Human Rights-Based Approaches to Community Practice in the United States: A Call to Action

Part of the SpringerBriefs in Rights-Based Approaches to Social Work book series (SBHRSWP)


As the movement for human rights has matured in the United States, local organizations are increasingly making claims for social inclusion and equality using the language of human rights. This chapter outlines the value of using a rights-based rather than a needs-based approach by community practitioners to address social exclusion and inequality. As a form of practice, a rights-based approach seeks to hold government accountable for ensuring that human rights are met for all members of society. The authors define the concept of human rights and outline key aspects of the international human rights system. They also highlight the United States’ reluctance to participate fully within the global human rights system—“American exceptionalism”—particularly regarding economic and social rights. Most human rights practice in the United States has focused on judicial or legislative processes and has relied on a top-down approach to achieve formal legal change to comply with international human rights norms. Though important, this work has often failed to emphasize grassroots mobilization and specific community-based efforts to promote and actualize human rights. The authors explain the foundation for rights-based community practice, underscoring core values of social inclusion, civic engagement, and deliberative democracy as crucial factors in human rights mobilization. They outline how a rights-based approach offers the potential of greater participation by a broader segment of community members on specific campaigns. Community engagement is also critical for implementation of laws and policies. Without community participation specific human rights gains made in the legal and policy realm may not be realized.


Civic Engagement Social Inclusion Community Practice Extreme Poverty Universal Declaration 
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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social WorkUniversity of ConnecticutWest HartfordUSA

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