Public Services: The United Nations Normative Framework
States’ Human Rights Obligations Regarding Public Services: The United Nations Normative Framework
Today, right after its joint event ‘Enough is enough’ on the impact of privatisation and public services gathering nine UN experts on the topic, GI-ESCR published a timely research brief on States’ human rights obligations regarding public services. Based on a review of comments made by UN human rights monitoring bodies and experts, and by States in the context of the UN Universal Periodic Review process, the research brief finds there is a clear basis in the interpretation of existing human rights treaties showing that States have an obligation to provide public services.
While it is becoming clear that human rights set limitations and conditions on the involvement of private actors in ESCR-related services, the question remains as to whether human rights demand that certain services be delivered publicly.
The issue is increasingly critical in light of rising inequalities and climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic and the social and economic crises it has triggered have further exposed and exacerbated the inequalities generated by privatisation and have confirmed the importance of the equalising and redistributive power of robust public services. This a crucial time to explore and clarify the human rights position on ESCR-related services.
This brief is the first publication from GI-ESCR’s on-going research into the international normative framework regarding States’ human rights obligations with respect to public services.
Its conclusion that public services are not just a charitable option but are inherently related to human dignity and required to be provided by States as a matter of international human rights law has important implications in terms of changing the tide of privatisation and its harmful consequences for human rights.
UN human rights monitoring bodies and institutions not only regard public services as essential for the realisation of ESCR but also consider that, beyond any instrumental concerns, States have an obligation to ensure the provision of public services as a matter of principle.
The recognition of a State obligation to ensure the provision of public services under human rights law has the potential to be transformational in changing the tide of privatisation and its harmful consequences for human rights, and, crucially, offers another horizon of hope. As public services are inherently linked to human rights, they are not just a charitable option but are a component of human dignity, and are required to be provided by States as a matter of international human rights law. This has important implications in terms of changing the prevailing narrative on public services, mobilising social movements, and holding States accountable.