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Fiscal justice and human rights: strengthening collective counterpower for a transformative recovery in Latin America and the Caribbean

November 16, 2020
By Sergio Chaparro and María Emilia Mamberti 

This blog was originally drafted in Spanish. See the post in Spanish here.
Esta entrada de blog está disponible en español 

Latin America will be the region most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, suffering its worst crisis in the last hundred years ,and the impacts will affect a region that already suffers severe inequality. These inequalities have worsened and unless new, coordinated and radical measures are put in place, they will create even deeper divides. The health and economic crisis is becoming a widespread human rights crisis. Furthermore, if past responses are repeated, Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities, informal workers and women will likely bear the brunt of the crisis.

To respond to these risks, CESR has been working intensively with partners in Latin America and the Caribbean, Recently, we held a series of dialogues with over 30 organizations, under the umbrella of Initiative for Principles and Guidelines of Human Rights in Fiscal Policy, the Red de Justicia Fiscal de América Latina y el Caribe (Fiscal Justice Network of Latin America and the Caribbean) and Latindadd. The aim of the dialogues was to find ways to promote a transformational recovery from the COVID-19 crisis by means of more just and rights-based fiscal policies.

Confronting this crisis requires urgent collaboration among civil society organizations. In recent years, collaborative efforts from civil society have made significant progress in building joint frameworks and strategies, and in positioning an integrated approach to fiscal policy and human rights in spaces such as the Inter-American Human Rights System. This has laid the groundwork for a new phase, in which CESR has been fostering convergence among organisations to build a narrative in which fiscal policy is understood as a social justice and human rights issue, and to provide specific steps that can guide the design and implementation of fiscal policies using this perspective. This convergence is embodied in the Initiative for Human Rights in Fiscal Policy which is currently developing a set of Principles and Guidelines which could serve as a reference for policy makers, monitoring organisations and civil society.  

Although these advances have been significant, it is crucial to consolidate the collaboration, broaden its geographic scope and connect with social movements, in order to build a regional power that can become an effective driver of change.

A major challenge is the identification of the transformational fiscal measures needed to avoid massive breaches of rights. The participants in these dialogues put forward several proposals they have been promoting in their own countries. They suggested advocating taxes on wealth and large fortunes across the region; correcting gender and other biases in tax systems; strengthening social protection systems and basic income programs; eliminating fiscal privileges; and combating tax evasion, avoidance and fraud. Regarding strategic actions by civil society, the options discussed included monitoring - with a human rights perspective- responses to COVID-19 and assistance granted by International Financial Institutions; the use of strategic litigation to challenge fiscal policies that violate rights; advocacy regarding the actions of financial institutions and development banks; and carrying out campaigns to incorporate fiscal justice and human rights in the crisis response framework.

The organizations comprising this convergence bring to the table solid efforts that have achieved results in their respective countries. The richness of this process consists of building on these specific experiences, in order to find ways of collaboration and coordination that enables a challenge to the narratives and actions of economic élites and other powerful groups. In this regard, sharing the diverse strategies used by fiscal justice and human rights organizations in their daily work, and discussing common issues faced by their countries, are important steps in consolidating an effective counterpower to the threat posed by the narrative of fiscal austerity and other policy dogmas.

This series of dialogues is the first step in consolidating a broader convergence of human rights and fiscal justice organizations in Latin America. Civil society organizations from within and outside the region took part in the conversations, as did renowned academics, representatives of the Inter-American Human Rights system, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and other international organizations. Challenges and opportunities to promote fiscal justice and human rights in Latin America and the Caribbean were discussed and possible points of contact and synergies among the agendas of different organizations were examined.

As a concrete outcome of these dialogues, the group of organizations was able to convey a unified message to spaces such as the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and to activate accountability mechanisms to examine the role of actors such as the International Monetary Fund. They have also paved the way for further exchanges of best practices in adopting fiscal policies more aligned with rights, including a regional discussion on taxation with a gender focus. In the second phase that is planned for the coming months, these dialogues will extend to include social movements, including Indigenous peoples, the labor movement and the feminist movement. Other proposals include the production of evidence of the human rights impacts of fiscal policies in specific national contexts, and joint advocacy to broaden the influence of this emerging collective counterpower for fiscal justice and human rights in the region.  


The complete recordings of the dialogues can be found at the following links:

Dialogue 1: Regional panorama and exploration of synergies, with the participation of ICEFI (Guatemala), Decidamos (Paraguay), Dejusticia (Colombia), Instituto de Justicia Fiscal (Brazil), Fundar (Mexico), CEDLA (Bolivia), ACIJ (Argentina), Latindadd, INIET (Nicaragua), Fundes (El Salvador), Centro Montalvo (República Dominicana), CEDES (Ecuador), CELS (Argentina), Fundación SES (Argentina), RJFALC and CESR.

Dialogue 2: Monitoringof Covid-19 resources and short-term responses, with the participation of Daniela Gabor (UWE Bristol), Ishita Pektar (International Accountability Project), Carla García (CIEL - Coalition for Human Rights in Development), and Stephany Griffith-Jones (Columbia University).

Dialogue 3: Changing the post-pandemic rules: building agendas for Fiscal Justice and Human Rights, with the participation of Susana Ruiz (OXFAM), Jorge Coronado (Latindadd), Regina Duarte (IJF, Brazil),  Eduardo Reese (CELS, Argentina),  Esteban Silva (Fundación Constituyente XXI, Chile),  Paulina Castaño (Fundar, México) and Adrián Falco (RJFALC)

Dialogue 4: Collaboration with journalists, data analysts and litigants, with the participation of Livi Gerbase (INESC), Karina Patricio (Durham Law School), Rodrigo Uprimny (CESCR) and Alejandro Rodríguez (Dejusticia).

Dialogue 5: Financing a transformational recovery, with the participation of Soledad García (REDESCA-CIDH), Daniel Titelman (ECLAC), José Antonio Ocampo (ICRICT), Rosa María Cañete (Latindadd), Grazielle David (Iniciativa P&D/RJFALC) and Ignacio Saiz (CESR).