[May 2014] Integrating Rights Monitoring into the Policy Cycle

Publish Date: 
Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Introducing a Rights Based Approach (RBA) into public policies requires incorporating the principles, standards and guidelines emanating from the existing international human rights conventions, as well as other regional and international human rights bodies’ rulings and general comments, into public policies and policy-making processes. As people are considered rights holders, rather than beneficiaries, the RBA also demands people’s participatory consultation, empowerment and consensus-building. Public policies that adopt a RBA can also formalize monitoring structures into the policy-making cycle, which has the potential to significantly strengthen oversight of the policies and plans related to ESCR.

Mexico City’s Experience: Localizing international standards

In 2002, a group of civil society organizations and donors, including Fundar, the International Budget Partnership and the Institute for International Education, developed a five-step conceptual framework for integrating human rights into public policies and budgets. This included:

  1. Identifying the national and international legal human rights framework.
  2. Identifying obligations stated in the legal framework.
  3. Producing an assessment of the human rights situation in Mexico City.
  4. Integrating RBA into all phases of the policy-making cycle: planning-programming-budgeting-implementing-evaluating.
  5. Designing public policies with a RBA, even extending to include the budget.

In June 2006, civil society organizations, academic institutions, the Federal District Government (GDF), the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico (OHCHR) and the Human Rights Commission of the Federal District (CDHDF) established a committee, made up of more than 58 individuals and 76 organizations in total. The Committee presented its assessment of the human rights situation in Mexico City in May 2008, recommending that public policies, programmes and budgets be designed, implemented and assessed in line with a gender and rights-based approach.

Developing the Human Rights Programme

Based on these recommendations, a Human Rights Programme for the Federal District (the “Programme”) was launched in 2009. The process for elaborating it lasted fourteen months, using a participatory methodology that sought consensus through more than 150 work meetings where approximately 400 civil society experts, scholars and public officials participated.

The Programme is structured around 2,412 ‘courses of action’ that address the complex range of policies and activities of the GFD. These distinct actions include earmarking and increasing the budget for the construction of water treatment plants (No. 743) and designing activities to reduce youth labour exploitation in the Federal District (No. 1,709), for example. The objective is that the GDF uses these courses of action for planning, programming and coordinating all city activities.

Piloting the Programme’s implementation

To test the feasibility of incorporating the Programme into its policies, the GDF implemented a pilot project from 2009 to 2010. An ad hoc working group was created to collaborate with three GDF agencies: Water, Health and Environment, which integrated a RBA all the way from their core purpose and goals, to their specific actions and language. In this way, the Programme was made operative by introducing the language of human rights into the frameworks that public officials use to develop and implement policies.

Armed with the lessons from its pilot project, the GDF passed a decree mandating that all public agencies in Mexico City incorporate the Programme’s courses of action into their policy frameworks for 2010. This change required modifications to administrative documents, training of public officials and, perhaps most importantly, a cultural transformation in budgeting and policymaking practices.

Monitoring the Programme

The GDF had to make three major legal and administrative changes to ensure that public agencies comply with the initiative.

  1. Public servants were appointed within each public agency to coordinate the integration of the Programme’s courses of action into the institutional activities of their agency, to communicate the information related to the Programme within their organizations, and to secure organizational buy-in overall.
  2. The GDF created a new entity to monitor implementation of and compliance with the Programme called the Mechanism for Follow-up and Evaluation of the Human Rights Programme in the Federal District.
  3. A new tool was also developed to facilitate quarterly reporting on the degree to which public agencies are effectively incorporating the Programme’s courses of action into their institutional activities.

Results and Lessons Learned

Mexico City’s RBA process is still fairly new; at this stage, the changes achieved have been mostly legal and administrative. Nevertheless, this is a significant accomplishment, especially considering it is the first time that a government in Latin America has decided to design and implement its policies in line with a RBA and taken concrete steps to do so.

One of the Programme’s main achievements came in 2011, when for the first time, the City’s budget included a monitoring tool to track resources allocated to the new rights-based policies. The budget also contained:

  • 844 courses of action, tied to 413 institutional activities;
  • 47 billion Mexican pesos (around US $ 4.5 billion) allocated;
  • 18 public agencies participating;
  • A guidebook for public officials aiming to implement a RBA.

The experience in Mexico City has shown that introducing a RBA requires time and effort to raise awareness and convince public officials of its benefits. The technical and analytical support of UN organizations and national and local human rights institutions is therefore essential. The theoretical work that academics and CSOs working in Latin America undertook to develop a theoretical framework for incorporating human rights into public policies was another crucial factor in the success of initiatives like this.

It also raises interesting questions about how integrating a RBA into the policy-making cycle can shift relations between the government and the people and increase public participation in monitoring. Looking ahead, it will be important to determine whether GDF agencies become more responsive after adopting the RBA to their policy-making and budgeting processes. For example, will programs more effectively take into account the needs and requirements of specific groups?

Diego de la Mora
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