Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights  
Human Rights in Development
Right to development
Rights-based approaches
human rights
Good governance
News room
Partners and links

Rights-based approaches

How do rights-based approaches differ and what is the value added?

In her opening statement to the General Assembly Special Session on Social Development held in Geneva in June 2000, the High Commissioner pointed out that rights-based approaches bring the promise of more effective, more sustainable, more rational and more genuine development processes.

In particular, and among others, they offer:

Enhanced accountability by identifying specific duties and duty-bearers in the development process. In this way, development moves from the realm of charity to that of obligation, making it easier to monitor progress.

Higher levels of empowerment, ownership, and free, meaningful and active participation, by putting beneficiaries in charge of development. It is now widely recognized in development circles that local ownership and participation are fundamental to sustainable improvements.

Greater normative clarity and detail, provided by the international instruments and the authoritative interpretations of treaty bodies and human rights mechanisms, which list and define the content of development, including the requirements of, for example, health, education, housing and governance. International standards in the form of treaties, declarations, guidelines and bodies of principles are public and readily accessible tools describing in remarkable detail the institutional and developmental requirements of the various guaranteed rights.

Easier consensus, increased transparency and less "political baggage" in national development processes, as development objectives, indicators and plans can be based on the agreed and universal standards of the international human rights instruments rather than on imported foreign models, prescriptive solutions, partisan approaches or arbitrary policies.

A more complete and rational development framework, with development sectors mirroring the enumerated rights of the human rights framework. While some sectoral development matrices have focused exclusively on selected economic sectors, the more comprehensive human rights framework provides guidance on all areas of human development, including health, education, housing, personal security, justice administration and political participation.

Integrated safeguards against unintentional harm by development projects. There is no shortage of examples of harm caused by development agreements, projects and activities that have taken inadequate account of human rights concerns. Rights-based approaches include measures of protection organically incorporated in development plans, policies and projects from the outset.

More effective and complete analysis: Traditional poverty analyses based their judgments on income and economic indicators alone. A human rights analysis reveals additional concerns of the poor themselves, including the phenomena of powerlessness and social exclusion. A more thorough analysis yields better responses and better results.

A more authoritative basis for advocacy and for claims on resources, with international legal obligations and national commitments empowering development advocates in their quest to have, for example, basic social services given priority over military expenditure, or sounding the alarm when "progressive realization" of economic and social rights stalls, is reversed, or is compromised by conflicting trade or adjustment agreements.

See also: