Severe poverty is now seen by many as the most burning ethical issue of our time. In recent years, human rights-based approaches (HRBA) to poverty reduction have become particularly popular among UN agencies, bilateral donors and NGOs. Behind this increas ed interest, however, lies a multitude of voices, interests and perspectives that draw upon very different conceptual understandings of poverty, rights, and the relationship between the two. By focusing on an ethical understanding of the relationship betw een rights and poverty, we wish to critically examine the following three interrelated hypotheses: 1) in the process of 'operationalisation' - from global theory to national practice - much of the substance in HRBA will be lost; and global issues that imp inge substantially on poverty, such as trade, capital flows and migration, will be omitted from the agenda; 2) the HRBA, like other approaches before it, will be drained of political power and prove to be difficult to implement at national, and local leve ls; 3) the issue of international accountability and unfair transnational power relations that negatively affect the poor - both intra and internationally - will remain unaddressed. The study will focus primarily on three key UN agencies which have been a t the forefront of developing and using the HRBA (UNDP, UNICEF and OHCHR) and three countries in Africa (South Africa, Uganda, Malawi) and three countries in Asia (India, Vietnam and Bangladesh). In each continent, we have selected one country (South Afri ca and India) that not only has a strong state but also a relatively well-established record (compared to others on the same continent) at protecting and promoting HRBA to poverty reduction.