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What is a Human Rights Based Approach?

Human rights permeate the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are underpinned by economic, civil, cultural, political and social rights, and the right to development.

A Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) is a normative working methodology based on internationally recognised human rights. It:

  • aims to promote, protect and fulfill human rights and democracy in practice
  • integrates the norms, standards and principles of international human rights law into plans and processes of development programmes
  • integrates the norms, standards and principles of international human rights law into plans and processes of development programmes
  • applies to all sectors, all modalities, and each step of the programme cycle
  • is called the rights perspective in Swedish policy

Within the framework of an HRBA, target groups are considered rights-holders with legal entitlements. Government institutions are duty-bearers. These duty-bearers are under an obligation to realise human rights for all according to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the human rights conventions. Applying an HRBA to development cooperation aims at empowering rights-holders to claim their rights and duty-bearers to meet their obligations in line with international human rights law.

Marginalised and discriminated groups are targeted

Programmes need to assess the capacities of rights-holders and duty-bearers and to develop appropriate strategies to build these capacities. At the heart of a Human Rghts Based Aproach is the recognition that unequal power relations and social exclusion deny people their human rights and keep them in poverty. The approach therefore puts strong emphasis on marginalised and discriminated groups.

The HRBA methodology also reminds us that development cooperation can have an unintended negative impact in terms of human rights.

The HRBA methodology also reminds us that development cooperation can have an unintended negative impact in terms of human rights. These negative impacts can be disadvantaging certain groups, interfering with participation and labour rights or contributing to forced displacement. It is therefore important to abide by the "do no harm principle" and carry out the required analysis and mitigation.

The HRBA working methodology recognises that pursuing human rights objectives is not enough: The way these objectives are achieved is equally important. Programme monitoring therefore entails monitoring and evaluating both processes and outcomes.

Elements necessary to apply a Human Rigts Based Approach to development

  • Assessment and analysis to identify the human rights claims of rights-holders and the corresponding human rights obligations of duty-bearers.
  • Assessment and analysis to identify the immediate, underlying and structural causes of the non-fulfillment of rights.
  • Design of programmes that includes an assessment of the capacity of rights-holders to claim their rights and of duty-bearers to fulfill their obligations.
  • Development of strategies to strengthen the capacities of rights-holders and duty-bearers.
  • Monitoring and evaluation of programmes need to follow both the process and the outcome and integrate aspects of the below working principles (P.L.A.N.E.T.) in their results framework and monitoring system.

P.L.A.N.E.T. helps organising

The point of departure when applying the HRBA is the human rights found in national, regional and international laws, treaties and systems. Sida uses the abbreviation P.L.A.N.E.T. as a way of organising what to consider when applying a Human Rights Based Approach to development cooperation. It provides questions to ask and things to consider.

Participation in and access to the decision-making process:

  • Is there active and meaningful participation of rights holders? Are there opportunities for rights holders to influence the formulation of problems, planning, implementation and follow-up of the intervention?
  • Will the intervention strengthen rights holders’ participation in public affairs? Will it strenghten the plan of services and delivery of services?
  • Is there active and meaningful participation of those involved – including opportunities for them to influence the formulation of problems, planning, implementation and follow-up?

Links to human rights:

  • How are human rights standards from treaties, laws and recommendations used to define and advance the intended project and programme outcomes (or how could they be)?
  • How is information from monitoring mechanisms and reviews used to define and advance the intended project and programme outcomes?
    • Make the link to the human rights system and use its products (reports, concluding observations, recommendations, etc) to inform strategies and activities.  

Accountability:

  • Who are the duty bearers?
  • Do the duty bearers have the knowledge, mandate, resources and willingness to achieve their human rights obligations?
  • Do rights holders know who the duty-bearers are and can they hold them to account?
    • Remember: Activities have to promote accessible, transparent and effective mechanisms of accountability.

Non-discrimination:

  • Who are the rights holders?
  • Have they been taken into account in the design of the contribution?
  • Are people in vulnerable situations considered?
  • Is discrimination actively counteracted?
    • Projects and programmes have to prioritise the most marginalised groups and avoid contributing to established patterns of discrimination.

Empowerment:

  • What capacity do duty bearers have to fulfill their obligations and rights holders' to claim their human rights?
  • Can their capacity be strengthened – including the capacity of duty bearers to ensure accountability, transparency, participation and non-discrimination?

Transparency:

  • Is information about the intervention available in an accessible way to all stakeholders?
  • Are rights holders able to attend and observe meetings and processes where issues that affect them are discussed?
  • Can the intervention strengthen or institutionalise transparency in the relation between duty bearers and rights holders in a sustainable way? 

The UN on HRBA

Goal: All programmes of development cooperation, policies and technical assistance should further the realisation of human rights as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.
Process: Human rights standards and principles guide all development cooperation and programming in all sectors and in all phases of the programming process.
Outcome: Development cooperation contributes to the development of the capacities (empowerment) of duty bearers to meet their obligations and/or of rights holders to claim their rights.

Education and skills development

Here you can find briefs to get guidance on how to apply a Human Rights Based Approach when assessing, planning, designing and monitoring programs on education and skills development.

Environment and climate

Here you can find briefs to get guidance on how to apply a Human Rights Based Approach when assessing, planning, designing and monitoring programs on environment and climate.

Health

Here you can find briefs to get guidance on how to apply a Human Rights Based Approach when assessing, planning, designing and monitoring programs on health.

Market development

  • Here you can find briefs to get guidance on how to apply a Human Rights Based Approach when assessing, planning, designing and monitoring programs on Market development.

Peace building

Here you can find briefs to get guidance on how to apply a Human Rights Based Approach when assessing, planning, designing and monitoring programs on Peace building.

