30, October, 2012

Making Human Rights Real: Two Latin American Experiences in the Rights Based Approach to Policymaking

Argentina and the Government of Mexico City are implementing innovative administrative and public policy changes to make human rights a reality. Advances in both countries are uneven, though both experiences have important outcomes to share.

Human rights are not mere discursive concepts on human dignity. These days, consensus dictates that governments who commit to human rights by ratifying international treaties are also required to implement specific domestic measures to fulfill their obligations.  In addition to law enforcement and accountability systems, one of the main tools governments can use to guarantee human rights are public policies. Accordingly, some governments in Latin America are taking steps to transform their administrative structures to comply with their human rights obligations. This Brief offers short case studies of the first two Latin American initiatives to integrate a rights based approach in public policies.  It analyses the experience of the Government of Mexico City, which has made great strides in implementing the approach, and the case of Argentina, an incipient but promising process to guarantee the realisation of human rights. Though it is too early in both cases to see an impact on human rights per se, there are important outcomes in terms of implementing the process itself, outcomes that are significant given the difficulty of enacting such fundamental change. In describing these successes and the contextual factors underpinning them, lessons can be drawn that might be useful for other developing countries considering implementing a Rights Based Approach to address their own human rights challenges.

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Key Lessons:

  • As a new and different approach to policymaking, incorporating a RBA requires spending much time raising awareness and convincing stakeholders about the benefits of reform.
  • The micro-management or implementation level seems to be the most difficult for a RBA to permeate, due not only to the many changes and specific actions this paradigm demands, but also to bureaucratic inertia.
  • Though political will was crucial in both cases, it is not enough to successfully implement a RBA. There is also a need for reliable technical capacity and the ability to identify problems - such as through sound participatory assessments.

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