Human Rights

There is considerable potential for collaboration between groups that do applied budget work and those that work for the realization of human rights. They typically share common goals and aspirations, as they both seek to guarantee that the rights of the most vulnerable in society are being protected both in the law and in the budget.

Governments’ priorities and principles are realized, in large part, through their budgets, thus budget analysis is one very important tool available to strengthen human rights advocacy. Will the government pay for more rural health clinics by raising the tax on cigarettes? Will it increase military spending by raising taxes or cutting key education programs? Will it provide funding for a food subsidy program to ensure that the poor will be able to buy food next year? All of these questions have human rights implications, and the answers to all can be found in one place: the government’s budget.

The following table presents the potential for budget analysis to support advocates in their efforts to realize human rights.

Connecting Budget Analysis with Human Rights Advocacy

Applied Budget Work by Warren Krafchik

Budget analysis can help to lay bare the choices confronting a country

The central assumption in budget work is that there are insufficient resources available to meet all existing needs. Budget work forces one to concentrate on what should be the priorities for allocating a nation’s resources, and human rights work can help identify those priorities.

Assessing the adequacy, quality, and congruency of budgets and expenditures relative to international or local rights commitments

Governments fulfill their rights commitments in part through allocating and spending money. Budget analysis can help determine if the government is allocating its resources and spending them in line with its promises.

Analyzing the impact of budget choices on citizens

The causes of a poor human rights situation can be multiple. Budget work can help identify if budget choices are one of the causes.

Costing out the implications of policy choices

A human rights analysis can point to certain choices, and budget work can provide information about the financial cost of those choices.

Identifying sources of (new and reprioritized) policy funding

If a group advocates different spending priorities to better guarantee human rights, budget work can identify where the government may be able to get the necessary funding.

Analyzing the economic efficiency and quality of spending

Human rights are guaranteed in part by the expenditure of limited government resources. If spending is wasteful, individuals’ rights may remain unfulfilled.

The advocacy efforts of both groups can be strengthened by increased interaction

Budget groups often develop expertise in understanding the budget process and the most effective opportunities for intervention; they may also have contacts and networks with key policymakers specifically involved with budget policy decisions. However, budget groups are often relatively new to advocacy and the experience of others, particularly those in the rights movement, may contribute to the effectiveness of a budget group’s work.

“Human rights is a value choice that can help direct your budget choices.” John Samuel, National Centre for Advocacy Studies, India

Human Rights Work by Ann Blyberg

Keeping the human being as the focus

Human rights are about putting the welfare of people first. Asking what the human rights implications are of different budget decisions or options is a powerful way of helping ensure that individual human beings don’t get lost in the technical process of budget analysis.

Moral suasion

While applied budget work focuses on the poor, budget analysis as a skill or tool is value-neutral. Human rights are about what is “right” to do. Human rights can thus provide a compelling vision and a moral suasion to arguments made by applied budget groups.

A recognized legal framework

Human rights have been embodied in national, regional, and international laws. As such, they are an accepted basis, and in many cases a legal obligation, for government action. Choices made among options using this framework are not perceived as being the subjective wishes of one group, but as priorities agreed upon by a society as a whole.

A way of choosing among different options

Some human rights standards have been developed in great detail; others are currently more broadly stated, but are becoming more elaborated year by year. As standards become more elaborated, they can provide key guidance to policy makers and legislators who need to decide among competing demands on limited resources.

Transparency, accountability, and participation are rights-based concepts

Greater transparency, government accountability, and participation of affected groups help ensure that budget-making and expenditures are more accurate and effective. Transparency, accountability, and participation are, at the same time, basic political rights. As a result, a rights-based approach can add weight to calls by applied budget groups for this transparency, accountability, and participation.

“I don’t think that you can seriously monitor progress on social and economic human rights without monitoring and working on the budget.” Larry Cox, Ford Foundation, USA

Useful Guides and Publications

  • Article 2 and Governments’ BudgetsThis handbook, focused on civil society budget work, explores what the specific language in Article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“achieving progressively,” “to the maximum of its available resources,” and “without discrimination”) means for the way that governments should raise, allocate, and spend their budgets so as to best realize people’s human rights.
  • Dignity Counts: A Guide to Using Budget Analysis to Advance Human Rights. This guide is an easy-to-read, accessible discussion of how to analyze government budgets within a human rights framework. The case study that serves as the focus of the book relates to the right to health, but the discussion is relevant for all rights.
  • Budget Work to Advance the Right to Food: Many a Slip…. This guide provides a step-by-step process for analyzing a government’s budget and assessing its compliance with its obligations to fulfill its people’s right to food. The guide-coordinated by IHRIP, with substantial input from IBP and other organizations, also contains a section with initiatives in three countries to produce a right to food budget.
  • The Missing Link: Applied Budget Work as a Tool to Hold Governments Accountable for their Maternal Mortality Reduction Commitments. This joint publication from the International Initiative on Maternal Mortality and Human Rights and the IBP explores the relevance of civil society budget analysis and advocacy and its potential as a tool to hold governments accountable for their commitments around maternal health.


Case Studies of Collaborative Work


Learn More about Human Rights and Budget Analysis

  • Visit the human rights and budget work website of the International Human Rights Internship Program at for extensive resources on integrating budget analysis into human rights advocacy.