Rights-based approach to development cooperation

Rights-based approach to development cooperation

Rights-based approach to development cooperation

The 2030 Agenda is grounded in international human rights norms and principles of non-discrimination and equal access, participation, accountability and access to the rule of law, and transparency. This resonates perfectly with the commitment taken by the EU and its Member States will implement a rights-based approach to development cooperation, encompassing all human rights.



The EU has a firm political commitment to integrate human rights principles into EU operational activities for development.

The New European Consensus on Development commits the EU and its Member States to implementing a rights-based approach (RBA) to development cooperation, encompassing all human rights. It thereby reinforces the EU's commitment to an RBA as outlined in the 2012 EU Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy, the 2014 Tool-box "A Rights-Based Approach, encompassing all human rights, for EU development cooperation" and the respective Council Conclusions.

The Commission adopted in 2014 a Staff Working Document: the "tool-box-a Rights-Based Approach, encompassing all human rights for EU development cooperation" to operationalise the Rights Based Approach. The tool box was welcomed by the Council (Council conclusions on a rights-based approach to development cooperation, encompassing all human rights, 19 May 2014).  Moreover, in the new Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy for the period 2015-2019, the EU reiterates this commitment with specific actions to integrate an RBA into all EU development instruments and activities.  The European Commission has started to progressively integrate the rights-based approach into its development programmes, which will make EU development cooperation more sustainable and effective, as well as in line with delivering on our commitment to realising the SDGs.

The new Consensus envisages even stronger commitment from EU and its Member States to implement RBA because:

  • RBA helps us deliver on the principles of EU external action set out in the treaties – indivisibility of human rights, respect for human dignity, equality.
  • RBA is in line with the principles of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, especially ownership, transparency and accountability, and inclusive partnerships.
  • RBA provides methodology that can enhance coordination of development cooperation policies of the EU and its Member States.
  • RBA serves to align development cooperation policies to the human rights commitments of our partners
  • RBA is key in ensuring that no one is left behind, helps address the multiple discriminations faced by people in vulnerable situations. By ensuring that we leave no one behind we deliver on the primary objective of EU development policy: reduction and, in the long term, eradication of poverty.



    The Tool-box which was adopted as a Staff Working Document in 2014 is available in English, French and Spanish.

    RBA working principles:

    • Applying all rights (legality, universality and indivisibility of HR)
    • Participation and access to the decision making process – (more than consultation or a technical step in project preparation; participation as a right and the basis for active citizenship).
    • Non-discrimination and equal access – (development interventions have to prioritise the most marginalised groups and avoid contributing to established patterns of discrimination)
    • Accountability and access to the rule of law –( cooperation has to promote accessible, transparent and effective mechanisms of accountability at different levels, both donors and recipients have to be accountable to rights holders).
    • Transparency and access to information – (development programmes and projects shave to be transparent, with information available in accessible formats, including for the marginalised groups).

    Key messages from the tool box:

    • Human rights are universal, inalienable and indivisible – all human rights, whether economic, political, civil, cultural and social, are of equal validity and importance.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • Development cooperation contributes to the development of the capacities of ‘duty-bearers’ to meet their obligations and/or of ‘rights-holders’ to claim their rights.
    • RBA applies to all sectors, all modalities, and each step of the project cycle – identification, formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
    • It is a common sense approach focused on improving the quality of project delivery. It places equal importance on results and processes.
    • It changes the analytical lens and makes the link to human rights standards and principles, thus providing standards around which to align with other donors and improving quality of outcomes and targeting the most vulnerable.
    • Development projects can have unintended negative impact in terms of human rights such as disadvantaging certain groups, interfering with participation rights and labour rights or contributing to forced displacement. It is therefore important to abide by the 'do no harm' principle and carry out the required analysis.