Austerity measures weaken human rights protection in Spain

[Strasbourg, 09/10/2013] - "Cuts in social, health and educational budgets have led to a worrying growth of family poverty in Spain. This has had a particularly negative impact on the enjoyment of human rights by children and persons with disabilities. The Spanish authorities should do more to ensure that the human rights of vulnerable groups are better respected in the context of austerity measures", said today Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, releasing a report on his visit to Spain carried out on 3-7 June 2013.

"The growing child poverty, malnutrition and inadequate housing are issues of serious concern because of their potentially devastating long-term impact on children and the country. The Spanish authorities must implement effective strategies to solve these poverty-related problems and increase the protection of socio-economic rights". The Commissioner stresses that a systematic assessment of the impact that austerity measures have on children and other vulnerable social groups, in close co-operation with civil society and the national and regional ombudsmen, is a particularly important step to this end. He also recommends accession by Spain to the revised European Social Charter and its mechanism of collective complaints.

Commissioner Muižnieks also warns that significant cuts inflicted on education budgets in the last three years are undermining children's equality of opportunities by making it more difficult for children facing specific difficulties or disadvantage to access quality education in an inclusive environment. He also calls for human rights education to be kept as part of the curricula, as "it is a key factor in building a future generation of active and responsible citizens, who are the life blood of a democratic society".

Austerity measures are also worsening the living conditions and social inclusion opportunities of persons with disabilities. "The Spanish authorities should carry out an impact assessment of budgetary cuts on persons with disabilities and adjust policies to ensure that adequate resources are available for their education and employment opportunities."

In addition, the Commissioner is concerned about the conduct of law enforcement authorities. "Ill-treatment by and impunity of members of law enforcement agencies is a very serious, long-standing human rights issue for which Spain has already been condemned by international bodies, including the European Court of Human Rights. The Spanish authorities should ensure that law enforcement officials fully abide by international human rights standards. In this context, incommunicado detention has led to grave human rights violations and should be abolished". The Commissioner also urges the authorities to vigorously counter ethnic profiling practices, which notably target and stigmatise migrants in stop-and-search operations.

Of concern are also the disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officials to control anti-austerity demonstrations and the imposition of fines on demonstrators. "This impinges on Spain's obligations to respect freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. I am also concerned about the frequent lack of visible identification numbers of law enforcement officials, especially during demonstrations, as this has impeded the prosecution and sanctioning of perpetrators of abuse. The recent changes in the size and display of the identification numbers of national police officers is a step forward. However, the numbers should be worn in a way that facilitates easy identification of the officers".

Lastly, underscoring that impunity for ill-treatment committed by law enforcement officials is antithetical to the very principle of democracy, the Commissioner calls on the Spanish government to end "its long-standing practice of granting pardons to those involved in serious human rights violations, including torture, whose absolute prohibition requires States to enact effective punishment".

Leer este comunicado de prensa en Español 

Read the report following the visit to Spain from 3 to 7 June 2013
Read the comments of the Spanish authorities
Read the comments of the Spanish authorities