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Spain under scrutiny at United Nations





Madrid/New York: On Wednesday 21 January, delegations from the member states of the United Nations, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, will scrutinize Spain’s performance with regard to human rights at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The Spanish government will be called upon to account for its behavior regarding a broad spectrum of human rights, including the deteriorations being caused by rising poverty and inequality fuelled by the country’s austerity measures.

This is Spain’s second appearance before the UPR. The first was in 2010. The review comes after several years of economic crisis and the implementation of austerity measures that have impacted social rights, in particular among the most marginalized and those suffering social exclusion.

Spain’s austerity measures have been particularly pernicious for the right to health. Spain has seen one of the most severe reductions in health spending, even though the country’s spending in this area was already well below the average for European nations. The implementation of Royal Decree Law 16/2012, which prioritized the short-term financial recovery of this sector above human rights considerations, has fragmented the universal public health system that existed in Spain.

Reports published by a variety of civil society organizations, including the signatories of this press release, have shown that two years after the approval of the health reform, it has put human lives at risk. The Royal Decree has excluded approximately 873,000 undocumented migrants from the possibility of accessing public health services, with the exception of emergency care, pregnancy, minors, asylum seekers and victims of trafficking (during the ‘reflection’ period).

Those persons excluded from the National Health System who are suffering grave or chronic illnesses are now forced to pay 100% of the cost of medicines. Additionally, the rise in the pharmaceutical co-payment has, according to research carried out by the Center for Economic and Social Rights, led to some 15% of the Spanish population, in particular older persons, forgoing the medicines they need due to cost. In this way, the health reform in Spain has put at risk the right to life of the most vulnerable sectors. Similarly, organizations such as Medicos del Mundo continue to denounce irregularities in the application of the RDL which include charging for emergency medical attention, a fact that may be contributing to a dissuasive effect on access to medical centers.

Medicos del Mundo, Red ACOGE and CESR have thrown into relief the fact that women are also at risk due to the drastic cuts in public budgets dedicated to equality and eradication of gender violence (a reduction of 33% since 2009). According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, one in five women above 15-years-old in Spain suffers physical or sexual abuse, while refuges for abuse survivors are being closed down in various autonomous communities. The United Nations Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and Practice has expressed its concern over the impact of the health reform on undocumented migrant women, given that medical attention is one of the most fundamental channels through which victims of gender violence are identified.

A new opportunity for accountability. In 2012, Spain was severely criticized by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) over the austerity measures that it had begun to implement. The Committee recommended that these be revised. With regard to health, it recommended reforms not limit access to health services to any persons, regardless of their administrative status. The discriminatory and unjust character of certain austerity policies and measures has been clearly challenged by various UN Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts, and by European human rights bodies such as the Human Rights Commission of the Council of Europe and the European Committee on Social Rights. Nonetheless, the Spanish government has ignored these recommendations and has not complied by taking steps to remedy the situation. In the two years since the RDL came into effect, the government has not published any analysis of the dissuasive effect of the health reform among undocumented migrants, or of the consequences for this sector. Nor has it analyzed the possible effect on the identification of women suffering gender-based violence or those who are victims of trafficking.

In the human rights review that will take place in Geneva on Wednesday, Spain must explain what it is doing to comply with the recommendations and the directives emitted by international and European human rights bodies to reorient its social and economic policies in the light of its human rights obligations.


The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique international mechanism, under which member states of the United Nations evaluate their peers with regard to their human rights obligations every four years. Since the onset of the economic crisis in this country, the signatories of this press release– Amnesty International Spain, the Center for Economic and Social Rights, Medicos del Mundo and Red Acoge – have been working together in monitoring the deterioration of economic and social rights among the population, and in holding the Spanish state accountable before human rights oversight bodies.

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