Integrating Human Rights and Poverty Reduction: Towards a Human Rights-Based Approach for SDC

Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation (SDC)


How can the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation (SDC) incorporate human rights more systematically into its development programmes? This research, by SDC, sets out current thinking on integrating human rights into development with a view to taking its human rights work forward. It affirms that democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.

In 1997, SDC was among the first development agencies to issue human rights guidelines; demonstrating a strong commitment towards human rights as both a means and an end for development cooperation. However, even though human rights was set as a cross cutting issue, they were approached mostly through sectoral projects focusing on civil and political rights. The present challenge for SDC is how to operationalise the promotion and protection of human rights in a way which goes beyond developing sectoral human rights projects. This means highlighting the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights by integrating human rights concerns in SDCs work.

There is a need for methodologies and tools to make more systematic use of the rich potential offered by human rights approaches in poverty reduction and promoting human dignity through development cooperation. Starting with the UN common understanding of a human rights based approach to development, the following major elements are needed in SDC’s human rights based approach:

  • Equality and non-discrimination, participation and empowerment, accountability and the rule of law, universality and indivisibility.
  • An understanding of poor people as rights holders and governmental institutions as duty bearers.
  • Efforts to strengthen the capacities of rights holders to realise and access their rights and of duty bearers to respect, protect and fulfil obligations.
  • This approach will strengthen SDC’s commitment to participation and empowerment, linking these more systematically to accountability and the rule of law.
  • By referring to agreed human rights and respective obligations, the roles and responsibilities of governmental actors are clarified and the potential of the human rights communities is taken into account.
  • This will enhance coherence and legitimacy in fighting poverty and strengthening human rights.

The following steps are suggested to strengthen SDC’s human rights work:

  • A capitalisation exercise aimed at bringing together lessons learnt and good practices. This could be held as a first step in raising awareness, learning from SDC’s own experiences, and developing new tools.
  • The role of human rights in reducing poverty could be adopted by senior management as SDC’s annual theme for 2006.
  • Further work is needed on how to integrate a human rights-based approach in SDC’s Millennium Development Goals policy and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers guidance, building on SDC’s own experiences and international efforts.


Swiss International Development Cooperation Agency (SDC), 2004, ‘Integrating Human Rights and Poverty Reduction: Towards a Human Rights-Based Approach for SDC’, SDC Working Paper