Economics Versus Human Rights

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This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access. Acknowledgement I am grateful to friends and colleagues for their valuable suggestions. Bartels L Trade and human rights.

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De Schutter O International trade in agriculture and the right to food. Garcia F Trade, inequality, and justice. Transnational, Ardsley Google Scholar. In: Nadakavukaren Schefer K ed Poverty and the international economic legal system. Hestermeyer H, Broude T The first condition of progress?

Freedom of speech and the limits of international law. Springer, Heidelberg, pp — Google Scholar.

World Over - Human Rights vs Economics - Raymond Arroyo with Harry Wu - 01-20-2011

Kinley D Civilising globalisation. Matthews A The impact of WTO agricultural trade rules on food security and development: an examination of proposed additional flexibilities for developing countries. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, pp — Google Scholar. Savarese E The coherence of EU law: the promotion of investments vs the protection of human rights.

In some countries, plaintiffs must demonstrate they were directly affected by an alleged violation; otherwise, they have no standing in court. In other countries, however, this is not necessarily so.

U.S. Government Begins Human Rights Website | Miller-McCune

This matters because when individuals must demonstrate a personal interest, in the case before being heard in court, it is more difficult for civil society groups and public interest lawyers to litigate for the common good. Who does the enforcing? How and when? For example, a court could direct state bureaucrats to develop a policy to improve citizen health.

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Economic and Social Rights | NESRI | National Economic & Social Rights Initiative

It takes time to do this, however, because the bureaucrats must undertake studies and engage in all manner of consultations. In the end, it all depends on jurisdictions, priorities, bureaucratic capacities and prior legal decisions. Many of those same people, however, would argue that courts cannot do the same to enforce the right to education.


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Thus the right to education—a classic socio-economic right—is not really a human right at all, while the right to political participation really is. Yet elections can sometimes be more expensive, and less effective—in terms of the common good—than education. Why, then, do states and courts prioritize elections over education?


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This is a political and historical choice, not a logical necessity. One could, in theory, spend more money on the public education system, while spending less on elections. Unlike a civil and political right, some say, socio-economic rights are so expensive that they can only be progressively realized, over time, as states gain more expertise, resources and capacities. The risk, however, is that the right will be indefinitely suspended, as states repeatedly argue that more resources and capacities are necessary.

Economic Rights Are Human Rights

Instead, the progressive realization of a socio-economic right, such as the right to housing, health or education, requires states to take concrete action, however small. Different states deal differently with the legal enforcement of socio-economic rights. India and Nigeria, for example, have constitutional provisions that keep these rights out of the legal system. Indian women fill containers with potable water from a government water supply pipe in Assam, India. Nigerian courts, unfortunately, have been more conservative. South Africa, however, has been more progressive.