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Towards Human Rights-Based Fiscal Policies: Principles and Guidelines for Latin America and the Caribbean

December 20, 2018
From Mexico to Argentina, fiscal debates througout the region are leading to the same human rights concerns. Are cuts to social spending really necessary if, at the same time, governments grant tax privileges to corporations without any assessment of their net benefits? How to fix internal and external loopholes that deprive States from valuable resources to fulfill human rights? How to create the political economic conditions for collecting more revenue through redistributive direct taxes, instead of increasing consumption taxes that usually fall more heavily on the worst off? How to open the door for adopting green taxes that encourage the transition to clean energies? How to prompt government to use taxation as a tool to reduce real estate speculation, or to encourage healthy habits that powerful interest groups often oppose? What can be done about tax decisions and public budgets that are discriminatorily biased against women, ethnic minorities, or inhabitants of poorer regions?
These questions are only a few examples of a more general concern: How can concerned parties ensure that fiscal policy serves as an instrument to realize human rights, and that it is compatible with States’ obligations regarding human rights? At the same time, how can we enhance the regional human rights framework so that it serves that purpose more effectively?
With this goal in mind, a group of organizations that have been working together since 2015 to position fiscal policy as a human rights issue in the Inter-American System of Human Rights and other relevant fora will fill this gap by leading a collaborative, hands-on construction of a set of Principles and Guidelines on Fiscal Policy and Human Rights in the Americas. The initiative is comprised of the Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ); the Centro de Estudios de Derecho, Justicia y Sociedad (Dejusticia); the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS); Fundar (Centro de Análisis e Investigación); and the Instituto de Estudos Socioeconômicos (INESC); with coordination by the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR). 
The principles and guidelines initiative seeks to distill a series of principles that would secure human rights standards applicable to fiscal policy, as well as concrete guidelines on how to adapt fiscal policies to such standards in both national and subnational contexts. The principles and guidelines would be used in domestic courts and before human rights bodies within the Inter-American System as a legal tool and as a powerful advocacy tool for a broad range of stakeholders.
The members of the initiative held their first meeting November 21st-22nd  in Buenos Aires, where they reviewed empirical evidence of the impacts of fiscal policy on the effective enjoyment of human rights in the region. A special focus was placed on cases in which governments implemented austerity measures. Experts also made presentations on fiscal policy ramifications through the lenses of intersecting perspectives such as fiscal sociology and feminist economy.
Fiscal policy has a huge transformative potential for the fulfillment of human rights, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean, the most unequal region in the world. Mobilizing financial resources in an equitable, transparent and sustainable way is essential to secure human rights. At the same time, the human rights framework can substantially enhance the quality of fiscal policies in the region and strengthen governments’ accountability. Human rights also provide standards to prioritize resource allocation in a just and efficient manner. In fact, in its last report on Poverty and Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights pointed out that human rights principles are fully applicable to fiscal policy, and that “they must be implemented in the entire policy cycle from budget preparation and tax codes or expenditure allocation through to monitoring and evaluation of outcomes.”
However, despite existing developments, the fiscal implications of human rights standards have not been fully examined or systematized. In practice, human rights principles tend not to be considered by governments in the region when designing, implementing or evaluating fiscal policies. The normative and methodological framework of principles and guidelines that the initiative is formulating would provide the basic elements for this reality to change. 
The absence of a concrete framework providing guidance on how to design, implement and monitor fiscal policies according to human rights standards undermines efforts carried out by a broad range of stakeholders to urge local and national governments, international financial institutions and other private and public economic actors to meet the obligation to mobilize resources to fulfill human rights (and economic, social, cultural and environmental rights in particular).
The organizations heading up the initiative have invited a group of leading experts to inform the principles and guidelines creation process. Several members of the group will also serve as a drafting committee, using a process that will be participatory, interdisciplinary and genuinely deliberative. By mining the combined interdisciplinary experience, knowledge and evidence of fiscal policy in the region accumulated by fiscal justice, human rights and development social movements, the principles and guidelines initiative aims to cover all necessary points employed within the fiscal policy cycle. 
At the Buenos Aires meeting, members agreed to debate and discuss initial drafts of the principles and guidelines with academics in their region during the first half of 2019, in an effort to improve their content and gather support for the initiative. Similarly, consultations with an extended group of experts will be held, and governments, civil society organizations, social movements and additional academics will be invited to actively contribute on different themes. 
Please contact to learn more about collaborating with the principles and guidelines initiative.