Implementing Human Rights in Development Cooperation

Project Description

Title: Sector Programme Human Rights (global)
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Global
Overall term: 2020 to 2023


Most German development cooperation partner countries have ratified international human rights conventions. They have also undertaken to respect, protect and guarantee human rights. Nevertheless, political and civil, economic, social and cultural human rights are being violated in many partner countries. These human rights violations are aggravated by current development policy challenges, such as the climate crisis, displacement and migration, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Human rights describe the universal minimum basis for a life lived in dignity, equality and freedom. As such, they are also a precondition for sustainable development. This is why the 2030 Agenda emphasises how indispensable participation, transparency and accountability are. It also emphasises the need to overcome inequality and discrimination and supports disadvantaged people and groups in exercising their rights in line with the principle ‘Leave no one behind’. The 2011 human rights strategy adopted by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and its BMZ 2030 reform strategy underscore the key role human rights play in German development policy as a guiding principle and marker of quality.


BMZ and its implementing organisations systematically base their development activities on human rights standards and principles.


The project advises BMZ on its internal and external positioning regarding the human rights-based approach to development cooperation (known by its German abbreviation as MRA), which strengthens human rights by establishing appropriate national institutions and instruments.

It assists BMZ with mainstreaming and promoting a human rights-based approach at the European and international level. This includes children’s and young people’s rights in the work of defining the concepts, strategies and standards shaping German development cooperation.

In addition, the project works with BMZ to establish strategic partnerships, for example with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in the area of climate action.

The project also supports the four German development cooperation implementing organisations: the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, KfW Development Bank, and Germany’s national metrology institute, the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt Institut Berlin (PTB). Their role is to mainstream the human rights-based approach and its quality markers institutionally and to implement them practically in operational activities.


The human rights project has contributed to widespread mainstreaming of the human rights approach. The impacts are apparent in BMZ’s European and international human rights agenda-setting and in interministerial processes, such as supporting the Global Initiative to Address and Prevent Criminalization and Impunity Against Indigenous Peoples.

On the thematic area of economic development and human rights, BMZ is pressing for adoption of EU-wide due diligence legislation and complementary legislation. The work and public position of the German Federal Commissioner for Global Freedom of Religion explicitly reflects human rights standards and principles. The project’s impact is also reflected in greater integration of the human rights-based approach in Germany’s development cooperation portfolio.

In the area of resources policy (governance), the systematic consideration of human rights aspects in projects abroad has been achieved. GIZ and BGR projects abroad, for example, have promoted complaints mechanisms in partner countries and collaborated with national human rights institutions. They have also advised governmental partner organisations on ensuring that resettlement complies with human rights.

The Equity Budgeting Tool co-developed by the project is another success story. Its use in Burkina Faso enabled human rights-based budget planning with a particular focus on disadvantaged groups.

Last update: February 2021