The human-rights-based approach is a conceptual framework for human development that, from a policy point of view, is based on human rights international rules, and from an operating point of view, focuses on the promotion and protection of human rights. (OHCHR, 2006).
Its main goal is to identify and analyze the inequalities that are part of development’s most significant problems, in order to address discriminatory practices and unfair power relationships hampering progress. This vision implies overcoming the concept of right, originally conceived as a legal item, so it also embraces the needs, possibilities and strategies that must be deployed as a way to ensure its accomplishment and development. The social plans, policies and programs must promote the fulfilment of rights and the improvement of the capacity by their holders to exercise them.
On May, 2003, as a part of an interinstitutional seminar organized by the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) in Stanford, California, the UN Statement of Common Understanding was adopted following the Program for Development based on Human Rights to provide a consistent and coherent definition on the human rights-based Approach and to offer guidance in applying it in the context of UN common planning processes.
Three key points of the Statement:
- All programs of development cooperation, policies and technical assistance should further the realization of human rights as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.
- Human rights standards contained in, and principles derived from, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments guide all development cooperation and programming in all sectors and in all phases of the programming process.
- Development cooperation contributes to the development of the capacities of duty-bearers to meet their obligations and/or of rights-holders to claim their rights.
Human rights are universal legal guarantees that protect both individuals and groups against actions and omissions that interfere with fundamental liberties, rights and human dignity.
All human rights are indivisible. That means that, whether of a civil, cultural, economic, political or social nature, they are all inherent to the dignity of every human person. Consequently, they all have equal status as rights, and cannot be ranked, in a hierarchical order.
They are also interdependent and interrelated, which means that the realization of one right depends upon the realization of others.
In that sense, the human rights-based approach explicitly focuses in disadvantage and marginality within the development process. It implies a high level of commitment with the situation, which forces to address the challenges in the most comprehensive manner. That means having to confront the persistent patterns of inequality and discrimination, and to formulate responses which take into account the structural causes that allow a political and social environment to favor both exclusion and marginality, and, ultimately, the denial of human rights.
To the degree that rights have a mandatory nature, institutions and states are answerable for the observance in order to guarantee the wellbeing of the people in an equality basis, regardless of economic variables as resource shortage.
Ever since the 1980s, UN agencies have established “good programming practices”. Instead of replacing these practices, a human rights-based approach adds value to good programming in the following way:
- Regulatory level: A human rights-based approach adds legitimacy to the development process because it’s based on universal values that are reflected in norms and rules legally binding for the states. All UN programs must contribute to human rights objectives.
- Instrumental Value: A human rights-based approach contributes to achieving the most sustainable development results, by facing the problems in the most comprehensive way; that represents identifying and trying to stop the persistent patterns of inequality, discrimination, exclusion and other structural causes that ultimately hamper the fulfilment of human rights. The application of human rights principles guarantees a quality process which is more engaging, responsible and integrative of the marginalized, disadvantaged, or excluded groups. The human rights rules also clarify the objective of the capacity strengthening by determining which specific capacities of right-holders and duty-bearers must be built in order to enhance the realization of human rights.
The human rights-based approach needs to pay attention to results because the expected outcome and the impact of any activity in the program are the two elements that contribute to promoting the realization of human rights. At the same time, attention must be paid to ensure that the development process does not increase inequality, discrimination, and, ultimately, the already existing conflicts. Human rights principles and standards establish objective criteria for acceptable development processes: it is necessary to promote participatory processes, both inclusive and accountable, that prioritize the most marginal and excluded groups.