Human rights

Human rights


Rights, groups and discrimination

Denials or violations of rights tend to be based on social exclusion and discrimination. Social exclusion occurs where particular individuals or groups are excluded by (or adversely incorporated into) mainstream society from participating fully in economic, social and political life. In order to combat this, increasing attention is being paid to how to facilitate greater – and more equitable – inclusion. It is argued that greater equality in the distribution of economic resources, measured by distribution of income and access to land, is related to higher levels of human rights protections.

Discrimination can work explicitly, through institutions, norms and values. It can also have invisible impacts, where values and ideas affect the self-perceptions of excluded people and their capabilities to claim their rights. Rights-based approaches to development therefore emphasise non-discrimination, inclusion, and empowerment, aimed particularly at vulnerable or marginalised individuals and groups such as women, children, people with disabilities, older people and migrants.

Thinking about rights and exclusion necessitates a consideration of the role of various informal institutions and ‘rules of the game’ within formal settings. Again, human rights legislation to combat exclusion must be accompanied by relevant enforcement mechanisms which are framed on the basis of a variety of social, political and economic influences.  

O'Neill, T., Piron, L-H., 2003, 'Rights-Based Approaches to Tackling Discrimination and Horizontal Inequality', Overseas Development Institute, London
How can discrimination and horizontal inequality be combated? In many societies there is a strong dimension of horizontal inequality, meaning gaps in well-being between clearly defined groups (for example, along lines of gender or ethnicity). Frequently, a lack of respect for equal rights and difficulties in claiming entitlements are major factors underlying poverty, contributing to economic and social exclusion. This paper reviews the importance of human rights, the extent, nature and processes of discrimination and how far states combat it. It presents the potential contribution of rights-based approaches by governments, civil society and international donors to combating discrimination and inequalities.
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Landman, T. and Larizza, M., 2009, ‘Inequality and Human Rights: Who Controls What, When, and How’, International Studies Quarterly, vol. 53, no. 3, pp. 715-736
Are countries with resource distribution inequalities more likely to suffer from higher levels of human rights abuse? This article analyses data from 162 countries over the period from 1980 to 2004. The results suggest that both income and land inequalities significantly contribute to human rights abuses.
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International Council on Human Rights Policy, 2004, 'Enhancing Access to Human Rights', ICHRP, Geneva
Why do so many people not enjoy rights to which they are entitled? What needs to be done beyond law and legal reform to ensure that rights and entitlements are accessible to all? This report analyses the role that institutions play in alleviating or exacerbating social exclusion. It concludes that human rights organisations need to reposition themselves to become relevant to the very poor and those who suffer systemic discrimination.
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Page contents


Molyneux, M., Razavi, S., 2003, 'Gender Justice, Development and Rights', UNRISD, Geneva
The 1990s saw positive changes in women's rights and human rights more broadly, with growth in the size and influence of the international women's movement. Linked regionally and internationally, the movement was able to collaborate on issues of policy and agenda setting. This paper summarises a book of the same name published by Oxford University Press. It examines ways in which liberal rights, and ideas of democracy and justice have been incorporated into these agendas in three aspects: Social sector restructuring and social rights in a neoliberal economic policymaking era; the democratisation and politics of gender; and universalism and multiculturalism in practice.
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Neuhold, B., 2005, 'Focus on Human Rights and Gender Justice: Linking the Millennium Development Goals with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Beijing Platform for Action', United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS)
What are the interlinkages between the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)? This paper explores the three instruments and offers a feminist analysis of the MDGs. It emphasises that the MDGs must be developed further from the perspective of human rights, poverty reduction and the empowerment of women.
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Goetz, A-M., 2007, 'Gender Justice, Citizenship and Entitlements - Core Concepts, Central Debates and New Directions for Research', in Gender Justice, Citizenship and Development, eds. M. Mukhopadhyay and N. Singh, International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, pp. 15-57
Why have efforts at law reform and progress in exposing gender biases in formal legal systems failed to bring about gender justice? This chapter links current thinking on gender justice to debates on citizenship, entitlements, rights, law and development. It argues that equal citizenship, whilst key to the struggle for gender justice, does not guarantee it.
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UNESCAP, 2009, ‘Harmful Traditional Practices in Three Countries of South Asia: Culture, Human Rights and Violence against Women’, Gender and Development Discussion Paper, no. 21, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok
How can research, advocacy, and legal reform reverse social acceptance of practices that violate the human rights of women and girls? This paper explores these issues through case studies from Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka and finds that harmful practices have evolved from originally non-harmful colonial, religious and cultural traditions. Combating the entrenched social norms that promote these practices requires a comprehensive, human rights-based approach.
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Tadros, M., 2011, 'Introduction: Gender, Rights and Religion at the Crossroads', IDS Bulletin, vol. 42, no. 1, pp. 1-9
How has the new approach to religion since 9/11 impacted on efforts to address women’s rights? How has it affected women’s day to day realities? This article examines various forms of instrumentalisation of religion, gender and human rights, against the backdrop of today’s volatile political context, the rise of identity politics and increased economic inequality and deprivation. It argues that the binaries of religious versus secular, moderate Islamist versus radical Islamist, feminist versus Muslim activist, conceal the ambiguities and fluidity of identities, strategies of engagement and framing of ideas. They are undermining efforts to improve the lives of women.
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UNICEF, 2011, ‘Realising the Rights of Adolescents’, in The State of the World’s Children 2011: Adolescence - An Age of Opportunity, UNICEF, New York, pp.16-39
Realizing the rights of adolescents and advancing their development requires a keen understanding of their current circumstances. This chapter examines the state of adolescent health and education and gender and protection issues.
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Grandjean, A., 2010, ‘No Rights Without Accountability: Promoting Access to Justice for Children’, in Legal Empowerment: Practitioners’ Perspectives, ed S. Golub, International Development Law Organization, Rome, pp. 265-284
What can be done to improve children’s access to justice? This paper focuses on intervention at two levels: (1) building a child-sensitive justice system (the supply side); and (2) providing information and support to children in claiming for their rights and obtaining redress on the other (the demand side). At both levels, the focus must be on the most excluded and the most difficult to reach.
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UNICEF, 2004, 'State of the World's Children 2005: Childhood Under Threat', UNICEF, New York
Childhood is the foundation of the world's hope for a better future yet millions of children grow up amid poverty, conflict and disease. The gap between the reality and the ideal of childhood is the focus of this report. What does childhood mean for children and for countries? What must be done if the rights of all children are to be protected and the Millennium Development Goals met? The paper calls for swift and decisive action from the entire international community to ensure that every child enjoys a childhood.
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People with disabilities

