Transforming fact-finding to realize economic and social rights

Investigating human rights violations poses complex methodological, ethical, and practical challenges— especially in the realm of economic and social rights. Extreme poverty and inequality deprive millions of people around the world of dignity, justice, and even life. However, establishing that these chronic deprivations amount to human rights violations can be difficult, as they often reflect systemic failures on the part of government and other actors to develop or implement effective public policies.

A new book, The Transformation of Human Rights Fact-Finding, includes a chapter authored by Allison Corkery, Director of CESR’s Rights Claiming and Accountability Program that explores how fact-finding methodologies might better analyze the multidimensional factors that create, perpetuate or exacerbate chronic deprivations of economic and social rights. This important new volume has been edited by Philip Alston, New York University Professor of Law and UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, together with Sarah Knuckey, Director of the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia University School of Law.

The chapter considers the similarities and differences between economic and social rights monitoring and traditional fact-finding approaches, which have tended to focus on how to investigate violations of physical integrity such as torture, extrajudicial executions, disappearances and arbitrary detention.

It argues that the methodologies used in such cases—typically focused on events-based analysis, including gathering testimony from victims and witnesses to establish a violation, violator and a remedy—are ill-equipped to address chronic failures to fulfill economic and social rights. Instead, more policy-based analysis is needed, and this in turn has implications for what information is prioritized, the way it is analyzed, and to what ends it is used.

The chapter explores efforts to broaden the research methods used in economic and social rights monitoring—in particular the increasing use of quantitative methods widely applied in the social sciences and development practice. It discusses a range of  approaches– including use of rights-based indicators, social audit techniques, budget analysis and econometrics – reflecting on the comparative strengths and weaknesses of quantification in human rights monitoring. Referencing a case study from Guatemala, where CESR’s OPERA Framework was used to integrate such techniques to uncover patterns of socio-economic rights deprivations and then link these deprivations to inequitable government policies, the chapter argues that investigations of economic and social rights would be strengthened by adopting a holistic, mixed-methods approach.

Other chapters develop and expand on the issues involved in investigating, measuring, and monitoring human rights violations. The book advances thinking in the human rights field significantly by using an interdisciplinary approach that combines perspectives from many areas of expertise including international law, political science, forensics, informatics, and critical theory. Many of the chapters consider conceptual and practical challenges relevant to investigating economic and social rights. These include issues such as exploring methods for using social science in human rights research; a case study of participatory mapping in Kenya concerning issues such as health, water, and education; and the technical and ethical challenges of using social media and big data in human rights investigations. Another chapter considers how traditional fact-finding approaches can reproduce global hierarchies and argues for a more thoughtful, participatory approach to investigation and monitoring.

Transforming the theory and practice of human rights fact-finding is crucial to ensuring meaningful accountability for violations of economic and social rights. As such, CESR was honored to be a part of this boundary-pushing collection.  

Posted by Holly Stubbs on February 23rd, 2016

South Africa: court orders task team to tackle school furniture saga

The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) in South Africa has secured a significant breakthrough after the High Court in Mthata ordered the Minister of Basic Education to set up a “furniture task team” for Eastern Cape schools. The task team is intended to remedy long-standing deprivations of the right to education caused by the failure to supply basic furniture needs. It is mandated to audit the furniture needs of schools in the province and supply all furniture required by April 2017. The order was made by agreement between the Minister and the Centre for Child Law (CCL), which was represented by the LRC. It is the fourth court order in the Madzodzo v the Minister of Education case, which was brought in response to the school furniture saga that has been plaguing the province for years.

