The OPERA Framework (Assessing compliance with the obligation to fulfill economic, social and cultural rights)

Organization(s): CESR
Year: 2017
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To increase accountability for failures to fulfill economic, social and cultural rights (ESC rights), it is
necessary to uncover the shortcomings in a state’s social and economic policies that lead to large scale deprivations. This serves to expose as a preventable injustice what may otherwise be seen as an inevitable consequence of under-development. Holding institutions to account for these failures, through both judicial and non-judicial processes, is an essential step towards providing remedies to those affected. Accountability processes can, in turn, allow policy makers to know what works so that it can be repeated and what does not, so that it can be adjusted.

Yet human rights practitioners and activists face significant challenges in clearly demonstrating the complex causal links between poor human rights outcomes and shortcomings in states’ policy efforts.
Such shortcomings are often systemic and entrenched, arising from institutional failures rather than the wrongdoings of individual officials. Attributing state responsibility for chronic problems, such as high rates of maternal death, involves more complex analysis of the link between conduct and result than establishing state accountability in acute cases, such as torture or forced eviction. Relevant international standards against which to judge the adequacy of states’actions are themselves multifaceted and not always clearly defined and easily measurable.

Nevertheless, significant progress has been made in recent years. On the conceptual side, understanding of the nature and scope of the rights and obligations enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) has been increasingly elaborated, particularly through interpretations by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; jurisprudence of national courts and regional adjudication bodies; and increasing engagement between human rights and development experts. On the methodological side, a variety of different actors have developed or adapted tools and techniques to monitor ESC rights fulfillment, moving beyond conventional ‘events-based’ monitoring towards new qualitative and quantitative methods, including analyses employing statistics, indicators, indices, etc. While these tools and techniques offer considerable advances, they have tended to be developed in a fragmented way, by different actors, and in isolation from each other. Accordingly, they have generally demonstrated strengths in measuring a specific element of the obligation to fulfill, but used on their own do not fully capture the range of human rights principles and standards that underpin the obligation.

This paper presents a practical framework for integrating different tools and techniques in order to
provide a more comprehensive assessment of how public policies comply with the obligation to fulfill ESC rights. The OPERA framework (so called because it triangulates Outcomes, Policy Efforts and Resources to make an overall Assessment) articulates relevant human rights standards and principles to take into account when monitoring ESC rights fulfillment and offers practical guidance on which tools and techniques might be employed to evaluate them. These range from simple descriptive statistics that summarize data to more complex fiscal policy and budget analysis that assess the availability and allocation of resources. By making explicit this crucial link between the various human rights standards and principles that underpin the obligation to fulfill and the different assessment methods available to monitor them, the framework enables a systematic approach to building evidence of failures to fulfill ESC rights. This framework has been developed by the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), an international non-governmental organization, as part of its work to promote greater accountability for breaches of this duty, which underlie many of the most widespread and pervasive deprivations of ESC rights.

By providing an overarching framework to integrate multiple tools and methods, the OPERA framework enables advocates and activists to build up a well-evidenced argument about a state’s compliance with its obligation to fulfill ESC rights. This can be very powerful for advocacy, whether focused on securing remedies for current violations or on advancing reforms for preventing them in the future. On the one hand, providing quantitative, cross-disciplinary evidence demonstrating the link between poor development outcomes and breaches of the obligation to fulfill economic and social rights can prompt ‘decision-makers’ to be more responsive to, or at least less dismissive of, human rights arguments. At the same time, supporting rights-holders to expose and articulate the injustices they face using robust, credible methods anchored in the human rights framework can help give their demands for justice renewed force.

The OPERA diagram is also attached.

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Standards of Accessibility, Adaptability and Acceptability

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Social Protection and Human Rights