Human rights-based approach

A human rights based approach seeks to base all development co-operation and assistance on the international framework of human rights. Human rights standards and principles derived from international human rights conventions, customary law and other international instruments should guide all development cooperation and planning.

A human rights based approach to development therefore defines States (governments, national and local authorities, public officials and service providers) as duty bearers and citizens as rights holders. This ensures sustainable development cooperation which contributes to advancing the capacities of duty-bearers to met their obligations, and of rights-holders to claim their rights.

In 2003, the United Nations developed a common understanding that affirmed that all development programmes should realize human rights and must be guided by human rights principles and standards:

  1. All programmes of development co-operation policies and technical assistance should further the realisation of human rights as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.
  2. Human rights standards contained in, and principles derived from, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments guide all development cooperation and programming in all sectors and in all phases of the programming process.
  3. Programmes of development cooperation contribute to the development of the capabilities of duty-bearers to meet their obligations and of rights-holders to claim their rights.

For more information see the Human Rights Based Approach to Development Cooperation: Towards a Common Understanding Among UN Agencies.

Organisations should ensure that the assistance they offer is targeting countries with the least services and that are unable to realise the rights to water and sanitation themselves. Organisations should work closely together with the government and assist the State in bringing benefits to those with no basic access to water and sanitation – particularly focussing on marginalised and neglected individuals and areas.

Many civil society actors advocate for the rights to water and sanitation and assist individuals and communities in the realisation of their rights to water and sanitation. By using a human rights based approach in their work, practitioners are able to ensure sustainable cooperation which contributes to empower individuals and communities to claim their rights.