Since August 2015, the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) has partnered with the LRC to monitor implementation in this case. This has included sorting, collating and analyzing the enormous amount of data presented by the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDOE) during several rounds of litigation. Our research revealed that approximately R300 million (US $19 million) had been allocated to furniture production and delivery since the start of the litigation—resulting in the delivery of more than 200,000 units of furniture for schools in the Eastern Cape. Nevertheless, many schools continue to face severe shortages. Almost two fifths of the province’s 5,700 schools needed furniture, according to one list compiled by the ECDOE in 2014. When so many students sit on the floor, on makeshift seats made from bricks and paint tins, or with four sharing a desk designed for two, it is hardly surprising that the Eastern Cape Province has one of the worst final year pass rates in the country.

Drawing on OPERA, our framework for monitoring economic and social rights compliance, we also worked with the LRC to dig deeper into the systemic dysfunctions that had hindered efforts to comply with the court order. As summarized in a short LRC Factsheet, a substantial amount of additional information is needed to understand the scope and scale of the problem – there have been five attempts to audit furniture needs in the Eastern Cape, but the data produced has been seriously flawed – and to properly evaluate the procurement processes undertaken to date. In particular, there is a pressing need to track those deliveries that have been made and the resources that have been disbursed. Having a better understanding of these issues gave the LRC a strong basis to argue for heightened oversight of the department’s compliance with its obligations in the case and to offer constructive, evidence-based recommendations to the department about the steps it needs to take to do so.

The new court order is significant in the detailed obligations it sets out for the Minister. The furniture task team appointed by the Minister must prepare a consolidated list with specific details about the furniture needs of all public schools in the Eastern Cape. This list will need to be verified by August 2016 and the Minister is required to ensure that those schools needing furniture receive age and grade appropriate furniture by April 2017. The Minister must also report to the court every 90 days, providing updated data about current shortages; describing steps taken to procure furniture, including budget allocated and orders placed; and supplying evidence of deliveries made and a timetable for deliveries scheduled.

In 2014, Judge Goosen handed down a judgment in Madzodzo ordering the Minister to respond to the endemic furniture shortages in the province. That judgment was significant in its reaffirmation that education is an immediately realizable right and that adequate provision of classroom furniture forms part of that right. It also highlighted that resource and budget constraints are not an acceptable excuse where a constitutional right is being violated. While the 2014 judgment directed the Minister to deliver all furniture required by schools in the province by May 30, 2014, the court also gave the Minister an opportunity to approach the court for an extension of the timeframe. The court order handed down last week is a combination of the Minister’s application for an extension, and the CCL’s counter application for systemic relief.

All too often court victories, however hard fought, do not mark the end of an injustice. If rulings handed down by judicial authorities are not properly implemented on the ground, the transformative potential of litigation in advancing economic and social rights is undermined. For this reason, CESR is working to foster greater synergies between litigators and monitoring experts. “Monitoring the implementation of judgments and settlements is a major challenge of our work”, noted Cameron McConnachie, attorney at the LRC. “In exploring the role that OPERA could play in meeting this challenge, partnering with CESR has prompted us to think more comprehensively about the type of data needed and more creatively about the tools and approaches we use to collect it”.

Posted by Allison Corkery on February 4th, 2016

How can the UPR strengthen economic, social and cultural rights?

Is the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) living up to its potential to advance economic, social and cultural rights? This fundamental question is at the heart of research being undertaken by the Center for Economic and Social Rights and the Human Rights Clinic at Sciences Po (Paris Institute of Political Studies). It was also the topic of a side event that the Center co-hosted with Amnesty International in Geneva last month, during the 29th session of the Human Rights Council.

The event aimed to better understand how economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) have been addressed in the UPR, and to help identify opportunities and challenges in using the UPR to tackle inequality and disadvantage around the world. Bringing together national civil society groups, international NGOs, and member states, the event reflected on questions such as: What do we consider to be “good recommendations” on ESCR? What kinds of ESCR issues can be best advanced through the UPR? What measures should be taken at the national level to ensure that UPR recommendations influence how socio-economic policies are developed and implemented?

