1 - How do human rights guide programme formulation?
A human rights-based approach has significant implications for the manner in which development priorities and objectives are identified and country programme outcomes formulated.
To help the United Nations determine its priorities, the CCA/UNDAF guidelines call attention to the Millennium Development Goals, the Millennium Declaration, national priorities reflected in the human rights treaties ratified by the country, as well as recommendations of the treaty bodies. Human rights help by establishing boundaries, for example by requiring a core minimum threshold of entitlements for all, and by highlighting key issues that must be addressed through programming, for example that priority attention should be given to the poorest of the poor and groups suffering discrimination. Even if not all can be reached at once, efforts should be made to identify these groups at the outset and include them immediately in planning. Human development analysis and tools, in turn, help in prioritizing efforts to realize rights for poor groups, suggesting which kinds of rights are the most important for a particular group at a particular time or the sequence in which rights should be approached for a given group.
Under a human rights-based approach, development efforts should contribute to realizing human rights. Accordingly, national goals and the overarching objectives of development should be geared towards, and articulated as, the positive and sustained changes in the lives of people necessary for the full enjoyment of a human right or rights. The basis for this definition lies in the international commitments undertaken by the Government concerned, including the Millennium Development Goals and obligations under human rights treaties. Such goals imply a long time horizon.
Specific objectives (such as those defined in UNDAF outcomes) can be thought of as the behaviour change in the duty-bearer to respect, protect and fulfil a right or rights, and in the rights-holder to exercise and demand a right or rights. The CCA role/pattern analysis (defining who should do what) should inform the kind of behaviour change needed, aided by national legislation, plans and policies, and relevant recommendations of the treaty bodies. Specific objectives (or UNDAF outcomes) imply a medium time horizon
Finally, country programme outcomes should be geared towards the institutional, legal or policy changes necessary for desired behaviour change. The CCA capacity gap analysis—informed by relevant recommendations of the treaty bodies—should indicate the capacities necessary for duty-bearers to respond to claims, and for rights-holders (especially the most disadvantaged) to demand and advocate the exercise of their rights. Country programme outcomes are defined for a short time horizon.
Example: Human rights-based situation analysis in CCA: Serbia and Montenegro
The conceptual framework for this CCA provides for a human rights-based definition of vulnerability and poverty, particularly the way gender inequality contributes to women’s poverty.
Role/obligation analysis: Rights-holders, particularly vulnerable groups (e.g., elderly, one- or two-member households in rural areas, Roma children, refugees and others), were identified along with duty-bearers (not only State authorities at different levels, but also private companies and aid donors) with roles to play in addressing identified root causes of development problems.
Efforts were made to disaggregate data as far as possible, by sex, age, ethnic group, region and other status (such as internally displaced people and refugees) so as not to treat the poor, vulnerable or marginalized as if they were one homogeneous group. For instance, the differentiated impact of problems on Roma children is highlighted in relation to education (pp. 38-39).International, regional and national human rights standards were relied on to some extent in defining the scope of these claims and obligations, for example in the subsections dealing with issues affecting children and women.
“Capacity gap” analysis: Serious attention was given to the capacities of rights-holders to access information, organize, advocate policy change and obtain redress. In this connection the assessment rightly recognized the role of civil society organizations (e.g., p. 51) and reviewed their capacities (p. 73). The assessment suggests solutions to the problems of data gaps and weaknesses of statistical methods, recognizing statistical capacity as an indispensable tool to monitor the progressive realization of economic and social rights, as well as being necessary for deeper gender analysis. The assessment appropriately recommends that the Government should use the reporting process to treaty bodies as an important opportunity to review its legislation, institutions and practice. Its chapter on governance and the rule of law is also firmly based on human rights principles and obligations, analysing not only the crucial role of the judiciary, but also that of other independent institutions such as the ombudsman.
2 - How do human rights help with situation analysis?
Human rights analysis gives an insight into the distribution of power. By identifying groups lacking effective rights—and groups who may be denying rights to others—it can highlight the root causes of poverty and vulnerability. As such, a rights approach provides a way of examining the operation of institutions and political and social processes that influence the livelihoods of the poor and the most vulnerable.
Consistent with the United Nations Development Group’s guidelines for CCA and UNDAF, human rights standards reinforce situation analysis at three levels:
- Causality analysis: drawing attention to root causes of development problems and systemic patterns of discrimination;
- Role/obligation analysis: helping to define who owes what obligations to whom, especially with regard to the root causes identified; and
- Identifying the interventions needed to build rights-holders’ capacities and improve duty-bearers’ performance.
Critically, a human rights-based approach seeks to deepen understanding of the relationships between rights-holders and duty-bearers in order to help bridge the gaps between them.
A human rights-based analysis may reveal capacity gaps in legislation, institutions, policies and voice. Legislative capacities may need to be strengthened to bring national laws into compliance with treaty obligations. Institutional reforms may be needed to improve governance, strengthen capacities for budget analysis and provide people with effective remedies when human rights are violated. Policy reforms may be needed to combat discrimination, and ensure consistency between macroeconomic and social policies, scaling up public expenditure towards the Millennium Development Goals. Recommendations of the human rights treaty bodies can provide relevant and authoritative guidance on the nature and extent of many of these obligations.
