Applying a Human Rights Based Approach to SSR means empowering security and justice providers to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. It also seeks to empower rights-holders and affected communities to claim their rights in the national security agenda. A Human Rights Based Approach encompasses the standards contained in, and principles derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments. 

The UN characterises a HRBA as a "conceptual framework that is normatively based on international human rights standards and operationally directed to promoting and protecting human rights". Similar to this, the European Commission rights-based approach (RBA) integrates human rights principles and standards into all aspects of the programme design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. In both of these rights-based conceptual frameworks, participation, local empowerment, national ownership, meaningful inclusion and accountability are central elements to their implementation. 

Lesson 1

Proportionality is key.

Human rights are fundamentally concerned with the empowerment to claim rights and the empowerment to protect, fulfil and respect rights. For the former, this can be understood as an expansion of people's or rights holder's capabilities and freedoms to participate in, negotiate with, influence, control and hold accountable institutions that affect their lives.

Only once empowered with tools, skills and awareness can the rights holder meaningfully participate in SSR processes. For the latter, the State or duty bearer should be empowered to apply their new capacity in accordance with international norms and recognised best practices. 

Lesson 2

Invest resources and time in identifying and addressing obstacles. 

Applying HRBA to SSR inevitably begins by taking stock of the immediate, underlying and structural causes of the non-realisation of security- and justice-related rights. This process will require an analytical methodology that breaks down a human rights problem and exposes its different aspects, including the many causal and contributing factors. 

This analysis should be in depth and contextual ensuring a continuous balance between effectiveness and accountability throughout the support. The programme’s risk mitigation framework should reflect this continuous balance with the human rights risk assessment informing the different levels of engagement needed to advance the SSR process.

Lesson 3

Plan to apply a HRBA at different levels.

Applying a HRBA to SSR principles of local empowerment, national ownership and accountability will enhance the legitimacy of the State in the way it relates with its citizens. Fostering inclusion in SSR for example allows for communities to increase local ownership and responsibility over the challenges they face. Ensuring a HRBA is underpinning inclusion, consultation or partnership building initiatives entails human rights expertise to be embedded into the technical and political dimensions of SSR from the onset.

This will mean planning for different types of expertise on human rights issues to support the programme. The Report on the Baseline Study on Integrating Human Rights and Gender into the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy (2016) provides key lessons learned taken from their Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions and operations.

Lesson 4

Use a HRBA from the start to ensure strategic impact.

To be impactful, a HRBA needs to be embedded into the programme theory of change (ToC). A ToC is an on-going process of discussion-based analysis and learning that steers the programme design, strategy, implementation, evaluation and impact assessment. In this process, a HRBA needs to drive the discussion on the existing conditions and assumptions of the desired  change to ensure rights-holders are better placed to claim their rights and for duty-bears to be in a stronger position to be compliant with human rights norms and standards.

For external supporting actors, a ToC should seek a multiplier effect starting with the enhanced capacity of the local partners to embed for themselves a HRBA into their own ToC and/or strategic planning. The local capacity to apply a HRBA in strategic planning should be interpreted as a precondition for reaching programmatic results in international cooperation in general. 

Lesson 5

Apply a conflict-sensitive approach to programme management.  

In many contexts, increased compliance with human rights norms by justice and security actors requires conditions linked to shifts in legal framework, public policy but also societal demands. Added to this are the more transitional special interests of local groups or influential individuals which can either undermine or facilitate a HRBA to an SSR process.

Understanding the abovementioned dynamics through a conflict-sensitive approach will not only complement a HRBA but will reinforce it by providing insight into the preconditions needed to anchor the HRBA to the SSR programme. This way, the programme objectives and indicators can be designed accordingly to reflect incremental behaviour change rather than depending on using activities implemented as a means to measure the impact of human rights.