Critiques of the human rights framework as the foundation of a human rights-based app- roach to development

  • A de Man University of the Free State, South Africa


During the 1990s, the human rights-based approach (HRBA) emerged as the newest development framework to address increasing global poverty and inequality. Under this approach, development objectives are determined by human rights standards and goals as set out in international treaties, conven- tions, declarations, and authoritative interpretations of rights. Beneficiaries of development programmes also gain legal rights against corresponding duty bearers, which supersedes moral claims for the fulfilment of development goals. Furthermore, human rights principles such as equality and non-discrimination, accountability, participation, empowerment and the indivisibility of rights form the cornerstone of a HRBA. However, the human rights framework, as the foundation for this approach, has come under severe criticism over the past few years. Significant disparities exist between that which is promised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and real-world respect for, and protection of human rights. This article aims to explore and analyse the most popular of these criticisms. These include critiques raised against the claimed universality of rights, inherent discriminatory practices, the inability of the framework to take account of practicalities and limitations, and the lack of effective protection and monitoring by United Nation’s bodies. It also explores emerging threats such as, for example, globalisation to the human rights framework. However, the framework has proven to be adaptable to these challenges. Practitioners and scholars are continuously working towards overcoming practicalities that impede the achievement of the protection and realisation of the human rights of all. In addition, the article examines critiques against the normative value of human rights as a product of natural law. However, the international human rights framework has gained widespread acceptance as the highest moral authority, as it is based on respect for human dignity and guaranteeing the freedom of all. The article demonstrates that the use of human rights language in lieu of other terms such as ‘goals’, ‘duties’, ‘interests’, ‘needs’, and ‘claims’ carries several advantages, the most important of which is the creation of rights holders with corresponding duty bearers. It also determines that, despite the numerous critiques examined, the human rights framework offers a solid, and the most accepted, foundation for development programming with a number of benefits.


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