Development agencies may need to move beyond their traditional sectors or “silos” in the quest for strategies to reach the most disadvantaged groups and in order to work more deeply and collaboratively on the root causes of problems affecting all sectors.
3 - What does the principle of participation mean for programming?
Participation means ensuring that national stakeholders have genuine ownership and control over development processes in all phases of the programming cycle: assessment, analysis, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation
Human rights standards influence the conditions as well as reasonable limitations of participation. For processes to be truly participatory, they should reflect the requirement for “active, free and meaningful” participation under the United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development. Women in rural areas have the right to participate in development planning at all levels (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, art. 14) and children’s views must likewise be taken into account (Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 12). However, the right to participate in public affairs (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 25) does not necessarily give particular groups of people an unconditional right to choose any mode of participation.
Participation is an objective, as well as a means, of development. From a human rights perspective, participation goes well beyond mere consultation or a technical add-on to project design. Rather, participation should be viewed as fostering critical consciousness and decision-making as the basis for active citizenship. Development strategies should empower citizens, especially the most marginalized, to articulate their expectations towards the State and other duty-bearers, and take charge of their own development. This may require:
- Budgeting and building capacities for civil society organization and effective participation, within the framework of development programmes.
- Increasing transparency, making policies and project information available in accessible formats and minority languages as needed.
- Creating specific channels for participation by the poorest and most marginalized groups, with sensitivity to social and cultural context. These mechanisms must be integrated throughout the programming process (rather than just at the formulation stage, where participation often stops).
- Civic education and human rights awareness-raising as cross-cutting components of development programmes, rather than optional add-ons.
- Supporting media and communications campaigns.
- Advocacy for and capacity-building of networks of local social communicators.
- Broadening alliances with civil society organizations and groups with shared interests, and strengthening networks to articulate their expectations of the State and other duty-bearers.
Albania United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) (2006-2010): Example of a participatory approach
The United Nations Country Team in Albania used a novel approach called appreciative inquiry (AI) to draw out ideas on the way forward for Albania’s development. AI is an organizational change management philosophy and human development approach, built upon a collective visioning of a desired future (“where do we want to be in five years?”). In contrast to more retrospective or static “problem analysis” approaches, AI is a relatively dynamic, inclusive and proactive process through which a shared vision is translated into a forward-looking agenda for change.
The Country Team set up a special task force to flesh out the objectives of the UNDAF prioritization workshop. Interviews were carried out in different parts of the country, including in disadvantaged regions and communities. Representatives of Government, civil society, donors and the United Nations served as interviewers and were also among the interviewees. An unprecedented arrangement was made to involve young men and women in the UNDAF prioritization workshop. They included members of disadvantaged groups (e.g., persons with disabilities, the Roma community and very poor households).
Contributions from networks of key stakeholders that had been created for the CCA exercise and the Millennium Development Goals consensus-building process fed into the UNDAF exercise. CCA and UNDAF theme groups were expanded to include other interested parties. The implementation of UNDAF, starting in 2006, will be firmly based on established networks and partnerships, and the AI approach will continue to be applied through joint programming processes.
4 - What does the principle of accountability mean for programming?
Good development programming requires stakeholders (including donors and development agencies) to be accountable for specific results. A human rights-based approach goes further by grounding those accountabilities within a framework of specific human rights entitlements and corresponding obligations established under international law.
To ensure accountability, a human rights-based approach to programming starts by identifying specific obstacles that dutybearers face in exercising their obligations. This analysis sets a baseline for formulating development strategies to remove them. But for accountability to be effective, it needs to be demanded. Therefore a human rights-based approach also requires an analysis of the capacities needed for rights-holders, especially the poorest and most disadvantaged, to claim their rights effectively. Accessible, transparent and effective mechanisms of accountability are called for at central and local levels.
Ensuring accountability can be difficult in practice, particularly where national capacities are weak or duty-bearers are unwilling to act. There are no ready answers for all situations. Strategies can be supportive or confrontational and could include:
- Raise awareness of rights and responsibilities, and develop the capacities of duty-bearers at central and local levels to fulfil their obligations. Understanding and ownership by duty-bearers can be built by involving stakeholders in analysis, programme planning, implementation and reviews.#
- Build relationships between rights-holders and dutybearers by working together.
- Increase the incentives for better performance by duty-bearers, through educating people about their rights, creating broader alliances for social change in society, promoting transparent budgeting and building capacities for budget analysis, supporting advocacy for information and statistics necessary to monitor the realization of human rights, building capacities for policy analysis and social impact assessment, encouraging media freedom, and building the capacities of claim-holders to demand their rights.
- Strengthen central and local accountability mechanisms— judicial, quasi-judicial and administrative. Informal justice mechanisms, including traditional and indigenous justice systems, should be factored in together with the formal justice system, seeking alignment with international standards regarding the administration of justice.
- Strengthen the capacities of national human rights institutions, including their capacities to monitor the realization of economic and social rights.
- Ensure that national laws are harmonized with international human rights treaty standards, with duties spelled out as clearly as possible at national, provincial, district and local levels.
