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What is a human rights-based approach to programming?

Mainstreaming a human rights-based approach means that all of UNESCO’s project activities and actions should further the realisation of human rights, that human rights standards should guide all phases of the programming process, and should contribute to the development of the capacities of ‘duty-bearers’ to meet their obligations and of ‘rights-holders’ to claim their rights.

Some important methods to human rights based programming

  1. Assessment and analysis in order to identify the human rights claims of rights-holders and the corresponding human rights obligations of duty-bearers as well as the immediate, underlying, and structural causes of the non-realisation of rights.
  2. Assessment of the capacity of rights-holders to claim their rights and of duty-bearers to fulfil their obligations.  They then develop strategies to build these capacities.
  3. Programmes monitor and evaluate both outcomes and processes guided by human rights standards and principles.
  4. Entire programming process is informed by the recommendations of international human rights bodies and mechanisms.

(United Nations, The Human Rights Based Approach to Development Cooperation: Towards a Common Understanding Among UN Agencies)

The principles
UNESCO bases the human rights-based approach to programming on the following principles: Participation, Accountability, Non-discrimination, Empowerment and Linkages to human rights standards

  1. Participation:  A rights-based approach requires a high degree of participation from communities, and situates development projects close to partners and beneficiaries.  Participation must be active, free and meaningful.
  2. Accountability:  A rights-based approach identifies ‘rights holders’ and ‘duty bearers’ in order to raise the levels of accountability in the development process.  It focuses programmes on increasing the capacity of duty-bearers, broadly defined, including governments, individuals, local organisations and authorities, private companies, aid donors and international institutions, to meet their obligations.  Pursuant to international human rights law, duty-bearers have an obligation to progressively realise social, cultural and economic rights, including the rights to education.  This means that governments must “move as expeditiously and effectively as possible” towards fulfilling the right to education. (CESR GC 13 para 44) 
  3. Non-discrimination:  The human rights imperative of non-discrimination requires that particular focus be given to the status of vulnerable groups within the context of a rights-based approach.  A rights-based approach requires that the determination of who is most vulnerable in any given context is to be determined locally.  Development instruments must include safeguards to protect against threats to the rights and well-being of vulnerable and marginalised groups.  All development decisions, policies and initiatives are required to empower local participants, while guarding against reinforcing any existing power imbalances.
  4. Empowerment: A rights-based approach requires that interventions contribute to the enhancement of the capacities of rights-holders to claim and exercise their rights.  It provides that, as beneficiaries are the owners of human rights, these beneficiaries must be placed at the centre of the development process.
  5. Linkages to human rights standards: The human rights-based approach is linked to international human rights law and standards.  These standards provide an internationally endorsed, comprehensive framework of objective minimum guarantees.  In the programming process, international human rights standards can help to define a comprehensive but targeted scope for development and help to set results-based outcomes and outputs.