Economics and Human Rights

Budgetary analysis is a useful tool to track how the government is delivering on its human rights obligations.

Amnesty International Ireland has been working for a number of years to explore how human rights relate to government’s resources. Internationally, a great deal of work has been done on how to bring together the two discourses, including how budgetary analysis can be used as a tool to track how the government is delivering on its human rights obligations.


Human rights law as a tool for government

International human rights law, as well as the expert guidance of United Nations (UN) treaty monitoring bodies, is a robust framework that can guide policy-makers, clarifying what they are under a legal duty to deliver in terms of social policy, as well as the parameters of that duty. At a time of political and economic change in Ireland, human rights law offers a framework that is independent of any political ideology.

Under international law, governments are obliged to deliver on their human rights obligations. To do so, the resources available to a country must be taken into account. In making decisions around resources, and how they are allocated, a series of human rights principles are of relevance.

Using resources to deliver on human rights obligations

International human rights law recognises that certain elements of economic, social and cultural rights – like the right to health tor the right to education – may not become reality overnight, but will take some time to realise, depending on the availability of resources. However, states are required to use maximum available resources to progressively realise these rights. In human rights law the concept of progressive realisation encompasses an obligation on the state to move as expeditiously as possible towards the full realisation of the right. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has detailed the obligation on states that are party to the Covenant to follow a course of action that would achieve fulfilment of the rights in the Covenant in the shortest possible period of time.


In any assessment of whether a state is meeting its obligations of progressive realisation, there is a strong presumption that going backwards in the realisation of any given right would constitute a violation of that right. If any deliberately retrogressive measures are taken, then the State has the obligation to prove that they have been introduced after the most careful consideration of all alternatives and that they are duly justified by reference to the totality of the rights and in the context of the full use of the State’s maximum available resources.


Regardless of the level of resources in question, implementation of human rights must always be on the basis of non-discrimination.  There must be a clear plan in place as to how the State will fulfil rights over time. Measurement of progressive realisation requires the use of appropriate indicators and benchmarks. Otherwise there is no way of knowing whether or not the state is having a positive impact on the enjoyment of human rights over time. Indicators must be disaggregated on relevant grounds that will allow the state to know whether or not the rights of vulnerable groups is being addressed.


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