In a negative approach to accountability, a government agency assigned the duty of ending malnutrition could be sued or fined in some way for each severely malnourished child that is discovered, thus increasing its incentive to end childhood malnutrition. (A comparable device may be found in the right of California's courts to sue the state government when prisons are overcrowded.)
In a more positive approach, designated non-governmental organizations could be given an award or "bounty" of a small sum of money for each malnourished child they find and present for services. This sort of positive approach would engage non-governmental organizations in a partnership with government in support of their larger common purpose.
One particular form of accountability mechanism is giving aggrieved parties themselves or their representatives a procedure for complaining and getting some remedy. Human rights in the law rests on the principle ubi jus ibi remedium --- where there is a right there must be a remedy. Article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that '`everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law."
Children's nutrition rights should be articulated in the law, together with a description of the means of legal recourse that are available if even a single individual's rights are violated. If you or your child do not get what you feel you are entitled to under the law, there should be straightforward, simple, accessible, inexpensive, fair, and safe means for pressing your claims. This legal recourse is essential for assuring the government's compliance with the law.
The implementation of the right to adequate nutrition is ultimately the responsibility of government at different levels, but it is also the responsibility of the community at local, national, and international levels. Interested groups both within and outside government can watch the performance of service delivery agencies and call them to account as necessary, even if there is no explicit provision in the law for their playing that role. If the law says that every child has a right to adequate nutrition, anyone who is concerned could help to see that the right is honoured.
The meaning of hard rights and accountability can be understood by recalling the nature of contracts. Suppose you have a contract with me in which I promise to provide goods or services in exchange for a specified amount of money. That contract is not simply an articulation of claims; if it is legally binding it represents enforceable claims. If one of us is not satisfied, there is some third party to whom we can go to press for fulfilment of the contractual obligations. Similarly, a human rights regime can be understood as representing an implicit contract between citizens and government, comparable to that described by Rousseau in The Social Contract of 1762. If that contract is to be taken seriously, there must be some basis on which claims against the government can be enforced.
People in power may resist the articulation of specific rights because rights imply accountability—and political people do not like the idea of being called to account. Nevertheless, the argument is worth pressing. Talk about human rights does not mean much if it does not mean accountability.
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