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The Centre for Economic and Social Rights developed the analytical framework used for assessing fiscal policies from a human rights perspective.

Way back in 2009, Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales (ICEFI) and CESR produced a report looking into the role of budget and taxation in respecting and fulfilling human rights. The study combined qualitative and quantitative approaches from the fields of public law, development economics and human rights law.

OPERA analytical framework looks into Outcomes, Policy Efforts, Resources and makes final Assessments. The final report on Guatemala indicated that despite the country being the largest economy in Central America, its social indicators were worse.

The report looked into the portion of the population leaving below the national poverty line and those living in extreme poverty. The report also exposed systemic discrimination and inequality. It made a stark contrast between the poor and the rich and the dismal state of economic, social and cultural rights.

The analysis addressed issues such as low school completion rates, maternal mortality, child malnutrition among other threats.

According to the international law, economic, social and cultural rights impose three types of obligations: respect, protect and fulfil. OPERA helps activists and other human rights practitioners to systematically scrutinize public policies from a human rights perspective.

States are required to progressively realized economic, social and cultural rights. One of the ways to assess this is to find out whether the Maximum Available Resources are used.

 In a state’s obligation to fulfill, they have to do the following: promote public participation, ensure there is transparency and accountability. The work of civil society and other stakeholders is to monitor progress in that respect. Secondly, there must be non-discrimination which means that there must be equality in enjoyment of the esc rights. Thirdly, the state has the duty to take steps. That is to adopt judicial, legislative, administrative and budgetary measures in order to fulfill economic, social and cultural rights. The other elements are: minimum core obligations, progressive realization, duty to ensure that relevant services are available, accessible, acceptable and of adequate quality. The last can be measured using the AAAAQ criteria which was developed by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

What is in OPERA?

OPERA analytical framework provides a structure upon which we can assess public policy against established principles and standards. There are four main steps in the OPERA framework. That is taking a look at the Outcomes, Policy Efforts, Resources and then make final assessments. Further, there are checklists under each of the four steps in OPERA.

Let us look at each of the four steps:


Under outcomes the research will have to look at whether a state has meet the minimum core obligations. This will be achieved through measuring the aggregate levels of rights enjoyment. Then measure disparities in rights enjoyment with the objective of finding out whether there is no discrimination. Finally, measure progress over time with the intention of finding out whether there is progressive realization of economic, social and cultural rights.

Policy Efforts

Under this step, the researcher will determine whether the state is making policy and legal commitments. That is what taking steps is all about. Then examine the policy content and its implementation in detail and how well it meets the AAAAQ criteria. Finally, under this stage the researcher will analyse the policy processes using PANTHER principles and right to remedy. The PANTHER principles looks at participation, accountability, non-discrimination, transparency, human dignity, empowerment and rule of law.


The researcher will assess whether the government is using the maximum Available resources (MAR). This will involve analyzing the state budget both at the federal and the provincial or sub-national level. Secondly, a researcher needs to look at resource generation to determine how much resources are available for the fulfillment of economic, social and cultural rights. Finally, analyse the fiscal policy processes to ensure they meet the PANTHER criteria.


The final stage in a researcher’s analyzing under OPERA analytical framework is conducting a final assessment. Here you need to identify other determinants such as look at the issue of interdependence and indivisibility. Then try to understand the state constraints or challenges and finally determine whether the state compliance in its obligation to fulfill.

General observations

Kindly, note that a multi-disciplinary approach is required in order to conduct the OPERA analysis. A range of research techniques such as development economics, human rights law and public policy will be required. This focuses on qualitative and quantitative data such as numbers.

The OPERA framework is simple to use because it uses simple data which is not very technical. Secondly, the indicators used under OPERA are developed by both UN and regional human rights bodies. Finally, methods of budget analysis are incorporated especially when interpreting fiscal policies.

In addition to the OPERA framework, you can also employ traditional human rights methods which includes narrative testimony gathered through field visits to the affected individuals. This is to ensure that statistics and supported by human stories.

Step 1: Assessing Outcomes

Looking at indicators alone will not determine whether a state is compliance with its human rights obligations. However, this is an important first step considering that it measures the extent to which people actually enjoy certain minimum levels of each right measured.

Under non-discrimination, take a look at dis-aggregated indicators by social groups to identify disparities in levels of enjoyment of the rights. Under progressive realization, examine variations of indicators over time to assess progress, retrogression and change in disparity levels.

Under the outcomes, we are trying to measure the right under focus is being enjoyed. The state should always strive to ensure everyone in a state of sub-national level enjoys the minimum conditions to live a dignified life.

Progressive realization

In determining whether there is progressive realization, we will be required to compare the level to which Kenyans enjoy their economic, social and political rights and compared that to other countries in the region. Then take a look at the situation of a specific social group such as the minority and indigenous groups. Does the level of enjoyment still remain the same? What has happened over the years, has the progress improved, slowed down or is it sporadic?

To measure outcomes, we as researchers will have to analyse data on proxy indicators such as school completion rates, maternal mortality or child malnutrition among others. Check of what are the priorities for the national and sub-national governments to choose the right indicators.

When comparing countries, look at similar countries that is those with comparable Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita. So we need to determine which countries are comparable to Kenya in Africa.

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