Human Rights & the Human Rights-based Approach


Image of man holding a child in Ha Giang, Vietnam

Human Rights are a set of universally agreed values, standards and principles. Every UN member state has undertaken international legal obligations for human rights. As a result, all UN Country Teams (UNCTs) use a Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) to support country analysis, advocate for priorities in the national development framework, and prepare an UNDAF that demonstrates a strategic use of UNCT resources and expertise.

A HRBA leads to better and more sustainable outcomes by analyzing and addressing the inequalities, discriminatory practices and unjust power relations which are often at the heart of development problems. It puts the international human rights entitlements and claims of the people and the corresponding obligations of the State in the centre of the national development debate, and it clarifies the purpose of capacity development.

For more information on Human Rights and the HRBA see:

The HRBA in Viet Nam

In Viet Nam, the UN employs a HRBA in developing and implemeting programmes. Recently the UN Human Rights Technical Working Group, with assistance from international human rights experts, developed a "toolkit" on the HRBA for UN staff in Viet Nam.  It provides an overview of the HRBA and guides staff on how to utilize this approach when developing programmes and projects.  The toolkit can be downloaded in PDF format, or a hard copy of the toolkit can be obtained by contacting the UN Viet Nam Human Rights Technical Working Group at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . The toolkit will be available in Vietnamese in early 2010.

Click here to download the HRBA Toolkit, which includes the following documents:




Development requires the satisfaction of at least two conditions: the achievement of a desirable outcome and the establishment of an adequate process to achieve and sustain that outcome.  Most of the health, education, and nutrition etc. goals reflected in the MDGs, for example, represent specific, desirable outcomes. Effective human development also demands a high-quality process to achieve such outcomes. Participation, local ownership, empowerment, and sustainability are essential characteristics of a high-quality process in achieving human development goals.

Level of outcome and quality of process define a two-dimensional space for social action, as illustrated below.


Pattern of Rights

Children, for example, have a valid claim (right) against their parents to be provided with adequate food. The parents are therefore the first line duty-bearers. Often, however, the parents cannot meet their duties because they do not have access to cultivable land, salaries or other resources required for providing food for their children. In other words they cannot meet the duty to their children because as claim-holders some of the rights they have against, for example, the government have not been realized. This shows how the government (the state) becomes the ultimate or final duty-bearer. This is important because it is the state that has ratified the covenants and conventions and is legally bound to meet the obligations.

In this perspective claim-duty relationships in society are linked and form a pattern of human rights. The identification and analysis of such patterns form the core of a Human Rights-Based Approach to Programming. The identification of duty-bearers and a determination of the extent of their accountability are crucial to a human rights-based approach to programming.

HRBAP Methodology

The UN Common Understanding  states that, “In a Human Rights-Based Approach human rights determine the relationship between individuals and groups with valid claims (right-holders) and State and non-state actors with correlative obligations (duty-bearers). It identifies right-holders (and their entitlements) and corresponding duty-bearers (and their obligations) and works towards strengthening the capacities of right-holders to make their claims, and of duty-bearers to meet their obligations.” The HRBAP methodology consists of five consecutive steps:

Step 1: Causality Analysis

Once a consensus has been reached that a particular problem exists and needs to be addressed, the causes of the problem should be identified. The Causality Analysis should be undertaken by those actors who are likely to enter into the roles of claim-holding and duty-bearing in the required improvement process.
The result of the Causality Analysis will be the identification of the causes of the non-realization a specific human right a specific context, together with a list of candidate claim-holders and duty-bearers.

Step 2: Pattern Analysis

The next step is to identify the most important claim-holder/duty-bearer relationships in the particular community or society that has been chosen. This analysis is called Role or Pattern Analysis. First, key actors, i.e. those who are likely to enter the roles of claim-holders and duty-bearers in relation to a specific right, should be identified. This will come from the Causality Analysis.  It is important to realize that the same individual or group of individuals often may enter into the roles of both claim-holders and duty-bearers. The Pattern Analysis should be undertaken by representatives of the key claim-holders and duty-bearers. Further, each claim/duty (i.e. human right) relationship must be recognized as a right in a covenant or convention, ratified by the country.

Step 3: Capacity Gap Analysis

After the key claim-duty relationships for a specific right have been identified, the next step is to analyse why the right is not realized. A basic assumption underlying the approach proposed here is that rights are not realized because claim-holders lack the capacity to claim the right, and/or duty-bearers lack the capacity to meet their duties. The analysis of capacity gaps is called Capacity Gap Analysis.

Capacity is here defined in a broader sense, including the following five components: (1) Responsibility/motivation/commitment/leadership refers to the acknowledgement by an individual that he/she should do something about a specific problem. It means acceptance and internalisation of a duty, and is often justified in legal or moral terms, (2) Authority refers to the legitimacy of an action; when an individual or group feels or knows that they may take action, that it is permissible to take action. Laws, formal and informal norms and rules, tradition, and culture largely determine what is or is not permissible. The structure of authority in a society reflects its power relations, (3) Access and Control of Resources. If an individual accepts that he/she should do something and may do it, it may still be impossible to act because the person lacks resources. Capacity must therefore also mean that the person in a position to act, or can, act. The resources available to individuals, households, organisations, and society as a whole may generally be classified into the following three types, human resources, economic resources and organisational resources, (4) Capability for Rational Decision-making and Learning. Rational decision-making requires evidence-based assessment and a logical analysis of the causes of a problem. Actions should be based on decisions informed by the analysis. After action has been taken, a re-assessment of the result and impact will lead to improved analysis and better action in the next round. Such interactive learning-by-doing (Triple A) relies heavily on the capability to communicate, and (5) Communication Capability. The capability to communicate and to access information and communication systems is crucial for individuals and groups of individuals in their efforts to claim their rights or meet their duties. Communication is also important in “connecting” various key actors in the social fabric into functional networks able to address critical development issues.

Step 4: Identification of Candidate Actions

Candidate actions are those actions that are likely to contribute to reduce or close the capacity gaps of claim-holders and duty-bearers. Such actions should aim at increasing responsibility, authority, resources, and decision-making and communication capabilities of claim-holders and duty-bearers.

Step 5: Programme Design

The priority actions should be clustered into specific projects and an objective be defined. Projects should be clustered into programmes with clear objectives. This is the reverse of most current programming practices, which disaggregate programmes into projects, and projects into activities. Activities can be clustered, or aggregated, according to the level of society in which claim-holders and duty-bearers operate. At each level some activities will aim at developing capacities of individuals as claim-holders, while others will aim at developing capacities of individuals as duty-bearers. Some activities will do both—sometimes even in relation to more than one right.