Fiscal justice and human rights in the Americas: landmark hearing at Inter-American Commission

English

Momentum is growing in efforts to embed human rights standards in how governments raise and spend public money. In late October, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its first thematic hearing on fiscal policy and human rights.

The event, which was convened by the Commission at the request of CESR and six leading Latin American human rights organizations with the support of Oxfam, heard compelling evidence of the regressive and discriminatory impacts of tax and budget policies in many countries of the region. A report produced for the hearing meanwhile provided a more detailed picture of the pervasive fiscal injustice in Latin America. 

Speaking at the hearing, CESR’s Deputy Executive Director Gaby Oré Aguilar emphasized the threat to human rights posed by the economic slowdown in the region and, in particular, by the trend towards unjust fiscal austerity measures that are being implemented in response. “It is in the context of economic crisis that human rights oversight of fiscal policy becomes even more relevant and necessary, to prevent the adoption of austerity measures and fiscal policies that are even more regressive,” she said.

The commissioners present also heard a detailed explanation of how unjust fiscal policies in the Americas violate human rights obligations and principles as set out in international and regional treaties. IACHR Executive Secretary Emilio Álvarez Icaza, who was in attendance for the hearing, echoed the calls of the civil society organizations present when he said “the relationship between fiscal policy and human rights remains on the margins, and it is important to bring it to the center of the discussion, as it is in budgets that states’ priorities are to be found”.

This landmark initiative built on the advances made earlier this year when CESR and our tax justice allies convened the first international strategy meeting on Advancing Tax Justice through Human Rights in Lima, Peru. CESR is now collaborating with national allies including the Grupo Nacional de Presupuesto Público in Peru on an applied research and advocacy project to highlight the role of the country’s fiscal policy regime in perpetuating socio-economic inequality and stark disparities in human rights enjoyment. In parallel, we are also working with Oxfam Latin America’s Even It Up campaign and local organizations in the Dominican Republic, where violations of the right to housing are being fuelled by inequitable and regressive fiscal policies. Beyond the Americas, CESR has been using international human rights mechanisms to challenge fiscal injustice in transitional contexts such as Egypt, and in other countries where austerity measures have led to rising inequality and a severe deterioration in economic and social rights, such as Spain.

What began in Lima as an exploratory initiative to bring the tax justice and human rights communities together has now developed into a collaborative platform for action with real traction at the national, regional and international levels. The road ahead will see us joining forces with tax justice advocates to elucidate the tax dimensions of corporate accountability as well as exploring instances in which fiscal policy is patently discriminatory. We will also be shining some much-needed light into the dark corners of financial secrecy jurisdictions such as Switzerland, as well as continuing the campaign for a Post-2015 Fiscal Revolution to meet the newly agreed Sustainable Development Goals.

At a time when economic recession, fiscal austerity and wavering development cooperation threaten to exacerbate inequality and deprivation, it is essential to put tax more firmly on the human rights agenda, and for human rights to be at the heart of tax justice advocacy.  We need to “get fiscal” if we are to effectively counter the policy paradigms which are so grossly undermining the resourcing of rights.