I. The Role of Rights-based Public Policies

All analysis of policies and institutions in a country must be based on a factual accounting of the degree of fulfillment of rights and the identification of main constraints. The goal should be to realize the aspiration that the democratic rule of law predominates in a country. In other words, the country should not simply aspire to be a nation with laws on the statute books, but rather, seek to be subject to the rule of law, and be, in turn, bound by a constitutional framework, with the guiding principle and practice of respect for human dignity. Further, not only legality and legal security should be meaningfully implemented, but also social justice and economic equality are the order of the day.

Resource constraints do not relieve countries from their responsibility for honouring certain essential obligations when applying economic, social and cultural rights. It is always necessary to take expeditious, constant and effective action in order to phase in the enforcement of economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR). It is incumbent upon the state, the three branches of government and the various government agencies at various levels to comply with the obligations derived from international agreements with regard to human rights. For this purpose legislative, judicial, administrative, economic, social and educational measures should be adopted in order to guarantee enshrined rights.

For policy-making it is necessary to take into account human rights goals and standards and to assess to what extent these requirements will influence the design of social protection and development strategies so as to reduce inequality. In order to ensure that these achievements are sustainable, political and economic factors in each country with regard to prospective public policies and the necessary democratic governance need to be considered.

A rights-based focus is essential and based on the international framework of human rights that understands citizens to be actors exercising rights in the eyes of the law and regards states as entities bound by obligations. This framework is rooted in the common human rights principles, such as equality, non-discrimination, inclusion, participation and accountability. From this perspective, states are obliged to formulate laws, programmes and policies that will strengthen individual and household capacity to manage risks and improve their quality of life.

All human rights are relevant with regard to protection and social inclusion. This holds good from the basic entitlement to “a dignified standard of life” all the way to the entire interdependent nexus of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Reproductive rights and other rights that are related to gender equality should take their place within this general framework, and their interactions with other categories of rights need to be strongly emphasized.

The rights-based focus on protection and social equality is fundamentally operationalized at the national level, through agreements on specific rights that all citizens can demand. In this political context, negotiating mechanisms are required that recognize the value of the redistribution of resources and the equality of rights for the most disadvantaged population groups. It is vital to convert these aspirations into standards and claims that reflect a consensus about sustainable strategies that garners widespread acceptance.

The redistribution of resources that is required for financing instruments of social protection is politically more viable and sustainable when it is supported by a common understanding of rights and shared obligations.

In other words, rights-based public policies rest on sounder foundations when they are linked to “social contracts” between the state and its citizens.

The following issues relating to the focus of rights and public policies for protection and social inclusion serve as a framework:

  1. Social protection is an entitlement. The beneficiaries are holders of rights that hold legitimate claims with regard to the allocation of resources and access to services;
  2. Identify a set of state obligations, especially those connected with economic, social and cultural rights, including reproductive rights that entail certain standards of access, availability, acceptability and quality of goods and social services;
  3. Weigh national resource constraints against the scope for possible improvements in prioritization and reallocation. In addition, recourse can be made to international co-operation in an effort to shoulder the state obligations, taking into account the progressive nature of rights;
  4. Use international standards of human rights to provide backing for national strategies to social protection and facilitate the implementation of policies and programmes;
  5. Guarantee special protection for vulnerable groups based on, inter alia, identity, ethnic origin or the stages of their life cycle (children and older persons) and disability;
  6. Recognize the importance of civil participation as a rationale for social protection and as a mechanism for ensuring that rights are expressed in clear and enforceable guarantees;
  7. Provide a set of principles rooted in the international regulatory framework that can be used to select and evaluate programmes and policies. Principles of inclusion, equality and non-discrimination are essential;
  8. Establish linkages between participation and accountability on the one hand, and policies for protecting rights on the other hand, to move from a focus on social welfare to a focus on social inclusion within a democratic framework;
  9. Build capacity in actors and institutions in order to facilitate efforts to develop a sense of civic-mindedness and to enhance the awareness and exercise of rights. The dissemination and relevant use of socio-demographic information is a mechanism for empowering citizens;
  10. Promote mechanisms for ensuring transparency and accountability as a key component of governance. Access to the judiciary is a prerequisite for asserting and enforcing rights and monitoring the state’s compliance with its responsibilities.

Bibliographic Sources:

  • UNDG. Documents and Guidelines regarding focus on the framework of the construction of the common country assessment (CCA) and the UNDAF joint programming process. Available at: http://www.undg.org/index.cfm?P=16;
  • UNDP (2000). Human Development Report, dedicated to human rights;
  • Reports of the United Nations Secretary General on Reform. Available at: http://www.un.org/sg/;
  • Millennium Project. Available at: http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/.