USAID's new human rights strategy: Is it good enough?

The world’s largest bilateral donor has released a new framework “that says what we are accomplishing, not what we are doing” to promote human rights, along with democracy and good governance, in its partner countries.

The strategy builds on the U.S. Agency for International Development’s recent efforts to strengthen its human rights-related work. Last year, it created the Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance, whose aim is to advance best practices in those three areas and helped craft the framework.

“Over the past 20 years, we have made significant and lasting contributions to democratic progress around the globe,” USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said in a July 11 statement announcing the release of the strategy.

Shah admitted that “at the same time, we have seen the global trend toward democratic governance slide backwards in some regions” and promised the agency will work to address those challenges through the use of innovation and partnership.

The new policy, human rights experts say, integrates democracy, human rights and governance into USAID’s work, instead of compartmentalizing these issues. In this vein, for instance, the agency’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance will collaborate with the Center of Excellence for Democracy, Human Rights and Governance to train field officers.

Yet some advocates feel USAID, which does a good job monitoring human rights violations, missed an opportunity to distinguish itself as a leader in human rights around the globe, and to define its distinct role alongside the Department of State’s.

Over the past decade or so, its U.K. counterpart, the Department for International Development, has struggled similarly to carve out a distinct role for itself against the powerful Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

USAID argues that the strategy makes human rights “an explicit component of the agency’s approach to democratic development.” But it doesn’t use a human rights-based approach to development, advocates say, or include specific performance metrics.

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About the author

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    Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.