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Human Rights-based Approach to Programming


© UNICEF/Sri Lanka/Tom Pietrasik
Sri Lanka: Students clap in a school that serves 434 students affected by both Tsunami and conflict.

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.

As part of the UN system, and also as part of its commitments to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC; which makes specific references to UNICEF in Article 45) and the Strategic Plan 2014-2017, 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 has worked since the 1989 adoption of the CRC to identify ways in which normative processes of international human rights law can inform and guide development work for children and women. During the 1990s, the organization moved from viewing the Convention primarily as a basis for global advocacy to exploring both its role, and the role of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and later the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), as normative frames of reference for the design and implementation of programmes of cooperation with national partners.

A human rights-based approach to programming means for UNICEF that the ultimate aim of all UNICEF-supported activities is the realization of the rights of children and women, as laid down in the CRC and the CEDAW. Human rights and child rights principles guide the organization’s work in all sectors – and at each stage of the process. These principles include: universality, non-discrimination, the best interests of the child, the right to survival and development, the indivisibility and interdependence of human rights, accountability and respect for the voice of the child. UNICEF programmes of cooperation support those who have obligations to respect, protect and fulfil rights, by helping them develop their capacities to do so. And UNICEF helps those with rights to develop their capacity to claim their rights.

HRBAP and Equity

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.






Accountability for Children's Rights
Accountability for Children's Rights - 2014

Breaking the Silence on Violence against Indigenous Girls, Adolescents and Young Women - 2013

Know Your Rights! UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for indigenous adolescents - English Spanish - 2013

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