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Human Rights Based Approach

This toolbox provides knowledge, tools and inspiration on how to apply the Human Rights Based Approach in Swedish development cooperation. It is key to integrating human rights and contributing to democratic development in all of Sida’s development cooperation.  

The Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) Toolbox is made for Sida staff but is also useful for our partners and other stakeholders. It includes technical briefs on how to apply the HRBA in different thematic areas.  

HRBA is empowerment and capacity development

The HRBA puts the human rights of persons living in multidimensional poverty and under oppression, and especially the most marginalised and discriminated among them, at the centre of development cooperation. The approach aims to enable persons living in poverty and under oppression to take steps out of that situation, and pinpoints actors and institutions responsible for respecting, protecting, and fulfilling those human rights. 

 The HRBA always includes:

  • Empowerment of women, men, girls, boys and non-binary persons living in poverty and under oppression – the rights holders - with for example hope, assertiveness, knowledge, skills, tools, networks, communication channels, and access to justice to enable them to claim their rights individually and collectively. 
  • Capacity development of those with obligations to respect, protect, promote and fulfil human rights - the duty bearers - through for example increased knowledge, human and financial resources, and tools.

PLANET to apply the HRBA

Sida uses the tool PLANET to organise the HRBA principles and aspects to consider when you apply the HRBA in practice. The letters in PLANET are all interlinked in one way or another and need to be considered holistically. 

The following are key questions to ask when applying the HRBA:

  • Participation: Do all relevant stakeholders engage actively, in a way which allows rights holders to contribute meaningfully and influence outcomes?
  • Link to human rights obligations: How are relevant human rights standards and recommendations from international and regional human rights mechanisms identified and used in formulating objectives and to advance processes and outcomes?
  • Accountability: Who are the duty bearers at different levels, and do they have sufficient capacity and interest to be accountable to rights holders? Are there mechanisms for participation and complaints in place for rights holders, civil society and other stakeholders to hold the duty bearers to account?
  • Non-discrimination and equality: Are rights holders and the root causes of the non-realisation of their human rights identified and taken into account, particularly those most subject to discrimination and marginalisation?
  • Empowerment and capacity development: How does the intervention contribute to the empowerment of rights holders to claim their rights, as well as capacity development of duty bearers to uphold their responsibilities, and of other relevant stakeholders to contribute to positive outcomes?
  • Transparency: What measures are put in place to ensure that all stakeholders are able to access relevant information and knowledge regarding the intervention?

Prevent unintended negative effects

Applying HRBA can contribute to positive change. There are however also risks of doing harm when working to change power, capacity and interest dynamics. Identifying risks from the very start can make a substantial difference to the outcome. A conflict sensitive approach will help both to identify risks of doing harm and opportunities for confronting unjust power structures and narrow interests that stand in the way of managing difficult change processes in a constructive and peaceful way.

Thematic technical notes

The HRBA can be applied in all thematic areas and sectors. These technical notes provide further guidance on how to apply the HRBA in development cooperation.

Upcoming technical notes

  • Environment and climate
  • Private sector collaboration
  • Sustainable rural livelihoods

A legal ground for development cooperation

The HRBA provides a legal ground that guides Sida’s work for people living in poverty and under oppression. The HRBA is based on human rights norms and principles agreed upon by the member states of the United Nations (UN) and specified in international and regional legally binding human rights treaties, and in national laws.

The UN treaties include specific human rights standards that are interdependent and indivisible,  and relate to all women, girls, men, boys and non-binary people. Examples of such standards are the right to education, freedom of expression, and water and sanitation. By ratifying a human rights treaty, a state takes on the responsibility to integrate it into its laws and realise the human rights standards it contains.

The HRBA is one of five perspectives that are compulsory to apply in Swedish development cooperation. Sida is governed on applying the HRBA and the other perspectives through the Government Ordinance with instructions to Sida.

Sweden is committed to the HRBA through the:

  • Swedish Policy for Global Development (approved by Parliament in 2003) and the Policy framework for Swedish development cooperation and humanitarian assistance;
  • European Consensus on Development which commits the EU and its member states to implementing a HRBA to development cooperation;
  • UN Common Understanding on HRBA.

Monitoring provides a wealth of information

The extent to which human rights standards are realised is followed up by monitoring bodies, such as UN treaty bodies and regional committees, special rapporteurs and independent experts, peer reviewers, as well as National Human Rights Institutions and civil society organisations.

The monitoring bodies formulate their findings in a variety of ways, such as reports, observations and recommendations. They provide a wealth of information which can be used in international development cooperation – in context analysis, policy and strategy, as well as in planning, implementation and follow-up of development interventions.

There is also a range of important international agreements that are not legally binding per se, but are based on human rights. An example is the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda are underpinned by human rights.  

Updated: December 23, 2022