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UN Committee calls on Spain to revise austerity measures




The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has echoed civil society demands in questioning the cuts made to social spending in response to the crisis.

Barcelona/Madrid 24 May 2012: Following Spain’s appearance before the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee has expressed its concern over reductions in levels of protection afforded to the rights to housing, health, education, and work, among others, as a consequence of austerity measures.

The Committee puts particular emphasis on the inadequacy of measures adopted by the State to mitigate the negative impacts of the crisis felt by the most vulnerable and marginalized individuals and groups and notes a need for the State to make greater efforts to ensure that human rights guide its economic recovery strategies. The Committee also recommends Spain guarantee that all austerity measures taken maintain the current levels of economic and social rights’ protection and are, at all times, temporary, proportional and non-detrimental to these rights.  

The Committee, comprising 18 independent experts of different nationalities, is a body charged with supervising the compliance of State parties with obligations enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), ratified by Spain in 1977. Each State party has a duty to report regularly to the Committee in Geneva on the situation of economic, social and cultural rights in its territory.

Recommendations made to Spain:

In its concluding observations, published on May 21, the Committee calls on Spain to review austerity measures which are causing “disproportionate” harm to the most vulnerable and marginalized groups and individuals, especially those living in poverty, women, children, persons with disabilities, unemployed persons - particularly youth, homeless persons, the Roma community, migrants and asylum seekers. Furthermore, the Committee reminds the State that it is precisely in times of economic crisis when efforts must be redoubled to guarantee human rights for everyone, without discrimination, and in particular for the most vulnerable.  

The Committee “vigorously” recommended that the State adopt a comprehensive national plan to combat poverty including “specific measures and strategies to mitigate the adverse effects of the crisis”. The Committee notes the high rates of child poverty and the situation of older persons dependent on pensions, which, in many cases are set below the minimum subsistence level.

In relation to the right to work, the Committee is concerned about the increasing rate of unemployment, particularly among young persons, immigrants, the Roma community and persons living with disabilities. The Committee asks the state to “avoid any retrogression” in this regard, including in “the protection of workers’ labor rights”. It raises particular concern about the freezing of the minimum wage this year, already at levels which do not allow for a decent standard of living, recommending that the wage levels set be adjusted periodically to adjust for changes in the cost of living.

With regards to equality between men and women, the Committee calls for the State to continue efforts to close the gender pay gap and combat gender stereotypes, as well as promote equal representation in public and private life. The Committee is also concerned about the “persistence of high levels of domestic violence” and urges the State to ensure that budget cuts do not “impair the protection of victims and their rights”. It also recommends that the State ensure equitable access to abortions throughout the State.

Referring to the recent Decree-Law 16/2012 on healthcare reform, the Committee calls on the State to ensure that all persons residing in its territory, regardless of their administrative status, have access to healthcare services in compliance with the principle of universality of health services. It also urges the State to “give full effect to the new regulations to improve living conditions in the immigrant detainment centers.”

Recognizing the situation of persons with mortgages they cannot afford, the Committee recommends that the State make legislative reforms that would authorizing dación en pago—cancellation of the debt upon turning over of the foreclosed property—in a way that does not depend exclusively on the discretion of banks. Moreover, the Committee notes the need to “increase the supply of social housing”, particularly rental housing, and the need to implement a legislative framework that establishes human rights safeguards which must be satisfied before carrying out an eviction. The Committee reminds the State of its obligation to adopt an official definition of “homelessness”, as well as to gather disaggregated data in order to allow for an evaluation of this phenomenon following the crisis and adopt measures for appropriate rehabilitation. 

The Committee criticizes the fact that education has been one of the sectors most affected by recent budget cuts and affirms that the measures adopted by the State to increase university fees are “retrogressive” and “put at risk access of disadvantaged individuals and groups” to university education. It recommends the State ensure “a sustained and sufficient economic and budgetary investment” in education and redouble its efforts to reduce rates of early school leaving, the rate of which in Spain is double the EU average.

