A New Frontier? Human Rights and Public Finance

by | Dec 1, 2013

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About Jaakko Kuosmanen

Dr. Jaakko Kuosmanen Research Fellow and Programme coordinator of the Oxford Martin Programme on Human Rights for Future Generations|Dr. Jaakko Kuosmanen Research Fellow and Programme coordinator of the Oxford Martin Programme on Human Rights for Future Generations

The link between human rights and states’ resource policies is currently a hot topic politically as well as academically. In the aftermath of the recent global economic and financial crises the implementation of economic and social rights in particular has faced a push-back from politicians advocating austerity budgets. Appeals to resource scarcity are commonly invoked as part of efforts to cut or limit increases in the funding of social and other rights related programs.

Most of the recent scholarly work done on the topic has focused on the role of courts in adjudicating cases where resource scarcity is appealed to as a justification by the state. Human Rights and Public Finance: Budgets and the Promotion of Economic and Social Rights approaches the topic from a new angle. The book, which is edited by a team of leading scholars in the field (Aoife Nolan (University of Nottingham), Rory O’Connell (University of Ulster) and Colin Harvey (Queen’s University Belfast)) focuses on the linkage between public finance and the realisation of economic and social rights. It expands the inquiry to the role of governmental bodies with the primary responsibility to give effect to social and economic rights: the elected and democratically accountable branches of government.

The book takes Article 2 (1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) – which requires states to deploy maximum available resources towards the realisation of the Covenant rights – as its starting point. The contributions in the book offer theoretical and practical accounts on what exactly is covered by the Article. The authors draw on experiences across the globe, and they tackle questions of macroeconomic policy, conceptual difficulties in international law, and issues of resource constraint. The book features work from a range of academics and practitioners carrying out work on human rights and budgets from different disciplinary perspectives. The first two sections of the book, on ‘Concepts’ and ‘Governance’, address key conceptual issues arising in relation to human rights and public finance, in terms of both standards and governance structures. The third part and fourth parts of the book considers the use of human rights budget work both in shaping and evaluating budgetary decisions. In particular, there is a focus on budgeting from the perspective of equality, children’s welfare, and the right to housing.

States signatories to ICESCR have legal obligations of implementation that cannot be overlooked in policy drafting. Social and economic rights are essential for human survival and flourishing, and identifying and clarifying what the obligations to work towards the full realisation of the Covenant rights entail vis-à-vis public finance is an urgent task that deserves close attention from scholars as well as practitioners. Given the fundamental importance of social and economic rights and the political rhetoric of ‘permanent austerity’ in many countries the collection is timely, and it provides an important contribution to the ongoing debates.

Dr Jaakko Kuosmanen is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the Oxford Martin School Programme on Human Rights for Future Generations.

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1 Comment

  1. Andrew

    Where does the democratic right of the people to vote through their elected representatives for or against austerity fit into it?

    It all sounds a bit like democracy East-European style before the fall of the Wall. “You can have it any colour you like as long as it’s red”!

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