ESCR-related recommendations issued by
the UPR in its first and second cycles

Allison Corkery from the Center for Economic and Social Rights provided an overview of the research undertaken by the Human Rights Clinic, highlighting a number of preliminary findings. Although they have increased in the second cycle, ESCR-specific recommendations amount to just under one fifth of all recommendations. Further, as shown in the graph below, some ESCR issues receive considerably more attention than others. Additionally, less than 10% recommend action classified as “specific”. By contrast, a third of the recommendations on civil and political rights recommend specific action.

Iain Byrne from Amnesty International discussed how the ESCR-related issues that Amnesty has prioritized in its advocacy before the UPR—including forced evictions, minority rights and reproductive health—had been addressed. He commented that while many of the issues were indeed reflected in the recommendations, they were generally framed in much more general terms. He stressed that, to be effective, ESCR-related recommendations need to be more measurable and capable of being monitored. Pushing for states to justify their reasons for not accepting recommendations, and ensuring better review of implementation at the national level, would also strengthen the impact that ESCR-related recommendations can have.

Nuno Cabral, from the Permanent Mission of Portugal, reflected on some of the challenges facing Council members when crafting UPR recommendations. Likening the process to a ‘friendly match’ in football, he stressed that choice of messages is political and that many states are reluctant to appear to be micromanaging the economic choices of their peers. In addition, members of the Council face a number of practical challenges such as very limited time to speak and convey messages, the amalgamation of recommendations by the troika (a team of three countries' delegates who assist in the review) and, in some cases, a lack of capacity among delegations with regard to ESCR. He suggested that if these were better addressed, the quality of recommendations on ESCR would be enhanced.

Miloon Kothari, President of UPR Info, emphasized that the lack of attention to ESCR in the UPR mirrors the lack of attention to ESCR by the human rights system more broadly. ESCR issues are structural; they hit at economic policies, trade policies, agricultural policies, land, questions of resources etc. So to better address them, it is important to see the UN system as a whole, for example by ensuring that the UPR reinforces work done by treaty bodies, special procedures and other mechanisms. He also called attention to the importance of work done at the national level to translate the recommendations into more specific policy actions and demands, including by engaging national human rights institutions, developing indicators and setting up monitoring tools. 

In the discussion that followed, audience members suggested additional dimensions of the review that would be relevant to the continuing research and shared additional challenges they had faced in advocating for ESCR in the UPR process. The need for more education, awareness raising and capacity building with States’ delegates was a recurrent theme. The insights and lessons shared at the event will inform the research and will be incorporated into a discussion paper on the topic to be circulated late this year.

  • To learn more about CESR's monitoring work, click here.

Posted by Allison Corkery on July 23rd, 2015

Reporting back from the Responsible Data Forum on Human Rights Documentation

In late March, a number of members and affiliates of the ESCR-Net Working Group on Monitoring Methods participated in the Responsible Data Forum on Human Rights Documentation in Manila. CESR was one of the co-organizers of the Forum, along with the engine room, HURIDOCS, Benetech, and Amnesty International. Molly Land from the Human Rights Institute at the University of Connecticut (USA), Francesca Feruglio from Nazdeek (India), Nikki Gamara from Defend Job (Philippines), and Bibhu Prasad Sahu from Youth for Social Development (India) joined 30 others from across the globe to explore the ethical, privacy and security challenges posed by the use of data and new technologies in human rights documentation. Here, Molly, Francesca and Bibhu talk to CESR about their insights from the forum.

First off, tell us a little background about your experience with human rights documentation.

Who says data can't be fun? Participants at the
Responsible Data Forum show their lighter side
Francesca: Nazdeek works to assess the implementation of socio-economic policies and document violations of economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR). By and large, this work relies on qualitative data collected through interviews, questionnaires and surveys. Recently, we have also begun collecting quantitative data on maternal health violations using SMS and Ushahidi software.

Molly: Currently, I study and write about the practice of human rights fact-finding, including the use of new technologies in fact-finding and strategies for documenting violations of ESCR. As a researcher, I've led fact-finding investigations on issues such as women's rights, children's rights, and access to justice in the United States, Kashmir, and Zambia.

