Why EU must protect human rights during financial crisis
(Brussels, 3 May 2013) On 5 May the Optional Protocol for the International Covenant of Economic Social & Cultural Rights comes into effect. This will allow people to seek justice from the United Nations if their rights (which include adequate housing, food, water, sanitation, health, work, social security and education) are violated and their government fails to provide redress. In the context of the current financial crisis, Amnesty International has expressed the belief that it is of paramount importance that all European Union member states sign and ratify the Protocol and belatedly begin to consider the human rights impact of austerity measures.
The financial crisis and austerity measures in many EU countries have affected various economic and social rights, including those ensuring access to social security, housing, health, education and food. The measures often disproportionately affect the poorest and most marginalised people. Amnesty International believes that the EU, by signing and ratifying the Protocol, would demonstrate the 27 governments’ commitment to impose measures which respect human rights. It would also allow international accountability once all domestic avenues have been exhausted.
Amnesty International is concerned that the EU-level debate on the financial crisis has yet to consider the human rights impact of austerity measures. It seems this aspect has been entirely absent from the discussion, despite the existing obligation to ensure that everybody can enjoy economic, social and cultural rights without discrimination. This obligation means governments must continue to protect human rights during a recession, particularly as vulnerable communities may be especially at risk.
Governments might argue that austerity measures, like public spending cuts, are necessary, but Amnesty International stresses their obligation to balance this with protection for human rights. It is an international obligation to ensure that measures are non-discriminatory, do not disproportionately undermine existing rights, do not hit the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people hardest and do not drive them further into poverty. International law also stipulates that measures must ensure minimum essential levels to guarantee each right, for example nobody should be left homeless, denied access to essential medical care, left hungry or become destitute.
Ten countries have ratified the Protocol, including Slovakia, Spain and Portugal. Several other European Union countries have also signed it (Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Slovenia).
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