- When duty-bearers are private corporations or non- Government actors (for example, when governance functions are privatized), advocate adherence to international human rights norms and voluntary codes of conduct, monitor performance and publicize the results. Ensure that duties are made clear in national laws and policies, and that the regulatory framework includes provision for redress in the event of violations.
- Where weak institutions are being re-established, such as in post-conflict States, development actors should strengthen not only State institutions but also those institutions that fulfil a servicing and monitoring role.#
- Foster greater knowledge of and buy-in into the national reporting processes under the international human rights treaties in force in the country concerned, widely publicizing the treaty bodies’ recommendations.
- Encourage greater recourse to human rights “special procedures” and international petition procedures available under the international human rights treaties.
The principle of accountability also has a number of implications for the process of programming:
- Use qualitative data (such as opinion surveys or findings of expert bodies) as a supplement to quantitative data (such as the global Millennium Development Goal indicators) to reveal whether particular policies are helping to achieve the desired behaviour change.
- Ensure that monitoring takes place on an ongoing basis throughout development programmes. Monitoring should be participatory, involving all stakeholders as far as feasible, allowing them to assess both progress and any revisions required. This should be tied in to agencies’ reporting processes and staff performance systems.
- Establish monitoring systems at United Nations country team and agency level. United Nations country team theme groups should ensure that human rights are cross-cutting in their activities. A stand-alone human rights theme group could help to monitor this. Other monitoring systems may also be needed, such as civil society organizations’ oversight bodies, advisory boards and regular stakeholder meetings (Government, civil society organizations, donors and the most disadvantaged groups) to assess progress and impact.
Ensure that programming processes are coordinated with those of other agencies and donors, priorities are aligned with national priorities and delivery is through national systems rather than project implementation units.
- Undertake social impact analysis, including gender analysis, throughout the course of the programme.
- Make information available on stakeholders’ entitlements under the project or programme, including any grievance address mechanisms.
Using treaty body recommendations to strengthen human rights accountability – Philippines Common Country Assessment (CCA)
The Philippines CCA (2003) highlighted a key comment made by the Committee on the Rights of the Child on the country’s report on the Government’s failure to comply with international standards concerning juvenile justice, especially the use of incarceration to punish rather than rehabilitate.
The Philippines CCA also identified certain traditional beliefs and practices that tolerate the abuse and exploitation of children, and cites the ILO Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour (No. 182) as an important tool for Government and private sector actors to end this scourge. The use of ILO conventions in the analysis led to the identification of a variety of duty-bearers.
5 - What does the principle of equality and non-discrimination mean for programming?
All individuals are equal as human beings and by virtue of their inherent dignity. All human beings are entitled to their human rights without discrimination of any kind on the grounds of race, colour, sex, ethnicity, age, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, disability, property, birth or other status. While development programmes cannot reach everybody at once, priority must be given to the most marginalized.
The processes and benefits of development all too often go to national and local elites. Programming cannot be directed solely at those that are currently easy to reach, such as urban populations rather than rural or boys’ education rather than girls’, otherwise existing power imbalances will simply be exacerbated. Unintentional—or indirect—discrimination must also be avoided. This could occur, for example, when the public at large is invited to participate in programme design, but certain groups are precluded because they live in remote areas. Programming must help to address underlying and systemic causes of discrimination in order to further genuine and substantive equality. Specifically, programming may need to:
- Direct priority attention towards those suffering discrimination and disadvantage in any given context, especially the poorest of the poor and those suffering multiple discrimination,such as rural women of an ethnic minority.
- Strengthen capacities for data collection and analysis to ensure that data are disaggregated, as far as possible, on the grounds of race, colour, sex, geographic location and so forth.
- Advocate temporary special measures to level the playing field and rectify structural discrimination, including affirmative action for women and special forums for participation.
- Make project information available in accessible formats and minority languages.
- Support civic education, communication campaigns, law reform and institutional strengthening (including national human rights institutions) to foster nondiscriminatory attitudes and a change in behaviour.
6 - How do human rights standards relate to the development programming process?
Human rights standards as reflected in the international treaties, as well as principles such as participation, nondiscrimination and accountability, should guide all stages of programming.
Human rights treaty standards are binding upon countries that have ratified them and help to define the objectives of development programmes. For example, the objectives of a food security programme can be reformulated explicitly to realize the right to adequate food under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Guided by human rights standards, governance programmes can more explicitly help to realize rights to liberty and security of person, and human rights concerned with political participation and the administration of justice under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The right to birth registration (Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 7) is an important focus of UNICEF programming in certain regions, given the importance of that right for the enjoyment of all others. The right to privacy (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 17) can be instrumental in fighting the discrimination and stigmatization at the heart of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Human rights standards strengthen and deepen situation analysis. They also set certain conditions for implementing and monitoring the progress of development programmes. The general comments of the human rights treaty bodies, as well as their country-specific recommendations, can provide more detailed guidance on what the international human rights standards mean in all phases of programming.
