Human Rights and Governance
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Are Human Rights a Quality Criterion of German Development Policy?

DEval analysed the BMZ human rights approach to development cooperation and found it mostly relevant but identified potential for improving its implementation.

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Bonn, 20 December 2021 – The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has defined the protection and promotion of human rights as a quality criterion and guiding principle of German development policy. The German Institute for Development Evaluation (DEval) analysed this human rights approach to development cooperation. The evaluation concludes that the approach is mostly relevant, but identifies potential for improving its implementation.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, and the human rights situation in many parts of the world has improved since then. Recently, however, restrictions on civil liberties and civil society space have become evident in a number of countries. Humanitarian, economic and environmental crises are exacerbating human rights challenges, as are government measures in connection with the Covid-19 pandemic. The BMZ has set itself the goal of promoting the realisation of human rights through development cooperation. The foundation for this work is Germany’s human rights-based approach to development policy, which was formulated in 2011.

Broad approach, with gaps in relation to digitalisation

The evaluation assessed the relevance of the German human rights-based approach, both in comparison with other countries’ human rights strategies and against the backdrop of current global tendencies.

The overall findings show that Germany’s development policy makes it a relevant human rights actor from an international perspective, and that its human rights-based approach responds to most of the current challenges to human rights. For example, it covers issues ranging from human rights violations in the context of humanitarian crises to the situation of structurally highly marginalised groups in partner countries.

However, the evaluation also identifies some gaps. “Human rights violations in the context of digitalisation are one example”, according to team leader Dr Jan Tobias Polak. “That may mean practices such as digital surveillance or internet shutdowns. Another point not addressed by the human rights-based approach is that civil and political human rights can be curtailed in the course of combating terrorist groups and organised crime.”

Implementation of the approach – good procedures and processes, but potential for improvement in other areas of action

The BMZ and the organisations implementing German development cooperation use procedures designed to protect and promote human rights in partner countries. The implementing organisations also integrate the human rights-based approach into their knowledge management systems and staff training programmes. However, they only partially implement other areas of action in the human rights strategy.

The evaluation’s recommendations refer to the four tracks of the human rights-based approach:

  • Integration of human rights as a cross-cutting theme: The BMZ stipulates that the planning of every development cooperation project should take account of human rights aspects, not least to ensure that measures do not cause unintended human rights violations. An analysis of planning documents reveals that they frequently contain only some aspects of the human rights approach. In addition, only a few project documents indicate that grievance mechanisms have been established. The evaluation therefore recommends to further develop the existing processes for mainstreaming human rights in development cooperation, to define consistent quality standards, and to set up a coherent, independent grievance redressal system.
  • Implementation of specific human rights projects: Specific human rights projects support human rights actors in partner countries, such as human rights courts or human rights activists.Although the financial resources allocated to these projects have increased slightly, their relative share of BMZ’s overall portfolio has stagnated since the human rights strategy was adopted. The evaluation therefore recommends facilitating the integration of these projects into country portfolios.
  • Mainstreaming of human rights in political dialogue, and human rights conditionality: Only in some cases are human rights issues discussed explicitly and thoroughly during intergovernmental negotiations. The findings on conditionality, meaning whether the allocation of funds is dependent on the human rights situation in the partner country, show no clear correlation in most cases. Nevertheless, there are notable exceptions, such as the suspension of German development cooperation with Myanmar after the Rohingya Muslim minority was subjected to severe human rights violations and displacement. The evaluation thus recommends closing identified gaps in the procedures and processes with respect to mainstreaming human rights in the political dialogue with partner countries.
  • Human rights coherence of national and international policies: Federal government ministries can achieve human rights coherence if they all take systematic and coordinated account of human rights throughout their work. The recent supply chain law is a case in point. The evaluation recommends that the BMZ should continue to promote interministerial directives in order to guarantee human rights in partner countries.

Second part of the evaluation is in progress

The evaluation of human rights in German development cooperation consists of two parts. The second part examines the effectiveness of German development cooperation in the context of realising human rights in partner countries, with a focus on private sector and financial system development. One of the questions it explores is how development cooperation contributes to fulfilling the right to work and to fair and favourable working conditions. Since the realisation of the human rights-based approach often has cost implications for organisations implementing development cooperation projects, this part of the evaluation also analyses the implementation and relevance of human rights review procedures as well as possible negative impacts of development cooperation projects.

Original Publication: Polak, J. T., L. Smidt, L. Taube (2021), Human Rights in German Development Policy. Part 1: The Human Rights Strategy and its Implementation, German Institute for Development Evaluation (DEval), Bonn.


[Translate to Englisch:] Portrait Martin Bruder
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Dr Martin Bruder

Head of Department: Civil Society, Human Rights

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Jelana Vajen

Head of Communications and Publications

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