International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Governance and Protection of Rights

The IRC’s Tuungane program (“Let’s unite” in Swahili) has helped nearly 2 million people living in war-torn eastern Congo rebuild villages and construct new clinics, wells, schools, bridges and roads
Photo: Peter Biro/IRC 

Wars and civil conflict are often rooted in corrupt or unresponsive governments, denial of basic human rights, and a lack of participation by citizens. The International Rescue Committee works to foster good governance and a respect for human rights, believing that both are vital to ensuring peace and social and economic development. We empower people affected by conflict to participate in finding solutions to their own problems. We work to improve access to justice and respect for the rule of law. We encourage cooperation between local and national governments and the people they serve, leading to more accountable and productive leadership.

How we help

  • IRC community reconstruction programs have helped more than 2 million people in eastern Democratic Reublic of Congo rebuild their homes and elect local redevelopment communities.
  • Since 2003, the IRC has worked to alleviate poverty and improve local governance in 1,400 villages in rural Afghanistan.
  • In the Central African Republic, the IRC has trained former members of armed rebel groups in human rights and international humanitarian law.
  • In Burundi, the IRC is working to strengthen local community groups as a part of a national process to decentralize government.

Lessons learned

Organizational Development of Local Civil Society Partners 

This policy and practice discussion paper explores the IRC's support to its local civil society partners, with a special focus on advancing partners' organizational development. It is an effort to better understand the field of organizational development and how the IRC, as well as peer organizations, are approaching this area of partnership. This paper is the product of a 6-month research initiative that was supported with funding from the Otto Family Foundation. The initiative will help the IRC develop an organization-wide approach for its engagement with local partners, with a focus on how the IRC can be more responsive to local partners' organizational needs.

Read the discussion paper:

Organizational development (January 2016)

Community Scorecards

Community scorecards are often conceived as a tool to exact greater accountability and responsiveness from services providers, as well as being a strong instrument for community empowerment. However, little is known about the impact of this type of social accountability tool, and even less so in conflict-affected and fragile contexts like that of eastern Congo. 

This brief authored by Guillaume Labrecque (Governance Technical Advisor, IRC) and Isatou Batonon (Governance Technical Advisor, IRC) attempts to capture one such effort to better understand the community scorecard by describing its methodology and sharing learning emerging from the Most Significant Change (MSC) technique and monitoring data, thereby contributing to IRC’s commitment to pilot, test and modify its social accountability interventions to find the best and most cost-effective ways of improving service delivery and development outcomes through governance-related interventions.

Read the briefing paper (updated May 2015):

Local Accountability in Service Delivery: The Tuungane Community Scorecard Approach 

Redevabilité dans la prestation locale de services: approche du bulletin communautaire de performance du programme Tuungane


Social Accountability

Services are failing poor people! This is the damning declaration contained in the World Development Report (WDR) 2004 that first alerted the world to the state of service delivery and the urgent need to improve basic services, particularly for the poor. Ten years on, and despite advances in expanding service delivery, this assessment continues to hold true: the poorest and most marginalized are paying for sub-standard services or are deprived of basic services altogether. This paper authored by Isatou Batonon (Governance Technical Advisor, IRC) looks at strategies aimed at improving responsiveness and accountability in service delivery by supporting service users to act collectively to influence key decisions, monitor service quality and demand better services.

Read the IRC social accountability discussion paper (Mar. 2015) 


This position paper authored by Sheree Bennett (Research and Evaluation Advisor, IRC) and Alyoscia D’Onofrio (Senior Director, Governance and Rights, IRC) is proposing a revised approach to Community Driven Development (CDD). They argue that donors, policymakers and practitioners should only invest in narrowly defined CDD interventions that have a single objective with prioritized outcomes and clear, plausible and testable theories of change. Theories of change should be based on the interaction between social theory, the core processes defined below and in-depth knowledge of context. Using a simple definition of ‘community-driven’, they propose seven core processes on which every CDD intervention must be based.

Read "Concepts, clarity and choices for community-driven development in conflict-affected countries (Feb. 2015) 


Read more about the IRC’s work in governance and rights

The Governance and Rights Unit provides support to the IRC's programs in Protection, Rule of Law, Civil Society Development and Community Driven Reconstruction. 

