AlasdairGives comments on The EU is legally obligated to double foreign aid spending - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: AlasdairGives 15 September 2015 10:43:28AM *  7 points [-]

This seems a bit confused and idealistic. You are a law student so presumably you understand the differences between international law and domestic law, the difference between the EU and ECHR and the limited meaning of 'legally obligated' in relation to international covenants. The concept of progressive realisation in relation to the ICESR etc etc. However, the way you have written this makes no attempt to explain these things and I worry it comes across as misleading or confusing.

The paragraph that is most interesting to me is:"EU countries regularly comply with court orders to fulfil their obligations under the ICESCR." Can you clarify which EU countries and give some example cases? Certainly, the ICESR is not legally justiciable in the UK. I don't really know anything about German/French law or other Civil law systems but I would be surprised if it was, and even more surprised if there was a plausible way for someone to have legal capacity to bring claims about extraterritorial effect!

My suspicion here is that you are barking up a noble but misconceived tree. My prior based on my experiences is that 'But its the (international) law' is not a very helpful political argument likely to get more aid to effective causes and that your idea for justiciable options is likely to be a mirage when you look into it more. Would be interested to be wrong on either point though!

Comment author: Jay_Shooster 15 September 2015 04:07:44PM 4 points [-]

I'm going to reply with a long response soon. But unsurprisingly, I was very wrong about the potential for enforcement in the EU. That being said, still think the idea is useful. I'll explain. Thanks for your criticism. I was indeed confused.

Comment author: EricHerboso  (EA Profile) 15 September 2015 08:11:23PM 2 points [-]

Even if it is not legally enforceable, doesn't the 0.7% of GNP figure act as a sort of schelling point here? If so, it could be used in the same way we currently use the "give 10% of your income" meme, as just an anchoring number to show the ballpark we're interested in and not have it sound like we just made up a number from whole cloth.

Comment author: Jay_Shooster 16 September 2015 12:23:35AM 1 point [-]

Great comment. I'd like to follow up in even more detail later. But my main reaction is (1) I was wrong about some important things and will explain below; and (2) that yes, everyone should be skeptical about international law and doubly so about obligations under the ICESCR (and triply so when I say something about it ☹). As a matter of course, international law is regularly violated and not enforced. I should have been more clear about this, although my question "why does this matter?" and my modest response ("at least we can shame them") implicitly recognized that we can't just go to court and double foreign aid spending.

So on the details of enforcement, I did some more research and found that I was really wrong about at least two important things. First, the European human rights system did not directly incorporate the ICESCR and second, their primary economic rights document, the European Social Charter (ESC), is enforced by European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), which issues non-binding judgments, unlike the European Court of Human Rights. While their decisions are non-binding, my impression from my classes is that their decisions are taken very seriously and states often adjust their national policy to conform to the rulings of the Committee. The biggest problem for my idea is not that their decisions are non-binding but that there doesn’t appear to be any similar obligation to provide foreign assistance in the ESC. I’ll have to look elsewhere.

So ultimately I’m not sure if there is a venue where this could be litigated with even a small potential of success. I’m less optimistic than I was before but I’ll keep looking to see whether any other regional or national human rights systems have incorporated this extraterritorial obligation into their laws. One potentially viable option is the International Court of Justice, although this would require finding a developing country to sponsor the litigation and effectively sue a wealthy country. That would be pretty cool but I’m not sure if it’s possible.

But as I stated earlier, I think knowledge of international legal obligations is useful regardless of whether they can be enforced through a court. If countries bring themselves into compliance through their legislatures to meet the demands of non-binding UN bodies, then there may still be utility in raising the issue of their noncompliance/violations in our advocacy. Again the UK just two years ago cited to their international obligation as the reason for raising their aid spending to the magic .7% mark. This to me shows that such international obligations are not completely useless. Personally, I think the EA community has much more learn about whether/how effective it is to advocate for the global poor through human rights mechanisms. It’s certainly not an unreasonable prior to be very skeptical, but there is a vibrant academic debate on the subject that seems very empirically grounded. I think we could profit a lot by looking into this further.

Comment author: AlasdairGives 16 September 2015 11:35:13AM 1 point [-]

One potentially viable option is the International Court of Justice, although this would require finding a developing country to sponsor the litigation and effectively sue a wealthy country. That would be pretty cool but I’m not sure if it’s possible An even bigger problem is that jurisdiction of the ICJ is based on the consent of the parties to a particular deispute so you would have to find a rich country willing to be 'effectively sued' as well.

Comment author: Jay_Shooster 18 September 2015 03:10:14AM 0 points [-]

I didn't realize that both parties had to consent. What about the WTO?

Comment author: AlasdairGives 18 September 2015 10:11:49AM 1 point [-]

The WTO will not have jurisdiction over ICESCR claims - see this paper which explains this