- Drawn from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights' FAQ
1. 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.
2. How does UNICEF's equity agenda relate to its foundation strategy on human rights?
As part of the UN system, and also as part of its commitments to the CRC and MTSP, UNICEF views human rights norms and standards as its primary frame of reference for everything it does. One of the foundational principles of human rights is stated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights - ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ This is reflected not only in the principle of non-discrimination which appears in the CRC (Article 2), but is intrinsic to the very concept of human rights.
UNICEF’s foundation strategy for a human rights-based approach underpins the equity agenda. Equity cannot be effectively pursued outside of a human rights framework, just as human rights cannot be realised so long as inequity persists.
Achieving sustainable progress and results with regard to equity demands a human rights-based approach. The situation of deprived children, and the structural causes of exclusion and poverty, cannot be addressed without providing those children with a voice and space to participate in decisions affecting them. Those with the power to shape lives must be accountable to the most deprived, if inequities are to be overcome. Discrimination must be identified, understood, and challenged to achieve equitable development for all children.
If progress towards equity is made without accompanying progress in other areas fundamental to human rights, it is likely that the gains will only be short-term. Investments in services for deprived regions or groups that are not accompanied by, and based upon, structural changes in governance and in the knowledge, attitudes, and practices of communities are at best fragile.
The equity approach also draws upon UNICEF’s long-standing relationship with key human rights mechanisms, most notably the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on Discrimination against Women. In particular, UNICEF’s support to the reporting processes for these and other human rights mechanisms provides opportunities for identifying and raising equity issues.
3. Is there a common understanding within the UN system of a Human Rights-based Approach to Development?
Yes. A common understanding was developed to ensure that UN agencies, funds and programmes apply a consistent Human Rights-Based Approach to common programming processes at global and regional levels, and especially at the country level in relation to the CCA and UNDAF. The UN Statement of Common Understanding on Human Rights-Based Approaches to Development Cooperation and Programming (the Common Understanding) was adopted by the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) in 2003.Visit the HRBA Portal to learn more about the Common Understanding.
4. What value does a human rights-based approach add to development?
There are two main rationales for a human rights-based approach: (a) the intrinsic rationale, acknowledging that a human rights-based approach is the right thing to do, morally or legally; and (b) the instrumental rationale, recognizing that a human rights-based approach leads to better and more sustainable human development outcomes. In practice, the reason for pursuing a human rights-based approach is usually a blend of these two.
5. Can a human rights-based approach help to resolve conflicts between different stakeholders in development?
Yes. While development is not a zero-sum game, all entitlements cannot be realized for all people at once. Clashes of interest are inevitable, and development actors can profoundly influence the pattern of winners and losers nationally. Conflicts swept under the carpet and grievances ignored can be recipes for violent confrontation. Conversely, and more positively, non-violent conflict can help create space for dialogue and generate impetus for social change.
6. What is the relationship between a human rights-based approach and gender mainstreaming?
A human rights-based approach to development and gender mainstreaming are complementary and mutually reinforcing, and can be undertaken without conflict or duplication. Gender mainstreaming calls for the integration of a gender perspective in development activities, with the ultimate goal of achieving gender equality. A human rights-based approach integrates international human rights standards and principles in development activities, including women’s human rights and the prohibition of sex discrimination.