The power of human rights NGOs in Zimbabwe

Start date: 14 November, 2012 End date: 18 December, 2012 Project type: Master's Thesis (prior to 2018) Project code: A19428 Countries: Zimbabwe Institutions: Roskilde University (RUC), Denmark Grant recipient: Marie Gertz Schlundt Total grant: 10,000 DKK



The discourse and policy on human rights and development has expanded with growing calls for the United Nations Delivering as One and the joint development of a Plan of Action and the adoption of a Common Understanding on a Human Rights Based Approach to common programming. This approach seeks to strengthen the capacity of ‘duty-bearers’ to meet their obligations and of ‘rights holders’ to claim their rights by promoting principles of equality, non-discrimination, participation, inclusion, accountability and the rule of law and by making use of international and regional human rights conventions. Bilateral and multilateral development agencies increasingly approach development from this human rights based approach, developing collaboration across sectors and carrying a specific focus on supporting local NGOs to contribute to the principles of participation and accountability. Given this greater focus from international development partners on the work of human rights NGOs, the internationally recognized common understanding on human rights based approaches and increased linking of and collaboration between human rights and development discourses and sectors, it becomes relevant to study whether human rights NGOs apply such approaches, how these approaches are lived out in practice and whether this human rights based approach does in fact offer this new source of influence to NGOs. The thesis therefore intends to investigate how and the extent to which human rights NGOs in Zimbabwe undertake human rights based approaches that arguably set and contribute to increased political salience of legal human rights edicts and the movement of a state from commitment to compliance with human rights. Going beyond the norms talk and applying the concept of political salience, the study is able to account for broader areas of influence, other than legalization, and a broader definition of activities where the NGOs may be having an effect. Building on the insights of social constructivist norms theory (Risse et al 1999, 2013), Wong’s application of the concept of political salience (2012) and the typology of human rights based approaches, as proposed by Gauri & Gloppen (2012) and drawing on qualitative empirical first-hand data from nine human rights NGOs in the least likely case of Zimbabwe, the study demonstrates that the human rights NGOs undertake a combination of the global compliance approaches, programming and rights talk approaches and the legal mobilization approaches, albeit to varying extents. Furthermore, it is demonstrated that these undertakings contribute to mechanisms and processes that allow for the conditions needed, according to (Risse et al 1999, 2013), for increased political salience of legal human rights edicts. It is concluded that by using human rights based approaches, human right NGOs in a repressive state can be influential in setting and contributing to the conditions needed to increase the political salience of legal human rights edicts.