UN expert highlights austerity’s impact on human rights

UN expert highlights austerity’s impact on human rights

A UN expert on foreign debt, finance and rights warned [press release] the Human Rights Council [official website] Wednesday that various austerity measures can lead to serious human rights consequences and should no longer be ignored.

Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, the UN Independent Expert, presented the first in a series of reports [text, PDF] aimed at highlighting the known shortcomings of economic reform policies, and the significant research showing that austerity measures, without proper guidance or research, can lead to severe consequences on human rights, work, health and housing. “These measures have also weakened democratic institutions and can lead to insecurity, conflict and violence,” said Bohoslavsky.

“There are well-documented lessons about the negative impact of economic measures adopted in times of financial crisis,” said Bohoslavsky to the council. “Some of these lessons date back decades, but they remain neglected in decision-making, and so the same mistakes are made over and over again.”

Austerity measures are policies that aim to reduce government budget deficits through spending cuts, tax increases, or a combination of both. Some outlined in the report that could affect human rights include: public expenditure cuts affecting human rights-sensitive fields such as public health care, social security and education; regressive tax changes; wage bill cuts and caps and reduction of positions in the public sector; pension reforms; privatization of public utilities and service providers; reduction in food, energy and other subsidies affecting the prices of essential goods and services such as food, heating and housing; and others.

“While these measures are ostensibly aimed at facilitating future economic growth, reducing unemployment and increasing tax revenues, they have often directly affected the enjoyment of human rights, including access to justice,” the report notes, highlighting that women, persons with disabilities, children in single-parent families, migrants and refugees and other social groups at risk of marginalization are often disproportionately affected.