Using a Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) tool to inform and assess external policy measures

The Humanist Committee on Human Rights (HOM) in the Netherlands is developing a Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) tool to assist governments and other policy-making bodies in the systematic translation of general objectives into priorities and action on human rights and democratic development.  

The HRIA contains eight levels of procedural implementation that allow stakeholders to assess and forecast the impact of policy, programs and projects on human rights situations and apply retrospective analysis on existing practices.  

The first step, assessment of the actual human rights situation, requires an investment in time and expertise in order to identify critical issues in a specific situation or location, including current problems and strategic goals. Using quantitative and qualitative indicators, HOM encourages in-depth analysis of the situation based on sound country reporting.  During this first step, users should draw from and combine existing country reports, such as reports by UN Treaty Bodies and Country Rapporteurs, Amnesty International documents and US State Department Reports, as well as information from local NGO’s to provide an additional level of interpretation.

Step two focuses on the political analysis of the politics, economy, culture and external relations of situation-specific development.  An essential part of HRIA is establishing a contextual understanding of human rights issues and policies because this serves as a precondition to defining objectives for governments and political bodies.  HOM suggests looking at the Democratic Analytical Framework used by Rights and Democracy, Canada (formerly known as The International Center for Human Rights and Democratic Development).

Step three, development of a clear view on the desired situation, involves the formulation of long- and mid-term objectives. Setting benchmarks in combination with timeframes can be useful in order to break down more general or long-term goals into measurable elements. Both problem-analysis and stakeholder-analysis contribute to the formulation of realistic objectives and the reliability of the assessment of needs.

During step four, the selection of essential questions, agreement needs to be reached on the important issues that are at stake in a particular situation. This will help to ensure that policies, programs and projects will focus on those issues that are crucial for working toward the ‘desired situation’ that was defined during step three.  

Step five, formulation of policy, programs and project proposals, draws on the analysis, objectives and timeframes established during the first four stages of the framework to assess what the government or stakeholders involved can do at different points in the policy process.  A useful model for NGOs during this step is Najam’s 1999 Efficacy Framework.  This step promotes effective policy, program and project design by applying methodical analysis to relationships between goals, activities, indicators and assumptions.

Step six, decision on policy and activities, requires the policy-making body to test proposals for acceptability and feasibility, given contextual considerations. This step must involve an assessment of funding availability and incorporate action decisions into workplace, monitoring and evaluation plans.

In step seven, monitoring, the policy body uses indicators developed at earlier steps to track program or project development systematically and makes use of external organizations and experts to ensure transparency.  These parties can also tailor monitoring procedures to the specific situation and project.  

Step eight, evaluation, builds on the monitoring process and uses feedback and information on new developments to assess project effectiveness, human rights impact and future developments.

HOM stresses the importance of drawing on the knowledge and experience of governmental, non-governmental, academic and other stakeholders during the early stages of implementing the Human Rights Impact Assessment. Though HOM is still in the process of testing and refining the HRIA process, the concept of HRIA is now on the EU agenda and under consideration in the EU Human Rights Discussion Forum.  It has been tested by human rights and conflict prevention NGOs in Georgia and discussed with representatives from a range of human rights NGOs in Asia and the Middle East.

HOM published, Matching Practice with Principles--Human Rights Impact Assessment: EU Opportunities. Further developments in the Human Rights Impact Assessment have yielded a toolbox available from the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

For more information about a related tactic regarding human rights and business assessment, see our in-depth case study.

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What we can learn from this tactic: 

This tactic provides a very structured way for organizations at all levels to address a problem, implement a policy, and analyze the successes and failures in the outcome. Organizations that do not have a very clear idea of what they want to achieve or that have not found success with other tactics may benefit from the structure of the HRIA tool.