Handicap International, 2010, Rights in Action - Good Practices for Inclusive Local Governance in West Africa, Handicap International
In West Africa, 7 countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo and Benin) have taken part in an initiative called “Rights in Action”, aimed at collecting good practices from multiple stakeholders on how to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). This report provides examples to help enhance participation of people with disabilities in decision-making at community level.
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Meekosha, H. and Soldatic,K. 2011, ‘Human Rights and the Global South: The Case of Disability’, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 8, p.p 1383–1398
How can human rights instruments contribute to the struggle for disability justice in the South? The paper argues that while Northern discourses promote an examination of disabled bodies in social dynamics, the politics of impairment in the global South must understand social dynamics in bodies.
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Groce, N., Kett, M., Lang, R. and Trani, J.F., 2011, ‘Disability and Poverty: the need for a more nuanced understanding of implications for development policy and practice’, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 8, pp.1493-1513
This article reviews existing knowledge and theory regarding the disability–poverty nexus. It calls for more nuanced analysis of poverty and disability, in particular what does poverty mean at the level of the individual, the household, the community and broader society, and how is it experienced over the course of a lifetime? What are the most important causal factors driving the disability-poverty nexus? What benchmarks and indicators should be used?
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Older people

Beales, S., 2000, 'The Mark of a Noble Society: Human Rights and Older People', HelpAge International, London
Older women and men are now the world's fastest-growing population group, and among the poorest. What barriers do older people face in having their predicaments acknowledged and their contributions supported? How can their rights be promoted and protected? There is a compelling economic as well as moral logic for including older people in global strategies to combat poverty to further human rights. This paper explores the relationship between poverty and human rights, and the barriers older people face.
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Kothari, U., 2002, 'Migration and Chronic Poverty', Chronic Poverty Research Centre, IDPM, Manchester
What is the relationship between chronic, or long-term, poverty and processes of migration? While livelihoods strategies are diverse and multiple, for many poor people migration represents a central component of these. How can research examine the characteristics of those who move and stay and what compels them? This paper identifies possible future research priorities for the Chronic Poverty Research Centre. It presents migration as both a cause and consequence of chronic poverty for migrants and those left behind.
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Lean Lim, L. et al, 2003, 'An Information Guide: Preventing Discrimination, Exploitation and Abuse of Women Migrant Workers', International Labour Organisation, Geneva
Increasingly, women, and Asian women in particular, are migrating legally or illegally for overseas employment. These women are extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, outside of the legal protection of their home countries and in jobs not covered by labour legislation. This information guide consists of six booklets, addressing all aspects of migrant work and including recommendations for preventing discrimination, exploitation and abuse. With appropriate knowledge, policies and tools, international migration could be a positive experience for all.
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Minorities and indigenous peoples

Justino, P. and Litchfield, J., n.d., 'Economic Exclusion and Discrimination: The Experience of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples', Minority Rights Group International, London
What is the link between economic exclusion and discrimination against ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples? What are the implications for poverty reduction and development strategies? This paper finds sufficient evidence to suggest that discrimination is often a strong contributing factor to the exclusion of minorities and indigenous people. Discrimination on the basis of membership of an ethnic, religious or linguistic group should be examined alongside other forms of discrimination to strengthen policy strategies for overcoming economic exclusion.
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Lennox, C., 2003 'Minority and Indigenous Peoples' Rights in the Millennium Development Goals', Minority Rights Group International, London
How can human rights and poverty alleviation best be achieved among minorities and indigenous people? This report argues that greater effort is needed to ensure that these groups benefit fairly from development and the international commitment to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Governments and development agencies need to review their MDG policies immediately to ensure that the rights and needs of minorities and indigenous peoples are fully considered.
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Sexual Minorities

Oxfam, 2010, ‘Break Another Silence: Understanding Sexual Minorities and Taking Action for Sexual Rights in Africa’, Oxfam, London
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