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Human Rights in German Development Policy

German development cooperation has set itself the task of improving the human rights situation in its partner countries. DEval investigates how effectively this objective is implemented and where there might be potential for improvement. The evaluation consists of two parts. Part one was concluded in 2021.

Human rights constitute a guiding principle of German development cooperation. They are considered key to achieving inclusive development, and are therefore to be integrated into all strategies, programmes and projects. The approach is based on the strategy paper 'Human Rights in German Development Policy', which the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) published in 2011.

In its evaluation, DEval examines the strategy paper and its implementation, as well as the effectiveness of Germany's human rights-based approach (HRBA) in partner countries. The analysis of effectiveness focuses in particular on programmes for sustainable economic development. These are seen as presenting major opportunities for improving the human rights situation, for instance by bringing about improvements in working conditions or the payment of fair wages. At the same time this sector involves an inherent risk that human rights may be violated, for instance through jobs that involve health hazards, or the oppression of workers' organisations.

Findings and Recommendations

German development policy incorporates human rights work, and Germany is viewed internationally as an important human rights actor. The human rights-based approach it pursues responds to most current challenges.

For example, it covers issues ranging from human rights violations in the context of increasing humanitarian crises to the situation of structurally highly marginalised groups in partner countries.  Some gaps exist, such as references to human rights violations in the contexts of digitalisation or fighting terrorism and crime.

In practice, however, the BMZ and the implementing organisations only partially implement the human rights-based approach.

Indeed, human rights aspects are largely mainstreamed in their procedures, processes and training programmes. However, important aspects of the human rights-based approach are often only partially implemented: for example, human rights standards and principles are only partially integrated into the planning and implementation of development projects.  Areas in need of improvement in this regard include the sustainable economic development and energy sectors and the general establishment of grievance mechanisms at project level.

DEval recommends that the BMZ should define human rights pilot countries in which it can trial new instruments for mainstreaming human rights standards and principles in partner countries.

The BMZ should assess the associated staffing needs and budget for the requisite staff. It should also ensure that projects aimed principally at strengthening human rights can be integrated into country portfolios more easily. Relative to the BMZ's overall portfolio, the proportion of such projects has stagnated since the human rights strategy was adopted in 2011.

DEval recommends stronger mainstreaming of human rights issues in the political dialogue.

In intergovernmental negotiations with partner countries, human rights issues are only partially addressed explicitly and thoroughly. Likewise, the allocation of funds is frequently not conditional upon the human rights situation in the partner country.

The BMZ should continue to work towards ensuring that all ministries’ policies are coherent with human rights standards and principles.

Promotion of human rights in partner countries can succeed if all Federal Government ministries take systematic and coordinated account of human rights throughout their work. The recent new supply chain legislation is an example of this.

The evaluation was completed in 2021. This is a summary of the findings and recommendations. The evaluation report sets out the findings and recommendations in full.

Objectives of the Evaluation

The evaluation aims to study the content and implementation of the human rights strategy paper and the Guideline on Incorporating Human Rights Standards and Principles for Technical and Financial Development Cooperation, and the effectiveness of the German HRBA in partner countries. To achieve this the evaluation has been split into two parts, the respective findings of which will be published in separate reports. In part one the evaluation will first study the content of the strategy paper and its implementation within the BMZ and in the implementing organisations. After that, part two will look at the effectiveness of the approach in partner countries. This will include a focus on the realisation of human rights in the field of sustainable economic development in partner countries, as the BMZ believes this sector holds major potential for realising human rights through development cooperation as well as human rights risks of development cooperation.

Overall the evaluation intends to support learning by identifying potential improvements for effective implementation and further refinement of the strategy paper and the HRBA it explicates. By studying the implementation and effectiveness of Germany's HRBA the evaluation will also enhance the accountability of the responsible bilateral, civil society and private-sector actors of development cooperation.


According to the BMZ, human rights should be a guiding principle of German development cooperation. This principle is implemented through an HRBA that encompasses the whole of German development policy. Germany's HRBA pursues the goal of supporting improvement of the human rights situation in partner countries. The conceptual foundations of the HRBA are defined in the strategy paper Human Rights in German Development Policy (BMZ, 2011), and concretised in Guidelines on Incorporating Human Rights Standards and Principle in German Technical and Financial Cooperation (BMZ, 2013).


Given the different areas of interest of the two parts of the evaluation, their respective methods also differ.

Part one follows the approach of a strategy evaluation. It conducts an empirical comparison between the positions, objectives and areas of action contained in the human rights strategy paper and the guideline (the intended strategy), and their actual implementation by the actors involved (the executed strategy). It then seeks to explain possible discrepancies between the two.

For this purpose, qualitative interviews were conducted with the actors responsible for implementing specific fields of action. For particularly important fields of action, specific additional methods were applied. These include a survey of human rights institutions in partner countries, content analyses of project documents, expert interviews, and portfolio and allocation analyses.

The starting point for investigating the effectiveness of the German HRBA in part two of the evaluation will be a so-called programme theory. A programme theory sets out how one or more interventions should contribute towards objectives and results. Given the high degree of complexity of the programme theory to be investigated, the evaluation will methodologically rely on approaches that empirically 'track' and verify individual steps of results chains. One example of such an approach is that of process tracing.

The data for part two of the evaluation will be collected in case studies in the partner countries. Where appropriate, quantitative secondary data will also be used. The final design and the methods used will be determined during the inception phase of this part of the evaluation.


Portrait von Dr. Jan Tobias Polak
© Deval

Dr Jan Tobias Polak

Senior Evaluator, Team Leader, Anti-Corruption Officer

Phone: +49 (0)228 336907-967

E-mail: tobias.polak@DEval.org

[Translate to Englisch:] Portrait Martin Bruder
© DEval

Dr Martin Bruder

Head of Department: Civil Society, Human Rights

Phone: +49 (0)228 336907-970

E-mail: martin.bruder@DEval.org

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