Human rights standards as a guide to justice sector programmes of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)
Recognizing that democracy and human rights help create appropriate conditions for development, IDB justice sector work has begun to take international human rights standards explicitly into account. Human rights standards are brought into the picture most specifically in the following areas:
(1) providing an entry point into controversial issues such as judicial independence;
(2) providing a justification as well as a normative framework for civil justice projects dealing with indigenous peoples’ rights;
(3) defining project content in criminal justice reform, including guidelines for fair trials, juvenile justice work and so forth;
(4) defining indicators for monitoring project performance; and
(5) helping IDB to identify conditions in which it should withhold support for programmes in sensitive areas, for example in police and prison reform. Human rights institutions such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights play an increasingly important role as implementing partners. Human rights organizations and NGOs also play an important watchdog function to minimize the occurrence of human rights violations in IDB-supported projects.
7 - Is a human rights-based approach consistent with the requirement for national ownership?
Yes. A human rights-based approach draws from international human rights standards voluntarily subscribed to by the country in question. United Nations development agencies and other “subjects of international law” are legally bound to respect, and operate within the confines established by, the international legal obligations voluntarily entered into by States, including those relating to human rights.
States parties to the international human rights treaties are required to harmonize their national legislation with the international standards. Accordingly, national constitutions across different legal systems increasingly reflect not just civil and political rights but also economic, social and cultural rights. To this extent, the fundamental human rights objectives expressed in the Charter of the United Nations—the foundation for all United Nations-supported development activities—are consistent with and grounded within the principle of national ownership.
Nevertheless, a human rights-based approach is sometimes viewed with suspicion as an external conditionality or the latest development fad or donor import. These concerns are often voiced in good faith, although sometimes they may mask a desire to avoid human rights obligations.
Clear communication is needed on the distinctive meaning and requirements of a human rights-based approach in all situations, within the framework of a genuine development partnership. The United Nations and all those involved in implementing a human rights-based approach must themselves walk the talk in order to have credibility in policy dialogues on these issues.
8 - What is the relationship between a human rights-based approach and gender mainstreaming?
A human rights-based approach to development and gender mainstreaming are complementary and mutually reinforcing, and can be undertaken without conflict or duplication.
Gender mainstreaming calls for the integration of a gender perspective in development activities, with the ultimate goal of achieving gender equality. A human rights-based approach integrates international human rights standards and principles in development activities, including women’s human rights and the prohibition of sex discrimination. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has analysed comprehensively and in depth how inequality affects women’s lives; this is a valuable input for development policymaking and programming. When backed by national accountability systems, a human rights-based approach can greatly reinforce progress towards gender equality.
Gender mainstreaming and a human rights-based approach to development have much in common. Both rely on an analytical framework that can be applied to all development activities (for the former, the different situation experienced and roles played by men and women in a given society; and for the latter, a normative framework based on entitlements and obligations). Both call attention to the impact of activities on the welfare of specific groups, as well as to the importance of empowerment and participation in decision-making. Both apply to all stages of activity (design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation) and to all types of action (legislation, policies and programmes). Finally, both require the systematic adoption of new and different approaches to existing activities, as distinct from developing new and additional activities.
In most organizations, gender mainstreaming is a more familiar concept than human rights mainstreaming. Structures and processes set up to ensure gender mainstreaming can be emulated or adapted to facilitate the introduction of a human rights-based approach to programming more generally. But, equally, there is a need to learn from situations where gender mainstreaming has failed. If staff perceive mainstreaming gender (or human rights) as a bureaucratic or technical requirement without real implications for their own work, and if internal incentive structures are weak and lines of accountability unclear, the approach may have no impact.
9 - What value does a human rights-based approach add to development?
There are two main rationales for a human rights-based approach:
(a) the intrinsic rationale, acknowledging that a human rights-based approach is the right thing to do, morally or legally; and
(b) the instrumental rationale, recognizing that a human rights-based approach leads to better and more sustainable human development outcomes.
In practice, the reason for pursuing a human rights-based approach is usually a blend of these two.
The question of adding value goes primarily to the instrumental case for a human rights-based approach. Importantly, a human rights-based approach seeks to build upon and learn from—rather than discard—the lessons of good development practice and strengthen arguments for their more consistent implementation. Empirical evidence and practice show the vital importance to development of many human rights outcomes, such as improved girls’ education, enhanced security of tenure and ensuring women’s equal access to land, and the importance of civil and political rights for good governance. The practical value of a human rights-based approach to development lies in the following:
- Whose rights? A human rights-based approach focuses on the realization of the rights of the excluded and marginalized populations, and those whose rights are at risk of being violated, building on the premise that a country cannot achieve sustained progress without recognizing human rights principles (especially universality) as core principles of governance. Universality means that all people have human rights, even if resource constraints imply prioritization. It does not mean that all problems of all people must be tackled at once.
- Holistic view. A programme guided by a human rights-based approach takes a holistic view of its environment, considering the family, the community, civil society, local and national authorities. It considers the social, political and legal framework that determines the relationship between those institutions, and the resulting claims, duties and accountabilities. A human rights-based approach lifts sectoral “blinkers” and facilitates an integrated response to multifaceted development problems.
- International instruments. Specific results, standards of service delivery and conduct are derived from universal human rights instruments, conventions and other internationally agreed goals, targets, norms or standards. A human rights-based approach assists countries in translating such goals and standards into time-bound and achievable national results.
