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Submitted by Matthias on
I find it curious that economists are often critical of HRBA to development on grounds that seem very narrow. Take this passage, for instance, 'It is not sufficient because countries that have constitutions with well delineated and judicially enforced human rights, such as India and South Africa, have relatively poor human development outcomes.' Well, having rights in their constitutions, or allowing judicial control of certain constitutional guarantees, is not, in and of itself, coextensive with the notion of a human rights-based approaches to development policy. Both features could be absent, and you could still have a HRBA to development. Both can, and often are, present and outcomes could still be poor. HRBA are not about outcomes only, they are mostly about process (how social policy should be designed and implemented), and about empowerment (treating goods such as health and education as social duties, and not as objects of politically-mediated charity). [On a related methodological point, I find it strange that you take SA and India as examples, for amongst the countries with highest HDI are countries that have enshrined social rights in their constitutions and have aggressive judicial machinery to support such rights; why are cases of shortfalls taken as evidence of the lack of causal link between HR and development, and cases of success ignored?] You then follow with the following assertion, 'the reason [for poor outcomes] is that making health and education human rights often implies that governments should finance and provide health and education services.' That really supposes that any HRB policy to any social service is exclusively state-led, when in practice, that need not be the case. The US has decided to mandate health care for all, through sophisticated -- and contentious -- legislation. This is about creating a regulatory framework in which private service providers and health care users make their choices, and adapt. Ideally, the health care reform is expected to reduce overall costs, and increase coverage. Is this 'government provision' of health care? For some, particularly the poorest, it might be that. For others, such as private insurers, it is about the business model they must have in order to comply with regulations. How the burden is shared among different actors is the crucial role legislation and regulation plays... there is no 'natural' set of regulations, so any allocation of rights through regulation will have costs, but not all of it need be supported by the state. A HRBA to health does not mandate a UK-style NHS. 'Yet there is plenty of evidence that governments in many countries do badly at delivering these services to poor people—public financing is skewed towards the non-poor; money fails reach schools and clinics; teachers and doctors are absent about 20-40 percent of the time; when present, the quality of services they provide is extremely poor.' These are all serious deficiencies of policy. A HRBA to education requires citizen participation in the design and implementation of policy; it requires focusing on the more vulnerable; it requires fighting discrimination (facing a deficit in female enrollment, for instance). That governments are bad in providing services does not mean that we should not require anything from them. It implies rather, that we must set the conditions under which government can deliver better services: this might be through better public policy, this might be by better division of labor between private and public actors (read better incentives all around), etc. So could we please stop with this notion that a HRBA is all about constitutionalizing social rights and having judges define budget priorities? Although those elements might be present in a HRBA, they are neither the only, nor the most important, elements in these approaches. It is also true that a human rights approach benefits those who are able to mobilize on the basis of rights and to get into the courtroom; often, these may not be the poor.