Since 2015, CESR has contributed to Colombian civil society’s efforts to achieve greater economic justice. By bringing the discourse and normative framework of human rights to the field of fiscal policy at the national, regional and international levels, CESR helps construct an alternative narrative about fiscal justice in Colombia and more broadly throughout the Andean Region and Latin America. This narrative aims to favorably position the demands of the communities that are most disadvantaged (women, indigenous and Afro-descendant organizations) by the current distribution of public resources.
As part of this strategy in 2016, CESR and its partners convened a series of dialogues in Bogotá, bringing together human rights advocates, tax officials, academics, representatives of indigenous groups, business associations and others to discuss the links between fiscal policy and inequality in Colombia. These meetings came at a critical moment for the country, as the government was planning far-reaching tax reforms in the context of its post-conflict transition.
Human rights mechanisms had already weighed in on the impact of fiscal policies on the implementation of the historic Peace Agreement and on ESCR. In 2017, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) asked that the government take steps to analyze the impact of the recent regressive structural tax reforms on reducing poverty and inequality. The government was also tasked with making the necessary adjustments to ensure that the tax policy be redistributive and socially fair, with a view to combating high levels of inequality and increasing the resources available for the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights.
CESR, in partnership with its Colombian partners Dejusticia and Fescol, also prepared a factsheet for Colombia’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the Human Rights Council. CESR played a key role in formulating key recommendations on economic, social and cultural rights in the country, specifically stating that for Colombia to properly implement the Peace Agreement, it must allocate necessary human, technical and financial resources under the strict application of the human rights principles of transparency, participation and accountability. CESR also recommended a comprehensive analysis of the impact of tax reforms and other fiscal policies on human rights, poverty and inequality and that the government make necessary adjustments to ensure that those policies are redistributive and fair, with a view to combating the high levels of inequality and increasing the resources available for the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights.
In May, 2018, CESR and twelve leading human rights and development organizations submitted a report for a thematic hearing on ESCR and fiscal policies in Latin America before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). CESR and its partners reported to the IACHR that the country’s weak implementation of economic and social rights in some areas restricts the Peace Agreement from correcting human rights deficits that disproportionately affect women, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant individuals and peasants (campesinos).
As Colombia has recently acceded to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the country is expected to meet the most progressive standards observed by this organization’s members. Evidence shows, however, that the country still lags significantly behind regional and OECD indicators on social and fiscal areas. Colombia is the second most unequal country in Latin America (itself the most unequal region in the world) with rates of income poverty and extreme income poverty on the rise. The redistributive capacity of the State is very low, not only in comparison with other OECD members, but also with respect to other Andean countries. Unfair tax incentives, regressive taxation schemes, corporate and personal income tax evasion, illicit financial flows and corruption account for massive losses in revenue that could be allocated to implementation of the Peace Agreement and to address the human rights deficits in the country. CESR and partners are working towards more sufficient and equitable taxation to fulfill human rights and sustainable development.
CESR is also seeking to examine to examine how and from whom resources are mobilized and expended during political transitions such as the Peace Agreement, and the implications this may have from a human rights perspective. To this end, we are currently working with Colombian human rights organization Dejusticia on a joint project exploring the lessons of 20 years of transitional policies in Colombia. The project investigates how the planning and design of development policies and reforms mandated by the Peace Agreement take into account the economic and social rights of the population internally displaced by the conflict. The fruits of this research will be available in the second half of 2018.