- Participatory process. Accountabilities for achieving these results or standards are determined through participatory processes (policy development, national planning), and reflect the consensus between those whose rights are violated and those with a duty to act. A human rights-based approach seeks both to assist in the participatory formulation of the needed policy and legislative framework, and to ensure that participatory and democratic processes are institutionalized locally and nationally (including through capacity-building among families, communities and civil society to participate constructively in relevant forums).
- Transparency and accountability. A human rights-based approach helps to formulate policy, legislation, regulations and budgets that clearly determine the particular human right(s) to be addressed—what must be done and to what standard, who is accountable—and ensures the availability of needed capacities (or resources to build the lacking capacities). The approach helps to make the policy formulation process more transparent, and empowers people and communities to hold those who have a duty to act accountable, ensuring effective remedies where rights are violated.
- Monitoring. A human rights-based approach to development supports the monitoring of State commitments with the help of recommendations of human rights treaty bodies, and through public and independent assessments of State performance.
- Sustained results. A human rights-based approach leads to better sustained results of development efforts and greater returns on investments by:
- Building the capacity of prime actors to engage in dialogue, meet their own responsibilities and hold the State accountable;
- Strengthening social cohesion through seeking consensus with participatory processes, and focusing assistance on the excluded and most marginalized;
- Codifying social and political consensus on accountabilities for results into laws, policies and programmes aligned with international conventions;
- Anchoring human rights entitlements within a framework of laws and institutions;
- Institutionalizing democratic processes; and
- Strengthening the capacities of individuals and institutions to carry out their obligations as expressed in local, national and international laws, policies and programmes.
Example: Added value of a human rights-based approach: using rights to influence power
Transforming existing distributions of power—the cornerstone of a human rights-based approach—is not without its challenges. While no two situations are exactly alike, experience discloses a range of ways in which a human rights-based approach has been used to change power dynamics in development work and a range of strategies to help minimize risks:
- Map power relations influencing the given situation. Power is dynamic, its different dimensions in constant change, relational and not always visible. Historical lack of power can be socialized and concealed within, crippling people’s propensity and ability to accept that they have rights and to claim them.
- Use language strategically. The language of human rights can be powerful in both positive and negative ways. In some contexts it can “shut you down” while in others it can serve your cause.
- Gather solid evidence and use knowledge strategically. Document success stories of rights-based approaches, and use your strong and convincing evidence strategically, overcoming disciplinary or other biases (e.g., challenging the assumption that more hospitals will reduce child mortality versus the assumption that realizing women’s rights and empowerment will not).
- Make, bend and reshape the “rules of the game.” One key aspect of power is the ability to use knowledge to frame the possible, set rules and delimit what counts as knowledge and whose knowledge counts. Making, bending and reshaping the rules of the game are one way for individuals to bring about change.
- Identify and strategically exploit entry points and hooks matching your or your organization’s comparative advantage with the types of spaces and actors you seek to influence.
- Build strategic alliances, coalitions and networks with other actors who share a similar vision.
- Strengthen the capacity for agency. Build the capacity of people in created and claimed spaces to articulate their rights.
- Walk the talk. Development actors must demonstrate responsibility and accountability in their own actions, if they are to effect transformations of power elsewhere.
10 - What is a human rights-based approach?
A human rights-based approach is a conceptual framework for the process of human development that is normatively based on international human rights standards and operationally directed to promoting and protecting human rights. It seeks to analyse inequalities which lie at the heart of development problems and redress discriminatory practices and unjust distributions of power that impede development progress.
Mere charity is not enough from a human rights perspective. Under a human rights-based approach, the plans, policies and processes of development are anchored in a system of rights and corresponding obligations established by international law. This helps to promote the sustainability of development work, empowering people themselves— especially the most marginalized—to participate in policy formulation and hold accountable those who have a duty to act.
While there’s no universal recipe for a human rights-based approach, United Nations agencies have nonetheless agreed a number of essential attributes (see annex II):
- As development policies and programmes are formulated, the main objective should be to fulfil human rights.
- A human rights-based approach identifies rightsholders and their entitlements and corresponding duty-bearers and their obligations, and works towards strengthening the capacities of rights-holders to make their claims and of duty-bearers to meet their obligations.
- Principles and standards derived from international human rights treaties should guide all development cooperation and programming in all sectors and in all phases of the programming process.
Practical illustration of a human rights-based approach: rights-holder and duty-bearer capacity-building
A recent example from Malawi provides an excellent illustration of the rights-based approach, particularly because it linked village level rights education and activism with Government-level legal advocacy. In this way, the campaign worked with (a) duty-bearers, to ensure that the necessary rights were enshrined legally at national and local levels; and (b) rights-holders, to inform them of what rights they had, how those rights related to their food security and how they could go about claiming those rights.
