This article aims to organize thinking around human rights-based approaches to development (HRBAs) and to review available empirical evidence regarding their benefits, risks, and limitations. We propose a typology distinguishing four types of rights-based approaches: global compliance based on international and regional treaties; human rights-based programming on the part of donors and governments; rights talk; and legal mobilization. The article briefly reviews the politics of the first three modalities before examining legal mobilization for social and economic rights in greater detail. Litigation for social and economic rights is increasing in frequency and scope in several countries, and exhibits appealing attributes such as inclusiveness and deliberative quality. Still, there are potential problems with this form of human rights-based mobilization, including middle class capture, the potential counter-majoritarianism of courts, and difficulties in compliance. The conclusions to each section lay out the key research questions regarding HRBAs.
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