Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović published today the report on her visit to Spain carried out in November 2022, with recommendations on social rights, in particular the right to housing and the right to health, the freedoms of expression and assembly and the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.
“Despite the significant efforts to advance the protection of social rights in recent years, people experience persisting inequalities in realising their social rights depending on where they live ”, says the Commissioner, calling for the transparent and sustainable allocation of resources and the adoption of common standards, in close co-operation with all competent authorities at central and local levels and in consultation with civil society, to ensure that the specific needs of the most vulnerable are met.
She underscores the need to urgently address structural issues hindering access to adequate housing such as low social housing stock, high costs of renting or buying a home, forced evictions and rising levels of homelessness. “Housing should not be treated as a commodity only available to some people. Access to adequate housing is a human right central to the full enjoyment of most other rights”, the Commissioner says. She highlights the importance of adopting the housing bill, currently in Parliament, as soon as possible as it aims to address some of these concerns.
The Commissioner also underlines regional differences in the provision of primary and specialised healthcare and the predominance of private clinics in some regions. “More must be done to strengthen universal access to quality public healthcare for all throughout Spain”, she stresses. She notes insufficient investment in primary health care and expresses concern about the employment conditions of health personnel. She draws attention to the high mortality rates in care homes during the COVID-19 crisis and observes that these deaths still need to be effectively investigated and addressed with the close involvement of the families of the victims. The Commissioner also notes with interest the authorities’ initiative to reform the care system for older persons and stresses that this should be based on an integrated provision of social and health care which ensures that older persons’ dignity, autonomy, and independence are respected in full. She also welcomes important steps taken to uphold women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights and calls on the government to ensure that these are not undermined by persistent inequalities in access between regions.
The Commissioner also underscores that the implementation of several provisions of the 2015 Law on Citizens’ Safety and the Criminal Code continues to have a serious negative impact on the enjoyment of the freedoms of expression and assembly, in particular for human rights defenders and journalists, creating an overall chilling effect on society. Noting that “safeguarding human rights, including the freedoms of expression and assembly, is an integral part of the efforts towards ensuring citizens’ security”, the Commissioner reiterates that the 2015 Law on Citizens’ Safety should be brought fully in line with European and international human rights standards. Welcoming the repeal of the crime of sedition from the Criminal Code, she considers, however, that comprehensive changes are needed to strengthen existing safeguards around the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. She also expresses her concern about allegations of disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officials, inappropriate use of anti-riot weapons and the lack of clear and visible identification numbers, especially during demonstrations. “The overall accountability and oversight of law enforcement should be strengthened”, she says.
As regards the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, the Commissioner welcomes the measures adopted to guarantee access to protection and reception of people fleeing the war in Ukraine, the steps taken to improve the reception conditions in the Canary Islands and the adequate protection and reception of unaccompanied migrant children. She however deplores that access to protection varies significantly throughout the country and remains very challenging for many refugees and asylum seekers due to long waiting periods to access the asylum procedure, delays in the identification of special vulnerabilities, and obstacles in accessing social rights, including housing and health. She stresses that there is no genuine and effective access to asylum at the border between Nador (Morocco) and Melilla. “There seems to be no other way to enter Spain at the Melilla border and seek protection with the relevant authorities other than by swimming or jumping the fence, risking one’s life”, she says. The Commissioner urges the authorities to make sure that those in need of protection can access the territory through legal and safe ways. She also emphasises that Spain, like other Council of Europe member states, should not directly or indirectly contribute to human rights violations through measures taken to implement their migration co-operation with third countries and underlines that “the situation at the borders between Morocco and Spain proves once again the urgent need to improve responsibility-sharing and solidarity measures between Council of Europe member states”.