According to the 1998 Constitution of Malawi (art. 13), “The State shall actively promote the welfare and development of the people of Malawi by progressively adopting and implementing policies and legislation aimed at achieving the following goals:
…(b) Nutrition: To achieve adequate nutrition for all in order to promote good health and self-sufficiency.” Malawi has also ratified international legal mechanisms necessary for ensuring the right to food, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The right-to-food campaign in Malawi began at the village level, educating villagers about their rights and learning more about the root causes of their food insecurity. The campaign linked the particular experiences of the villagers, the human rights that they could draw upon to address hunger and how such a campaign could be undertaken. Working groups at the village level built up their organizing efforts to reach regional and then national actors, maintaining representation from the village-level groups. These groups linked their daily hunger problems to policy proposals for national legislation and action, ensuring the people would be able to claim the necessary rights to respond to their needs.
11 - How can human rights influence national budgets?
All rights can have budgetary implications. To this extent, national budgets have a significant and direct bearing on which human rights are realized and for whom. Budget analysis is a critical tool for monitoring gaps between policies and action, for ensuring the progressive realization of human rights, for advocating alternative policy choices and prioritization, and ultimately for strengthening the accountability of duty-bearers for the fulfilment of their obligations.
The budget can be understood as the outcome of systems and relationships through which the varying needs and desires of a nation are heard, prioritized and funded. The choices made by Governments as to how money is collected and distributed—and which rights are realized and for whom—are not value-free or politically neutral.
A rights-based approach to the budget demands that such choices be made on the basis of transparency, accountability, non-discrimination and participation. These principles should be applied at all levels of the budgetary process, from the drafting stage, which should be linked to the national development plans made through broad consultation, through approval by parliament, which in turn must have proper amendment powers and time for a thorough evaluation of proposals, implementation and monitoring.
While budget debates are overwhelming political ones, the substantive content of human rights standards themselves can furnish guidance to policymakers and legislators in weighing competing demands on limited resources, helping to ensure, for example, that:
- Primary education is free for all;
- Budget allocations are prioritized towards the most marginalized or discriminated against;
- Provision is made for essential minimal levels for all rights;
- There is progressive improvement in human rights realization; and
- Particular rights are not deliberately realized at the cost of others (for example, that health programmes are not compromised by a disproportionate focus on security or debt servicing).
Example: Increasing transparency and social spending in public budgets in Ecuador
During the late 1990s Ecuador experienced a serious macroeconomic crisis, which resulted in sharply decreased spending on social programmes. Poverty rates doubled between 1998 and 1999, and spending on health and education dropped by around 25 per cent. Concerned at these cuts, which were especially devastating for Ecuador’s poorest and most vulnerable families, civil society organizations with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) began to analyse the national budget—working with data from the Ministry of Finance and Economy and through a team of respected economists.
The objective of this exercise was to help legislators and the public understand how the budget functions and what priorities it reflects. The goal was to encourage the creation of more equitable public policies based on a consensus regarding society’s obligation to fulfil the human rights of all its members and to alter spending priorities.
The budget analysis revealed that spending on social programmes was plummeting. For example, in 1999 investment in health dropped from US$ 198 million to US$ 96 million. Spending on social sectors was disproportionately low compared to allocations for debt repayment and other non-social sectors. In addition, certain regions—particularly those with a majority indigenous population—were not getting an equitable share of social benefits.
Over the past four years a broad cross section of social groups, with the support of UNICEF, and the executive and legislative branches of government have collaborated to sharpen budget analysis and increase social spending on poor and vulnerable groups. Social spending grew to 23.2 per cent of Ecuador’s budget and the issue of public spending was subject to widespread, participatory national debate. It was openly discussed in the media and the legislature, and by the private sector and Ecuador’s active indigenous and labour movements. Public discussion has also focused on how to sustain increased social spending, examining the impact of the foreign debt and heavy reliance on income from oil exports, and overcoming inequities in the national tax structure.
Ecuador’s political leadership has worked with civil society to strengthen a national monitoring system—the Integrated System of Social Indicators of Ecuador (SIISE)—to track progress in social investment both nationally and by region. The programme led to increased government transparency and accountability, investment in social services, participation by all people in decisions that affect them, as well as access to information, and a more efficient and effective public sector.
Messages are much more likely to produce change if they are backed up by data and accompanied by realistic suggestions about how change can be accomplished. For example, by focusing on the inequalities inherent in Ecuador’s tax structure, the economic team was able to demonstrate where the funds needed for social programmes might be obtained. Government and society alike perceived that priorities could be shifted to benefit society as a whole.
12 - What is the relationship between human rights and economic growth?
Economic growth alone is not enough
Growth alone is not enough. Growth without equity, without social inclusion, will not reduce poverty. “Equity has an instrumental logic (redistribution can make growth easier and poverty reduction faster) but also has intrinsic value in a fair global society.” Source: Simon Maxwell, “The Washington Consensus is dead! Long live the meta-narrative!”, ODI working paper 243
Economic growth is a means, not the goal, of development. It can also be instrumental for the realization of human rights. However, economic growth must be achieved in a manner consistent with human rights principles.
Certain economic, social and cultural rights may be realized only progressively, over time, due to legitimate resource constraints (see question 3). States are under an obligation to take measures to realize these rights as expeditiously as possible. Since resources are needed to realize these particular rights, their speedy realization depends on softening the resource constraint, which in turn requires economic growth. A faster rate of growth can also help ease the pain of making unavoidable trade-offs, by increasing available resources.
