Incorporation of Rights Based Approach in the ICT for development programs

1. Introduction

The gap between privileged and underprivileged with regard to access to information is increasing through out the world. The developed countries enjoy the benefits of ICT, on the other hand, the least developed and developing countries are lagging behind the facilities of it. The poor nation with less access to ICT can be characterized by indicators e.g., personal computer (per100 people), fixed telephone lines (per 1,000 people), mobile phones (per 1,000 people), Internet users (per 100 people), Internet hosts (per 100 people) television in use (per 1,000 people), radios in use (per 1,000 people)[i]. If the technology can be used as a tool for development programs, developing countries can be benefited out of it. Initially ICT was accounted for telephone, telegraph, fax, photocopier, radio and television. Computer and Internet with the help of satellite communication have occupied the business, trade, education, health, communication and administration of today’s world. Mobile phone communication has brought revolutionary changes in socio-economy developed of developing countries. Mobile phone can be a tool in empowering poor people of the village community. On the other hand a Community Technology Center (CTC) can be another kind of tool to increase capacity of a community. Generally the concept of CTC consists of various ICT equipment e.g. telephone, computer, internet, fax, photocopier, television etc. Application of ICTs for empowering village community is a growing field adapted by developing organizations. Donor organizations also encourage flowing fund for this purpose but these development attitude should adopt Rights Based Approach (RBA) that will ensure inclusion of disadvantaged and will not be confined within a particular group as a project itself.

RBA must fulfill the elements e.g. participation, empowerment, non-discrimination, and accountability of duty bearers. RBA should ensure that development programs deal with the extreme poor and not only serving purpose by creating a pro-poor group in the community. ICT for development program carried out by governments and other local and international agencies should meet the requirement of RBA. There is a need to develop a frame work of RBA and evaluate the existing ICT for development programs with respect to the frame work of RBA.
Thus, concept of capacity development of poor villagers has been raised to reach the target group to bring socio economic changes in their lives. Empowering villages using ICT is a micro level approach to development. Basically it is bottom up process even though combination of top down and bottom up is required initially to set up a project. Inter governmental (IG), governmental, International, national, local non governmental organizations (NGOs), donors, specialized United Nations (UN) agencies have realized the need to keep balance in capacity of people between the developed and underdeveloped countries. Therefore, different development projects on education, poverty alleviation, health, housing, food, information and communication, skill development have been conducted at the community level of the developing countries. ICTs can play a significant role in the rural economy with proper financing mechanism like micro credit that may lead self-employment and self-reliance. Sengupta (2000: 15) says, “…if a group of destitute or deprived people have to have a minimum standard of well-being, a simple transfer of income through doles or subsidies may not be the right policy. They may actually have to be provided with the opportunity to work or to be self-employed, which may require generating activities…” The right policy should include ICT applications in terms of capacity building of the village people that directly contributes to involve villagers in income generating activities and indirectly affects improvement in education, health, employment, skill, communication, and access to information village households. The incorporation of rights based approach in ICT for development program may result in over all well-being and also meet the human development approach as a by product of the whole process, which should focus specially on extreme poor and disadvantaged.

2. WSIS and poverty reduction by ICTs

WSIS (2004) in its Principle 3 says, “…we reaffirm the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelation of all human rights and fundamental freedom, including the right to development enshrined in the Vienna Declaration.” WSIS in its Principle 12 says, “…we should mainstream a gender equality perspective and use of ICTs a tool to that end”, and in Principle 14 mentions, “we are resolute to empower the poor, particularly those living in remote, rural and marginalized urban areas, to access information and to use ICTs as a tool to support their efforts lift themselves out of poverty.” Principle 43 of the WSIS reflects the realization eradication of poverty as a means of development by the ICT application as it says, “Distribution of benefits of ICT-driven growth contributes to poverty eradication and sustainable development.” The ‘interdependence’ and ‘interrelation’ of all human rights are lays on the common ground of development that urges for poverty eradication. Empowerment of poor is the only way to push them out the poverty line, which requires rigorous implementation of ICT programs to ensure sustainable development that can create a sound environment where people can enjoy their rights. Thus the bottom up approach for creating favorable environment for the realization of rights can strengthen the top down approach of human rights promotion and protection by International Human Rights Instruments, National Jurisdiction or by other mechanisms.