Private sector collaboration

  • Here you can find briefs to get guidance on how to apply a Human Rights Based Approach when assessing, planning, designing and monitoring programs on Private sector collaboration.

Research

Here you can find briefs to get guidance on how to apply a Human Rights Based Approach when assessing, planning, designing and monitoring programs on Research.

Sustainable rural livelihoods systems

Here you can find briefs to get guidance on how to apply a Human Rights Based Approach when assessing, planning, designing and monitoring programs on sustainable rural livelihoods systems.

Water and sanitation

Here you can find briefs to get guidance on how to apply a Human Rights Based Approach when assessing, planning, designing and monitoring programs on water and sanitation.

Democratic governance

Here you can find briefs to get guidance on how to apply a Human Rights Based Approach when assessing, planning, designing and monitoring programs on democratic governance.

Rights of LGBTQI persons

LGBTQI persons are often unable to live openly, free from discrimination and fear in many countries where Sweden is engaged in development cooperation. The human rights of LGBTQI persons are a Swedish priority.

Here you can find briefs with basic information about the situation of this group in different countries and regions. (Click on the headlines to unfold the different regions.)

Rights of persons with disabilities

More than 180 countries have ratified the Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. Many Sida partner countries have adopted constitutions and national legal frameworks that guarantee rights for persons with disabilities. However, progress of implementation is generally slow or non-existing. Here you can find briefs with basic information about the situation of this group in different countries and regions. (Click on the headlines to unfold the different regions.)

Regional disabilities brief

Rights of children

Since human rights are children's rights, all Human Rights Based Approach information applies to development cooperation that directly or indirectly affects people below the age of 18. There are human rights that have been formulated and developed specifically in relation to children as well. Those need to be taken into account.

Invite children to partecipate

Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) sets out children's right to be listened to and considered in all decision-making that affects them. If a programme has a direct or indirect effect on boys and girls they should be consulted to a certain degree.

The most appropriate kind of participation depends on the programme and on who the children are. Children of different ages and circumstances need different kinds of information, environments and support to participate in a meaningful way.

Meaningful participation could include children in identifying problems and undertaking planning, design, implementation and monitoring of programmes. It could include consulting children through focus groups or interviews.

Examples of what to consider when applying an HRBA to development cooperation contributions that affects children, with a P.L.A.N.E.T approach:

  • Participation: Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out the right of children to be listened to and considered in all decision-making that affect them.
  • Links to human rights: Children's rights are contained in legal instruments at the national, regional and international levels – such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and African Charter on the rights and welfare of the child.
  • Accountability: When a state ratifies the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other relevant regional treaties, it takes on the responsibility to integrate children's rights into its laws and systems. This includes taking the best interest of the child and children's right to survival and development into account in all decisions concerning children.
  • Non-discrimination: According to Article 2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, states are obliged to realize children's rights without discrimination of any kind.
  • Empowerment: In the realm of children's rights, empowerment is about strengthening the capacity of children, their care takers, and people working with and for children to claim children's rights. It is also about strengthening the capacity of those responsible to implement children's rights.
  • Transparency: Transparency in relation to children's rights entails making information available to children in an accessible way, appropriate to their age and through channels that reach them.

Links to children's rights systems

Children's rights are contained in legal instruments at national, regional and international levels. At the international level, the rights of children are set out in the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its three optional protocols, which are:

The CRC is monitored by the Committee on the Rights of the child (OHCHR). The committee:

  • consults and provides recommendations on how to advance children's rights
  • meets states to discuss their progress in realising children's rights
  • provides concluding observations to be addressed
  • develops general comments that clarify articles in the Rights of the child
  • holds days of general discussion.

To also consider in relation to children's rights:

  • Country-specific laws and systems
  • Regional human rights
  • Other international legally binding standards - such as the International labour standards relevant for youth who work
  • Private sector legally non-binding agreements – such as the Children's rights and business principles

External links to children's rights systems

More on children's rights

Accountability. When a state ratifies the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child and related regional treaties, it is required to respect, protect, promote and fulfil children's rights – including when involved in development cooperation.

This includes integrating children's rights into national legislation, policy, plans, institutions, court systems and coordination mechanisms.

According to Article 3 of the CRC, states are obliged to take the best interests of the child into account as a primary consideration in all decisions that directly or indirectly concern children.

Non-discrimination.
According to Article 2 of the CRC, states are obliged to realise children's rights without discrimination of any kind.

This includes making sure that all children have access to health care, education, security and justice of adequate quality. It also requires changing discriminatory attitudes. It often entails finding ways for children in the most vulnerable situations to be heard, taken into account and be able to participate.

Empowerment. Empowerment is about strengthening the capacity of children, their care givers, and people working with children to claim children's rights. It is also about strengthening the capacity of those responsible for implementing children's rights. To empower you may need to know if rights holders and duty bearers have access to:

  • Relevant knowledge about children's rights
  • Networks that work for children's rights
  • Information adapted to children's needs
  • Children's right to not be discriminated against
  • Decision making structures that enable participation of child rights advocates and children
  • Mechanisms to complain and get redress

Transparency. Transparency entails making information available to boys and girls, their care givers and people working for their rights in a way that is age-appropriate and context-specific through channels that reach them. Ask yourself if the information is:

  • Available to concerned rights holders and duty bearers?
  • User-friendly to rights holders and duty bearers (language, images, content, style, etc)?
  • Shared with stakeholders of the contribution through accessible channels and physical locations?
  • Made available through channels that target the stakeholders the most effectively (radio, TV, mobile phones, websites, publications)?

Updated: 5 August 2021