Development Human Rights

Privatising Progressive Realisation

Social and economic rights are constructed in international politics with an awareness that the standards of and efforts towards their realisation may be different in one state and another. This leads to the conceptualisation of ‘progressive realisation’, adopted to give room for states to take steps to implement this set of rights based on their maximum available resource.  Progressive realisation should not be understood as an ‘escape hatch’ for states. Rather it signifies that advancement should and could always be made and that states should avoid regressive actions.

Although human rights lawyers and scholars continuously attempt to limit the emphasis on resources, it is a fact that the realisation of social and economic rights requires making the best use of scarce and finite resources. Enforcing a new set of legislations to ensure the protection of accessibility of health care does improve the promotion and protection of right to health. The same goes for the blaming and shaming by human rights activism at national and international politics. However, to provide available vaccinations or preventive measures to combat infant mortality requires investments in facilities and infrastructures.

Here one needs to continue reflecting on the question how to improve the performance of the state obligation to fulfil. Considerations towards private investments have long been made. The argument is posited that investment promotion activities can potentially augment the limited national income of many developing countries, thereby creating conditions that make more possible for the enjoyment of social economic rights. The idea is often perceived as controversial, especially because the essentially different nature of human rights and private enterprises. The latter is known for its profit-seeking and exploitative characteristics and for frequently being reported as human rights violators.

So what are the possible solutions for balancing the relationship between human rights and private investments? Many scholars have explored various ways, but I will only mention two here. First is that integrating private investment in the economic calculations for the realisation of social and economic rights requires grappling with difficult normative and policy issues about resource constraints and trade-offs. This means delving into budgetary data analysis, which is not a typical area of human rights expertise yet the human rights movement is now mature enough to overcome this challenge. Second is to scrutinize the conditions under which the pursuit of foreign direct investment (FDI) can be deemed consistent with state obligation to fulfill socioeconomic rights, rather than risking the state obligation to protect.  Crucial here is to ensure the pre-existence of a set of institutions that sufficiently regulates the behavior of foreign businesses and a certain level of human capital and physical infrastructure conducive to knowledge and technology transfer.

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