Governance and Rights programs are implemented in emergencies, protracted relief settings and situations of return and reconstruction.

The Governance and Rights Unit is focused on addressing the less tangible aspects of conflict; the loss of trust and dignity, the restriction on freedom of choice and action, the reduced sense of belonging to one’s own community, the devastating impact of discrimination and a prevailing sense of insecurity.  The programs we support focus on:

The people who are affected by conflict:  by empowering people to solve their own problems.

The process of how things are done in a given context: by ensuring that the needs of all groups, regardless of gender, age or ethnicity, are taken into account within local decision making processes and that people understand and trust the processes by which decisions are made.

Understanding the dynamics of power:  by working to ensure that processes of power at community and government levels recognize that all members of society have equal rights, that must be respected and realized. 


The IRC’s protection work seeks to safeguard the human rights and well-being of people affected by conflict—whether they are refugees fleeing across international borders, internally displaced within their own country, or returning home after conflict.  Activities are designed to look at whether people’s rights are being met, and if not, taking action to ensure they are.  Protection programs typically focus on safeguarding the legal and physical security of refugees and includes activities such as ensuring access to registration, clarification of legal status, improving security in camp settings, raising awareness of the rights and responsibilities of refugees and IDPs, building the capacity of authorities to fulfil their obligations and ensuring that returns are voluntary and conducted under safe conditions and with dignity.

Easing the transition home

Now that the peace process between the LRA and the government of Uganda is underway, displaced communities in northern Uganda are beginning to think about returning home to areas that were once rife with violence.  The IRC is working to smooth this transition by providing affected-communities with the information they need to make an informed decision on relocating.    This includes information on the security situation and the living conditions they can expect to find, as well as on the assistance and services such as schools and hospitals that will be available when they finally get back home. 

Rule of Law

The Governance and Rights Unit also works to improve access to justice and rule of law in communities where the IRC works.  The main emphasis of this work is on supporting national institutions and laws that are consistent with international standards.  We are also working to improve complementary indigenous processes.  These contribute to improved safety, security and access to justice for individuals in conflict-affected communities.

Civil Society Development

A functioning civil society is vital for a healthy society, where rights are not abused, the State is accountable to its citizens for its actions, basic services are provided and the private sector is regulated.  Through Civil Society Development (CSD) programs, the IRC seeks to strengthen the capacities and contributions of non-state and not-for-profit institutions responding to communities’ needs and to reinforce the role of the civil society sector in rebuilding a functioning society.  Often in environments where the IRC works, civil society organizations (CSOs) serve their constituencies through provision of basic services and access to information and services.  IRC programs work to ensure that the actions of these CSOs and the impact of their initiatives on conflict-affected communities are maximized through organizational and technical capacity-building.

Supporting local organizations

Supporting the growth and capacity of local organizations is key to the long term development of a region.  In Chechnya and North Ossetia, for example, we provide support and training to 12 local organizations which are responsible for a range of activities in areas such as health, water and youth development. In order to help these organizations better serve their constituencies, individual strengthening plans are created for each organisation, addressing topics such as financial management, programme design, public relations and sound organisational management. 

Community Driven Reconstruction

Community Driven Reconstruction (CDR) is rooted in the notion that people affected by conflict should be actors in the development process rather than passive receivers of aid.  It is a methodology that allows communities to be drivers and owners of their reconstruction and recovery.  IRC works with a community to establish and build the capacity of a representative community development committee (CDC).  This CDC works with the local community to identify and prioritize their needs for reconstruction and recovery.  If possible the CDC is provided with block grants and are responsible for overseeing the implementation of the prioritized projects.  This process ensures that the priority needs of the community are met; communities are provided with the skills to affect change and address local issues; and the interaction that takes place within the community on decision making and project execution helps rebuild social relationships damaged by war.

Building relationships in Afghanistan

The IRC has worked with 950 villages across the fiercely conservative tribal belt stretching south-east from Kabul.  These efforts, as well as focusing on the reconstruction of physical infrastructure, aim to rebuild political legitimacy and relationships between ethnic groups. Bitter rivals have, for the first time, learned to work together for their communities.  A wartime commander commented, “Where commanders used to fight and command people, now they advise and help people…instead of causing problems, now they communicate, consult, and solve problems”.