In the 1990s, development embraced human rights. Many attempts were made to inform development with human rights concerns, align development agendas with rights frameworks and integrate human rights in practice via the adoption of ‘rights based approaches’ to development. ‘Development’ expertise also began to contribute significantly to human rights in practice through measurement and evaluation (e.g. Landman 2009; Landman & Carvalho 2010). Yet, recent research suggests that human rights has lost traction in the post-2015 development consensus (Brolan et al 2015). This is worrying, given that these findings were for health rights, arguably the most advanced domain of rights in practice, fundamentally underpinning global struggles for health and social justice. Has the development community left human rights behind as a project and a principle in its own right?
This paper confronts the possibility that development has entered a post-human rights era, and considers the need to rediscover and rehabilitate human rights within the SDG agenda. It also identifies the major challenges and barriers to achieving this. Responding to a similar provocation within human rights to move from victims’ justice to survivors’ justice (Mamdani 2014), the paper calls for an explicitly rights-based development agenda.
Rights-based development involves three elements: deeper democratization of development processes, re-integration of human and environmental principles into human rights and development of concrete arrangements for responsibility and benefit sharing. The elements of participation, benefit-sharing and basic human and environmental protection have evolved along divergent paths.
The time has come to reunite the ‘generations’ of (negative, positive and collective) rights in pursuit of sustainable human development, a pathway already established by the Right to Development. This has been eschewed as being ‘too politicised’ and contentious (Fukuda-Parr 2009), yet politicisation and contention must be recognised as necessary elements of a rights-based approach.