Overview of Strategy

Rights-Based Approach

A rights-based approach to development 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. Essentially, a rights-based approach integrates the norms, standards and principles of the international human rights system into the plans, policies and processes of development.

The norms and standards are those contained in the wealth of international treaties and declarations.

Why does BRD adopt the rights-based approach to development? This is because poverty most often stems from the denial of human rights through discrimination, marginalization or unequal access to education, health or resources and those living in poverty are often more easily subjected to further human rights violations. By adopting the rights-based approach, it ensures that rights are not compromised for development and that both are promoted in all BRD’s development projects.

The principles of rights-based approach include equality and equity, accountability, empowerment and participation. It includes the following elements:

  • Express linkage to rights
  • Accountability
  • Empowerment
  • Participation
  • Non-discrimination and Attention to vulnerable groups

Express linkage to rights

The definition of the objectives of development in terms of particular rights– as legally enforceable entitlements– is an essential ingredient of human rights approaches, as is the creation of express normative links to international, regional and national human rights instruments.

Rights-based approaches are comprehensive in their consideration of the full range of indivisible, interdependent and interrelated rights: civil, cultural, economic, political and social. This calls for a development framework with sectors that mirror internationally guaranteed rights, thus covering, for example, health, education, housing, justice administration, personal security and political participation.

By definition, these approaches are incompatible with development policies, projects or activities that have the effect of violating rights, and they permit no “trade-offs” between development and rights.


Rights-based approaches focus on raising levels of accountability in the development process by identifying claim-holders (and their entitlements) and corresponding duty-holders (and their obligations). In this regard, they look both at the positive obligations of duty-holders (to protect, promote and provide) and at their negative obligations (to abstain from violations). They take into account the duties of the full range of relevant actors, including individuals, States, local organizations and authorities, private companies, aid donors and international institutions.

Such approaches also provide for the development of adequate laws, policies, institutions, administrative procedures and practices, and mechanisms of redress and accountability that can deliver on entitlements, respond to denial and violations, and ensure accountability. They call for the translation of universal standards into locally determined benchmarks for measuring progress and enhancing accountability.

For all human rights, states must have both the political will and the means to ensure their realization, and they must put in place the necessary legislative, administrative, and institutional mechanisms required to achieve that aim.

Under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, states are required to take immediate steps for the progressive realization of the rights concerned, so that a failure to take the necessary steps, or any retrogression, will flag a breach of the State’s duties.

Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, states are bound to respect the rights concerned, to ensure respect for them and to take the necessary steps to put them into effect. Some rights claimed in some jurisdictions may not be justifiable before a court, but all rights must be enforceable.

While primary responsibility under the human rights system lies with individual States, the international community is also duty bound to provide effective international cooperation, inter alia in response to shortages of resources and capacities in developing countries.


Rights-based approaches also give preference to strategies for empowerment over charitable responses. They focus on beneficiaries as the owners of rights and the directors of development, and emphasize the human person as the centre of the development process (directly, through their advocates and through organizations of civil society).

The goal is to give people the power, capacities, capabilities and access needed to change their own lives, improve their own communities and influence their own destinies.


Rights-based approaches require a high degree of participation, including from communities, civil society, minorities, indigenous peoples, women and others. According to the UN Declaration on the Right to Development, such participation must be “active, free and meaningful” so that mere formal or “ceremonial” contacts with beneficiaries are not sufficient.

Rights-based approaches give due attention to issues of accessibility, including access to development processes, institutions, information and redress or complaints mechanisms. This also means situating development project mechanisms in proximity to partners and beneficiaries. Such approaches necessarily opt for process-based development methodologies and techniques, rather than externally conceived “quick fixes” and imported technical models.

Non-discrimination and attention to vulnerable groups

The human rights imperative of rights based approaches means that particular attention is given to discrimination, equality, equity and vulnerable groups. These groups include women, minorities, indigenous peoples and prisoners, but there is no universal checklist of who is most vulnerable in every given context. Rather, rights-based approaches require that such questions be answered locally: who is vulnerable here and now? Development data needs to be disaggregated, as far as possible, by race, religion, ethnicity, language, sex and other categories of human rights concern.

An important aspect of rights-based approaches is the incorporation of express safeguards in development instruments to protect against threats to the rights and well-being of prisoners, minorities, migrants and other often domestically marginalized groups.

Furthermore, all development decisions, policies and initiatives, while seeking to empower local participants, are also expressly required to guard against simply reinforcing existing power imbalances between, for example, women and men, landowners and peasants, and workers and employers.