Rights and Resources: Applying an International Human Rights Framework to State Budget Allocations

This was originally posted on Human Rights in Ireland at http://humanrights.ie/civil-liberties/oconnell-on-rights-and-resources-applying-an-international-human-rights-framework-to-state-budget-allocations/.

How to manage resources so as to protect and promote rights?  How to protect basic human rights given the resource limitations that states face?

These are questions that human rights activists and academics, but also governments and policymakers. They are questions which economic and social rights activists have often been faced with. While all rights require resources, including financial resources, some have thought that this is especially true in relation to economic and social rights, rights like the right to work, health, social security, etc. Funding for social security and welfare, education, health, employment are often major elements of budgets. This reflects the fundamental importance of these interests; but it has several implications. First, it means that the effective protection of these rights requires detailed consideration of budgetary processes and decisions; this requires human rights experts to learn a new set of skills and languages; and conversely requires the economists and policymakers who decide budgets to learn about human rights. The fundamental importance of budgets to the realisation of these rights also has the worrying implication these are areas of public policy often targeted for ‘cutbacks’ in times of economic crisis and recession.

These concerns are at the heart of my new book Applying an International Human Rights Framework to State Budget Allocations: Rights and Resources co-authored with Aoife Nolan (Nottingham), Colin Harvey (QUB), Mira Dutschke (Legal Researcher)  and Eoin Rooney (NICVA) published as part of the Routledge Research in Human Rights Law series. The book begins the process of linking the work of economists with that of human rights experts. In this it is a foray into the field of human rights based budget analysis, focusing explicitly on economic and social rights.

The book provides a detailed review of selected examples of guidance documents and cases studies where others – typically by not exclusively civil society organizations in the global south – have applied human rights principles to budget analysis.  The book discusses budget analysis tools used by these organizations and identifies the need for a detailed consideration of how the international human rights obligations map onto budgetary questions.

Having identified this need, we discuss in detail over two chapters the obligations in the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights 1966 (ICESCR) and the implications that these obligations have for budgetary processes and decisions. These obligations include the concepts of progressive realization, use of maximum available resources, minimum core obligations, the tripartite obligations (to respect, protect and fulfil), non-discrimination and obligations of process.

Having considered the practical work and normative framework developed at a global level, we consider how these principles can be applied in practice in a local context. The local setting chosen is Northern Ireland’s devolved system, and in particular we focus on the right to mental health and the right to housing. The chapter on mental health discusses some of the complexities of geographical equity in the enjoyment of human rights within a devolved system, and highlights problems relating to adequate information and participation. The chapter on housing looks narrowly at the system of funding for social housing; this chapter critiques the assumption that funding for social housing can be provided ‘cost-free’ if they come from ‘private’ sources.

The work as whole makes links between law and economics, and between global norms and local practices. It seeks to make human rights law comprehensible to budget experts and budgetary questions understandable to human rights experts. Crucially it address its arguments not so much to lawyers and judges (though they too will be interested) but to civil society organizations, public servants and policy-makers, indeed politicians.  The realisation of basic rights like health, education, work, social security, requires careful principled consideration of resources by policymakers, politicians, civil society, citizens. In this book we show how international human rights law provides a foundation for such a principled consideration.

Details of the book are here: http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415529785/. Use code LRK69 for a discount.