The Link between International Development and Respect for Human Rights

Article excerpt

For far too long, the debate on human rights has been dominated by the assumption that human rights are all about civil and political rights, while development is all about economic growth. This is not the case. Combating poverty is one of the most important human rights challenges we are facing. Most of the industrialized world has turned a blind eye to this important fact.

Human development is "the process of expanding people's choices"; this UN-definition should guide all our efforts. Human rights are an integral part of such a process. They are indeed a precondition for development. Expanding people's choices means respecting people's rights--all of them. This is what development is all about.

While Western countries have often focused on civil and political rights, many developing countries have been more concerned with social, economic and cultural rights. However, it is not a question of either/or. One might rightly say that certain human rights are of little value to people who are starving and in need. The struggle for human rights is basically about human dignity, about individual human beings, about protecting the individual against oppression and exploitation, poverty and injustice, marginalization and degradation.

Consider primary health and education. No investment is more important than an investment in these areas, in human capital. No investment yields a higher return.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights addresses the need for "food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services"; in the next article of the Declaration, the right to education is explicitly defined in terms of availability, accessibility, content and parental rights. I know of no major development programme that does not also seek to implement this human right. World Bank studies show that educating girls is the single most profitable investment of all. Investing in girls' education means higher productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, and lower fertility rates. Educating women means educating the whole family.

Only healthy children can fully benefit from schooling. Only healthy adults can realize their full potential in the service of their families and communities. …