It must be understood, however, that ensuring faster growth is one thing and harnessing its potential for the cause of human rights is another. For economic growth to lead to the realization of human rights, any growth strategy must be part of a comprehensive set of policies and institutions consciously designed to convert resources into rights. This comprehensive framework has both international and national dimensions, the particulars of which vary from case to case, a process guided by the conditions outlined below. A key role of United Nations agencies is to help ensure that economic growth is translated into the wider enjoyment of human rights for all.
13 - What is the relationship between human rights and good governance?
Governance refers to mechanisms, institutions and processes through which authority is exercised in the conduct of public affairs. The concept of good governance emerged in the late 1980s to address failures in development policies due to governance concerns, including failure to respect human rights. The concepts of good governance and human rights are mutually reinforcing, both being based on core principles of participation, accountability, transparency and State responsibility.
Human rights require a conducive and enabling environment, in particular appropriate regulations, institutions and procedures framing the actions of the State. Human rights provide a set of performance standards against which Governments and other actors can be held accountable. At the same time, good governance policies should empower individuals to live with dignity and freedom. Although human rights empower people, they cannot be respected and protected in a sustainable manner without good governance. In addition to relevant laws, political, managerial and administrative processes and institutions are needed to respond to the rights and needs of populations. There is no single model for good governance. Institutions and processes evolve over time.
Human rights strengthen good governance frameworks. They require: going beyond the ratification of human rights treaties, integrating human rights effectively in legislation and State policy and practice; establishing the promotion of justice as the aim of the rule of law; understanding that the credibility of democracy depends on the effectiveness of its response to people’s political, social and economic
demands; promoting checks and balances between formal and informal institutions of governance; effecting necessary social changes, particularly regarding gender equality and cultural diversity; generating political will and public participation and awareness; and responding to key challenges for human rights and good governance, such as corruption and violent conflict.
14 - What is the relationship between human rights and poverty reduction?
It is now generally understood that poverty is a result of disempowerment and exclusion. Poverty is not only a lack of material goods and opportunities, such as employment, ownership of productive assets and savings, but the lack of physical and social goods, such as health, physical integrity,freedom from fear and violence, social belonging, cultural identity, organizational capacity, the ability to exert political influence, and the ability to live a life with respect and dignity. Human rights violations are both a cause and a consequence of poverty.
Human rights reinforce the demand that poverty reduction be the primary goal of development policymaking. Human rights require the process of formulating a poverty reduction strategy to include the following elements and principles:
- Identifying and prioritizing action to improve the situation of the poorest;
- Analysing the underlying power relations and the root causes of discrimination;
- Ensuring that both the process and the concrete poverty reduction targets are consistent with international human rights standards;
- Ensuring close links between macroeconomic design, sectoral initiatives, and “governance” components and principles such as transparency and accountability;
- Ensuring a basic standard of civil and political rights guarantees for active, free and meaningful participation, including freedom of information and freedom of association; and
- Identifying indicators and setting benchmarks so that the progressive realization of economic and social rights can clearly be monitored.
15 - What is the relationship between human rights and development?
“Human development and human rights are close enough in motivation and concern to be compatible and congruous, and they are different enough in strategy and design to supplement each other fruitfully,” according to the Human Development Report 2000. Human rights and development both aim to promote well-being and freedom, based on the inherent dignity and equality of all people. The concern of human development is the realization by all of basic freedoms, such as having the choice to meet bodily requirements or to escape preventable disease. It also includes enabling opportunities, such as those given by schooling, equality guarantees and a functioning justice system. The human rights framework shares these concerns (see chap. I above).
Human rights and human development share a preoccupation with necessary outcomes for improving people’s lives, but also with better processes. Being people-centred, they reflect a fundamental concern with institutions, policies and processes as participatory and comprehensive in coverage as possible, respecting the agency of all individuals. For instance, in the human rights and human development frameworks, the development of new technologies for effective malaria prevention is a legitimate and even desirable outcome. But in rolling out these technologies development actors should clearly assess and explain the possible negative effects of the testing, as well as ensure that the technologies are accessible and affordable and that vulnerable groups are not excluded.
Human rights contribute to human development by guaranteeing a protected space where the elite cannot monopolize development processes, policies and programmes. The human rights framework also introduces the important idea that certain actors have duties to facilitate and foster development. For people to be enabled to assert a legally binding claim that specific duty-bearers provide free and compulsory primary education (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, art. 13) is more empowering than it is to rely on “needs” alone or to observe the high economic returns on investments in education, for example.
When human rights go unfulfilled, the responsibilities of different actors must be analysed. This focus on locating accountability for failures within a social system significantly broadens the scope of claims usually associated with human development analysis. In the other direction, human development analysis helps to inform the policy choices necessary for the realization of human rights in particular situations.
16 - Is it possible to realize human rights when resources are limited?
Yes. In many situations the obligations to respect a given right (non-interference) may require more in the way of political will than financial resources. Even for obligations requiring positive action by the State, rapid progress may be possible by using the available funds more efficiently—for example, by scaling down expenditures on unproductive activities and by reducing spending on activities whose benefit goes disproportionately to the privileged groups of society. Some interventions important for human rights, such as tackling corruption, in fact save public money.
