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Right Holders and Duty Bearers

Principal Duty Bearer: The States

Assumed in the rights-based approach, every human being is inherently a right holder who should enjoy universal human rights that must be guaranteed. By ratifying the different United Nations human rights treaties, states automatically assume the principal roles of guaranteeing these rights, or, according to the RBA language, the “principal duty bearers” (Ljungman, 041)) States must take all necessary procedures to guarantee their citizens’ rights. Ljungman (2004) quotes van Weerelt’s description of the obligations of states as the principal duty holders as follows.

Obligations of State Parties to International Human Rights Law

The obligation to respect requires the State and all its organs and agents to abstain from carrying out, sponsoring or tolerating any practice, policy or legal measure violating the integrity of individuals or impinging on their freedom to access resources to satisfy their needs. It also requires that legislative and administrative codes take account of guaranteed rights.

The obligation to protect obliges the State and its agents to prevent the violation of rights by other individuals or non-state actors. Where violations do occur the State must guarantee access to legal remedies.

The obligation to fulfill involves issues of advocacy, public expenditure, governmental regulation of the economy, the provision of basic services and related infrastructure and redistributive measures. The duty of fulfillment comprises those active measures necessary for guaranteeing opportunities to access entitlements.

(van Weerelt, 2001)

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. .

Following is an example that has been adapted from Fundar, et al (20042)). It illustrates the different roles of the states in guaranteeing rights at the three levels of obligations.

Aspect of Right Obligation to Respect Heading 2 Obligation to Protect Obligation to Fulfill
Accessibility of food Keep people’s existing access to food Keep others from encroaching on this enjoyment (e.g., developers who take over farm land) Enact programs to ensure greater access to food
Nutritional content of food Keep existing nutritional levels Protect purity of nutritional quality of food away from contamination (e.g. by use of toxic fertilizers) Take steps to increase nutritional intake and nutritional quality of food.


Moral Duty Bearers: Non-State Entities

Although states play the role of the principal duty bearer, there are other non-state entities that have obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of people. Some literature refers to these non-state entities as the moral duty bearer. The following quote from Ljungman (2004) describes the roles and cateof the moral duty bearers.

Obligations of Other Parties

The moral duty-bearers implied by the preamble [of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights] can be divided into the following groups:

Primary duty-bearers – e.g. parents for children, teachers for students, police for crime suspects, doctors/nurses for patients, employers for employees;

Secondary duty-bearers – e.g. institutions and organisations with immediate jurisdiction over the primary duty-bearers e.g. school principals, community organisations, hospital administrations, etc.;

Tertiary duty-bearers – e.g. institutions and organisations at a higher level / more remote jurisdiction (NGOs, aid agencies, private sector organisations);

External duty-bearers – e.g. countries, institutions, organisations with no direct involvement e.g. WTO, UN, INGOs, Security Council, African Union

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.

www.sed.manchester.ac.uk/idpm/research/events/february2005/documents/Ljungman_000.doc.

It is important, however, to note that advocacy works on two levels:

  • With the right holders to help them claim their right in legitimate ways while working on protecting the rights of others. Working especially with the disadvantaged and marginalized right holders is crucially important as part of helping them regain confidence in their ability to equally and fully participate in the decision making process. This is the reason this point precedes the point of working with the Duty Bearers.
  • With the Duty bearers – be them state, or non-state – to do the following:
    • Be mindful of, and driven by, the rights of people in their efforts to respect, protect and fulfill these rights; and
    • Do their best to not only fulfill these rights, but also, make themselves accountable and responsive to the people in this regard.

A rights-based approach to development puts the protection and realization of human rights at the center. It uses established and accepted human rights standards as a common framework for assessing and guiding sustainable development initiatives. From this perspective, the ultimate goal of development is to guarantee all human rights to everyone. Progressively respecting, promoting and fulfilling human rights obligations are seen as the way to achieve development. A rights-based approach to development is both a vision and a set of tools: human rights can be the means, the ends, the mechanism of evaluation and the central focus of sustainable human development.

(AWID)

United Nations Philippines. Rights-Based Approach to Development Programming: Training Manual. July 2002, p. 14. http://www.un.org.ph/publications/RBAManual.pdf .

1) 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.
2) Fundar – Centro De Analisis e investigacion, International Human Rights Internship Program, International Budget Project; 2004. Dignity Counts: A guide to using budget analysis to advance human rights, p. 21. 2004.

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