Youth for Social Development (YSD) monitors the public service delivery of socio-economic programs, specifically related to the rights to work, food, health, education, water and sanitation, and information. The data we collect is generated via a number of different methods: citizen and community report cards, social audits, and data provided by the government on resource allocation and spending. Much of this information takes a paper form, but increasingly, we have started using digital data collection techniques.

What do you think are some of the unique challenges of using data to document economic, social and cultural rights, compared to civil and political rights?

Molly: The timeframe in which violations take place is a huge challenge in documenting ESCR violations. Because ESCR violations occur over a longer timeframe, relevant indicators need to be tracked over a period of time, to identify patterns that show a clear violation. By contrast, violations of civil and political rights take place in relatively short moments – an individual is turned away from a voting booth or someone is arrested for peacefully speaking out against a government, for example. So that can be documented effectively through “event-based” monitoring.

Bibhu: There is a dearth of government data regarding ESCR. Data is often restricted or limited; even when it is available, it’s riddled with inaccuracies and omissions. Additionally, user-friendly, cost-effective tools for collecting and analyzing ESCR-related data are often not available to grassroots organizations in the global south. Available tools are inappropriate if groups lack the skills and knowledge needed to use them.

Francesca: The language of the norms that underpin ESCR is a challenge. Ideas of ‘dignity’ and ‘adequacy’ are subjective terms, but they need to be applied consistently to ensure the legitimacy of data collected. Poverty is another major barrier: geographic isolation, illiteracy, low levels of education and rights awareness, and low technological know-how are common obstacles to participation by impoverished rights-holders.

Please tell us about your motivations for attending the forum.

Bibhu: For me, the forum was an opportunity to learn about tools for data security, data analysis etc. I was specifically interested in sharing ways to access and use information about government policies, programs, and budgets to assess compliance with ESCR.

Francesca: Nazdeek is a recently established organization with a strong focus on using data to address socioeconomic injustice. Human rights documentation and strong evidence are central components of our capacity building, advocacy, and litigation work and we were eager to learn about creative ways to use data for advocacy from other sectors and parts of the world.

I was hoping to meet others interested in documentation of ESCR and to learn about the techniques they were using to respond to some of the unique needs associated with this work.

Finally, what were your overall impressions of the forum? What were some of the main lessons you took away? What questions would you like to explore further?

Francesca: The RDF struck a good balance between theoretical discussion around responsible data and practical implications, challenges and solutions. This helped in making sure the conversation remained meaningful and solution-oriented, while ensuring an open and honest debate and keeping some questions open. The discussion about participatory approaches to documentation was particularly inspiring and begs for more debate. While everyone agrees we have responsibility to ensure the participation of stakeholders/data users, there are many doubts and uncertainties in how to go about it.

Molly: I thought the forum was very useful and interesting, particularly in terms of the networks it established. I was impressed with the range of projects that I was introduced to and the feedback I received on participatory approaches to monitoring was particularly valuable.

Bibhu: Learning about risk assessments (using a holistic security framework) and participatory workflows was extremely relevant in an ESCR context. The discussion about using technology in a low-tech environment was also very helpful. Additionally, I gained insight on how to use ICT in the presentation of data for advocacy.

You can read more about the discussion and outcomes of the Responsible Data Forum on human rights documentation here.

Posted by Justin Joachimiak on July 16th, 2015

Measuring what we treasure: human rights insights for post-2015 development

Negotiations and political horse-trading on the post-2015 sustainable development agenda will culminate in a High-Level Summit at the UN in September, when the final package of goals, targets and indicators will be adopted. Barring any dramatic event, the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and their associated targets, will be based on the work done by the ‘Open Working Group’ in 2014.

