What does economic policy have to do with it?

Thank you for your messages on my last blog! Many of you shared when you thought about human rights; issues ranged from violence, racial profiling, access to healthcare, prisoner rights, voter rights, rights of older people, and the list goes on. Clearly, we do think about human rights, but when we do … who do we hold accountable? Do economic ministries or the treasury come to mind? We rarely think about financial institutions, economic policy makers, and central banks as promoting or eroding human rights. Well they do, and here is a current example:

Lately, mainstream media’s attention has been focused on governments entering into austerity due to the economic crisis. Governments are trying to confront the negative impacts of the crisis by cutting spending on social sectors such as education, housing, and social security, without realizing the detrimental and regressive effects this has on the achievement of human rights. Our well-being is dependent on basic services and often government expenditures on specific services, such as education and health, which directly impacts our realization of human rights.

Governments have the obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill economic and social rights; each of these obligations requires governments to take action (conduct) and have impact (result). How could we go about measuring how our governments are doing on economic and social rights? Here’s an idea:

I might ask, “is the distribution of government spending going to basic social services that promote economic and social rights and is that spending reaching vulnerable groups?” In societies with inequality, vulnerable groups often do not receive adequate entitlements; those countries therefore fail to uphold the human rights principle of non-discrimination and equality.

Tell us how you see the current economic situation impacting your human rights.

by Margot Baruch, Economic and Social Rights Program Coordinator, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University