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Military expenditure vs honouring economic, social and cultural rights

Mar 17,2018 - Last updated at Mar 17,2018

Member states of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) are supposed to use their maximum available resources to meet their obligations under the covenant.

Article 2 of the covenant stipulates that “each state party to the present covenant undertakes to take steps, individually and through international assistance and cooperation, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realisation of the rights recognised in the present covenant by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures”.

The trouble is that nearly all countries invest so much in their armed forces that they end up depleting their available resources for meeting their obligations under the ICESCR to a bare minimum.

Countries across the board live in a troubled world where tensions and military threats are abound and all around. This requires a high level of military preparedness and high expenditures.

I know of Costa Rica as the only country in the world that does not have an army as such, having decided that it would rather spend its resources on non-military matters. Costa Rica is, of course, in the unique and fortune situation that it is surrounded by non-belligerent states with none of them coveting the territorial integrity of the country or threatening its security and stability.

What compounds the problem for the committee investigating a state party's compliance with obligations of the ICESCR is the obvious fact that countries do not like discussing their military budgets and view the matter as confidential.

There is no way, therefore, for the committee members to raise questions about military expenditures of state parties to the covenant or their share of the national budget.

As long as regional and international tensions are still on the rise, this issue would remain untouchable. This denies the international human rights body on economic, social and cultural rights a unique opportunity to question countries on the extent of their available resources that can be invested in issues related to economic, social and cultural rights.

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