Human rights-based approaches in South-South development cooperation:
A review of good practices, gaps, and challenges

Policy Research on Operationalizing People-Oriented South-South Development Cooperation 2018

This publication is a collection of critical papers written by ten CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE) member organizations representing different sectoral and regional constituencies. The contributions by CPDE members examine South-South development cooperation (SSDC) in terms of operationalizing a people-oriented and human rights-based approach.



The past two decades have seen a rapid increase in the share of developing countries in global output, trade, and investment.  The absolute and relative share of non-DAC contributors in financial, in-kind and technical cooperation has been rising, especially from middle-income countries such as China, India and some of the Gulf States. Moreover, the countries of the South are moving towards more formalized and institutionalized forms of South-South development cooperation – the New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank being two notable efforts in this regard.


South-South development cooperation has undeniably become a major factor in international relations, underpinning growth in trade and foreign direct investment (FDI), redirecting flows of development finance, and shifting longstanding power relations between countries. In this context civil society needs to direct more effort in making sure that SSDC’s enormous potential is truly directed towards sustainable development and the realization of people’s rights especially in underdeveloped countries of the South. 


Governments and other development actors engaged in SSDC need to demonstrate greater commitment to social justice, gender equality, environmental sustainability, and people’s rights. Applying a Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) to SSDC would help to shift the framework of development away from a narrow focus on economic growth towards a more holistic appreciation of the multiple (political, social, cultural, etc.) and interrelated dimensions of human development – where development is understood as the process whereby people are able to fulfill their full potential through realizing their human rights. 


The HRBA helps clarify the roles and responsibilities of individuals and groups as rights holders on the one hand, and governments and other relevant development actors as duty bearers on the other. The human rights-based approach to development requires participation from rights-holders in the decision-making processes of the duty-bearer.  Conversely, duty-bearers are accountable to rights-holders for human rights obligations under international law and codified in national legislation. This affirms the agency of the poor and marginalized people to chart their own destiny by empowering all people to claim their rights rather than treat them as passive recipients of aid and charity.


The activity will bring together representatives from different stakeholder groups to discuss and share experiences and challenges in advancing human rights-based approach in South-South development cooperation, towards strengthened partnerships in its active promotion.



  • Bring together representatives from different stakeholder groups towards reaching the clear understanding of human rights-based approach (and its elements) in South-South development cooperation

  • Examine current policies and practices with regard to adoption and implementation of HRBA approaches

  • Discuss the necessities of using a human rights-based approach as a framework to monitor the development contributions of South-South Cooperation



  • A clear appreciation on the part of different stakeholder groups of human rights-based approach in South-South development cooperation

  • Strengthened multi-stakeholder partnerships towards an active promotion of HRBA in SSDC



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