Fiscal Policy and Human Rights in the Americas

Thematic report and hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

This report (in Spanish) can be downloaded in pdf format here

An executive summary in English is available here

Economic policies – and consequently fiscal policies – are not normally debated by human rights accountability bodies. For this reason, the thematic hearing on fiscal policy and human rights being held at the 156th Session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which begins next week in Washington DC, is particularly significant.

In many Latin American countries, the economic growth of the last decade has not translated into improved public services, substantive enjoyment of social rights or access to justice. Latin America and the Caribbean remains the most unequal region of the world. Some 165 million people in the region are poor, of which 69 million find themselves in extreme poverty. In 2014 in Latin America and the Caribbean, 1% of the population owned 40% of the wealth while the other 60% of wealth was distributed among 99% of the population.

The regional and international organizations convening this event (listed below) have also published a report – “Fiscal Policy and Human Rights in the Americas: mobilizing resources to guarantee rights”– in which they demonstrate the transformative role fiscal policy can and must play in current social and economic realities.

As argued in the report, taxation regimes in the region are in large part regressive, the criteria according to which public resources are allocated are opaque, and the procedures and purpose of exemptions, amnesties and deductions have a negative impact on revenue gathering, thereby limiting the potential resources to be dedicated to economic, social and cultural rights. All this results in poverty and inequality being perpetuated. The Inter-American Human Rights System can play a crucial role in reorienting regressive fiscal policies by formulating directives and recommendations designed to make states adopt just and progressive fiscal policies that serve to guarantee human rights.

Fiscal policy is a public policy, and as such it is subject to human rights accountability and obligations. The directives and principles that emanate from human rights treaties and jurisprudence should be taken into account in the design and implementation of fiscal policy. The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has called on states to adopt progressive and redistributive fiscal policies so as to reduce inequality (A/67/394). More recently the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston, in his report on the relationship between extreme poverty and inequality, affirmed that redistribution through taxation and other fiscal policies should be seen as an integral part of the commitment to assuring respect for human rights in society in general. He placed special emphasis on the need to make resources and redistribution a part of the human rights “equation” as a step towards the international human rights system responding to the threat of extreme inequality.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, economic stagnation and the reduction in social spending has begun to manifest in the region and is threatening to deepen chronic poverty, sharpen inequalities and have long-term effects in the life projects of young people and social protection of the most vulnerable sectors. For this reason, there is an urgent need for fiscal policy reforms centered on human rights to safeguard the social advances achieved in the last decade and to prevent the adoption of austerity policies and the weakening of fiscal policy that may result in the deterioration of fundamental human rights.

The human rights movement in the region has made important advances in the justiciability of economic and social rights, including in the fight for fairer and more transparent budgets. On the basis of these achievements, the organizations behind this report believe fiscal policy to be fundamental to the justiciability, claimability, and realization of human rights. We call on the institutions of the Inter-American Human Rights System to consolidate their work to protect human rights against systemic and structural violations resulting from unjust and regressive fiscal policies.

This initiative is being promoted by the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), la Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ), el Centro de Estudios de Derecho, Justicia y Sociedad (DeJusticia), el Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), FUNDAR, Centro de Análisis e Investigación, la Fundación para el Avance de las Reformas y las Oportunidades (Grupo FARO), el Instituto de Estudios Socio-Económicos (INESC), and International Budget Partnership (IBP), with the support of OXFAM International.

The thematic session will take place on 22 October at 14:00 (local time in Washington DC) in the Padilha Vidal Room at the IACHR. It can be viewed live here.

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For more information contact CESR Communications Coordinator Luke Holland at