UNCT Ecuador: Applying a HRBA to the UNDAF

This country example is based on interviews with Guillermo Fernandez, Human Rights Advisor, UNCT and Esther Almeida, National Human Rights Officer, OHCHR and taken from the Source Document:  Experiences in applying Human Rights-Based Approaches, UN Staff Service College, May 2010.


In 2008 Ecuador began the process of developing its UNDAF for 2010-14. With leadership from the Resident Coordinator, the Ecuador UNCT was strongly committed to applying a HRBA to the UNDAF process. Not only to fulfill official UNDG requirements, but to achieve better results.

The previous UNDAF had been criticised for its weakness as a programming tool. This time around, the UNDAF had to become the basis for the UN‟s work in Ecuador.

UN staff capacity on HRBA varied. Generally it was weak. Developing these capacities and providing mechanisms to support the UNCT in applying a HRBA to the UNDAF, was crucial.


1. Providing Training and Support Mechanisms


A series of HRBA training workshops were given to UN Staff, beginning in 2007. The first few were provided by colleagues from other UNCTs with expertise in HRBA. Once the Human Rights Advisor and the Coordination Specialist had attended the UNSSC HRBA/RBM course in Turin, they took responsibility for the workshops. Prior to the training workshops, most UN staff had little knowledge of human rights. They perceived a HRBA as being a legal and complex concept. The added value of which was unclear. They thought that applying a HRBA would involve reading a mass of human rights treaties, resolutions and reports.

To overcome these obstacles, an effort was made to ensure that the HRBA workshops and tools were “user friendly”. Human rights concepts and norms were broken down into accessible themes and language. A series of “summaries”, in a matrix format, were developed. These covered the human rights standards that were the most related to the UNDAF, such as the right to health, livelihoods, food, education, access to justice, social security, integrity, freedom to expression and migrant workers. The “summaries” of 15 rights or themes provided an overview of how human rights standards linked to the national context and the international human rights framework. In a few pages, UN staff had all the information they needed.

Support Mechanisms:

Accompanying the staff behind the training workshops was:

  • An UNDAF technical reference group, responsible for checking whether HRBA, gender and inter-cultural issues were applied;
  • The Human Rights Advisor to the UNCT. The Human Rights Advisor was part of the technical reference group. A key part of his mandate is to provide HRBA technical advice and support throughout the UNDAF process.

2. Aligning the UNDAF with the National Development Plan:

The UNCT ensured that the National Development Plan (NDP) was taken into account when developing the UNDAF. The NDP was elaborated through a national participatory process. It took careful consideration of the human rights situation. And it received technical assistance from a number of UN agencies. The UNCT decided to take the strategies and objectives of the NDP as the framework for the UNDAF. This generated greater interest from the Government in the UNDAF.


1. A Rights Based UNDAF

The Ecuador UNCT made a tremendous effort to successfully apply a HRBA to the UNDAF. While it did not lead to radical changes in the UNDAF, it did lead to thinking and approaching the issues from a human rights perspective. For the first time, furthering human rights is an explicit objective. Given the complexity of a HRBA, it is normal that more experience is needed to develop a truly rights based UNDAF.

2. UNDAF: a Relevant Tool for the UNCTs work

While it is too early to talk about the impact of the UNDAF, preliminary results can be seen. Namely, national counterparts are fully engaged. Previously the government had provided little input to the UNDAF process. Nor had it shown any interest in it. This time round, by aligning the UNDAF with the National Development Plan, strong Government commitment has been achieved. Their priorities are reflected in it. This should ensure that the UNDAF is the guiding tool for the UNCTs work over the next 5 years. The Government is also better placed to demand accountability from the UN for achieving the goals set out in the UNDAF. In doing so, a HRBA, “has changed the rules of the game”.


1. Absence of the CCA

The main challenge in applying a HRBA to the UNDAF was the absence of a CCA. Even though the national analysis that was used was useful, the opportunity for doing a “joint” analysis using HRBA tools was lost. This made it hard to apply a HRBA from the beginning; in analysing the problems. Many of the elements that went into the UNDAF were not well understood by the UN staff. Without having a clear understanding of where the problems emerged from, developing UNDAF priorities, results and indicators was difficult.

2. Indicators

The most challenging stage of applying a HRBA to the UNDAF came at the Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) stage. It was hard to abide by the UNDAF guidelines on indicators, in particular abiding to only a few indicators for each result. The process was exacerbated by the absence of a CCA and the lack of a baseline. Without clarity on what the problem was, it was hard to identify what the indicators should be. Nor were the staff used to measuring quantitative and qualitative aspects of rights.

Lessons Learned

  1. The UNDAF process should be “complete”. While it is possible to use national analyses instead of the CCA, the process may be weakened without it. The CCA can help you assess the situation from a human rights lens.
  2. To apply a HRBA to the UNDAF, UNCT and partners need their capacities developed. Ideally this support should be provided by someone within the country. Having an expert at the disposition of the UNCT who can provide technical advice throughout, is extremely helpful.
  3. There is a need to find a simple way of applying a HRBA to the UNDAF. Not all of the UNCT can be made into experts. Ideally each UN agency in the UNCT should have a HRBA focal point with good expertise and training. All staff should have basic HRBA awareness and easy access to the human rights standards relevant to their work.
  4. Having examples from other countries that have gone through similar processes is useful. The UNCT in Ecuador was fortunate to have strong support from experts working in the OHCHR Regional Office, who provided them with such examples.
  5. Leadership of the Resident Coordinator (RC) is crucial. Specifically to confirm at the highest level, that human rights are at the core of the UN and the UNCT‟s mandate. The RC should lead the CCA-UNDAF process at the political level. While a technical reference group should take the lead at the technical level.


For additional information see source document