'Measuring What We Treasure': Highlights from the March 23 indicators
side event organized by the Post-2015 Human Rights Caucus
With this pivotal event drawing nearer, attention has now turned to the indicators that will be used to measure progress towards the targets.  It looks very likely that the process of setting global indicators to monitor the SDGs will rumble on at least until May 2016. This should allow time for civil society – including those advocates and organizations with experience in human rights monitoring – to have their say, rather than giving statisticians the last word. Sometimes those outside of government bureaucracies know better what can be measured, and how.

In order to catalyze debate about the importance of human rights considerations when designing indicators and monitoring their progress, the Post-2015 Human Rights Caucus held a side-event at UN Headquarters in New York on March 23, during the most recent session of inter-governmental negotiations.

The event was sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Denmark to the UN and moderated by Kate Donald, who directs the Human Rights in Development Program at CESR. A short Q&A followed the discussion. The panelists included Craig Mokhiber from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; Savio Carvalho from Amnesty International; Tessa Kahn from the Asia-Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development; and Antonia Wulff from Education International. Bill Orme, of the Global Forum for Media Development, also delivered some valuable insights, as did Marianne Mollmann from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

Their discussion highlighted the need for an innovative and holistic indicator framework that will create the right incentives and environment for rights-based sustainable development, taking into account lessons learned from human rights monitoring. In particular, three overarching questions were considered.

How do we make indicators meaningful from a human rights perspective?

Rights-based indicators ensure human rights are accounted for in the SDGs. Grounding indicators in human rights implies a number of things. First, it means measuring development outcomes as levels of rights enjoyment (e.g. all children have access to free primary education). Second, it means measuring how legislative and policy processes contribute to the realization of human rights. Third it means incorporating human rights norms (e.g. non-discrimination) into the indicators selected.

Connecting indicators on outcomes with indicators on legal structures and policy processes can paint a vivid picture. Outcome-based indicators (which have typically been the focus in monitoring development progress) serve a purpose, but they only go so far when measuring rights realization. Evaluating legal systems, processes, and the perceptions of those whose rights are being monitored provides us with a more comprehensive view of the ways state actions or inactions impact human rights enjoyment, which, in turn, can strengthen demands for accountability when progress is inadequate.

Tessa Kahn provided an example from her own work on violence against women. Instead of relying on the number of reported cases of such violence (an outcome-based indicator which is notoriously unreliable), women’s own perceptions of their safety should be included. Used with quantitative and outcome-based data, this kind of qualitative data creates a far more accurate and richer evidence base regarding violence against women. Antonia Wulff of Education International spoke about proposed indicators for education goals. She explained that, while completion rates and outcomes on reading and math are useful quantitative indicators, they fail to expose issues surrounding the quality of education received by students. Including indicators that evaluate the legal framework, policy environment and rights holders’ perceptions would place pressure on governments to make transformative changes.

How can discrimination and multiple inequalities be measured?

Data that is disaggregated on multiple grounds is perhaps the most important tool we have to focus on marginalized groups, commented Craig Mokhiber of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It was noted that the variables for disaggregation should align with international standards on discrimination; demographic information should be expanded to include all marginalized groups, not simply categories of gender and geography. Marianne Mollman of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission underlined the lack of data regarding LGBTI people as an example. There may be indirect indicators, like hate-crime and HIV-related statistics, but very little formal and focused data on their experience exists, she said. This dearth of data affects our ability to measure how LGBTI people benefit from development, if at all.

Particular indicators may be especially helpful in capturing multiple inequalities. Three examples were shared by panelists: literacy, access to justice, and access to land. These indicators can reveal information on multiple inequalities as well: literacy and access to land can be used as proxy indicators for poverty in many contexts, while access to justice is a right in itself and is necessary for the realization of a host of other human rights and areas of human development.

Conducting surveys on different areas of life (e.g. work, health, and education) can also provide insights regarding discrimination – particularly how individuals experience multiple inequalities. This illustrates the importance of using qualitative data to supplement quantitative data. It is also important, however, to be sensitive to the risks that those who reveal themselves as part of a marginalized group may face. Individuals may feel at risk if they reveal their identity and non-disclosure is often preferable to disclosure. This is true for many uncounted populations, such as LGBTI, street children, and undocumented workers. Careful safeguards must therefore be put in place, for example around privacy and the right to self-identification.


