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Human rights based approaches

Rights Rights and Freedoms
Tuesday 18 June, 2013

It would be deceiving the peoples of the world to let them think that a legal provision was all that was required ... when in fact an entire social structure had to be transformed : Rene Cassin, during the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Human rights based approaches are about turning human rights from purely legal instruments into effective policies, practices, and practical realities.

Human rights principles and standards provide guidance about what should be done to achieve freedom and dignity for all. A human rights-based approach emphasises how human rights are achieved

The Commission considers that, for Australia to comply with its international responsibilities, all areas and level of government in Australia have a responsibility to apply human rights based approaches. Development of a National Human Rights Action Plan is a step towards this.

The Commission seeks to apply human rights based approaches in its own work. The Australian Human Rights Commission Act (section 10A)  states that the Commission must perform its functions with regard for 

  • the indivisibility and universality of human rights; and 
  • the principle that every person is free and equal in dignity and rights.

The Commission also supports application of human rights based approaches by businesss and other organisations throughout society.

What are human rights based approaches?

Details of a human rights approach will vary depending on the nature of the organisation concerned and the issues it deals with. Common principles, however, have been identified as the "PANEL" principles:

  • Participation
  • Accountability
  • Non-discrimination and equality
  • Empowerment 
  • Legality

The summary below is gratefully adapted from materials on this issue by our colleagues at the Scottish Human Rights Commission.


Everyone has the right to participate in decisions which affect their human rights. Participation must be active, free and meaningful, and give attention to issues of accessibility, including access to information in a form and a language which can be understood.


Accountability requires effective monitoring of compliance with human rights standards and achievement of human rights goals, as well as effective remedies for human rights breaches. For accountability to be effective, there must be appropriate laws, policies, institutions, administrative procedures and mechanisms of redress in order to secure human rights.

Effective monitoring of compliance and achievement of human rights goals also requires development and use of appropriate human rights indicators.

Non-discrimination and equality

A human rights based approach means that all forms of discrimination in the realisation of rights must be prohibited, prevented and eliminated. It also means that priority should be given to people in the most marginalised or vulnerable situations who face the biggest barriers to realising their rights.


Everyone is entitled to claim and exercise their rights and freedoms. Individuals and communities need to be able to understand their rights, and  to participate fully in the development of policy and practices which affect their lives. 


A human rights based approach requires that

  • the law recognises human rights and freedoms as legally enforceable entitlements, and
  • the law itself is consistent with human rights principles.

Commission work

More information