ECDPM’s Deputy Director, Geert Laporte, interviews Danish Minister for Development Cooperation, Christian Friis Bach.
The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in cooperation with the European Commission and the European External Action Service, organised a seminar in Brussels on June 3rd on applying a Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) to development in line with the Agenda for Change and the EU Strategic Framework and Action Plan for Human Rights and Democracy.
There is not yet a full consensus as to what a “human rights based approach in EU development cooperation and programming really implies in practice. From a rather “low profile” perspective, it is sometimes vaguely defined as the need for participation in development programmes. Other more ambitious perspectives consider a HRBA as the empowerment of citizens to effectively claim rights towards governments that can be enforced by legal means.
The more the EU puts emphasis on an ambitious concept of HRBA the more it will get into stormy waters. How realistic and “politically feasible” is the new HRBA approach of the EU? How to avoid the risk of applying “double standards” and normative approaches? In other words: how can the EU manage these “political minefields” in any credible way? What type of institutional change does a HRBA approach require at the level of donor agencies and the EU in particular?
These were some of the questions that ECDPM put to Minister Friis Bach who is one of the architects of the HRBA approach.
Geert Laporte, Deputy Director at ECDPM:
Minister, thank you very much for this interview. We’ve had very good meetings this morning, very interesting presentations, a very enriching debate on how to improve the HRBA in terms of instruments, and sophistication of those instruments. The question that we would like to put to you is about the political feasibility of this approach: how do you apply this in the context of some of the African countries that are not always willing to accept a HRBA?
Christian Friis Bach:
If you place human rights at the centre of your development policy, I think you can reach out to even those countries who may have some resistance. We take the broad set of human rights. Everything from the right to food, the right to shelter, the right to education and to the freedom of expression and freedom to organise and participate in your own society. By taking the broad set of human rights, exactly as we have written them down internationally over the past 200 years, and written them down together, signed on to them together. By taking a broad set of human rights you can actually reach out to all countries. All countries are striving to improve some of their human rights, and there you can start, and the goal is there written down internationally but the process you can respect by taking the broad set of human rights into your development policy.
How do you do this where our strategic European interests are quite important. I’m not talking about Denmark, but we have other member states that have strong political and security interests. How do you apply this HRBA in these types of countries? Do you think they are willing to follow this approach that is being proposed by the EU?
I’m actually quite humble about what you can do from outside, in terms of changing human rights. I am extremely optimistic about what you can do from inside. The people can do it them selves. Look at the Arab spring, look at the fundamental changes you have seen throughout the past 200 years, where people have taken human rights in their hands and strived and struggled to create change from within. That’s where change comes from. This is not about old fashioned conditionality this about supporting people’s ability to fight for their own rights. By means of engaging with their own societies and we can inspire – even more so in times of social media, information technology – by partnerships that go beyond borders where business, universities, civil society organisation cooperate across the world. There you can really build a strong human rights based approach. That’s what leaves me very optimistic.
How do you assess the approaches that are now being applied – for example in North Africa the ‘More for More’ approach, last week we had the launch of the European Endowment for Democracy. How do you assess the feasibility of these instruments? At this moment in certain African countries the political situation is quite complex, what should Europe do to make sure these instruments are really used in an effective manner?
I really believe that if you base your international engagement on human rights it becomes much more binding. You build upon the global conventions that we have all signed. It is also why our partnership becomes more binding. It is a more for more, results based framework that we enter into where we say: we will assist you in reaching and fulfilling some of the fundamental human rights, getting the kids to school, getting health clinics all over a country, or improving the freedom of the press, we will assist you. But it is on a contractual basis. Something for something. You sign, we sign, let’s work together on implementing core human rights for all people. That’s how we increasingly will see it coming. That puts obligations on our partner countries, and puts obligations on us as well. We have to deliver, we have to be accountable, we have to shape participation in our own decision making systems. We can’t take decisions on our own any more. That puts obligations on us as well.
We’ve also learnt today that Denmark is quite well advanced in this human rights based approach, it’s also a merit of you and your administration to have pushed it so much. But to what extent is this becoming a European approach? What is the possibility of making sure that this becomes a real, truly owned European type of approach?
This is definitely some thing that unites us in Europe. All countries have a strong set of rights, and obligations for their own citizens. People all over Europe struggle for their own rights within each community, every society, every country. This is part of our history, of our legacy, it’s part of what we know works. We know that by means of human rights, and a market based economy, you can create miracles for your people. This is our legacy, and I think this positive story we should bring also to the attention of the entire world and we shouldn’t shy away from standing firm on these principles, because we know it works.
Do you think that the institutional system in the EU at this moment is fully adapted to this new HRBA. What should change to make sure it is workable?
I believe we still, in member countries and in the EU, think a little bit in silos. We have human rights over here, development policy here, trade policy is dealt with in a different place, and fisheries and agriculture in yet another initiation. Human rights should unite it all. Human rights has to do with agriculture, it has to do with fisheries, has to do with trade and development polity. Incorporating a human rights based approach in that manner is definitely a daunting task, but it’s also an extremely rewarding task. If we do it, I think we can really inspire others and strengthen our partnerships worldwide, in the vision that with human rights and ecominic growth, we can solve a lot of the problems in the world.
Geert Laporte is ECDPM’s Deputy Director.
Clem Silverman is Communications Assistant