One after another, member states at the
Human Rights Council
voiced their concern over ESCR retrogression in Spain
Spain’s failure to protect economic and
social rights in times of economic crisis has come under stern criticism from
other states at the country’s recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the UN
Human Rights Council. One after another, Spain’s peers in the community of
nations voiced their concern over the erosion of economic and social rights
after four years of ill-conceived austerity measures.
A newly-published CESR factsheet illustrates the role Spain’s fiscal austerity policies have
played in driving poverty and inequality in the country. The harsh impact of
these retrogressive measures has been particularly felt among the most
disadvantaged sectors, including women, children, older persons, people with
disabilities and migrants.
As CESR’s rigorous
statistical analysis shows, four years of successive cuts in public spending
have seriously undermined social services and social protection in the
country. Some 13 million people are now at risk of poverty and social
exclusion in Spain – three million more than when the economic crisis first
hit. Child poverty rates have escalated, while the gap between rich and poor is
widening so fast that Spain is now one of the most unequal countries in Europe.
Over 30 UN member
states raised economic and social rights concerns related to austerity measures
in Spain. The discriminatory impact of health sector reforms — particularly
Royal Decree Law 16/2012 which excludes almost a million undocumented migrants from
accessing healthcare services, save for very exceptional circumstances —
faced a broad chorus of disapproval. Many voiced specific concern around
the exclusion faced by migrants in health care, housing and
States also drew
attention to increasing poverty among children, and called on Spain to confront
the obstacles facing victims and survivors of gender-based violence. As
detailed in CESR’s factsheet, social security allocations for children and
families has been cut by 91% since 2008, while the already meager provision to
combat gender-based violence has also been reduced significantly.
austerity-driven unemployment crisis was also a cause for major concern, with a
series of countries calling for stronger measures to fulfil the right to decent
work. Long-term unemployment and employment precarity have become chronic
features of Spain’s economic landscape, with a quarter of the active population
out of work overall and over 50% of young people jobless.
significant were the recommendations by states – echoing those of CESR and its
partners – that Spain carry out a systematic assessment of the negative impacts
of fiscal adjustments on economic and social rights, particularly for
disadvantaged groups, and that it adopt measures to mitigate these.
Spain was also
reminded that any austerity measures should be temporary, strictly necessary
and proportionate, non-discriminatory and should ensure a social protection
floor in line with government’s minimum core obligations. This represents a
welcome invocation by member states of the human rights criteria on austerity issued by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights following Spain’s appearance before that body in 2012. The Committee’s
guidance came after a civil society coalition convened by CESR submitted detailed
evidence to the Committee of the negative human
rights impact of austerity measures in Spain. CESR has been actively
promoting and building on these criteria since then, including through guidelines drafted for the Council of Europe on safeguarding human rights in
times of crisis.
recommendations follow those accepted by Spain following its 2010 UPR session,
as well as those of several UN Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts,
along with European human rights bodies, who have voiced repeated concern about
Spain’s austerity drive. Despite this, Spain has continued with harsh fiscal
austerity measures centered on deep cuts to the budgets of key social sectors,
without considering viable alternatives such as combating high levels of tax
evasion, limiting tax privileges for large corporations and wealthy
individuals, and putting in place other progressive and equitable taxation
policies. CESR’s data suggests that Spain’s unfair tax regime is fuelling the
country’s rampant levels of inequality.
In June 2015 Spain
will again appear before the Human Rights Council to respond to the UPR
recommendations. This represents a key opportunity for the government to heed
the calls made by international human rights mechanisms and by civil society to
address the harmful impact of retrogressive austerity measures and to ensure
that human rights guide all aspects of its economic recovery strategies.
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