This serves as the introductory paper to an issue of the IDS Bulletin on the 'rise of rights'. As increasing attention is focused on rights-based approaches, there is the danger that a rights-based agenda will become narrowed into a top-down, donor-led trend. on the other hand, much of the current focus on right-based approaches derives from struggles for rights that are rooted both historically and contextually in experiences of exclusion and marginalisation, and have the capacity to contribute positively to change. This article highlights some of the key lessons about using rights effectively. First, important historical and geopolitical forces are behind the timing and framing of the rights-based discourse, which bear careful examination. Second, the contexts of actual struggles are crucial to understanding how rights become substantive. Third, the process of making rights real is a political one, rather than a technical or procedural one, because it entails confronting the structural inequalities that underlie the negotiation of rights. Understanding how rights can shift power relations is essential to realising the potential of rights to contribute to change. Finally, a rights perspective, when understood within particular contexts and linked to strategies to shift power relations, has the potential to confront some of the most prominent assumptions of development orthodoxy and emerging agendas of security.
IDS Bulletin - Vol 36 No 1, pp. 1-8 [10.1111/j.1759-5436.2005.tb00172.x]