New Rights Advocacy

Changing Strategies of Development and Human Rights NGOs

Paul J. Nelson and Ellen Dorsey

"An important contribution to an ongoing debate among adherents of human rights organizations."
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After World War II dozens of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) emerged on the global scene, committed to improving the lives of the world's most vulnerable people. Some focused on protecting human rights; some were dedicated to development, aimed at satisfying basic economic needs. Both approaches had distinctive methods, missions, and emphases. In the 1980s and 90s, however, the dividing line began to blur.

In the first book to track the growing intersection and even overlap of human rights and development NGOs, Paul Nelson and Ellen Dorsey introduce a concept they call "new rights advocacy." New rights advocacy has at its core three main trends: the embrace of human rights-based approaches by influential development NGOs, the adoption of active economic and social rights agendas by major international human rights NGOs, and the surge of work on economic and social policy through a human rights lens by specialized human rights NGOs and social movement campaigns.

Nelson and Dorsey draw on rich case studies of internationally well-known individual NGOs such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, CARE, ActionAid, and Save the Children, and employ perspectives from fields of human rights, international relations, the sociology of social movements and of complex organizations, and development theory, in order to better understand the changes occurring within NGOs.

In questioning current trends using new theoretical frameworks, this book breaks new ground in the evolution of human rights-development interaction. The way in which NGOs are reinventing themselves has great potential for success—or possibly failure—and profound implications for a world in which the enormous gap between the wealthiest and poorest poses a persistent challenge to both development and human rights.

Table of Contents


1. The New Rights Advocacy
Organizational Fields and the Division of Human Rights and Development
The New Rights Advocacy
International System Change and the NGO Sectors
Organizations, Their Environments, and Power
The Emergence of NGO Cooperation in the 1980s and 1990s
Implications of the New Rights Advocacy
Tracking the Origins

2. Transforming the Human Rights Movement: Human Rights NGOs Embrace ESC Rights
The Emerging Movement for ESC Rights
Traditional International Human Rights NGOs and ESC Rights
New NGOs and the Global Network for ESC Rights
Debating ESC Rights Advocacy
Impact of the New Movement for ESC Rights

3. NGOs and the Development Industry: Toward a Rights-Based Approach?
Organizations, Politics, and the Meaning of Rights-Based Approaches
The Development Field and the Call for Rights-Based Approaches
Crisis of Development, Promise of Human Rights
Development Agencies and the Tentative Embrace of Rights-Based Development
Human Rights and the Millennium Development Goals
Durability and Limits, Constraints and Resistance

4. Alliances and Hybrids
Local and Global Cooperation Sets the Stage, 1980s-1990s
Converging Agendas, New Organizations, Shared Initiatives, Methods, and Identities
Creating Organizational Hybrids
Alliances, Hybrids, and NGO Politics

5. Human Rights and Development: What Is New? Will It Last?
What Is New?
Are the Sectors Converging
Impact on Outcomes



"An important contribution to an ongoing debate among adherents of human rights organizations."—Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights

"Paul Nelson and Ellen Dorsey tackle one of the central issues of the day for international human rights advocates. Poverty and social exclusion are not only the root causes of many civil and political human rights violations—they are human rights violations in and of themselves. Economic and social rights advocacy is accelerating by social movements in the global South and international NGOs confronting the consequences of economic globalization. New Rights Advocacy documents the current trends, models and initiatives among human rights and development agencies, while identifying their potential and limitations. It will be read widely by human rights and development scholars and activists alike and I welcome the contribution it will make. It could not be more timely."—Larry Cox, executive director, Amnesty International USA

"This is an important work about a new international approach to human rights and development. It fulfills an unmet need: I have never seen another volume that explains so carefully, with both theoretical rigor and concrete examples, the new intersection between human rights and development NGOs."—Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann, Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights, Wilfrid Laurier University


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Paul J. Nelson is associate professor and director of the division of international development in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

Ellen Dorsey is executive director of the Wallace Global Fund and has served as the chair of the Board of Amnesty International USA.

232 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

ISBN: 978-1-58901-205-9
Apr 2008

232 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

ISBN: 978-1-58901-204-2
Apr 2008

232 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-381-0
Apr 2008

Advancing Human Rights series
Sumner B. Twiss, John Kelsay, and Terry Coonan, Series Editors

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