National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) apply a human rights-based approach (HRBA) in their work. The HRBA is a conceptual framework directed towards promoting and protecting human rights, based on international human rights standards. It puts human rights and corresponding state obligations at the heart of policy and can be used by NHRIs as a tool to empower the most vulnerable people to participate in decision-making processes and hold duty-bearers accountable.


The HRBA has two objectives:

  • To empower rights-holders to claim and exercise their rights
  • To strengthen capacity of duty-bearers who have the obligation to respect, protect, promote, and fulfil human rights

Rights-holders are individuals or social groups that have particular entitlements in relation to duty-bearers.

Duty-bearers are state or non-state actors, that have the obligation to respect, protect, promote, and fulfil human rights of rights-holders.


The HRBA is underpinned by five key human rights principles, also known as PANEL: Participation, Accountability, Non-discrimination and Equality, Empowerment and Legality.

  • Participation – everyone is entitled to active participation in decision-making processes which affect the enjoyment of their rights.
  • Accountability – duty-bearers are held accountable for failing to fulfil their obligations towards rights-holders. There should be effective remedies in place when human rights breaches occur.
  • Non-discrimination and equality – all individuals are entitled to their rights without discrimination of any kind. All types of discrimination should be prohibited, prevented and eliminated.
  • Empowerment – everyone is entitled to claim and exercise their rights. Individuals and communities need to understand their rights and participate in the development of policies which affect their lives.
  • Legality – approaches should be in line with the legal rights set out in domestic and international laws.