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International Non-Governmental Organizations and Human Rights-Based Approaches to Dam Development and Dispossession in Asia, Africa and the Americas: A Critical Case Study of International Rivers Open Access


Other title
Human Rights, Human Rights-Based Approaches, Human Rights Education, International Rivers, Dams
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Fisher, Kyla L
Supervisor and department
Kapoor, Dip (Educational Policy Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Jordan, Steve (Integrated Studies in Education)
Carpenter, Sara (Educational Policy Studies)
Department of Educational Policy Studies
Theoretical, Cultural, and International Studies in Education
Date accepted
Graduation date
2017-11:Fall 2017
Master of Education
Degree level
International Rivers (IR), an International Non-Governmental Organization (INGO) based in Berkeley, California with six regional offices in Asia, Africa and the Americas has been at the forefront of the fight for rivers and dams for the past three decades. Conservative estimates place the number of people displaced by major dam projects at between 40 to 80 million people. Since the report of the World Commission on Dams in the early 2000s, International Rivers has promoted a human rights-based approach (HRBA) to development to address the impacts of dam projects for the people who call the rivers home; a politics with a questionable track record in preventing dispossession and market violence. Dam projects often proceed despite INGO initiated HRBA opposition in conjunction with the struggles or movements of affected people, or resume after what may have been an initially successful campaign to prevent their construction. Informed by a critical interpretive methodology, this instrumental case study is a critical exploration of how International Rivers utilizes HRBA to development including human rights education (HRE) in contexts of development dispossession by big dam projects in Asia, Africa and the Americas. Staff members of International Rivers based both in the United States and at one of their regional offices were interviewed, and secondary documentation and materials produced by IR were analyzed. Expert interviews were also conducted with individuals experienced with INGO politics pertaining to dam and other mega development project related dispossession in these regions to triangulate and generate critical data and analysis of HRBA and HRE in contexts of development dispossession. Relying primarily on select neo-Marxist concepts and analytical critiques of a human rights politics and the globalization of capitalism, the study demonstrates the contradictions and limits, if not the complicity, of HRBA to addressing dam related development dispossession in neocolonial regions by INGOs such as IR. The emergent critique has implications for how INGOs use these approaches, including HRE and praxis, in contexts of development dispossession in these regions, and contributes towards the growing body of empirical and critical analytical literature on human rights, human rights education, capital and development dispossession, especially by mega dam projects.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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