Nils Muižnieks: Austerity measures across Europe have undermined human rights

Austerity-driven budget cuts across Europe have caused governments to ignore the protection of human rights, according to the human rights commissioner.

“Many governments in Europe imposing austerity measures have forgotten about their human rights obligations, especially the social and economic rights of the most vulnerable, the need to ensure access to justice, and the right to equal treatment,” Nils Muižnieks states in a new research paper about the impact of the economic crisis on the protection of human rights.

“Regrettably, international lenders have also neglected to incorporate human rights considerations into many of their assistance programmes.”

In the document, the Commissioner for Human Rights lists the important ways in which austerity measures have undermined human rights.

“National decisions on austerity measures and international rescue packages have lacked transparency, public participation and democratic accountability.

“In some cases, onerous conditionalities have prevented governments from investing in essential social protection, health and education programmes. When the EU as a central actor in the crisis makes decisions about economic governance in member states and when the Troika sets conditions for rescue packages and loan agreements, the impact on human rights should be better taken into account.

“The economic crisis has had dire consequences on vulnerable groups, in particular on children and young persons. Youth unemployment in Europe has reached record levels, with millions of young people unemployed with scarred futures. Cuts in child and family benefits, health care and education have also added a strain on millions of families. An increasing number of children are dropping out of school to find employment and support their families, risking life-long setbacks in educational achievement, and providing the conditions for job insecurity coupled with the re-emergence of child labour and exploitation.”

The commissioner wants governments to now focus on “the urgent need to reinvigorate the European social model based on the foundations of human dignity, intergenerational solidarity and access to justice for all.”

He adds: “Governments should focus on reducing youth and long-term unemployment as a priority and on upholding social protection floors for basic income and health care during the crisis. Effective access to justice for all must be guaranteed during economic downturns by maintaining the judiciary and the legal aid system.”

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