Un marco para la rendición de cuentas: un método en 4 pasos para acabar con la impunidad en el incumplimiento de los derechos económicos y sociales

Poverty and inequality are so pervasive and so widespread that they can seem like an inevitable tragedy, an intractable problem that will always be with us. The sheer scale of deprivation and the difficulty of identifying who is to blame can leave us passive, helpless and resigned to the apparently natural order of things.

Yet poverty - understood as the lack of an adequate standard of living and the capacity to live a life with dignity - is not "natural". It is the result of actions or omissions by political leaders and other powerful decision-makers at the national and international level. Its persistence depends on the policy decisions taken by identifiable individuals and institutions with the power to decide how many children will survive to the age of five, how many will go to bed hungry and how many will receive a basic education.

Recent years have seen unprecedented pledges by governments the world over to combat extreme poverty and to reduce the gaping inequalities that exist within and between states. In practice, very few have even begun to walk the talk. Combating poverty is still seen primarily as an act of charity rather than a matter of obligation, and ordinary people - particularly those living in poverty - are often powerless to demand that their governments live up to their promises.

CESR believes that these rhetorical commitments will only become a reality when poverty is understood and tackled as a denial of fundamental human rights, and when governments are held accountable politically and legally for their failure to address these patterns of preventable deprivation. Sometimes this failure is glaring, particularly where deprivation results from abusive actions or omissions by officials such as evicting people arbitrarily (a breach of the duty to respect rights) or doing nothing when parents prevent girls from going to school (a breach of the duty to protect). More often, however, poverty and inequality are fuelled by the failure to put in place the conditions in which people can access their rights. In such cases the responsibility to fulfil economic and social rights can be more difficult to pin down.

CESR has developed a simple four-step framework which it uses to trace economic and social deprivations and disparities back to the actions or omissions of the state, and so make the case that they constitute an injustice and a violation of human rights.

A four step framework for accountability:

1. Identify deprivations and inequalities

Indicators measuring certain development outcomes such as maternal mortality rates or primary school completion can be used to measure the level of enjoyment of basic elements of economic and social rights in a given country. Data disaggregated by gender, ethnicity, location or economic status highlight disparities in the enjoyment of these rights across population groups. Tracking these indicators across time provides a measure of the rate of progress in realizing these rights. Comparing disaggregated data across time makes visible any disparities in the rates of progress. International or regional comparisons, particularly between countries with comparable levels of aggregate wealth, provide a benchmark for identifying whether a country is under-performing in a particular outcome indicator, taking into account its resources.

2. Identify the main "determinants" or factors causing these deprivations

Determinants are the factors directly or indirectly leading to certain human rights outcomes. The determinants of child mortality, primary school incompletion have been amply studies by development practitioners, economists, epidemiologists and others. However these determinants, and not just their outcomes, should also be seen in human rights terms. For example, a mother's level of education can determine the choices she makes in feeding her children and so determines the risk of them being malnourished. Access to the right to education is thus a determinant of access to the right to food. The interdependence between determinants reflects the indivisibility and interdependence of rights.

3. Assess the adequacy of policy efforts to address these factors

Having identified the principal factors fuelling a particular economic and social rights problem, we can begin to look at what policies are in place to address these. Are they the right programs? If so, who benefits? Are they reaching the neediest communities? Are they adequately resourced?

The appropriateness of these policies can be evaluated using principles drawn from human rights standards. For example, if looking at what the government has done to prevent maternal mortality, we could look at the availability of relevant health services (such as emergency obstetric care), the physical and economic accessibility of such services, their quality and their acceptability to all sectors of the community (including women from different cultural backgrounds).

Policies to be scrutinized include policies addressing "supply side" problems (such as lack of health centres with appropriate obstetric facilities) as well as "demand side" problems (such as why women who need these services are not accessing them even though they are available). They also include policies addressing the underlying determinants of these deprivations, such as poverty or access to land, and not just the policies put in place by the government ministry responsible for health, education, etc.

4. Assess whether policy failures are a question of inability or lack of political will

Governments frequently claim that poor economic and social rights outcomes are due to lack of resources. In some cases, this explanation may be legitimate; in many others it is blatantly inadequate. Tools such as budget analysis can help assess whether the maximum available resources are being used to address the priority economic and social rights concerns in the country and targeted at the most marginalized communities. Making the case that the failure to fulfil rights results from lack of political will also involves looking at the structures of political and economic power in the country, and the degree of democratic governance and citizenship participation. Finally, a government's compliance with its economic and social rights obligations must be assessed holistically. Where the failure to fulfil economic and social rights coexists with patterns of violations of the duty to respect and protect rights, the absence of political will can be more manifest, and the case that a state is in breach of its obligations will be all the more compelling.