A Rights-Based Approach to Development
What is a Rights Based Approach to Development (RBA)?
Human rights are a set of international protections and responsibilities, which apply
Principles of RBA to all people. Human Rights are defined in the Universal Declaration of Human
Accountability. States and
Rights, the International Convent on Civil and Political Rights and the International
other authority figures are Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Human rights provide
responsible for respecting, standards under which governments, authority figures, and populations are
protecting, and fulfilling rights.
In addition, those receiving rights
expected to act. These standards include guidance for such fundamental
are responsible for development activities as: health, education, food security and nutrition, and
communicating their needs and housing.
priorities and working with others
to establish processes to realize
rights. Human rights and their specific standards are especially useful for development
practitioners as they can be used to guide development programming. A rights-
Participation: Every person and
all people are entitled to active, based approach to development uses human rights and their accompanying
free and meaningful participation standards to analyze and operationalize development programming. In a rights-
in, contribution to, and
based approach, development organizations work with governments and authority
enjoyment of civil, economic,
social, cultural, and political figures as well as the population to respect, protect, and fulfill the development
development obligations defined in the human rights standards. Four basic principles:
accountability, participation, indivisibility, and non-discrimination form the basis for
Interdependence: Rights action in a rights-based approach.
operate to support each other;
one right cannot be addressed at
the cost of another. An Example From the Right to Health
Equality and non- Right to Health: includes health care and the determinants of health (water, sanitation, etc…)
discrimination: All individuals Standards: Specific measures of the availability, accessibility, quality, and acceptability of health
are equal as human beings services
without discrimination or
exclusion based on ethnicity,
gender, age, language, religion,
national or social origin,
disability, birth, or geographic How can human rights be used in development?
A rights-based approach uses the human rights treaties and the specific standards
for monitoring the realization of rights as a basis for development programming. There are three generally
accepted means to use rights in development programming:
1. A System of Analysis:
Use the human rights standards to help define the specific problem, identify those responsible for action, and
measure results in terms of the realization of those standards. This analysis focuses not only one what actions
need to be taken to improve the situation, but also on who, over the long-term should be leading the
action/providing the services, whether all groups in a society are able to access the quality of those services
equally, and what process is in place for prioritizing action and ensuring that all groups impacted have a role to
play in determining and realizing solutions.
Examples of Analytical Questions:
a) What part of the human rights standards have been realized, what is missing?;
b) Are all groups benefiting to the same degree, who is missing, why?;
c) Who is responsible for ensuring these standards are met, what are their current capacities, how can these capacities be
d) Who needs to be included in defining and working towards an improved situation, what needs to happen to ensure their
2. An Operational Framework:
Operationalizing human rights prioritizes work with governments, authority figures, and the population in order
to ensure that all three groups have the capacity to understand human rights and their subsequent
responsibilities to respect, protect, and fulfill those rights. The objective of a rights-based approach to
programming is to move beyond meeting specific needs to reinforcing the local structures and capacity to meet
human rights standards over time. Human rights standards and the principals of accountability, participation,
indivisibility, and non-discrimination provide the basis for operationalizing development programming.
• Development organizations work with governments and RBA in Practice
authority figures to ensure that these groups have the UNICEF through the process of incorporating RBA
into its programming has changed every area of
responsibility, authority, and resources to make progress on
operation, including the purchase of supplies. Before
realizing the human rights standards. Activities include civic adopting RBA, UNICEF often purchased vaccines on
education, technical capacity building, and resource transfer. behalf of governments. Using RBA, UNICEF now
considers how the purchasing process can contribute
• Development organizations work with community and civil to strengthening government’s ability to provide
society groups to ensure that these groups recognize the vaccines in the future. Therefore, they work with the
responsibilities of government and authority figures and have government throughout the purchasing process, both
building government capacity to manage the process
the capacity to negotiate with these groups to provide services and ensuring that the supplier will be a good source
and freedoms in an equitable and transparent way. Activities for the government in the future. (Dorothy Razga,
include civic engagement, empowerment exercises, and UNICEF)
3. An Advocacy Lens:
• Human Rights provide development practitioners with a set of clear standards to monitor the progress of
governments and authority figures in meeting development priorities. Both the process (transparency of
authorities, civic participation) and the results are monitored and serve as the basis for on-going engagement and
• Human rights provide a set of standards under which development practitioners can engage with international
actors (UN, World Bank, IMF, WTO) as well as donor governments to ensure that developing country national
governments have the means and freedom to realize the development priorities provided for by human rights.
Commonly Asked Questions About RBA
Which rights do we start with? Fundamentally rights are indivisible, all rights work to support one another;
however, in development, organizations work with communities—individuals, authority figures, and governments to
determine the priority rights and entry point for improving the overall respect of human rights.
Do we just forget about people’s needs? No. But questions are asked about who decided the need, who is
responsible for satisfying the need, who is responsible for negotiating to satisfy the need, and who is involved in
determining the solution. Development organizations transform themselves from supplying goods and services to
facilitating the relationship between authorities and the population to realize development priorities.
How can poor countries with resource limitations be held to the same human right standards? Recognizing that
resources—human, financial, and intellectual—vary, human rights are not realized at the same pace in every
country. However, all countries, even resource poor ones, are responsible for making positive movement towards
human rights standards. Development organizations work with communities to assess what progress has been
made and what plans are in place to continue that progress.
Progress can be assessed by measuring, for example:
• Is the national budget providing more funds for quality, accessible, available education than last year?
• Are health centers more evenly distributed throughout the country than five years ago?
Who is Funding RBA in Development?
The following organizations are actively supporting and funding development organizations that integrate human
rights into their development policy and practice.
CIDA DANIDA EU OXFAM SIDA World Bank
CARE DFID JICA Save the UNAID UNICEF
CRS EU NORAD Children UNDP WHO
For more information on InterAction’s work on a Rights-Based
Approach to Development, visit: www.interaction.org/rba or contact
Patricia MacWilliams, firstname.lastname@example.org