western interest in Yemen is climbing, more military support - and development aid - is promised. But Yemen has been receiving development aid for nearly a decade, so why is this Least Developed Country on the brink of collapse? Development aid is deeply flawed, argues Nadia Hijab, a close observer of aid programs. A government like Yemen's has little capacity to manage the aid process; deal with donors, set priorities, issue reports etc. National "ownership" as outlined in the Paris Declaration is a pious fiction. So aid to Yemen must change fundamentally. (Agence Global)


Democracy as Economic Strategy (September 7, 2007)

Although India and China are experiencing unprecedented economic growth, both countries face high underemployment and unemployment, as well as problems of inequality. In China, this has resulted in the migration of the rural poor to the urban centers in the hope of finding better opportunities. The author argues that India is able to mitigate this trend because of its well-developed democracy. The voices of the poor are heard and thus the middle classes cannot reject redistribution of resources to the poor, in China this does not happen. The author concludes that this democracy is an important prerequisite for sustainable economic development. (Policy Innovations)

Foreign Investors Gone Wild (May 7, 2007)

International financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund promote foreign investment in poor countries at all costs – often to the detriment of democracy, the environment, and basic human rights. Although several governments have announced plans to withdraw from the World Bank, Foreign Policy In Focus argues that this move will not be enough to release these countries from the "web of rules" designed to protect foreign investors. The author calls for North and South cooperation to create a more just and equitable international investment system.


Oil, Cash and Corruption (November 5, 2006)

The forthcoming corruption trial of US businessman James H. Giffen sheds light upon the massive bribes received by Kazakh President Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, who has "amassed a fortune at the expense of an impoverished citizenry." Giffen has allegedly paid Nazarbayev US$78 billion "to buy access and influence in Kazakhstan for oil giants like Exxon Mobil, BP  and Conoco-Phillips." This New York Times piece indicates that US government officials approved of Giffen's bribery. Moreover, the author highlights the obvious US hypocrisy of claiming to promote good governance and democracy across the world, while graciously receiving the kleptocratic Kazakh leader in September 2006.

The Peril of Beijing's Africa Strategy (November 1, 2006)

With Chinese trade and foreign direct investment in Africa "skyrocketing" in 2006, China has become a major player in Africa's economic development, and a widely cited "ideal development model" among African leaders. Many African leaders frustrated by Western policy conditionality have welcomed China's "strictly business" involvement in their countries. But the Chinese lack of concern for good governance and social responsibility produces a "backlash in several African countries." This International Herald Tribune article argues that whether China signs on to the principles of transparency and good governance "will be critical for the continent's long term development and stability."

Development Requires Local Empowerment (September 27, 2006)

The 2006 "Least Developed Countries Report" found that although the world's poorest countries have enjoyed the highest growth rates in two decades, human well-being in these mainly African countries has not improved. The author of this Foreign Policy In Focus piece argues that the lack of rural communities' participation in governing their natural resources largely accounts for that imbalance. He warns that initiatives such as the UN Millennium Development Project, the US Millennium Challenge and Oxfam International's "Trade not Aid" campaign will not promote development unless they focus on creating accountable countryside democratic institutions.

Defining the Right to Food in an Era of Globalization: Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food (March 2006)

Expressing grave concern with the continuing increase in global hunger and the current food crisis in Africa, this report insists the time has come to view hunger and famine "as a violation of the human right to food." While national governments have the primary obligation to fulfill their citizens' right to food, in an era where domestic actions affect people in other countries, governments must assume obligations beyond their own borders. Being more powerful than individual states, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization, as well as large transnational corporations must also take on due responsibility to fulfill this human right. (United Nations)


The Global Crisis of Legitimacy of Liberal Democracy (October 2005)

In the beginning of the 1990s, Samuel Huntington argued that the "third wave of democratization" would free the world from dictators, and spread the model of Anglo-American democracy worldwide. However, history took another path. Analyzing the recent democratic trends in countries like the Philippines, Brazil and Argentina, this article warns that "capitalism and democratic deepening are no longer compatible." (Focus on the Global South)

World Leaders Praise Solidarity and Its Peaceful Road to Democracy (September 1, 2005)

Politicians and citizens of Gdansk celebrated the 25th anniversary of Solidarity, recalling its function in freeing Poland from communism and leading to the unification of Europe. However, the crowd expressed mixed feelings. One participant pointed out that the Polish, once "slaves of Moscow," are now "slaves of Washington and Brussels." In his speech at the event, former President of Poland and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa said, "freedom came, but it is still hard to get bread." (Independent)

Why Turn a Blind Eye to Tyranny? (July 4, 2005)

Debt relief and increased aid cannot alone alleviate poverty in Africa, according to this International Herald Tribune editorial. Rather than oversimplifying the debate on aid to Africa, world leaders would do well to attack the root causes of poverty, such as corruption and human rights violations, if they are committed to "making poverty history." Aid to Africa must be accompanied by "an equally serious effort to address human rights violations," or world leaders will risk strengthening and funding the abusive governments responsible for so much of the continent's misery.

Social Watch Report 2005 - Roars and Whispers (2005)

The tenth Social Watch Report analyzes and measures nations' pledges to achieve gender equality and eradicate poverty. The 2005 edition pays special attention to the "gap between promises and action." Based on current trends, states will not achieve the Millennium Development Goals. This publication calls for immediate action by the international community.

Links and Resources

Amnesty International's Campaign for Economic Relations and Human Rights

Human Rights Watch

The World Bank SAPRI Home Page

The World Bank and a network of NGOs have agreed, through the Structural Adjustment Participatory Review Initiative, to improve the public input into structural adjustment policies.

Structural Adjustment Participatory Review International Network

The home page for the network of NGOs and other civil society groups working with the World Bank through the Structural Adjustment Participatory Review Initiative.

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