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Challenges for social rights litigation in Spain




With the language of politics and economics dominating public discourse on the ongoing crisis in Spain, the specific legal implications of government policies are often afforded short shrift. In an age when financial instability and social expenditure cuts continue to undermine the economic and social rights of ordinary people, judicial challenges to the policies exacting such a heavy toll on the wellbeing of vulnerable groups represent a key element in the armory of human rights defenders.

Sponsored by the Adjudication Working Group of the International Network on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net), the Center for Economic and Social Rights together with Observatori DESC and Amnesty International Spain co-organized a groundbreaking dialogue convening Spanish and international lawyers working on economic and social rights litigation cases. The workshop took place in Madrid on March 24th and brought together international lawyers from Argentina, Canada and South Africa, representatives of the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and national attorneys from Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid.  

The aims of the meeting were to facilitate an exchange of experiences, and to analyze challenges faced and juridical strategies developed by lawyers and organizations in the face of paradigmatic cases of violations of the right to adequate housing, along with other violations related to this right. The meeting was also intended to promote understanding and linkages between defenders and lawyers in Spain on the potential use of the new complaints mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), as well as other UN and regional mechanisms.

An overview of legal strategies and litigation trends in Spain was presented together with a discussion on potential avenues for legal accountability through national, regional and international adjudication. Advocates discussed the structural and financial barriers in building litigation cases and the interrelationship between social rights and criminal litigation in cases involving private actors. The weak recognition and protection of economic, social and cultural rights in the Spanish Constitution and domestic legal order was foregrounded as a fundamental obstacle to those seeking remedies for economic and social rights abuses. In particular, forced eviction and foreclosure claims are increasingly threatening the right to affordable housing in the context of the economic crisis and a number of strategies and opportunities in different legal spheres and jurisdictions were presented.

This event laid the ground for a more sustained exchange and constructive dialogue between legal advocacy communities working internationally for the protection of fundamental economic and social rights and those seeking to use domestic courts and legal remedies to enforce and realize economic and social rights in Spain.