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Ushered in during the 1990s in response to development failures of the structural adjustment era, human rights-based approaches to development have proliferated in recent years. Nonetheless, the rhetoric has so far not been matched by conceptual rigor, systematization of practice, or lessons-learning—shortcomings that may undermine continuing support for such approaches. This Article seeks to contribute conceptual clarity to the frequently muddy waters of rights-based approaches, addressing in particular the conceptual and practical relevance of the international human rights normative framework to development cooperation within the UN system. The analysis focuses upon particular niches in which a normatively rigorous model for rights-based programming seems uniquely adapted, that is to say, in addressing asymmetries of power, the phenomenon known as "elite capture," and the transformation of violent conflict. The Article concludes with a reminder of the challenges and prerequisites for the wider implementation of rights-based approaches, and of the urgency of the need for a strengthened conceptual framework for empowerment and accountability.