The article written by Diana Mitlin and Sheela Patel (September 2005 issue of Alliance, p27) about their successful experiences at SDI is interesting but fails adequately to understand the breadth and flexibility of a rights-based approach to development. A rights-based approach does try to achieve good housing, good healthcare, etc. There is nothing necessarily confrontational about such an approach, however, nor does it rely solely on the assertion of legal rights.
Contrary to the implication of the Mitlin and Patel article, a well-conceived rights-based approach very explicitly seeks to treat recipients not as passive receivers but as full and active participants. More importantly, this approach would always seek the most effective way to get results. If that involves negotiating agreed positions with the government, including positions not explicitly within the bounds of justiciable human rights, that would be entirely consistent with a rights-based approach. Indeed, at the heart of a rights-based approach is the concept that a donor should work collaboratively with the government and the poor to create better protections and better results for the poor.
I think Mitlin and Patel are writing too much out of their very particular SDI experiences, and have not analysed the question in sufficient depth.
Leon E Irish, President
International Center for Civil Society Law