- Dignity Counts: A Guide to Using Budget Analysis to Advance Human Rights
What a jewel of a short book. Here is a book that, I would say, belongs to our Dialectics 101armamentarium by reminding us to look at the major contradictions in the neglect to tackle human rights violations the world over. Based on a workshop of the same name held in January 2002 in Mexico, the book reminds us to always check if governments are "putting their money where their mouth is." To illustrate the contradictions at hand, the book unpretentiously but forcefully brings to the fore the flagrant violations of the right to health through an analysis of the Mexican Government budgets over a four year period. Dignity Counts(read, "human rights count") is built around a real life case study in Mexico and it discusses only one right—the right to health.
Early on, we are provided with expert guidance on how to use "Budget Analysis," a tool that can be used with surgical effectiveness to protect and promote the enjoyment of human rights in general and economic, social and cultural rights, in particular. Beyond any doubt, the book proves how budget analysis allows assessing transparency and accountability, as well as compliance by governments with their human rights obligations. This is because of the ultimate effects of budgets and budgetary policies on the poor.
Evidence is also given on how budget analysis can highlight specific actions that can be taken to remedy governments' non-compliance with respecting, protecting, and fulfilling human rights principles—something that should be one of their highest priorities to begin with. Government budgets should thus reflect those policies, and by looking at the government's revenue allocations one instantly knows that, ergo, the results of budget analysis can be integrated into active advocacy.
But the book also ably reminds us that assessing quality of spending requires something other than budget analysis. Although the latter is a powerful value-neutral tool per-se (that allows one to pinpoint a government's failure to comply with its rights obligations), a human rights perspective "grounds" budget analysis by pointing out what is right and what is not. Budget figures do shed light on key human rights issues.
Budget analysis cannot thus by itself identify what human rights true priorities ought to be. A human rights framework (well characterized in the book) is needed to help fill the gap. Ultimately, one has to ask: does the budget reflect an effort towards the progressive achievement of human rights? Does the government use the maximum available resources to comply with human rights provisions of the treaties it has signed? (i.e., does it prioritize [End Page 1134]the allocation of resources to necessary services?) Let us remember that, according to international law, it hasto.
It therefore becomes plenty clear that, when human rights are dismissed by some as being idealistic and unrealistic, a struggle to build a consensus on the fact that certain practices and budgetary allocations violate human rights/dignity must antecede efforts to carry out a human rights-based budget analysis.
The caveat is that the capacity to enforce human rights depends on the existence of legal provisions protecting rights (national constitutions and laws, as well as international and regional treaties). Most constitutions contain a range of rights provisions including economic, social, and cultural rights provisions. Therefore, because rights are claims against a state, it behooves us to study the national constitution and human rights-related laws.
Why? Because if a government has ratified human rights treaties, it is obliged to bring its national constitution and laws into line with the provisions of the same treaties. But, typically, constitutional provisions and laws are stated in brief or vague terms. Moreover, it does not always follow that governments respect these provisions; and, this is where budget analysis comes in!
Violations of human rights occur under many different guises, not least the...