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close this bookRealizing Human Rights for Poor People - Strategies for achieving the international development targets (DFID, 2000, 34 p.)
close this folder2. The challenge: integrating human rights into development
View the documentHuman rights
View the documentThe present position

The present position

2.4 Poor people have rights to education and health, to an adequate livelihood including food, water and housing, to just and favourable conditions of work, to security and freedom from violence. They cannot access these rights when their voices are not heard, when they are discriminated against, or when the state is not accountable for its human rights obligations.


2.5 Participation usually means participation in the community or in development projects. Participatory methods have been used to ascertain local level needs and priorities. These findings, however, have not always been fed into state policy and budget formulation processes. Formal political processes provide one means of enabling citizens to have some say in the policies of their country. An increasing number of countries have become committed to democratic political participation. But even where they operate in a relatively free and fair manner, voting, lobbying and political parties are not sufficient to empower poor people. One of the key findings from the World Bank's series of consultations with the poor is that many people in developing countries, including those with democratically elected governments, consider themselves to be powerless and lacking influence over the key decisions which affect their lives3

2.6 People are not only concerned with having a say in decision-making processes. In South Africa in 1998, people said that they wanted much more information about the decisions that had been made at national and local levels as well as more feed-back on the activities of political representatives and government workers.4

Box 5. Participation and the human rights framework:

Participation is central to enabling people to claim all their human rights. The key challenge is to ensure that actions to increase citizens' participation: in decision-making processes empower the poor and not just local elites. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines people's rights to take part in formal political processes (UHDR 21). Article 20 affirms the right to freedom of association and Article 23 includes the right to form and join trade unions. Both the: Copenhagen and Beijing declarations emphasise the importance of promoting the participation of excluded people in governmental processes and bodies. Rights to participation are linked to information rights. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes the right to receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.

2.7 A free press and media provide access to information about the activities of government and non-government organisations at local and national levels Poverty and social exclusion both tend to accompany limited access to media and information. Illiteracy, linguistic diversity, physical remoteness, poor transport and social isolation can all create communication difficulties even where the press is free.

2.8 As the World Bank's series of consultations with the poor indicates, many people in developing countries are concerned with issues of corruption among government officials at both local and national levels. Access to information enables citizens to monitor the actions of government workers and guard against corruption.

Box 6. Corruption and the right to information

The Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), or Association for the Empowerment of Workers and Farmers, is a civil society movement which grew in response to evidence of local government corruption in the north Indian state of Rajasthan. The group promotes the idea that citizens have a right both to know how they are governed and to participate actively in the process of auditing their representatives. Work with poorer sections of society in the early nineties highlighted the role of government corruption in keeping wages low when it became clear that local authorities were billing central and state governments for higher amounts than were being paid to workers. Their work also showed that goods delivered through the Public: Distribution System, designed to provide subsidised essentials for poor people, were being diverted and sold on the open market. In response to these findings, MKSS developed a method of collective 'social audit' to analyse official information. In a series of 'public hearings', local people have been invited to give testimonies which highlight discrepancies between the official record and their own experiences as labourers on public-works projects, applicants for the means-tested, anti-poverty schemes, or consumers in ration shop.5

2.9 Civil society can put pressure on governing organisations to act in accordance with agreed human rights principles and obligations. Those organisations which operate on democratic principles, rather than representing the interests of elites, can facilitate links between government and communities and increase the involvement of excluded people. Such organisations often possess critical ground-level information on human rights violations and the causes and dynamics of conflicts. Civil society action can also play an important role in early warning and in promoting inter-community dialogue. International human rights organisations have rarely, until recently, worked to promote the economic, social and cultural rights of poor people. The general lack of attention to the interdependence of all human rights represents an important missed opportunity.

2.10 The right to freedom of association is central to achieving just and fair conditions at work as well as ensuring that civil society is able to operate as an effective monitor of government actions. A 1999 survey by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) 6shows that 123 trade unionists were murdered in 1998, 1,650 individuals were attacked or injured, 3,660 were arrested, and over 21,000 were sacked for trade union activities. The survey cites a record number of 119 countries where either the right to organise is still formally denied or informally abused. The great majority of poor women and men working in the informal sector in developing countries are only just beginning to learn to organise themselves and defend their rights at work - very often through grass-roots and community-based organisations.


2.11 Poverty is not simply the consequence of a lack of resources. Some people are unable to access existing resources because of who they are, what they believe or where they live. Such discrimination is a form of social exclusion and a cause of poverty. Political commitment to the principle of the universality of all rights provides a basis for the development of socially inclusive and equitable societies.

2.12 It is often particular groups within societies which suffer from multiple deprivation of rights. Work to understand gender inequality provides insight into the causes of discrimination more generally. Discrimination may be the product of legal inequalities in status and entitlements. Discrimination also occurs where the needs and rights of particular people are not recognized in policies or provided for through budgetary allocations. Social values and norms may result in discriminatory practices in the implementation of policies as well as in people's relationships within households and communities In many countries, people receive differential treatment from government officials because of their class, religious identity, disability, age, ethnicity or skin colour.7

Box 7. Inclusion and the human rights framework

A socially inclusive society is one in which all people are able! to claim all their rights. The principle of equality of all rights for all people forms the basis of the definition of social inclusion agreed at the 1995 Social Development Summit in Copenhagen. This definition is based on the first and second articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that all: human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, and that everyone is entitled to all human rights without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. The human rights framework acknowledges that some people suffer particular rights deficits through reference to specific forms of discrimination. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of: Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention on the Rights of the Child take account of forms of discrimination on the basis of gender, race and age. International standards for upholding the rights of people with disabilities are set out in the UN Standard Rules on the Equalization of: Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities. Human rights which are of particular concern to: indigenous and minority peoples include rights to land, cultural integrity, participation in decision-making, health and a healthy environment.8 The UN instruments which define these rights include the International Covenants, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Labor Organisation Convention No 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal People in Independent Countries.

