Evolution of Rights Based Approach

There are many definitions and stand points on RBA given by number of agencies. A table is available at Annex 3. According to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), a human rights-based approach 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. In my opinion, the definition is precisely noted in Cohen (2004),
A rights based approach is founded on the conviction that each and every human being, by virtue of being human, is a holder of rights. A right entails an obligation on the part of government to respect, promote, protect and fulfill it. The legal and normative character of rights and the associated government obligations are based on international human rights treaties and other standards, as well as on national constitutional human rights provisions.

Cohen’s focal point seems poverty and deprivation of economic, social, and cultural rights. And meeting these rights could empower destitute to claim their rights. However, in the context of very poor country like Bangladesh, it is acceptable.

Today’s RBA came into existence during the passage of time from 1940s to now on through the formation and grown up of UN. From the following table we can have a quick journey into the history of RBA.

Table : History of rights-based approach[i]

UN charter after the Word War II was the first recognizable universal consensus of nation states that came up with the agenda of peace, human rights, and development. Through civil, political and economic, social, cultural rights from 1950s to 80s, the concept of economic, social, and people centered development became talk of the development agencies. Initially economic development was narrowly trapped within income growth and domestic product growth etc. Concept of economic growth existed for decade despite the fact that economic growth may be accompanied by inequalities[ii].

In 1986, the declaration on right to development was an attempt to emphasize development as right. Right to peace, environment, and development are known as third generation rights whereas CP rights belong to first generation and ESC rights are the second generation. Right to development is not alienable from main stream rights. The Declaration reflects the aims of “constant improvement of well-being of the entire population and of all individuals on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in development.” According to Article 8, “equality of opportunity for all in their access to basic resources, education, health services, food, housing, employment and fair distribution of income”. This article supports the argument for “fundamental rights” that is drawn in this paper for adequate standard of life.

Right to development declaration is not legally binding and failed to get attention of the western wealthy states because of strategic reasons. According to Nyamu-Musembi & Cornwall, right to development “emphasizes a collective duty of all states to eliminate barriers such as unfair trade rules and debt burden, effectively pointing an accusing finger at the industrial countries. For this reason it has been opposed by Western states (2004: 8, cited in Ahsan, 2006).” In the AOA, and trade liberalization section we have found how these trade agreements have been exploiting developing countries and creating food insecurity. The failure of “right to development” reminds us about the power and intention of rich countries and their influence within UN system.

In 1993, Vienna conference affirmed the indivisibility of human rights and development. It was recognized in the conference that democracy, development, and human rights are interdependent and interlinked. In 1995, World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen came up with the mantra that the ultimate goal of social development is to improve and enhance the quality of life of all people. Social development encounters problems including poverty, unemployment, and social disintegration. The summit urges to reduce sources of distress and instability from families and societies, and social development can be achieved by enhancing well-being of people.

Later on economic development thinking moved towards people centered development, which is aligned with UNDP’s latest version of “human development” that is in line with Sen’s “Development as freedom”. Human development is a process of enlarging people’s choice by expanding capabilities. According to HDR (2000), it focuses on progress of human lives and well-being. Well-being includes living with substantial freedoms. Human development enhances capabilities. According to HDR, capabilities include,

the basic freedoms of being able to meet bodily requirements, such as the ability to avoid starvation and undernourishment, or to escape preventable morbidity or premature mortality. They also include the enabling opportunities given by schooling, for example, or by the liberty and the economic means to move freely and to choose one’s abode. (2000, p 19).

While human rights guarantee freedom by legal protection and moral obligations, human development enhances capabilities to ensure freedom. Both has same destination but through different agenda for development. According to Theis (2004: 11) the growing popularity by UN agencies, INGOs, and some western governments to adopt RBA is because, “…together, human rights and development are more effective than either one on its own. ” RBA depends much more on international legal standards. The biggest challenge of RBA is the “realization” and “enforcement” of these standards. It is also difficult to pursue governments to ratify human rights treaties. Though the treaties are ratified; it is difficult to hold government accountable to fulfill her obligations. However, we are not digging into the issues of constraints and of difficulties to promote human rights here.

End notes:
[i] Theis (2004) has drawn this table and explains how BRA came into existence.
[ii] Britt Kalla (2006) noted Arjun Sengupta’s argument, which says economic growth can be accompanied by augmented inequalities or disparities and rising concentrations of wealth and economic power as well as the ignoring of human rights standards relating to economic, social and cultural (ESC) but also civil and political (CP) rights.
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