2.1. Human Rights and ICT based development

ICTs have enormous social and economic impacts. It can change people’s living standard. The widening gap between the countries of north and south and urban and rural areas can be minimized by the implementation of effective economy driven ICT projects. OHCHR (2003)[ii] says about the human rights approach to ICTs that, “…ICTs not only as a means of exchanging and disseminating information, but as a tool to improve the enjoyment of human rights such as the freedom of expression, the right to education, the right to health, the right to food and other rights, seeking universal access by all to information and services. The human rights approach seeks to bring individuals and communities, particularly the disadvantaged, vulnerable and socially excluded, squarely into the Information society, upholding the principles of non-discrimination, participation and accountability.” Poor villagers of Asia Pacific and African countries can be considered as ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘vulnerable’ in terms of poverty and accessibility to ICTs. Hence, it could be a human rights approach to ‘uphold’ these people and let them have the opportunity to participate in the progress of rural economy. Unless these people are self reliant and generate income, they can not improve their livelihoods to enjoy ‘human rights’ including freedom of expression, education, health, food, and an adequate house. Governments of poor countries have lack of resources besides inadequate commitment and inappropriate integration plans to eradicate poverty. ICTs can be more effective than agriculture, livestock, poultries, and fisheries for income generating activities because of less risk of losing investment. Caspary and Connor (2003: 7) says, “besides the strictly economic benefits, there can be important social benefits of maintain long-distance contact with family members working abroad or in the city. The experience of Bangladeshi women who make up the majority village phone operators for the Grameen network suggests that social status can be enhanced by virtue of control over a valuable resource-information access. ” Therefore, village phone have removed the physical distance between relatives working in cities and family members living in villages. Village phone operators are benefited by giving phone service for fee basis and the villagers are advantaged by exchanging important information over phone. The Community Technology Centers (CTCs) can also enhance accessibility for the village community for having better communication with their relatives living at distant places. Thus, ICT can increase access to information besides economic benefits which in turn can enable village community to know about their rights.

3. Why RBA?
Human race has been struggling through out the history to reach the consensus and establish a set of rules that will eradicate injustice from the society they live. As an outcome of the struggle religion and different theologies based on religion and faith came to enable people to remove exploitation and abuse on basis of moral commitment. Justice, legitimacy, and rule of law came into existence to ensure equality and justice. The series of declaration of International Human Rights Standards are the examples of struggle of human race in the 20th century after experiencing the catastrophe of two world wars.

RBA is a paradigm shift. Hence, the concept of RBA is quite new in the area of development programs. Development programs have wide range of issues and applications for community empowerment. ICT in the development program have been appeared as a tool to empower poor, disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in the communities. Therefore, it is necessary to know about whether the existing approach of ICT based development programs can really empower the disadvantaged people in the community or it creates new type of well-off class than the rest within a community. By examining the development programs, it can be possible to know about the success and failure of these programs to include disadvantaged.

3.1. Linkage with right to development
The demand for linking human rights and development policy was put forward especially at the World Conference on Human Rights (1993) in Vienna, the World Conference on Women (1995) in Beijing, and the world summit for Social Development (1995) in Copenhagen.
After attainment of certain level while the basic needs are met, and additionally quality of life of the people are improved, it is reasonable to make these people realize about their civil and political rights. Declaration on the Right to Development of 1986 reflects the aims of “constant improvement of well-being of the entire population and of all individuals on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in development.” According to the Article 1 paragraph 1 of the Declaration on the Right to Development:
“The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.” Hence the development is ‘inalienable’ from other human rights because it is a nucleus of all rights.

3.2. Elements of Rights Based Approaches

The RBA is a conceptual framework that has the following elements, which ensures the human development in terms of minimum standard of life that individual essentially should have as a human being. The basic elements of RBA are Non-discrimination, Participation, Empowerment, Accountability, Good governance, and linkage to rights, which should be adapted at ICT for development programs.