2.13 Inequalities and discrimination may be deeply rooted in social institutions and norms which shape relationships within the household and community. Cultural understandings of gender roles, for example, mean that some women may not be able to question their husband's behaviour because they fear they may be beaten. Where women do not have equal rights to land, they may be unable to challenge their husband without risk of being thrown out of the household and losing access to their means of subsistence.9 Understanding the interaction between social practices, policies and law is central to addressing issues such as the spread of HIV and ensuring that people have equal access to available resources. Human rights agreements, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, mean that governments have obligations to address social discrimination through efforts to promote rights awareness and attitudinal change as well as reform. of legislation and policies.

2.14 In cases such as the Roma in Eastern Europe, exclusion has led in the recent past to denial of citizenship rights because they are seen by the majority as 'undesirable'. In their most extreme forms, racism and discrimination on the basis of ethnicity have led to conflict and genocide. Addressing the rights of the excluded is central to the prevention of conflict and the promotion of socially inclusive societies in which all people can enjoy lives of freedom and security.

Fulfilling obligation

2.15 Where human rights are not legally protected or recognised in the policies and practices of service providers, people are unable to claim entitlements, even where resources are available. Ratification of human rights treaties and the incorporation of human rights norms into domestic legislation are necessary for the protection of human rights. But states have very different capacities to reform legislation and ensure that it is enforced. Building governments' capabilities to provide accessible justice and legal redress, based on respect for human rights, is central to the realisation of human rights for poor people.10

2.16 Legislation alone is not sufficient to ensure the realisation of human rights. Constitutional commitments often remain as abstract principles because governments fail to address their obligations through budget and policy formulation processes which allocate resources to particular sectors and define the levels and standards of provision that all citizens can expect. At the local level, people need a clear understanding of what particular rights mean in terms of concrete entitlements in order to be able to claim them.

Box 8. Obligation and the human rights framework

States have obligations to protect, promote and ensure the realisation of all human rights. International and national human rights institutions provide channels for monitoring violations of human rights. Legal action provides another channel for ensuring citizens are protected. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines individuals' rights to equality before the law, to protection from arbitrary arrest, detention and exile and to a fair and public hearing by an independent tribunal (Universal Declaration of Human Rights 8,9,10,11). States' obligations also require positive action to promote human rights.11 Clear performance standards, civil society action and political mechanisms are central to ensuring the accountability of the state for its obligations to promote all human rights. States also have international obligations to promote human rights globally. While states have primary responsibilities for ensuring the realisation of human rights, all people have general duties to exercise their rights responsibly and respect the rights of others. Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes clear that human rights are not just a matter of citizen-state relations. Everyone has a duty to the community.

2.17 Human rights institutions can influence government to promote rights more vigorously, and to address rights violations where they occur. Their capacity to do this varies according to the type of institution, its powers of enforcement, levels of resourcing and the degree of independence from government. Human rights institutions also give citizens access to international law and institutions and, therefore, hold their government to account. To date, however, such institutions have tended to concentrate on civil and political rights and give less emphasis to all the human rights of poor people.

2.18 Protecting and promoting human rights during violent conflict is one of the most difficult challenges for the international community. The nature of violent conflict has changed. Where conflicts used to be 'set-piece' battles between armies, civilians are now most likely to become war casualties, made homeless or maimed. Most of these are women and children. Also, most armed conflicts are now internal, not international. Sometimes they are 'civil wars'; sometimes they are acts of aggression by one party (often states), against the civilian population. The mechanisms to protect civilians are also developing, mostly contained within international humanitarian law. When people flee to other countries they are entitled to international protection. Countries receiving refugees may need assistance to cope with a large influx of people in desperate conditions.

2.19 As the international community recognises that the human rights of civilians are violated in conflict, distinctions between international humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law are blurring. UN agencies such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN High Commission for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross are having to develop their strategies in this respect.


3 Global Synthesis: Consultations with the Poor. World Bank 1999.

4 Poverty and Human Rights. National Speak Out on Poverty Hearings, March to June 1998.

5 Jenkins and Goetz. Accounts and Accountability. Theoretical Implications of the Right-to Information Movement in India, 1999.

6 ''1999 ICFTU Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights.

7. See also the DFID strategy paper, Poverty elimination and the empowerment of women and the DFID issues papers, Disability, poverty and development (DFID 2000); Helping not hurting children (DFID 1999).

8 Fergus MacKay: The Rights of Indigenous People in International Law: A Briefing Paper for DFID.

9 Rosalind Petchesky and Karen Judd. Negotiating Reproductive Rights. Zed Press 1998.

10 "DFID Strategy Paper: Making government work for poor people. June 2000.

11 Human Development Report 2000