A changing context for the role of hr in country programming

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Think Piece on integrating human rights into the Post-2015 UNCT country programmes

A changing context for the role of HR in country programming

These past five years, the international context has brought about ‘giant leaps’ in the UN’s capacity to integrate HR into its country programming processes. To name a few of these changes:

  • In 2012, the UN concluded its first ever systematic review of the human rights record of all Member States on all rights, through the UPR mechanism. This was the first time programmers around the world had a common basis on which to build a HR analysis for country programmes. This also led the UN to begin considering how to innovate in the work of the other HR mechanisms, such as with the reform of the Treaty Body system.

  • In 2013, the UN issued the “A Million Voices: The World We Want” report, gathering the views of the peoples of the world on where they want to see the global development headed in the ‘post-2015 agenda’. This first ever global consultation led by the UN clearly highlighted the need to maintain focus on eradicating poverty and building prosperity through a human rights- based approach, but to also provide attention to human rights and governance issues necessary to achieve peace, sustainability, equality and dignity.

  • The renewed demand by peoples of the world for more attention to be provided to the HR dimensions of development, and the growing number of experiences from the field, led to a greater recognition in UN development policy and practice, of the centrality of the UN’s HR mandate in strategically positioning the UN development system.

  • The centrality of HR was also echoed in the reiterated calls for greater normative and operational links in the UN’s development work at the country level; a central element of the elaboration of the new development goals (SDGs) and the assessment ofthe Organisation’s readiness to support Member States in meeting development challenges (Fit for Purpose).

HR & SDG commitments can be a basis for programme planning

With much of the attention of the world on the ‘post-2015 agenda’ and the ‘HR agenda’ - the two broadest (in terms of systematic global coverage) and most ambitious (in terms of the issues covered) development processes of today – it is clear that both the national actors and the UNCTs will devote much of their time and effort to actions that contribute to meeting these international commitments.

Both the ‘post-2015 agenda’ and the ‘HR agenda’ require each country to monitor its performance against common standards, and to regularly report on this before the UN and the international community. Both agendas also require the UNCT to be actively involved in this process, inter-alia by: disseminating information on the commitments made; advocating for national actors to monitor and follow-up on these commitments; supporting these actors in analysing where the country stands, and in reporting on this; and providing support in taking the necessary measures to comply with the commitments made. Each of these responsibilities requires much preparation and follow-up.

Yet, while most countries and UNCTs understand that the issues covered by each one of these two agendas are interrelated, and that both agendas should beclosely interlinked with the UNDAF and other country programming processes, country programmes have for the most part been planned and followed separately, for example by: elaborating a separate country assessment; developing a separate set of goals and indicators; and establishing separate monitoring, reporting and evaluation mechanisms, unnecessarily adding a third process and set of commitments to be monitored and reported. In current country programmes, the HR and SDG (or MDG) commitments have only been included as ‘inputs’ to the planning and reporting process (for example by citing HR recommendations in the CCA, or including the MDG targets among the indicators of the UNDAF).

One reason for this may be that the thematic similarities between the SDG and HR are not evident at first sight, but placing them under a common umbrella - such as the SDG grouping proposed by the SG in his ‘synthesis report’ - shows the potential of framing both agendas under a common set of programmatic areas (see Graph 1); not only because they show thematic commonalities, but because they also show potential complementarities, and combined provide attention tothe main (if not all) development challenges mankind confronts today. It is difficult to imagine an issue of relevance to a country programme that is not covered by the wide spectrum of development issues that HR and the SDGs cover.

HR reports can serve as a starting point for country analyses

While the SDG framework for follow-up, monitoring and reporting on the ‘post-2015 agenda’ is still being developed, the ‘HR agenda’ has well-established mechanisms for dialogue between the national actors and the UN in follow-up to the commitments acquired by the country, and for monitoring and reporting on these commitments. Of the different ‘HR mechanisms’ that exist (Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures and the Universal Periodic Review), the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) stands out as the most universal and comprehensive of the processes.

The UPR process is unique in that it systematically reviews all countries within a four and a half-years period. It bases these reviews on three comprehensive ‘background’ reports: A 20-page report prepared by the Government, reporting on behalf of the State; a 10-page compilation of information from UN sources prepared by OHCHR; and another 10-page report summarizing the information received from ‘other stakeholders’ including independent national human rights institutions, civil society, and regional organisations. While the availability of information for each of the reports varies from country to country, it is the only systematic compilation of information on the HR situation in every country that exists today.

Of the three reports, the one that is most standard in content is the ‘Compilation of UN information’ report, which summarizes the most significant observations made by the different HR mechanisms, reports from the different UN entities, and the information provided by the UNCTs; all arranged according to a standard grouping of rights similar to the one used in Graph 1. This report, and to a lesser degree the other two ‘background’ reports, can be a good starting point to begin analysing the development challenges that the country programmes should address (see Graph 2). In doing so, the issues identified can be easily grouped along the lines of the six thematic areas proposed by the SG as the basis for the SDGs. This would allow comparison with the commitments made under the ‘post-2015 agenda’. Basing the country analysis for country programming on official commitments made by the country before the UN in this manner, empowers the UNCT to legitimately draw the attention of the Government and other national actors to development challenges that they may not have considered in their development plans and programmes, but which need to be addressed.

HR recommendations can help identify the most vulnerable

Another defining characteristic of the ‘post-2015 agenda’ is a shift from a pure focus on national averages, to looking at the inequalities that lie behind these averages. This perspective is fully in line with a ‘human rights-based approach’ (HRBA), which requires development plans to identify what groups are being discriminated and ‘left behind’ in development, and to address the specific challenges they face, thus ensuring a ‘people-centred’ development.

All HR mechanisms monitor issues of discrimination and inequality, and some are specifically dedicated to monitoring the situation of groups which are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and marginalization (children, indigenous peoples, migrants, persons with disabilities, women, etc.). Because of this, UN country programmes that base their planning on HR commitments, and start their country analysis with HR reports, are better placed to identify the main groups that are most vulnerable to being excluded by development, and what issues need to be addressed to tackle persisting patterns of inequality and discrimination in the country. Today there are many databases of HR recommendations, such as the ‘Universal HR Index’ (see here), that allow country programmers to filter recommendations by vulnerable groups, to identify the specific challenges they face in enjoying their rights.

HR & SDG-based country programming can enhance engagement with national counterparts and with UN monitoring mechanisms

One last major advantage of a country programme design that is based on the country’s commitments under the HR and the ‘post-2015’ agendas is its potential in enhancing engagement with both national counterparts and the UN mechanisms established to monitor these commitments. Meetings established with national counterparts to discuss implementation of country programmes, like those of the UNDAF ‘Steering Committees’ for example, become by default spaces to review the actions that are being taken by the country with the support of the UNCT to advance the commitments made under both agendas. Given the similarities in timelines and reporting processes between the two agendas and the country programmes (see Graph 3), the information gathered to report on the country programmes can also serve as ‘inputs’ for the reports the UNCT and national counterparts are requested to provide to the mechanisms established to monitor the ‘HR agenda’ and the ‘post-2015 agenda’.

The approach proposed here would also contribute to broadening the engagement of the UNCT beyond traditional counterparts in country programming, both within the Government and with civil society, to include other stakeholders that are relevant both for the HR and ‘post-2015’ agendas. It also contributes to the UNCTs ‘messaging’ capacities, allowing UNCTs to better explain their work, the reasoning behind the priorities it has set, and the added-value that the UN brings to the country, both to the national audience and to the international community.

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