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Development cooperation and the advancement of human rights in the post-2015 agenda

International development cooperation and solidarity is the duty and obligation of states, embedded in a rights framework, and not a matter of good will. The role it plays in financing and supporting the advancement towards sustainable development and the realization of human rights for all should be given greater recognition in any development framework post-2015. The United Nations’ Post-2015 Development Agenda should not focus merely on accelerating MDGs or reinventing goals but about rethinking development and focusing the structural changes towards a true transformational development agenda for all.  This is not an easy task. It is not just a matter of “what” but also “how.” Debates around international cooperation architecture and aid effectiveness need to incorporate the analysis that is challenging the traditional concepts of development. It should go beyond the narrow reductionist economic and technical focus and respond to the new context of systemic crisis.

The first debates around the international cooperation architecture and aid effectiveness in producing results on the ground began in the sphere of the OECD countries in 2003. The Paris Declaration that resulted from continuing talks in 2005 presented a narrow view focused mainly on aid delivery with no participation of civil society actors. Subsequent High Level Forums (HLF) held in Accra 2008 and Busan 2011 under the OECD umbrella saw a progressive increase in participation from civil society organizations, including a growing number of women’s rights advocates, that resulted in a change in focus from the narrow ‘aid effectiveness’ to the more ambitious ‘development effectiveness.’ The latest one (HLF-4), which took place in Busan in November 2011, paved the way for this shift in paradigm as new emerging powers are also changing the notion of a North to South international cooperation system.

The multilateral development agenda under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that are set to expire in 2015 was highly criticized for ignoring the structural nature and root causes of poverty and because it lowered the bar on the internationally agreed development commitments on human rights. As discussions are ongoing on how to shape a post-2015 sustainable development framework, it becomes important to reflect on what kind of development cooperation is needed towards an inclusive, sustainable, and rights-based development paradigm.

Reviewing financing mechanisms for human rights and social justice

Despite pledges for aid to constitute 0.7% of GDP, falling levels of Official development assistance (ODA) – in large part due to the financial and economic crisis that provoked cuts in public spending in OECD countries- are hampering the realization of human rights across the globe. For countries that rely heavily on ODA, remittances or exports, the cutbacks could lead to less spending on social protection programs, health and education.

While donor governments must meet their obligations that ODA constitute 0.7% of GDP, new mechanisms for financing for development need to be put in place, such as tax reform.

Development cooperation cannot be treated in isolation from other financial flows, and thus should be understood as part of the Financing for Development process and the implementation of Monterrey and Doha. South-South and triangular cooperation are also growing in importance with emerging economies stepping up as major players in international development thinking and funding resources.

Replacing the problematic aid system with one of international solidarity, cooperation among countries and appropriate governance becomes more important than ever thinking of a post-2015 framework.

A ‘multiple accountability’ framework

As the landscape in international development cooperation progressively shifted from aid to development effectiveness, the actors involved in international development cooperation are no longer just those in a donor-recipient relationship.

The old ‘mutual accountability’ principle in the Paris declaration should give way to a “multiple accountability” approach, which recognizes and includes diverse development actors such as CSOs (including feminist and women’s rights organizations), parliamentarians, local governments and the private sector.

Any accountability mechanisms must build on existing accountability mechanisms within the UN human rights system that allow for CSO participation, such as the Universal Periodic Review process.


Shifting the development cooperation system and the development discourse towards an inclusive, sustainable, and rights-based development paradigm implies a profound reform of the international financial architecture, its institutions and its governance structure. The reforms should not be decided or implemented by a small group of countries, but with the participation of diverse development actors under the institutional umbrella of the UN.

A human rights-based approach to development would be a good place to start, and the key to setting up a new framework that is built up on the obligation of all development actors to respect, protect and realize all human rights for all.

Ana Inés Abelenda is member of the Economic Justice and Financing for Gender Equality team at Association for Women’s Rights in Development –AWID.


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October 2018
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