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Taking Spain's austerity measures to task at the UN




On the occasion of the Spain’s first appearance in eight years before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, CESR together with a coalition of 18 Spanish NGOs has presented a parallel report comprising detailed evidence of retrogressions in human rights due to austerity measures. This document was complemented by a new CESR factsheet providing a statistical snapshot of the disquieting economic and social rights situation in the country.

Spain appeared before the Committee, which is charged with monitoring states’ compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, on May 7 and 8. In advance of the session, CESR together with Amnesty International Spain, the Spanish Association for International Human Rights Law (AEDIDH) and the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Observatory (Observatori DESC) organized a briefing for the Committee’s members to present the coalition’s concerns in person.

In the review session, the Committee raised many of these concerns with the government, probing in particular the human rights impacts of recent budget cuts, labour and health reforms, and housing foreclosures and evictions, as well as persistent discrimination against women and the Gitano (Roma) community.  These were among the range of issues highlighted in the joint report of the coalition, which brought together a range of human rights, development, health and social justice organizations, including those working on the rights of children, women, people with disabilities, LGBT people and the Gitano community.

The issues brought before the Committee have also been reflected in the national and international press, thanks to a concerted communications effort by all the civil society organizations involved. Newspapers, radio and television programs and internet news sites from all over Spain and as far afield as Argentina and Mexico reported on the session and conducted interviews with representatives of CESR and the other NGOs present. El País, Spain’s paper of record, meanwhile published an opinion article by CESR Program Director Gaby Oré Aguilar echoing the issues raised in both the factsheet and the parallel report.

CESR’s factsheet highlights the negative impacts of both the crisis and the government’s responses to it. It demonstrates the clear links between austerity measures and deteriorations in a range of economic and social rights indicators. Against a backdrop of drastic cuts in social spending, poverty and inequality are rising fast in Spain, while unemployment has reached critical levels, with a quarter of the working population and half of young people out of work. Moreover, disaggregated data highlight stark disparities on grounds of gender, age, nationality, geography and socio-economic status.

Budgetary and fiscal measures undertaken by the State in response to the crisis are also analysed in both the factsheet and the parallel report. In the face of pressures to reduce Spain's fiscal deficit, draconian austerity measures have targeted spending on social sectors such as education, housing and social security, as well as international development cooperation. Indicators relating to government revenue in Spain, which is Europe's fifth largest economy, show that the State could make more equitable efforts to generate potential resources as an alternative to austerity, in line with its obligation to employ the maximum of available resources towards the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, without discrimination or deliberate retrogression.

In approximately two weeks time the Committee will issue its concluding observations to the Spanish state. It is CESR’s hope that these will take up the concerns raised by CESR and other civil society organizations in Spain, and will help convince the Spanish government to meet its human rights obligations in all measures taken in response to the economic crisis.