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ESIL-International Human Rights Law Symposium: Human Rights and Development Regimes – Reflections on Convergence and Influence

Published on February 10, 2016        Author: 
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Human rights and development interact in a range of ways. They occupy many of the same spheres and this has increased due to the expanding reach of the development policy and activities alongside the proliferation of IHRL. Moreover the overarching goals of human rights and development regimes may be argued to enjoy a purposive affinity, particularly in areas of social and human development. Despite this interaction and affinity however, the relationship between these regimes evidences an evolution along separate tracks and development regimes’ relative autonomy from human rights law and general law may exemplify the fragmentation of international law.

This comment considers the degree to which human rights law has influenced development regimes, exploring the place of international human rights obligations in development policies and their impact in operational terms. Despite substantive overlaps and certain affinities, when assessed from the perspective of obligations, the uptake has been inconsistent and the direct influence quite limited. Viewed from the perspective of principles however, the uptake and influence are more extensive: the place of human rights principles such as participation, accountability, inclusion, equality and non-discrimination and attention to vulnerable groups is now rarely contested, even within mainstream development regimes.

What are the reasons for this differentiated influence? There are important qualitative differences between the frameworks governing human rights and development regimes. Law and legal accountability are defining hallmarks of human rights, which remain a quintessentially legal concept. As Coomans, et al. have written “[L]aw has remained central to the notion of human rights. […] it is law that authoritatively defines a society’s understanding of what are human rights.” Development, for its part, is underpinned by global goals such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and by the policy frameworks and strategies of development institutions, which do not generally rely upon international legal norms in direct or explicit terms. The binding legal frame of reference for development cooperation emerges either at the level of the constitutive instruments of development agencies (between member countries) or at the transactional level of individual legal agreements governing particular operations (between the agency and a client country). While each of these instruments is an international treaty under public international law few international development policy frameworks are defined in terms of international legal obligations: the text of both the MDGs and the new SDGs evidence this. Read the rest of this entry…

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