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Benefits of using a rights-based approach

A rights-based approach to development promotes justice, equality and freedom and tackles the power issues that lie at the root of poverty and exploitation.  To achieve this, a rights-based approach makes use of standards, principles and methods of human rights, social activism and of development.

(Joachim Theis, Save the Children Sweeden, Promoting Rights-Based Apoproaches: Experiences and Ideas from Asia and the Pacific)


In mainstreaming a rights-based approach to education, UNESCO is able to utilise a set of standards and principles which have been developed and endorsed by the international community.  A Human Rights based approach provides a comprehensive framework which highlights the obligations of States and other duty-bearers to ensure the fulfilment of the right to education and address contextual factors which may impede the ability of a rights-bearer to enjoy their right to education. 



Main benefits:


Highlighting obligations of duty-bearers: A rights-based approach conceives the provision of education as an obligation to be fulfilled, rather than a service or act of benevolence.  According to international human rights law, governments are obliged to “take all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures” to respect, protect, and fulfil an individual’s right to education (Article 4 International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights). 

  • Respecting the right to education means that governments must not directly interfere with an individual’s right to receive an education. 
  • Protecting the right to education means that governments must ensure that other persons must not violate an individual’s right to receive education.  For example, they must ensure that parents do not prevent a child from going to school.
  • Fulfilling the right to education means that states must take positive actions to realise the right.  For example, they must establish and fund schools and other learning institutions.  Governments must “move as expeditiously and effectively as possible” toward realising the right to education (Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 13, para. 44).  Where governments lack resources, they are obliged to redirect funds from other budgetary sources, for example, from military expenditure.  In addition, there is an obligation to work in cooperation with the international community where governments are unable to fulfil the right to education (Article 2 International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, Article 4 Convention on the Rights of the Child). 


Recognising rights-holders:  A rights-based approach gives individuals the ability to assert claims vis-à-vis corresponding duty-bearers. This empowers beneficiaries of development programmes by increasing their participation in development processes.


Comprehensive framework for addressing underlying causes:  International human rights are interdependent and interrelated.  A rights-based approach mobilises a whole range of relevant rights and can provide a holistic framework for addressing barriers to enjoyment of the right to education. 


Benefits of using a universal discourse:  A rights-based approach draws on existing global expertise and experiences in human rights, which provides a method for identifying problems and a toolbox of global experiences to solve them.


International monitoring system:  International human rights law utilises a monitoring system to ensure compliance with human rights treaties.  International bodies, such as the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Committee on the Rights of the Child have been established to monitor the progress of countries in realising the right to education.  A human rights-based approach can draw on the expertise and increased accountability this monitoring system provides.