The human rights-based approach to development: a U.N. system perspective
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The human rights-based approach to development: a U.N. system perspective. BRC/HURIST workshop, Bratislava, 1 October 2004. Questions about a HRBA. What? Why? Who? How?. ‘ What ’ are human rights?. People as. People as. object. s. with. subject. s. with. needs. claims.

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The human rights-based approach to development: a U.N. system perspective

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The human rights-based approach to development: a U.N. system perspective

BRC/HURIST workshop,

Bratislava, 1 October 2004

Questions about a HRBA ..

  • What?

  • Why?

  • Who?

  • How?

‘What’ are human rights?

People as

People as









Needs only

Rights always







What rights?


Fair trial

Freedom of association


Freedom of thought

Freedom from discrimination

Freedom of conscience


Freedom of religion


Favourable and just work conditions






What obligations?

  • Respect – ‘don’t violate’

  • Protect – make sure others don’t violate

  • Fulfill – facilitate, or if necessary, provide directly

  • Source: human rights treaties, national law

What obligations?.. right to health

  • Availability, accessibility, acceptability

  • Respect: cost exemptions for poorest; don’t withhold HIV anti-retroviral

  • Protect: regulating service providers

  • Fulfill: progressively realise the right

  • Non-discrimination

  • Process: participation, transparency, monitoring progressive realisation, and mechanisms for redress

Rights-holders & duty bearers





Highest attainable standard of health



Non-discriminatory and enabling laws, policies

Resource allocation

Special measures for the


Information, transparency, redress

Ministries re health, housing, education, finance


Local authorities/health

services; judiciary

International actors

What is a HRBA?

  • Development furthers human rights as defined in international standards

  • Human rights standards, principles, guide development cooperation and UNCT programming in all sectors and phases

  • UNCT programming contributes to the development of capacities of:

    • ‘duty bearers’ to meet their obligations

    • ‘rights-holders’ to claim their rights

What ‘capacities’?

  • Authority: the ‘may’; human rights obligations defined in laws, policies (int’l standards); no overlap in duties, duplication, ambiguity

  • Responsibility: the ‘should’; acceptance of duty, motivation, commitment (moral, legal basis); incentives and sanctions, checks and balances

  • Resources: the ‘can’; human (knowledge, qualification and competencies),financial resources, institutions; organisational

  • Also: communications capacities

What ‘capacities’, contd..

  • information, education

  • participation

  • organisation

  • monitoring

  • access to remedies

  • (administrative, judicial)

  • laws

  • policies

  • services

  • data, monitoring

  • remedies

fulfill duties


claim rights

Capacity building

duty bearers

rights holders

Information, participation, organisation, monitoring


technical assistance

laws and policies,

service delivery

UN-CT support

HRBA reinforces, not replaces, ‘good programming’

  • Participation

  • Empowering strategies

  • Outcomes are as important as processes

  • Locally owned development

  • Reduce disparity and avoid retrogression

  • Analysis of root causes

  • Accountability and monitoring

Why a HRBA?

  • Legal and policy reasons: ‘must’

  • Instrumental reasons: ‘should’

The ‘must’: law and policy

  • UN Charter (Article 1), Staff Rules

  • International law: obligation to ‘respect’ (e.g. IBRD Operational Policies; IFC)

  • S-G’s reform 1997: ‘mainstreaming’

  • S-G’s reform 2002: ‘Action 2’

  • UNDG guidelines: CCA/UNDAF, PRSPs

  • Agencies’ policies and guidelines

‘Action 2’ of S-G’s 2002 reforms

  • In order to support Member States in achieving their Millennium Declaration goals:

  • Action 2: ‘The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will develop and implement a plan, in cooperation with UNDG and ECHA, to strengthen human rights-related UN actions at country level.’

‘Action 2’ of S-G’s 2002 reforms

  • Human rights ‘bedrock requirement’ and collective responsibility of UN system

  • UNDG Action Plan: strengthen ‘national human rights promotion and protection systems:’ laws, institutions, policies, info/education, redress

  • 3-year implementation strategy for more cooperative and effective UN support: UNCTs

  • CCAs, UNDAFs ‘systematically integrate’ human rights (PRSPs, MDGR: promotion of hrs)

The ‘should’: better programming

  • Enhanced accountability and empowerment

  • Non-discrimination and equality: reaching the excluded

  • Analysing root causes of problems

  • Minimising ‘elite capture’

  • Minimising risk of violent conflict

  • Greater sustainability

  • Equal relevance of all human rights: CPR, ESCR: integrated approaches to root causes of problems

  • Empirical and policy research: ERR, aid, governance

Who is doing it?

  • UN system

  • Bilaterals

  • NGOs: Care, Save the Children, ActionAid, WaterAid

  • Multilateral Development Banks? IDB, IDA/IBRD, IFC

Examples in CCAs

  • Serbia and Montenegro CCA: duty-bearer, root cause ID’n; claim-holders: data disaggregation, information, organisation, advocacy, redress; clear linkages to human rights and MDG standards

  • Zambia CCA: rights-based analysis including traditional customs v. women’s rights to land; ESCR; UNCT role in monitoring ‘progressive realisation’ of the right to education (budget % GDP)

  • Angola CCA identified where government fell short of its obligations under human rights law

Risks and challenges

  • Entrenched power structures

  • Good-looking documents v. static reality

  • Rhetorical, cosmetic change: ‘rights lite’

  • How to assess impacts and results, including qualitative, long-term changes? E.g. girls’ education

  • Relevance of empirical evidence

  • Incentives and disincentives in UN

How? A short checklist(see p.12 HURIST Guidelines; p.42 CCA/UNDAF Guidelines)

  • What human rights issues are involved? (treaties, laws, expert recommendations)

  • What groups are particularly vulnerable or disadvantaged? (right-holders; disaggregate data)

  • Who must respond? (duty-bearers)

  • What ‘capacities’ are necessary to help right-holders claim their rights, and duty-bearers fulfill their duties?

How, specifically?

  • Entry points and strategies depend upon agency mandate and national context (e.g. UNICEF in different regions)


HURIST Programme reviews;

FAQ, p.18: Urban Governance Initiative, Citizen Report Card

RMAP (Bosnia);

Asia Pacific ‘Rights and Justice’ sub-practice

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