Human Rights and Social Accountability

There is an emerging movement within the international development community to subscribe to a human rights based approach to development.  Most countries have signed the principle international human rights covenants and have begun to modify their national legislative frameworks accordingly.  The World Bank has thus far not directly endorsed a human rights based approach to development, but has argued that it contributes to their realization through tangible development outcomes as well as through support for governance and public sector reforms.  In addition, in recent years the World Bank has supported “social accountability” initiatives which share many features with rights based approaches to development.
 
The purpose of this paper is to explore the common features and linkages between rights based approaches to development and social accountability initiatives as well as suggest how social accountability initiatives can be strengthened by taking into account the principles of a rights based approach more explicitly.  
 
The first section of the paper presents an overview of both rights based approaches to development and social accountability. The section also outlines five principles of rights based approaches to development, namely:

• The poor should be placed at the center of the design, control, oversight and evaluation of the development projects that affect them.

• The institutions responsible for implementing development programs should be fully accountable for their actions.

• Non-discrimination, equality and inclusiveness should underlie the practice of development

• Citizen participation and voices should be “scaled up” and linked with national and international policy processes and international rights frameworks

• An active linkage should be made between development and the legal institutionalization of human rights.

The second section analyses four specific cases of social accountability initiatives which have served as models for or are directly supported by the World Bank: the Bangalore Citizen Report Cards implemented by the Public Affairs Centre in India, the Malawi Community Scorecard implemented by CARE, the Justice for the Poor program initiated by the Government of Indonesia with support of the World Bank, and the construction of a “System of Social Accountability” for public expenditure management developed by the Government of Peru and supported by the World Bank and other development partners. 
 
Using these cases, the paper finds a high degree of mutual reinforcement between rights based approaches to development and social accountability initiatives.  In addition, in the final section, the paper points to three problems that social accountability initiatives need to address in order to strengthen their impact: (a) a tendency to take up an exclusively local level perspective on issues, (b) top-down design of initiatives, and (c) failure to link up with the legal structure.  Social accountability entrepreneurs intent on taking up rights based approaches to development would do well to explicitly address and work to overcome these issues in their work.

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