New Rights Advocacy: Changing Strategies of Development and Human Rights NGOs

New Rights Advocacy: Changing Strategies of Development and Human Rights NGOs

New Rights Advocacy: Changing Strategies of Development and Human Rights NGOs

New Rights Advocacy: Changing Strategies of Development and Human Rights NGOs


After World War II dozens of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) emerged on the global scene, committed to improving the lives of the world's most vulnerable people. Some focused on protecting human rights; some were dedicated to development, aimed at satisfying basic economic needs. Both approaches had distinctive methods, missions, and emphases. In the 1980s and 90s, however, the dividing line began to blur.

In the first book to track the growing intersection and even overlap of human rights and development NGOs, Paul Nelson and Ellen Dorsey introduce a concept they call "new rights advocacy." New rights advocacy has at its core three main trends: the embrace of human rights-based approaches by influential development NGOs, the adoption of active economic and social rights agendas by major international human rights NGOs, and the surge of work on economic and social policy through a human rights lens by specialized human rights NGOs and social movement campaigns.

Nelson and Dorsey draw on rich case studies of internationally well-known individual NGOs such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, CARE, ActionAid, and Save the Children, and employ perspectives from fields of human rights, international relations, the sociology of social movements and of complex organizations, and development theory, in order to better understand the changes occurring within NGOs.

In questioning current trends using new theoretical frameworks, this book breaks new ground in the evolution of human rights-development interaction. The way in which NGOs are reinventing themselves has great potential for success -- or possibly failure -- and profound implications for a world in which the enormous gap between the wealthiest and poorest poses a persistent challenge to both development and human rights.


Despite our growing global base of financial and
human capital, increasingly sophisticated
technology, and the experience of decades in
international cooperation, poverty, inequality, and
repression continue to fuel security threats both within
societies and across borders. Globalization, although
making good on certain of its promises to generate
higher rates of economic growth, confers the vast
majority of its benefits on a chosen few.

—Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for
Human Rights

The curious separation of human rights and development began immediately after the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, when cold war politics thwarted efforts to forge one treaty legally binding upon government signatories. Civil and political rights and economic, social, and cultural rights were bifurcated along the political fault lines of the period, and different treaties and mechanisms were created to promote them through the United Nations system.

In the 1960s, with the founding of new international human rights NGOs, advocacy on behalf of civil and political rights worldwide began in earnest. Development emerged as a field during the same period. The World Bank began lending in 1948, and the field grew slowly in the 1950s but more rapidly in the 1960s, accelerating in the 1970s and 1980s until by 2000 development assistance was a $64 billion annual enterprise. Except in rarefied debates in the United Nations, official development was devoid of references to economic and . . .

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