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Rights-Based Approach Principles

Rights-based approach (RBA) has marked a new approach to development. Looking at development as a set of human rights that must be fulfilled implied the following points that are pertinent to any human right. Following are some of the principles that come with the new Human Rights frame of reference1).

Universality

Human rights apply to everyone everywhere and under any circumstances! “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights2).” The universality aspect is what distinguishes human rights from other acquired rights such as citizenship rights and contractual rights. In that sense, human rights are inalienable in that they cannot be taken away from someone or voluntarily given up3).”

Non-Discrimination and Equality

“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.4) It is important to note that, in seeking to achieve equality, states might need to have affirmative action programs to help bringing equality to traditionally marginalized and disadvantaged groups. Equality in development may require us to utilize differential treatment of disadvantaged groups that have been traditionally and systemically discriminated against. For instance, language barrier has been used to discriminate against some indigenous groups who, in order to get a government private job are required to function in another language than their indigenous one. Another example is African Americans who were deprived of their human rights because of their race.

Indivisibility

Rights are indivisible, and should be taken in a holistic way. No right is more important than another. For instance, we cannot negotiate with one group to get some rights and let go of other rights. The whole idea about rights is that they must be delivered. In other words, there is an obligation to give these rights to their right holders. Using RBA for development, we might set priorities to fulfill rights, but it does not mean that we let go of other rights.

Interdependence and Interrelatedness:

All human rights are closely interrelated and interdependent and affect one another. The right to education affects the right to work and the right to good health, and vice versa. This principle helps us to link the root causes of problems to the symptoms of the problem.

Participation

Note5)

Participation is an essential right stated in the first article of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development. It means that everyone is entitled to freely fully contribute to, participate in and enjoy political, economic, social and cultural development of their communities6). The right to participate needs to be protected and guaranteed by the state and other entities.

The Rule of Law

Note7)

Rights must be protected by both strong legislations as well as an independent judicial system to ensure that the law is fair and is applied on all people.

Accountability

This principle is another key one for human rights. All people have rights and are called right holders. The people or entities who are obliged to deliver and ensure these rights are called duty bearers. We can think of anyone as a right holder as well as a duty bearer. However, most of the time, duty bearers are the states that are responsible for protecting people’s rights and their access to these rights. Most of the time, states are accountable to people and to the international community in terms of what they do to protect and deliver human rights in their countries. RBA also recognizes that other non-state parties could be duty bearers.

Accountability is done by having the state as the principal duty bearers do the following8) :

  • Accepts responsibility for the impact it has on people’s lives;
  • Co-operates by providing information, undertaking transparent processes and hearing people’s views; and,
  • Responds adequately to those views (UNDP, 2000).

This last principle, accountability, is a central piece in the rights-based approach as a framework for social justice advocacy9). The accountability principle has contributed the biggest part in helping development workers to establish their involvement in politics as a legitimate activity. Advocacy derives on this principle to engage citizen groups in the political process and frame the development process as a political one.

1) United Nations Philippines. Rights-Based Approach to Development Programming: Training Manual. July 2002, p. 31.
3) Ljungman, Cecilia M., COWI. Applying a Rights-Based Approach to Development: Concepts and Principles, Conference Paper: The Winners and Losers from Rights-Based Approaches to Development. P. 6. November 2004.
4) Ibid, Article 2
5) Ljungman, Cecilia M., COWI. Applying a Rights-Based Approach to Development: Concepts and Principles, Conference Paper: The Winners and Losers from Rights-Based Approaches to Development. P. 13. November 2004.
6) Declaration On The Right To Development Adopted By General Assembly Resolution 41/128 Of 4 December 1986. Article #1.
7) Ljungman, Cecilia M., COWI. Applying a Rights-Based Approach to Development: Concepts and Principles, Conference Paper: The Winners and Losers from Rights-Based Approaches to Development. P. 15. November 2004.
8) Ibid, P. 14.
9) AWID,. A rights-Based Approach to Development, P. 3. Facts and Issues;Women’s Rights and Economic Change, No. 1, August 2002.

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