Taking a Human Rights Based Approach

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Undertaking screening and impact assessment exercises can help check for human rights compliance. Many policy makers already consider human rights and guidance / tools are available in the Practical Guide to Policy Making that can support civil servants in this area. The aim of any consideration of human rights is to ensure that the resulting policy or legislation complies with human rights law and standards.

However, considering human rights throughout the policy development process and acting in a way that upholds human rights standards can make it easier for policy makers to produce a human rights compliant policy.

The United Nations has developed a set of principles which can be used as a model of good practice for incorporating human rights. 

PANEL Principles 

  • Participation

Involving the affected service users in the policy development process from the earliest possible stage. 

  • Accountability

Identifying which services users are the key rights holders for the purpose of this policy and outlining the responsibilities of all the stakeholders that carry obligations in relations to their human rights. This will be enhanced through cross-departmental cooperation as a single policy may impact human rights in a range of ways. 

  • Non-discrimination

Examining how the rights of different groups are affected by the policy and ensuring that positive action is taken if necessary to address inequality. 

  • Empowerment

Ensuring that the involvement of stakeholders in the policy development process is designed to engage vulnerable and marginalised groups and empower them as rights-holders.

  • Legality

Underpinning all policy development in the legally binding obligations created by human rights law and standards. Using screening and impact assessment tools to check for legal compliance. 


When considering the entire policy development process and life-cycle of a policy, it is helpful to apply the PANEL principles at all relevant stages:

  • In order to ground the policy in legally binding human rights standards policy makers should look to all relevant human rights case law and recommendations from international human rights bodies.

  • In order to ensure their voices are included in the feedback policy makers should proactively seek out those groups of rights holders who are most marginalised¬†

  • At this stage it may be necessary to engage with other departments or agencies whose work will also impact on the human rights affected by the policy.¬†