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Human Rights Reader 26

Beware: The fashion is out. Everybody wants to jump onto the bandwagon of Human Rights.

It is coming to our attention that to be ‘up to the times’ a number of donors and NGOs are telling us that their programs have incorporated participatory approaches to their development, health and nutrition programs. They see those being an “essential” part of Human Rights, because they build activities around the express needs of the beneficiaries.

But this is NOT what the Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) is about!

Such programs must be retooled to adopt the full Human Rights paradigm to deserve being called such, i.e. the goal of them should be achieved through interventions founded in international Human Rights law that will provide the legal basis for interventions that will ultimately underscore the host governments’ fault at fulfilling its obligations to redress the violation of Human Rights of its citizens.

To bring about a reversion of the violations requires changing/adapting ongoing programs’ objectives to the Human Rights framework (the difference is one between just delivering the usual services, and making it clear to beneficiaries that they are legally entitled to specific services and can go somewhere to complain if they do not receive what is due them; people need to know what commitments have been made to them).

The new objectives are not to stabilize the problem, but to make it disappear. Accountability now will not only be on services being provided, but on tackling (and ending) the problem at its roots.

You need to see the difference in this.

Typical public health, nutrition or development programs, for instance, do not include Human Rights education and do not address the fundamental problems (and process) that marginalize(s) disadvantaged groups in society. They do little to address the basic causes and inequalities that lead to the perpetuation of poverty. And these are the challenges that the Human Rights approach does address, i.e. it attempts to redress the imbalance between society’s privileged and its disempowered members and it clearly identifies individuals and agencies of the state that are called upon to carry out these obligations, and, it also says how they are to operate to remove the specific Human Rights violations.

Another subterfuge used that comes to our attention is for donors to say that they are carrying out some of their activities through NGOs that do advocate for Human Rights. Well, the same objections apply here. This is not enough, even if the latter NGOs are genuinely involved.

The fallacy that needs to be uprooted is that development and, for example, public health programs such as child survival and nutrition programs, ‘implicitly’ address fundamental issues of Human Rights. In the Human Rights approach, nothing is left implicit. Without retooling to an explicit Human Rights focus such claims remain but hot air.

Claudio Schuftan (Bio), Ho Chi Minh City

Contact Claudio / Comments

Johnson, F.C., USAID child survival programs: Adopting a Human Rights approach, The Intl. J. of Children’s Rights, 5: 383-395, 1997.
Kent, G., Realizing international children’s rights through implementation of national law, op. cit, 439-456, 1997.


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Related information:
What is a human rights-based approach?
A human rights-based approach is a conceptual framework for the process of human development that is normatively based on international human rights standards and operationally directed to promoting and protecting human rights. It seeks to analyze inequalities which lie at the heart of development problems and redress discriminatory practices and unjust distributions of power that impede development progress.

Frequently Asked Questions on a Human Rights-Based Approach to Development

Beware: Verify the HRBA!