UN agencies and human rights commissions frequently talk about a “human rights-based approach,” which is abbreviated as HRBA. What do they mean?
A human rights-based approach is a framework for human development. Using international human rights standards, HRBA ensures that people know about their human rights and can claim them. It also targets, supports and enables the entities responsible for delivering and protecting human rights, so they’re equipped to fulfill their obligations. A Human rights-based approach applies to areas like healthcare access, economic development, gender equality, education, social justice and others.
The UN and a human rights-based approach
The realization of human rights principles – universality, equality, participation, accountability, and indivisibility – is the goal of a human rights-based approach. In 2003, UN agencies began adopting the UN Common Understanding on a Human-Rights-Based Approach to Development Cooperation. It intended to streamline how UN agencies promoted and protected human rights. Programs and goals need to be consistent. Under the common understanding, agencies can focus on how best to empower “rights-holders” to claim their rights and get “duty-bearers” to protect those rights.
There isn’t a specific prescription for the successful implementation of a human rights-based approach. However, UN agencies have agreed on the characteristics that should be present, as such as:
- The human rights standards and principles from the UDHR should guide all programs and cooperation at each phase.
- All development cooperation programs, policies, and technical assistance should promote the human rights described in the UDHR and other treaties.
- Development cooperation should empower the ability of “duty-bearers” to fulfill rights and/or the ability of “rights-holders” to claim rights.
The PANEL principles
Adopted by various human rights commissions throughout the world- including the commissions in Australia and Scotland – the PANEL principles provide a thorough understanding of how to apply human rights. PANEL stands for:
- Non-discrimination and equality
This principle asserts that everyone has the right to take part in the decisions that affect their rights. Participation must be free and accessible. For participation to flourish, information must be provided in forms and languages that everyone can access.
Accountability means there must be systems that monitor human rights standards. Anyone who violates these standards should be held accountable. Accountability exists in the form of policies, laws, administrative processes, and so on.
Non-discrimination and equality
A human rights-based approach must include a commitment to non-discrimination and equality. These are two separate things because equality can’t be achieved simply by a lack of discrimination. Marginalized groups must be given priority so equality can become a reality.
Human rights can only be achieved if those who hold rights are empowered. This means they must know their rights and be supported in their claims. Advocacy is a key part of empowerment.
The legality of rights is the last principle in the PANEL framework. This means that rights must be legally enforceable. When developing practices, entities that follow PANEL should lean on international human rights law.
Characteristics of a successful human rights-based approach
How do you know when a human rights-based approach is working? Using the UN’s framework and the PANEL principles, there are key characteristics that will be present:
- The fulfillment of human rights is the ultimate goal of all programs.
- Participation is both a means and a goal.
- Processes and outcomes are closely monitored.
- Strategies empower rights-holders.
- Rights-holders play an active role in their own development.
- Programs prioritize the marginalized.
- Accountability systems are strong.
Human rights advocates and organizations face many obstacles to success. A human rights-based approach helps them keep their goals in focus. It also helps structure the goals and processes, so every part of the organization moves in the same direction.
The benefits of a human rights-based approach
When UN agencies and other human rights organizations lean on a human rights-based approach, there are many benefits. The first is that it’s the strongest strategy for providing essential services to people. This includes healthcare, food, water, and education. The HRBA’s focus on non-discrimination and equality are especially effective at ensuring people get these rights.
A human rights-based approach is also important because it encourages awareness and advocacy. To empower rights-holders, human rights bodies must identify marginalized people, educate them on their rights, and help them claim them. This builds a system where rights-holders actively participate in the process and get the support they need. It also improves the accountability of the duty-bearers. The world may still be a long way from a full realization of human rights, but a human rights-based approach can help us get closer.