Discrimination, particularly towards the migrant and Roma population and persons with disabilities is one of the key transversal areas of concern. In this regard, the Committee asks the State to adopt a Comprehensive Law of Equal Treatment and Non-Discrimination. It also calls on the State to ensure that the decentralization of competencies related to economic, social and cultural rights, and regional disparities in regards to social investment, do not result in an “inequitable and discriminatory” enjoyment of these rights among the 17 autonomous communities. Given the decline in official development assistance (ODA) in recent years, the Committee calls on the State to increase its international cooperation to levels no less than 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI), in accordance with Spain’s international commitments.

In issuing its recommendations to Spain, the Committee also emitted an open letter to all State parties to the ICESCR in which it establishes criteria regarding austerity measures and other crisis-response policies which States must respect in order to comply with their obligations arising from the Covenant. First, any policy that may impede the progressive realization of economic, social and cultural rights must be temporary and limited to the period of crisis; second, the policy must be necessary and proportionate, in that not adopting it would put human rights at even greater risk; third, the policy must not be discriminatory and must comprise all possible measures, including tax measures, to support the social transfers needed to mitigate inequalities that can grow in times of crisis and ensure the protection of most vulnerable groups; and fourth, the policy must identify and protect the minimum core content of the rights enshrined in the ICESCR at all times.

Civil society urges public authorities to implement these recommendations. A coalition of 20 CSOs that presented information before the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights prior to Spain’s appearance on May 7 and 8 expressed its satisfaction with the Committee’s recommendations, noting that in large part they reflect the concerns these organizations had brought forth. These recommendations provide a frame of reference for state programs and strategies in the context of the crisis and, at the same time, an agenda for citizen action for the protection of economic, social and cultural rights in Spain.

The coalition urges the Spanish government and all relevant authorities to implement, as a matter of priority, the recommendations made by the Committee, which stem from its legally-binding obligations under the ICESCR, and to put an end to the proven retrogression in economic, social and cultural rights, as noted by the United Nations. The organizations will use the recommendations as a tool to hold the State to account and ensure that Spain, even in times of crisis, complies with its constitutional and international obligations in relation to human rights.

Additional Information:

A coalition of 20 civil society organizations presented information before the Committee on barriers to enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights in Spain, putting particular emphasis on the impact of the economic crisis, a phenomenon hardly touched upon in the State report made to the Committee. The coalition is comprised of human rights and development organizations, human rights defenders of persons with disabilities, mental illness, LGBT rights, persons living with HIV, immigrants, the Roma community, as well as anti-poverty and anti-human trafficking networks, housing rights coalitions and sexual and reproductive health rights advocates, among others.

The coalition includes: Amnistía Internacional, Asociación Aspacia, Asociación Española para el Derecho Internacional de los Derechos Humanos (AEDIDH), Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), Comité Español de Representantes de Personas con Discapacidad (CERMI), la Confederación Española de Agrupaciones de Familiares y Personas con Enfermedad Mental (FEAFES), la Coordinadora de ONG para el Desarrollo de España, Creación Positiva, la Federación de Entidades de Apoyo a las Personas sin Hogar (FEPSH), la Fundación Secretariado Gitano, la Fundación Triángulo, Médicos del Mundo, Movimiento Cuarto Mundo España, Observatori DESC, la Plataforma Unitaria de Encuentro para la Democratización de la ONCE (PUEDO), Provivienda, Red Activas, la Red de Lucha contra la Pobreza y la Exclusión Social (EAPN), la Red Española contra la Trata de Personas y Save the Children.

Juan Ignacio Cortés (Amnistía Internacional): +34 630 74 68 02,
Luke Holland (Center for Economic and Social Rights): +34 687 31 71 39,

Concluding Observations on Spain by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Open Letter to States Parties regarding the protection of rights in the context of economic crisis
Joint Alternative Report by Civil Society Organizations
Amnesty International Report
CESR Spain Factsheet