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Embedding Human Rights in Economic Responses: Learnings From Recovering Rights

Embedding Human Rights in Economic Responses: Learnings From Recovering Rights

By Rebecca Berger and Allison Corkery

At the end of last year, we asked readers and co-authors of our Recovering Rights series for their feedback. A huge thank you to everyone who responded! Here we share some of the insights we heard and lessons we’ve learned from this exercise.
The Recovering Rights briefs are two-page documents focused on specific topics related to a rights-based economic recovery from COVID-19, from the role of international cooperation to progressive tax measures to realize rights, and beyond. Our goal for the series was to make human rights more relatable and useful to a range of actors working on economic responses to COVID-19. Initially, debates about the human rights implications of government responses to COVID-19 seemed to focus primarily on civil and political rights. There were condemnations of repressive measures under the guise of social distancing and lists of actions governments should not take in order to avoid repressing rights during the pandemic. But little was being said about economic and social rights. In particular, we saw a need for more concrete guidance on what governments should be doing to respond to the pandemic in line with their human rights obligations, particularly in terms of their economic responses. The briefs were a “rapid response” to that need.

Our aim was to create a resource that clearly articulated what it means for human rights to be action-oriented and solutions-based, while also ensuring that the briefs were, in fact, brief. Our hope was that the briefs would start conversations on how human rights can shape a just economic recovery from COVID-19, in order to contribute to debates about particular policy proposals. We also wanted these outputs to be collaborative, bringing in a variety of perspectives from partners specializing in different fields from across the globe.
This type of resource was a new undertaking for CESR: Our sense was that in the midst of information overload, short and digestible briefs would have more impact than a thorough and lengthy report. That assumption seems to be correct. But we’ve still got more to learn in terms of how different actors are using the information shared in different ways to support their work.

Readers told us the briefs helped them better understand the different topics, while also providing a clearer articulation of what it means to take a rights-based approach to them. Connecting socioeconomic issues to human rights obligations and outlining concrete actions for meeting those obligations was said to be particularly useful. Readers also commented that the length and depth of the briefs provided just enough information to get a solid grasp on the issue, while also leaving space for more targeted research after reading. A number of people commented that Recovering Rights has been a useful resource for getting up to speed on a topic that they are aware of but would like to learn more about. They’d shared them with journalists and policymakers, for example. That said, we heard a number of suggestions for making the briefs even more accessible. These included bringing in more national examples and statistics, simplifying some of the technical language further, and making more of the “critical questions” posed at the end of the briefs.

Feedback from our co-authors highlighted the benefit of interdisciplinary collaborations. Bringing together different expertise allowed us to broaden the range of topics covered—including topics like monetary policy and Special Drawing Rights, where there’s been less human rights analysis to date. Collaboration also helped reach a larger (in some cases different) audience than each author would have been able to alone.

So how will these insights inform our thinking going forward? While many of our initial questions around the utility of the briefs have been answered, this exercise has led to a whole new set of questions to consider when continuing this work. These include:
  • How can we ensure our messages are reaching those working at the local and national levels?


  • What else do we need to do to ensure the briefs are in fact sparking conversations with other organizations and across movements working towards shared goals? This is an especially challenging question while so much of our work remains virtual!


  • To build momentum for the policy proposals outlined in the briefs, do we need to define a shared “agenda” for a rights-based economic recovery and if so what should its key pillars be?


  • How can we ensure that this vision for a rights-based recovery factors into political debates around recovery at both the national and international levels?

These are all questions we’ll explore as we continue with the briefs and other activities that make up our work on Resourcing a Just Recovery, well as our longer-term work to envision a Rights-Based Economy.

A special thank you to all who have responded to the Recovering Rights survey, as well as to our partners who have co-published briefs with CESR. A full list of co-authors can be found on the Recovering Rights webpage.

The Recovering Rights survey is still open and we would love to hear the thoughts of more readers. We of course always appreciate hearing from our partners and allies about how they’ve engaged with our work. Please do get in touch via social media or at