Belfast: Human Rights and budget decisions (Convention on Modern Liberty, Belfast)

The discussion 'Human Rights and budget decisions' was given in a tripartite format, between Dr Aoife Nolan, Ms Mira Dutschke and Mr Eoin Rooney, and concerned the development of methods to measure governmental resource-allocation in the realisation of economic and social rights.

The panel noted that liberty is traditionally conceived as an absence of state-interference or oppression, and subsequently, economic and social rights have been perceived as secondary or subservient to rights within this traditional framework.

However, Dr. Nolan asserted that economic and social rights have an equal status to such rights and are an integral aspect of human rights discourse. Maintaining that greater understanding as to the nature and function of economic and social rights has led to a greater implementation by elected government, the panel nonetheless asserted that a method of analysis requires a means of measuring government implementation.

Dr. Nolan asserted, firstly, that 'human rights indicators' proffer such a unit of analysis for assessing domestic adherence to international human rights law. Secondly, budget-analysis allows a greater assessment of the allocation of resources to the realisation of economic and social rights in government policy. Nonetheless, Dr. Nolan drew attention to the lack of a domestic, rights-based legal framework setting out (non-ECHR-related) economic and social rights obligations, and thus the necessity to focus upon international human rights law and budget-analysis as proffering a dual-framework for assessment.

Ms. Dutschke drew a comparison between state-obligation to realise economic and social rights, and the requisite resources allocated to meet such obligations. 'Progressive realisation' requires that budget allocations must be designed to realise economic and social rights by the quickest, most efficient, method. Ascertaining whether the UK government has met the requirements of progressive realisation requires budget analysis – itself the most efficient means of gathering hard data as to the allocation of resources.

Mr. Rooney noted the added benefit of budget-analysis as combining the moral and legal value of human rights, with the quantitative benefits of economic analysis. However, as techniques of economic analysis have been developed within the private sector to measure performance, the issue of how efficiently these methods may be adapted to the measurement of the financial and non-financial factors of economic and social right implementation, remains to be seen. The panel concluded by emphasising the importance of close scrutiny of government-spending on the realisation of economic and social rights in the context of decreasing revenue in a period of economic downturn.

Questions raised two main issues of importance. Firstly, the association of 'citizenship' with the allocation of economic and social rights. Thus, whereas fundamental human rights, such as the right to life, are universal and normative, whereas economic and social rights, by contrast, are contingent upon government policy, within a specific political unit. Does this undermine the equal status of rights? Secondly, how can the data obtained from budget analysis be used to enforce the realisation and implementation of economic and social rights? Insofar as it provides data, how can this data be used to increase the implementation of rights?

Adam Reilly

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