Journal Issue

Human Development Report 2000 UNDP study reviews progress on human rights and convergence with human development

International Monetary Fund. External Relations Dept.
Published Date:
January 2000
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The Human Development Report, flagship publication of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), is celebrating its eleventh anniversary this year. The product of a select team that includes leading scholars and development practitioners commissioned by the UNDP, the report has over the years focused on a range of issues, such as globalization, growth, and poverty eradication, from the standpoint of human development.

This year’s report takes on the ambitious task of analyzing progress in human rights and, in particular, convergence between human rights and human development. It argues that these goals share a common vision and a common purpose—to secure, for every human being, freedom, well-being, and dignity. It looks at human rights as an intrinsic part of development and at development as a means to realize human rights. It shows how human rights bring principles of accountability and social justice to the process of human development. The analysis is aided by a wealth of statistical indicators and human development indices.

Professor and Nobel Prize Laureate Amartya Sen provided the conceptual framework and contributed to the writing of the report. Described in a foreword by UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch-Brown as “unapologetically independent and provocative,” the report underlines that human rights are not, as has sometimes been argued, a reward of development; they are critical to achieving it. Only with political freedoms can people genuinely take advantage of economic freedoms. The most important step toward generating the kind of economic growth needed to do that, the report stresses, is the establishment of transparent, accountable, and effective systems of institutions and laws.


Until the last decade, according to the report, human development and human rights followed parallel paths in both concept and action: one path largely dominated by economists, social scientists, and policymakers; the other, by political activists, lawyers, and philosophers. Each group promoted divergent strategies of analysis and action: economic and social progress, on the one hand; political pressure, legal reform, and ethical questioning, on the other. But today, the report argues, as the two converge in both concept and action, the divide between the human development agenda and the human rights agenda is narrowing. Human rights add value to the agenda of development by drawing attention to accountability and respect for human rights, including by focusing on legal tools and institutions—laws, the judiciary, and the process of litigation—as means to secure freedoms and human development. Human development, in turn, brings a dynamic long-term perspective to the fulfillment of rights. It directs attention to the socioeconomic context in which rights can be realized—or threatened—taking account of resource constraints.


In the August 28 issue of the IMF Survey, the agency that prepared East Timor’s preliminary budget for 2000 was incorrectly identified on page 277. The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) prepared the preliminary budget.

Link between rights and democracy

According to the report, democracy is the only form of political regime compatible with respecting all five categories of rights—economic, social, political, civil, and cultural. Four defining features of a democracy are based on human rights: holding free and fair elections contributes to the fulfillment of the right to political participation; allowing a free and independent media contributes to the fulfillment of the right to freedom of expression; separating powers among branches of government helps protect citizens from abuses of their civil and political rights; and encouraging an open civil society contributes to the fulfillment of the right to peaceful assembly and association. These rights are mutually reinforcing, with progress in one typically linked with advances in others. Openness of the media, for example, is usually correlated with the development of civil society institutions.

Integrating rights into economic policy

The process of economic policymaking for human development should honor the rights of participation and freedom of expression, according to the report. These rights imply that economic policy formulation must be open and transparent, allowing debate on the options and conferring the authority for the final decision on elected representatives. Economic policies have large effects on the rights of people. Those hurt by decisions have the right to know—and to participate in debate and discussion. That does not mean that they have veto power, but those adversely affected must be heard and, if appropriate, compensated. The report claims that the human rights angle brings to the table a focus on accountability.

Economic growth is key

The lack of economic growth in poor countries has been an enormous obstacle to the realization of all rights, according to the report. A review of 159 countries for which GNP per capita growth data are available for 1990-98 shows that of the 33 human development countries with data available, only 5 achieved average annual per capita growth of more than 3 percent. For 13 of them, per capita growth was, in fact, negative. That is why accelerating economic growth in poor countries is essential to progress in securing all rights for all people. But growth is not enough, the report argues. There is a broad correlation between income and achievements in economic and social rights. However, countries with similar incomes can have sharply different achievements in eliminating illiteracy and infant mortality. In a sample of 174 countries, 97 rank higher on the human development index than on GDP per capita, suggesting they effectively converted income into human development. But 69 countries rank lower on the human development index than on GDP per capita. Thus, policies are needed to link growth and rights, and the allocation of resources and the pattern of economic growth must be pro-poor, pro-human development, and pro-human rights.

Milestones in adopting major human rights instruments

1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights

1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights

1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

1984 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman Treatment or Punishment

1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child

Ownership of programs

The typical process for international policy-based lending often suffers from a democratic deficit of broad participatory debate, for example, no parliamentary debate. It is, therefore, “ironic, but not surprising,” the report notes, that a constant refrain in the international community is lack of ownership of the agreed policy program. This was one of the weaknesses of adjustment policies in the 1980s, when international financial agencies and national finance ministries often agreed to policies behind closed doors, the report argues. Although this account of history is debatable, the report is balanced on the future of structural adjustment, given rights, transparency, participation, and ownership.

For more information about the Human Development Report, see

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