Inequality, Human Rights, and Social Rights: Tensions and Complementarities
- Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 10, Number 3, Winter 2019
- pp. 376-394
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Economic inequality is increasingly recognized as one of the main problems of our time. But what human rights have to say about it? Are human rights effective tools for tackling inequality, as human rights practitioners have argued, or are they powerless and inadequate tools to challenge inequality in the age of neoliberalism, as stated recently by Yale’s professor Samuel Moyn? This article examines the complex relations between economicinequality and human rights, especially economic and social rights (ESR), by exploring the arguments behind these two opposite views. We propose an intermediate position: while human rights and discussionsabout inequality predominantly take place in autonomous fields, it is not onlypossible but crucial to overcome some of the pitfalls ofhuman rights law in relation to inequality in order to use it as an equalizinginstrument. Extreme inequality poses not only strong empirical obstacles to the enjoyment of human rights but alsoundermines core tenets of human rights law, such as the principle of equality of opportunity.These links allow us to bridge the gap between the two fields and to speak of inequality as ahuman rights issue. We explore five pathsto reinforce the equalizing potential of human rights law: 1) moving towards ‘empirical based normative standards’, 2) advancing interpretations of human rights law more sensitive to economic inequality, 3) enhancing the equalizing potential of human rights accountability mechanisms; 4) incorporating human rights concerns across different regimes of internationaleconomic law, and 5) providing strategies and arguments for supporting redistributive policies between and within countries.