A development project or programs meet the requirement of RBA when it includes people irrespective of differences e.g. age, sex, religion, ethnicity, language, gender, age, property, and birth status etc. Non-discrimination is the basic principle of RBA. This core concept of non-discrimination is also reflected in the declarations and conventions of UN. Development projects run by state or non state actors should follow the core concept of non-discrimination.

Attention to vulnerable groups:
One important aspect of non-discrimination is to put especial attention towards vulnerable groups. Women, children, elderly people, poor, diseased people can be considered as the vulnerable people in the community. Development programs should emphasize these vulnerable groups in the community and execute programs and projects to uplift into a level where they can meet minimum standard of life at least and can claim their rights.


Active and meaningful participation of people in a development oriented projects and programs can bring empowerment in turn. RBA identifies participation as rights rather than a kind of tool or program.
Participation is recognized as having a central and decisive role in development models. ‘Participatory development’ and ‘people-centered development’ are frequently linked to sustainability. The notion of participation is always associated with the terminology of ‘empowerment and ownership.’ But it is not enough. (Cheria et al. 2004: 36)

Participation is more than ‘empowerment’ and ‘ownership’. Mostly the trend of development programs and policies are formulated and implemented from the state, donors or organizations. People, for whom the project is, do not have much involvement in determining their needs and eventually they do not take part in policy level. Participation enables these people to find their needs and to decide appropriate measures and activities to meet the need. Therefore, Cheria et al. (2004: 37) mentioned, “participation in a human rights approach includes control of planning, process, outcome, and evaluation…people are the subjects, the active players, who determine and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

Participation brings claim-holders and duty-bearers in the same table where they can make strategies and decisions. The policies and strategies should include special attention to the poor and disadvantaged people. Through the active, free and meaningful participation people can design development policies to fulfill their needs. To enhance the capacity for participation the adequate access to information, adequate organizational capacities, and necessary supports have to be ensured.


Empowerment is to make poor and disadvantaged people powerful economically, socially, culturally or politically. The development projects and programs usually have set of objectives to empower people in a community. Empowerment is giving powerless a power so that they can meet their basic needs from the economic perspective and can achieve the ability to claim their rights from duty bearers. Income generating capacity and self-reliance type programs are the present trend of development projects that represents the concept of empowerment in practice. RBA focus on what specific capacities are required for a group of poor or disadvantaged people so that they can claim and exercise their rights.


Accountability is the responsibility of duty bearers to create a socio, economic, and politically sound environment where the people in their communities can avail the level to communicate with duty bearers. Transparency, honesty, reliability, trust and willingness of the duty bearers can only create such a situation.
Accountability refers to the effectiveness with which the governed can exercise influence over their governors. Trust and reciprocity are not easily sustained without specific rules of holding leaders accountable to civil society. (Cheria et al. 2004: 41)

Good governance

Good governance has link with accountability and transparency of the governors. Good governance is the core requirement for flourishing human rights values. Effective administration with legitimacy is a key area of good governance. Good governance consists of many elements that in all ways ensure justice, rule of law, free from corruption and abuse, empowerment of poor, consideration of vulnerability, transparency, honesty, efficiency, effectiveness, participation, human rights. The definition ‘good governance’ defined by OHCHR, United Nations Development programme (UNDP), ESCAP, Commission on Global Governance, and others except World Bank have more or less the common elements mentioned above. World Bank, IMF, and their allies’ agencies and governments stress on creating space by state for market, which is contrast to the others’ concept.

Asif (et al. 2004) says:
A dictatorship that delivers basic needs to the citizens is no doubt better than a dictatorship that does not, but it is not good governance. Similarly, regular elections alone do not translate into ‘good governance’. Rule of law that is transparent, but unjust – such as Apartheid – is certainly not ‘good governance’. It is only when all these three conditions are fulfilled that governance becomes ‘good governance’ (P.13).

Government is an institution and governance is the process. In the context of development projects and programs donor agencies can make State accountable to their people for offering good governance. But the efficiency, moral values, and good desires of government are basic requirements for spontaneous growth of good governance besides external international and donor driven pressure. Most of the LDCs do not have good governance even though the so-called democracy is quite visible in many of them. Unless, states offer good governance, only through development programs a little change may happen in the lives of poor and disadvantaged. Therefore, to implement RBA successfully, good governance is unavoidable element.