Like the Millennium Development Goals they will replace, our assessment of progress towards the SDGs will be largely data driven. As a result, it is tempting to select indicators for which data is readily available, ignoring other important, but less measured issues. For instance, collecting data on school drop-out rates among gender non-conforming youth would provide great insight into the process of marginalization, yet this kind of data is relatively difficult to collect and, as a result, it is largely neglected at present.

It is clear that the SDGs could play an important role in delivering a more just, sustainable and equitable development trajectory, ensuring a life of dignity for more of the world’s people. The accountability gap witnessed under the current MDGs highlights the importance of creating a framework for monitoring based on indicators that incorporate human rights. As the negotiations between governments, international agencies and civil society advance, those involved in human rights monitoring will no doubt have further insights to share. We look forward to continuing this discussion in a variety of forums, including ESCR-Net’s Monitoring Working Group, which CESR co-coordinates.

Posted by CESR on May 15th, 2015

New tools for old problems: closing the accountability gap in Egypt

Allison Corkery, Director of CESR's Rights Claiming and Accountability Program, on the next phase of our ongoing collaboration with Egyptian human rights defenders.

I recently joined a group of leading Egyptian NGOs for a two-day planning retreat in Tunis, which CESR co-organized with the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights in the sidelines of the World Social Forum. Our goal: to flesh out an idea for a new online tool to monitor how government policies are impacting economic, social and cultural rights in Egypt. The motivation for developing such a tool is to ensure that the Egyptian Government is held accountable, domestically, for the commitments it has made before international human rights bodies repeatedly, but rarely implemented.

The meeting, held in the sidelines of the World Social Forum in Tunis
brought together human rights defenders with a broad range of skills
With a young, tech-savvy population, virtual advocacy has offered an important space for social justice in Egypt. This is particularly the case in a context where shrinking civil society space limits opportunities for in-person collaboration. Egyptian NGOs have been keen to explore how to use this space to build momentum about economic, social and cultural rights. With our interest in how technology can advance human rights monitoring, CESR was eager to support the initiative.

Between the 10 of us, we had a broad range of expertise in the room—in research, advocacy, economics, public health, architecture, statistics, and graphic design. Nevertheless, for many of us—myself included—this was a new kind of project.  It was exciting, though somewhat daunting, to be conceptualizing something so innovative from the ground up.

We invited Aspiration, specialists in technology solutions for nonprofits, to facilitate the retreat. Over the course of the two days we came up with a shared vision for the tool—agreeing we wanted something that would open up space for civil society to collaborate more closely, as well as to engage in constructive dialogue with decision-makers.  By translating the recommendations of international human rights bodies into indicators that (a) reflect people’s everyday concerns; and (b) enable evidenced-based advocacy around them, the tool would not only allow for public monitoring of the  government’s performance, it could also prompt greater responsiveness from it.

We also mapped out and prioritized potential users of the tool and brainstormed the ways they might interact with it. Having a better sense of ‘by who’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ the tool would be used allowed more informed deliberation about how we were conceptualizing it. The key question: should it be more like a database? In other words, is a comprehensive, but neutral, source of data on economic, social and cultural rights what is most urgently needed? Or is it more important that the data tell a ‘bigger picture’ story about what’s happening in the country and what progress the government is making to advance economic, social and cultural rights?

Our conclusion was that we would need to tell a story with data, for example by developing a score card, index or dashboard. Specifically, we need to draw together data from fragmented datasets and then present it in a way that is accessible to activists, citizens, and policymakers. This would help uncover hidden patterns of poverty and social exclusion in the country and show trends over time. Doing so has the potential to be a powerful counterbalance that can challenge the dominant narrative that Egypt is bouncing back from the economic woes it has faced in recent years.

