Human rights-based approach

At the heart of a human rights-based approach (HRBA) is the recognition that inequality and marginalization deny people their human rights and keep them in poverty. An HRBA means that Canada’s international assistance contributes to the advancement of human rights.

What are human rights?

Human rights are inherent to all human beings, regardless of grounds such as race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.

Human rights are civil, political, economic, social and cultural; they are universal, inalienable, indivisible, interrelated and interdependent.

A human rights-based approach is rooted in respect for international human rights law

Central to an HRBA is the concept that States must respect their obligations under international human rights law. A State’s obligations are found in the human rights treaties that the State has chosen to ratify. Human rights obligations are also found in customary international law, which is binding on all States.

A human rights-based approach to international assistance is a tool to help countries meet their human rights obligations and assist people in knowing their human rights and the processes available to claim them. In doing so, it seeks to achieve equitable and sustainable results. It reinforces a feminist approach, as human rights are at the foundation of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

How we translate human rights standards into results

An HRBA focuses on empowering the poorest and most marginalized by developing their capacity to know, exercise, claim, and seek redress for their rights – these actors are rights-holders.

Because rights necessarily imply duties, an HRBA also develops the capacity of State actors to respect, protect and fulfill their legal human rights obligations – these actors are duty-bearers.

It also develops the capacity of non-State actors who have a moral, ethical or social responsibility to promote and observe human rights – these actors are responsibility-holders.

Identifying the causes of inequality

An HRBA provides a lens through which to understand and address the many and overlapping root causes of poverty and violent conflict, which can include:

An analysis identifying the causes of inequality and marginalization, and clarifying the barriers to the advancement of human rights, is an important feature of an HRBA.

Principles for Canada’s human rights-based approach

Canada’s HRBA is guided by key principles, which inform international assistance policy, programs and advocacy:

These HRBA principles guide and inform various programming stages, which include:

These principles also guide and inform Canada’s international assistance policy development, our engagement in various fora, and the mobilization of our partners.

International Assistance programs

The advancement of human rights is central to an HRBA. However an HRBA is in addition to targeted programming in the human rights or governance sectors, and can support the advancement of human rights in any sector.

Canada’s HRBA is distinct from the Official Development Assistance Accountability Act (ODAAA), which establishes the legislative criteria required in order for government funds to be counted as Official Development Assistance (ODA). Nevertheless, an HRBA may inform the analysis undertaken to determine whether funding meets the criteria of the ODAAA so as to be considered ODA, particularly under s. 4(1)(c) with respect to consistency with international human rights standards.

An HRBA is ambitious and there can be no ‘one size fits all’ application across all international assistance. Canada will operationalize the HRBA gradually, in a manner that is tailored to the initiative under consideration and appropriate to the context in question.

Detailed guidance and tools to apply an HRBA will be made available and updated throughout implementation.

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