In other cases it will be impossible to realize human rights without more funding. This is true for all human rights—economic, civil, social, cultural or political. Depending on the starting point, working towards an accessible and effective justice system may be just as costly as realizing certain socio-economic rights such as safeguarding against forced evictions or guaranteeing the right to form trade unions. Setting in place the systems needed for free and fair elections can be a major draw on the public purse.
17 - What kinds of human rights obligations are there?
Obligations are generally of three kinds: to respect, to protect and to fulfil human rights:
- To respect human rights means simply not to interfere with their enjoyment. For instance, States should refrain from carrying out forced evictions and not arbitrarily restrict the right to vote or the freedom of association.
- To protect human rights means to take steps to ensure that third parties do not interfere with their enjoyment. For example, States must protect the accessibility of education by ensuring that parents and employers do not stop girls from going to school.
- To fulfil human rights means to take steps progressively to realize the right in question. This obligation is sometimes subdivided into obligations to facilitate and to provide for its realization. The former refers to the obligation of the State to engage proactively in activities that would strengthen people’s ability to meet their own needs, for instance, creating conditions in which the market can supply the healthcare services that they demand. The obligation to “provide” goes one step further, involving direct provision of services if the right(s) concerned cannot be realized otherwise, for example to compensate for market failure or to help groups that are unable to provide for themselves.
Human rights law recognizes that a lack of resources can impede the realization of human rights. Accordingly, some human rights obligations are of a progressive kind, while others are immediate.4 For economic, social and cultural rights, States have a core obligation to satisfy the minimum essential level of each right. This level cannot be determined in the abstract; it is a national task, to be undertaken in accordance with human rights principles (see question 14). However, in any situation where a significant number of people are being deprived of their right to health, housing, food and so forth, the State has a duty to show that all its available resources—including through requests for international assistance, as needed—are being called upon to fulfil these rights.
For socio-economic rights, the following obligations are of immediate effect:
- The obligation not to discriminate between different groups of people in the realization of the rights in question;
- The obligation to take steps (including devising specific strategies and programmes) targeted deliberately towards the full realization of the rights in question; and
- The obligation to monitor progress in the realization of human rights. Accessible mechanisms of redress should be available where rights are violated.
Taking the right to health as an example, it is not permissible for available resources to be devoted exclusively to first-rate services for only half the population or only those living in urban areas. Available resources should be dedicated to ensuring that the standard of health of the entire population is progressively improved, with immediate planning towards that objective, and effective mechanisms for monitoring progress and, as necessary, redress. Human rights treaties also set certain limits on human rights obligations:
- The enjoyment of some international human rights can be limited in line with legitimate requirements of national security, “public order” (although this does not offer a carte blanche to abrogate human rights) or public health. Examples include the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of movement under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
- Quite a number of human rights can lawfully be derogated from, or suppressed, in times of public emergencies, such as a security crisis. Examples include freedom of expression and freedom of association, although not rights basic to immediate human survival. To be lawful, derogations must be issued according to pre-established constitutional procedures, be publicly notified, and be strictly necessary and in proportion to the severity of the crisis.
- At the time of ratifying or acceding to a human rights treaty, States may also submit what is known as a reservation, limiting or modifying the treaty’s effect, provided the reservation is consistent with the treaty’s overall object and purpose.
18 - What are Human Rights?
Human rights are universal legal guarantees protecting individuals and groups against actions and omissions that interfere with fundamental freedoms, entitlements and human dignity. Human rights law obliges Governments (principally) and other duty-bearers to do certain things and prevents them from doing others.
Some of the most important characteristics of human rights are that they:
- Are universal—the birthright of all human beings
- Focus on the inherent dignity and equal worth of all human beings
- Are equal, indivisible and interdependent
- Cannot be waived or taken away
- Impose obligations of action and omission, particularly on States and State actors
- Have been internationally guaranteed
- Are legally protected
- Protect individuals and, to some extent, groups
Human rights standards have become increasingly well defined in recent years. Codified in international, regional and national legal systems, they constitute a set of performance standards against which duty-bearers at all levels of society—but especially organs of the State—can be held accountable. The fulfilment of commitments under international human rights treaties (see annex I) is monitored by independent expert committees called “treaty bodies,” which also help to clarify the meaning of particular human rights.
Their meaning is also elaborated by individuals and expert bodies appointed by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (a Geneva-based body composed of 53 United Nations Member States), known as “special procedures,” and of course through regional and national courts and tribunals. There are other human rights legal systems as well. For example, the International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions and standards specifically protect labour rights, and international humanitarian law applies to armed conflicts, overlapping significantly with human rights law.
Among the rights guaranteed to all human beings under international treaties, without any discrimination on grounds such as race, colour, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, are:
- The right to life, liberty and security of person
- Freedom of association, expression, assembly and movement
- The right to the highest attainable standard of health
- Freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention
- The right to a fair trial
- The right to just and favourable working conditions
- The right to adequate food, housing and social security
- The right to education
- The right to equal protection of the law
- Freedom from arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence
- Freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
- Freedom from slavery
- The right to a nationality
- Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
- The right to vote and take part in the conduct of public affairs
- The right to participate in cultural life