Human Rights Impact Assessments

Date01 June 2009
AuthorGauthier de Beco
Publication Date01 June 2009
SubjectPart A: Article
Netherlands Q uarterly of Human R ights, Vol. 27/2, 139–166, 2009.
© Netherlands I nstitute of Human Rig hts (SIM), Printed in the Net herlands. 139
G  B*
In this article human rights impact assessments (HRIAs) will be discussed. A er
examining their background, including their history and the di erent kinds of
human rights impact, the various purposes of HRIAs, namely compliance, policy-
making, accountability and empowerment will be examined. Questions relating to the
development of HRIAs w ill also be analysed. It will be examined whether HRIA s should
be incorporated into other kinds of impact assessments and how impact on human
rights can be determined . In the article, the three phases in carry ing out HRIAs, namely
the analytical process, the delibe rative process, and the monitoring and evaluation, will
be subsequently analysed, dividing them into di erent steps. Finally, the various actors
taking part in HRIAs w ill be dealt with.  e se are policy-makers, human rights expert s,
civil society organisations , national human rights institutions, and a ected people.
Human rights have been recognised through various human rights instruments.
However, achieving compliance with human rights requires more than just creating,
clarifying or expanding human rights standards. Human rights treaties also need
concrete responses within domestic systems to allow these treaties to function.  is
requires that States examine whether their policies a ect human rights through
human rights impact as sessments (HRIAs). Although HRIAs have not been dis cussed
much to date, they are already being carried out by various actors.  e article aims
to discuss the instrument in depth. For methodological reasons, the study is limited
to the human rights impact of State policies.  e latter are de ned as measures
adopted through a legislat ive or other regulation process i n order to tackle problems
in a comprehensive manner. Furthermore, t he article focuses on Europe (by which is
understood the member States of t he Council of Europe) and is principal ly based on
experiences in th is region.
* Res earc h Fel low a t th e Cen tre f or Ph ilos ophy of La w of t he Ca tho lic Un ive rsit y of L ouv ain , Bel giu m.
Unless indicate d otherwise, al l internet sites were last ac cessed on 10 March 2009.
Gauthier de Beco
140 Intersentia
Before starting the study of HRIAs, terminological issues have to be clari ed.
HRIA s have received no de n ition to date.  ey w ill be unde rstood as t he assessment
of both the potential human rights impact of future policies and the actual human
rights impact of implemented policies in a way ensuring the participation of var ious
actors. HRIAs di er from assessments of the impact of international human rights
norms on the domes tic level, which have receive d much attention in recent yea rs.  e
latter aim to measure the extent to which the rati cation of human rights treaties
lead to concrete changes in State practices. In contrast to HRIAs, their function is
not to explore the links between policies and the enjoyment of human rights, but
rather to evaluate human rights compliance in general. Two other terms have to be
de ned: policy-makers and decision-makers. First, policy-makers are public o cials
working in the public ad ministration.  is includes both the centra l and local levels of
the public administration. Second, decision-makers are elected pol itical bodies.  is
includes the executive and legisl ative powers of a State.
e article consists of  ve sections. In section t wo the background of HRIAs w ill be
discussed.  eir history as well as the kinds of huma n rights impact will be exa mined.
In section three, t he purposes of HRIAs wi ll be discussed, na mely compliance, policy-
making, accountability, and empowerment. In section four, questions relating to
the development of HRIAs will be analysed. First, the question of whether HRIAs
should be incorporated into other kinds of impact assessments or whether a self-
standi ng system should be c reated for them wil l be dealt wit h. It will als o be analysed
how impact on human rights can be determined by making a distinction between
substantive human rights a nd human rights principles. In section  ve the three phas es
of the HRIA process w ill be analysed, namely the a nalytical process, the delib erative
process, and the monitori ng and evaluation, which are all d ivided into di erent steps.
In section six the various actors taking part in HRIAs will be discussed, namely
policy-makers, human rights experts, civil society organisations, national human
rights institutions, and a ected people.
In this sect ion, the background of HRIAs wi ll be dealt with. It is divided into t wo sub-
sections. In sub-sec tion one the history of HRIAs w ill be discussed.  e developments
at both the international and European levels and experiences at the State level will
be presented, and it will b e argued that there is a legal obligation to ca rry out HRIAs.
In sub-section two the k inds of human rights impact will be exa mined. Distinctions
will be made bet ween positive and negative impact, intended and unintended impact ,
and direct and indirect impact. A distinction will also be made between ex ante and
ex post HRIAs.

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