Upholding the dignity and rights of each individual is the main function of any democratic state. When authorities cease to serve the protection of the rights and dignity of the individual, they become delegitimized.
The “Velvet Revolution” was the result of a complete delegitimization of the previous authorities of Armenia. Along with exploiting administrative, financial, and governmental resources, the most important human resource was exploited over the course of the rule of the Republican Party of Armenia: human dignity. The change in power as a result of the revolution and the assumption of the office of prime minister by Nikol Pashinyan with the agreement and affirmation of wide segments of society put into motion the formation of a new social contract.
It is now important that the new authorities display political will to guarantee in practice the defense of the dignity and the rights of the individual.
The maintenance of human rights is an obligation of the authorities of the Republic of Armenia as per its Constitution and in accordance with the international law. Domestic legislation contains a number of regulations through which protection and realization of the rights and freedoms of the individual in our country should have been secured. In practice, however, human rights in Armenia so far have been continually restricted and violated in almost every sphere of social and political life, leading to an accumulation of social protests and a crisis in social justice.
The main reason for this prevailing condition has been the abuse of power and the establishment of a semi-authoritarian regime. State policies have not been human-centered. The individual – endowed with dignity and rights – has been pushed to the back of state policy, while government bodies have not served the public interest, but rather closed oligarchic circles.
Repossessing the usurped power as a result of the revolution, the public must now clearly form and demand a state policy model that would maximally serve the defense of the interests and rights of the individual and social groups and establish social justice and social harmony in the country. The model of approach most suitable to fulfill that demand is a human rights-based approach (HRBA) to state policy.
Human rights are the standards and guarantee for each of us to live a life in dignity. Human rights are inalienable from us. They belong to us regardless of any individual or social characteristic we may bear. However, their formal codification, whether in domestic legislation or in international legal instruments, does not secure the full application of the rights of the individual in practice as long as the guarantee of our rights and dignity is not placed at the center of state policy. That is the rationale behind HRBA and the reason why rights-based state policy matters.
HRBA to state policy suggests that the norms and principles of protection of human rights and human dignity are put in the cornerstone of policy making in all spheres of public life. As such, this is the most human-centered model of policy-making.
Rights-based state policy secures the “praxis” of human rights in the country. It is directed toward creating a social and political order where each of us will have equal opportunities for development, which is, for its part, a prerequisite for a developed society.
Policies developed through rights-based approaches allow for the guarantee of the following in society:
- upholding the dignity of each individual,
- upholding the rights and freedoms of each individual,
- establishing social justice and social cohesion.
How is the rights-based state policy formed? It is based on human rights norms and principles and norms enshrined in international law that are being transferred and “localized” into each sphere of public life of the given society.
HRBA assumes the following in regulation of each field of public life:
1. securing guarantees for the full protection and realization of human rights in a given field,
2. combatting all types of discrimination in a given field,
3. ensuring inclusive decision-making with the equal and effective participation of all stakeholders and target groups,
4. ensuring transparency of decision-making processes,
5. ensuring accountability of decision-makers,
6. securing prevalence of the rule of law, i.e. ensuring that policy making goes in line with human rights standards and obligations of the State under the international law.
Let us observe the essence of the application of HRBA in the context of one of the greatest challenges in our country: poverty. As an example, we can take income inequality, which is one of the root-causes of poverty and social polarization in Armenia.
The Republic of Armenia’s 2014-2025 Strategic Program of Prospective Development, which is the guiding document for poverty reduction policy in the country, refers to the issue of income inequality as the follows:
“The main requirement for reducing poverty and expanding possibilities for redistributing income continues to remain the guarantee of sustained long-term economic growth. An increase in jobs, the production of goods on par with modern external competitive conditions, and the preparation of specialists will lead on the one hand to an increase in wages, and, on the other, by benefitting the tax basis of the state budget, it will allow for expanding the possibilities of income redistribution policies undertaken by the state.” (unofficial translation)
As seen, the issue is that the approach to reducing poverty is within the realm of the economy and the solution suggested by the sectoral state policy is constructed through economic approaches. However, if, in addition to economic perspective, the issue of income inequality would be analyzed by policy makers through the prism of HRBA, a number of human-rights related circumstances that greatly lead to the generation of unequal income and inequality in income distribution would be revealed. Let us list a few of them:
- gender inequality in labour market and gender stereotypes,
- inequality of entry of individuals into the labor market based on the discrimination in the realization of the right to education,
- the low level of employment among the persons with disabilities because of the lack of accessibility and discrimination,
- the marginalization of religious, ethnic, or other groups and discrimination against them, etc.
It will never be possible to reveal the aforementioned considerations through economic calculations solely. Poverty is not merely an economic condition – it is the most serious circumstance that diminishes human dignity, limits the realization of human rights and freedoms. As such, the negligence and the lack of understanding of discrimination-based and human-rights related factors that hamper development of this or that field so far has been the main reasons for instability and inadequacy of relevant policies. As a result, budgetary resources have gone to waste for years and short-term or point solutions have been put forward.
The reason behind the reformation of state policy development stems from the demand that policies be dictated henceforth by citizens who decide for themselves and who put forward their own demands, while the policies be directed toward the equal protection of dignity and the rights of each individual.
Getting back to the issue of income inequality, if approaching it through the perspective of HRBA the following measures would need to be undertaken:
1. ensuring that citizens are informed and aware of their rights and duties in this particular sphere,
2. guaranteeing the availability of participatory platforms for bringing up issues in this sphere,
3. as a result of the functioning of those platforms, detecting violations of rights that come both as a cause and the consequence of income inequality,
4. giving greater voice to those groups, whose rights are mostly violated in this sphere,
5. ensuring participation of all stakeholders in the process of development of policy program, strategy, action plan, etc,
6. putting the restoration of violated rights and freedoms without discrimination in the cornerstone of relevant policy programs, strategies or action plans,
7. ensuring greater transparency and public accountability of policy makers.
This is the logic of actions that – alongside with economic analyses and interventions – would lead to systematic solutions: by restoring human rights and equal opportunities it will be possible to secure the just redistribution of income and, as a result, to overcome the respective causes of poverty in a long run.
It is no coincidence that a number of studies based on global experiences demonstrate the intrinsic link between accountable, participatory, and transparent models of governance, the government's fights against discrimination and violence and sustainable economic growth of the states.
HRBA obliges policy-makers and implementers to talk about social issues using the language of rights. Through rights-based approaches, each issue is placed within the framework of “rights-holders” and “duty-bearers” within which individuals are those who hold and demand their human rights and freedoms while state bodies are those who bear the obligation to guarantee those rights. HRBA has its toolkit; there are clearly established legal obligations, norms, and principles, which function within this framework. Through HRBA the development and implementation of state policy is drawn from the imperative of securing guarantees for the protection of the dignity, the rights and freedoms of each one of us. The value and the importance of the human rights-based approach stems from that imperative.