Linkage to rights

Human rights are indivisible, interrelated and interlinked. RBA agrees that these civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are integrated and inseparable. National, regional and international legal standards should be taken into consideration, which protects and promote rights of individuals. These normative and legally binding laws guarantee the protection of rights that are offered to people. Therefore, good governance can honor and implement these legal standards for benefiting their people.

– Non-discrimination

– Participation

– Empowerment

– Accountability

– Good governance

– Linkage to rights

This RBA scale is developed here that can be used to evaluate specific ICT for development programs. An ideal development project must meet all the elements that substantially determine the project’s RBA. RBA of any development program can be measured with the help of this RBA scale. RBA is still being nurtured in the conceptual level; few INGOs e.g. Save the Children, Action Aid, Oxfam and UN agencies have started brain storming to implement this approach in practice. At present the concept of RBA is under development for further clarification by INGOs and UN agencies. Different authors and agencies have come up with definition and elaboration, which have some commonness in terms of the elements discussed above. This paper develops RBA frame from the experiences of what already exist and proposes RBA scale to measure the effectiveness in terms of betterment of poor and disadvantaged of existing ICT for development programs.

4. Conclusion

Millions of poor people live in the villages and struggle to survive; ICTs can bring significant socio-economic improvement in the villages. As illiteracy and poverty are the two major constraints for expansion of ICTs, appropriate applications can be an effective tool to make this technology beneficial to uplift people from their poverty line. And unless well-being of these people are improved, complete realization of human rights is not possible. Therefore right to development is inalienable from civil and political rights as well as from economic, social and cultural rights. As long as development is not done, freedom will not be achieved to understand human rights. To open up the door of freedom state and non state actors should come up with affordable ICT application with innovative financing scheme especially for the rural areas. The government and non government organizations should adapt RBA in ICT based development programs, which can bring good result by stopping exclusion and discrimination in practice. Once RBA is implemented, the development programs may not be accused of pro-poor oriented programs, which may lead a new era of empowerment that believes in totality, equality and nondiscrimination.


Mander Harsh and Asif, Mohammed (2004), ‘Good Governance’, Bangalore: Books for Change.

Caspary, George (2002), ‘Information Technologies to Serve the Poor: How Rural Areas can benefit from the Communication Revolution’, D+C Development and Cooperation (No.1, January/february 2004, p. 4-5), Deutsche stiftung fur internationale Entwicklung, available at, accessed on may 30,2004.

Caspary, George and O’Connor, David (2003), ‘Providing Low-Cost Information Technology Access to Rural Communities in Developing Countries: What Works? What Pays?’ Working Paper No. 229, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, available at

Edwin et al. (2004), ‘A Human Rights Approach to Development’, Bangalore: Books for Change.

OHCHR (2002), ‘Human Rights in Development’, available at www., accessed on May 25, 2004.

OHCHR (2003), ‘Background Note on the Information Society and Human Rights’, available at , accessed on April 07, 2004.

Sen, Amartya (1999), ‘Development as Freedom’, New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Sen, Amartya (1999), ‘Poverty and Famines’, New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Sengupta, Argun (2003), ‘Development Cooperation and the Right to Development’, available at–sengupta.pdf, accessed on May 30, 2004.

Sengupta, Arjun (2000), ‘The Right to Development as a Human Right’, available at–sengupta.pdf, accessed on May 30, 2004.

UNDP (2004), ‘ICT and Human Development: Towards Building a Composite Index for Asia’, Technical Paper, New Delhi: ELSEVIER
Wakelin, Oliver and Shadrach, Basheer, ‘Impact Assessment of Appropriate and Innovative technologies in Enterprise Development’, available at, accessed on May 30, 2004.

WSIS (2003), ‘Report of the Geneva Phase of the World Summit on the Information Society’, Document WSIS-03/Geneva/9(Rev.1)-E, 18th February 2004, available at, accessed on May 29, 2004.

End Notes
[i] See United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (2004: 22), ICT and Human Development: Towards Building a Composite Index for Asia, New Delhi: ELSEVIER
[ii] Back ground Note on the Information Society and Human Rights (October 2003), see detail at, accessed on May 30, 2004


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