In some respects we ended the two days with more questions than answers. Nevertheless, the opportunity to think deeply about the strategic value of an online tool was significant, helping us to narrow down the questions that will have to be answered as we advance in the coming months.

The retreat came days after the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted its report on Egypt’s Universal Periodic Review. CESR delivered an oral statement to the Human Rights Council. In it, we stressed how the “cycle of popular dissatisfaction, social unrest, political repression and rising extremism” vividly illustrated the indivisibility and interdependence of rights in a transitional context.

Nevertheless, economic, social and cultural rights concerns in Egypt were relatively overshadowed by the country’s increasing political repression and crackdown on dissent. Egypt received only 29 recommendations specifically focused on economic, social and cultural rights – out of a total of 300 –during the November 2014 review, despite strong advocacy from Egyptian groups and CESR to draw the Council’s attention to the severe and widespread deprivations of these rights.

At last month’s Council session, the Egyptian Ambassador announced that all of these had been accepted by the government. This is a welcome commitment, of course, but it remains unclear whether it will influence practice on the ground. The government has established a permanent inter-ministerial committee, mandated to study the recommendations and propose policies and measures necessary to implement them. The Committee has reportedly "conducted an extensive consultation” with civil society; although none of our partners had ever heard of it.   

In a country where more than 20 million people are living in poverty, addressing the long standing patterns of socio-economic exclusion—which appear to be becoming even further entrenched—is more urgent than ever. In the absence of official channels for citizen engagement, there is a pressing need for alternative avenues to foster public debate, mobilize for action and strengthen social accountability. Our aspiration is that, by leveraging our collective strengths in the creation of this new tool, we can make a small, but significant contribution to this end. 

Posted by Allison Corkery on May 6th, 2015

Putting rights at the centre of 'data revolution'

31 January 2014

CESR's Allison Corkery has put human rights squarely on the agenda of the conference on 'Data and Accountability for the Post-2015 Development Framework' organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in New York on 29-31 January. 

The conference brought together data experts, statisticians and civil society groups from around the world to discuss how to bring about the ‘data revolution’ called for last year by the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The Panel concluded that the purpose of the data revolution was to promote trust between states and citizens by promoting transparency and accountability. While there is broad agreement that new digital technologies and the greater use of "big" and open data can have a potentially transformative impact on accountability in development, few have explored the implications of the "data revolution" from a human rights perspective.

As part of a panel on international frameworks for accountability in development, Allison's presentation Human Rights and the Data Revolution: Catalyst or Casualty? explored the central role of human rights in the post-2015 sustainable development agenda and the critical need for better data to secure greater human rights accountability in this context. The human rights framework can contribute to a genuinely transformative data revolution by offering guidance on what data should be prioritized: how data should be collected, analyzed and disseminated; for what purpose; and who the ultimate users of data are.

Individuals and communities facing poverty and deprivation must be enabled to meaningfully participate in data collection initiatives, opening up official statistics and harnessing big data. Real change can only come about if such data serves to empower those affected to claim their rights through effective mechanisms of accountability. It is also critical to strengthen the capacity of human rights accountability mechanisms at the local, national and international levels to use and interpret such data.

"There are high expectations around the post-2015 framework", said Allison, who leads CESR's program on monitoring and accountability. "Its accountability infrastructure must be more than a weak system of voluntary monitoring and crowd-sourced opinion polls, but must serve to reinforce a web of robust accountability mechanisms. A real power shift comes from recognizing people as citizens and rights-holders, not as mere users and consumers of data."

The event took place just before the final session of the Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals, the inter-governmental forum tasked with drawing up the framework to succeed the Millennium Development Goals when these expire in 2015. According to UNDP, the outcomes of the meeting will "lead to a common roadmap for coherent follow-up actions and advocacy to integrate data and accountability in the Post-2015 development agenda."

* To learn more about CESR's monitoring work, see here.

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