What is a human rights based approach?

A human rights based approach is about empowering people to know and claim their rights and increasing the ability and accountability of individuals and institutions who are responsible for respecting, protecting and fulfilling rights.

This means giving people greater opportunities to participate in shaping the decisions that impact on their human rights. It also means increasing the ability of those with responsibility for fulfilling rights to recognise and know how to respect those rights, and make sure they can be held to account.

A human rights based approach is about ensuring that both the standards and the principles of human rights are integrated into policymaking as well as the day to day running of organisations.

The PANEL principles

There are some underlying principles which are of fundamental importance in applying a human rights based approach in practice. These are:

  • participation

  • accountability

  • non-discrimination and equality

  • empowerment and

  • legality.

These are known as the PANEL principles.


Everyone has the right to participate in decisions which affect their human rights. Participation must be active, free, meaningful and give attention to issues of accessibility, including access to information in a form and a language which can be understood.

What does this mean for us?

In relation to the care of older people this means that individuals should participate in all decisions about the care and support they are receiving. This could range from participation in the commissioning and procurement of social care services by local authorities to participating in daily decisions about the care and support being received.

There is a lot of guidance about how care providers can involve people who use care services and their families and friends, such as the Care Commission’s guidance for care service providers, ‘Involving people who use care services and their families, friends and supporters’ (2009). You can read this document by clicking here


Accountability requires effective monitoring of human rights standards as well as effective remedies for human rights breaches.

For accountability to be effective there must be appropriate laws, policies, institutions, administrative procedures and mechanisms of redress in order to secure human rights.

What does this mean for us?

In the care sector in Scotland there are a range of bodies which promote accountability for respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights. In different ways these bodies all have a responsibility to ensure that the standards of accountability for human rights are as high as possible. These include the commissioners of care services, care provider organisations and inspection and regulation bodies.

Non-discrimination and equality

A human rights based approach means that all forms of discrimination in the realisation of rights must be prohibited, prevented and eliminated. It also requires the prioritisation of those in the most marginalised situations who face the biggest barriers to realising their rights.

What does this mean for us?

There are times when older people receiving care and support services can be amongst some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our society - a human rights based approach means we must pay particular attention to the protection and realisation of their rights. Sometimes, because of their age, older people are discriminated against in access to services or in opportunities to express their views. Older people also have different identities based on their gender, ethnicity, religion and many other grounds. Each of these identities should be respected when receiving care and support services.

Empowerment of rights holders

A human rights based approach means that individuals and communities should know their rights. It also means that they should be fully supported to participate in the development of policy and practices which affect their lives and to claim rights where necessary.

What does this mean for us?

This means that everyone, including older people, should understand what their rights are and how they can claim these rights. Achieving this may require the provision of appropriate advocacy support.

Legality of rights

A human rights based approach requires the recognition of rights as legally enforceable entitlements and is linked in to national and international human rights law.

What does this mean for us?

Care providers and all other accountable bodies must be sure that their practices and procedures are grounded in human rights law. Under the law they must not breach the human rights of anyone.

Steps to follow