8 May 2012
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this afternoon concluded its consideration of the fifth periodic report of Spain on that country’s implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Ana Menéndez Pérez, Permanent Representative of Spain to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the report presented to the Committee brought to light legislative and policy innovations that Spain had undertaken since 2004 with the aim of realizing provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Introducing the report, Issac Salama Salama, Head of the Constitutional and State Attorney’s Sector at the Ministry of Justice of Spain, said that the report must be seen in the context of the current crisis which severely affected Spain and had caused the greatest budgetary adjustments since the 1978 Constitution. The most serious consequence of the crisis in Spain was unemployment and the Government was fully committed to fight it. Despite the adjustments adopted in 2012, social expenditures represented over 64 per cent of the consolidated budget and Spain had kept its promise to increase pensions by 3.2 per cent from their 2011 levels. Education was a powerful tool for achieving social equality and that was why the scholarship budget had increased by 80 per cent since 2004.
Committee Experts asked in-depth questions about the economic crisis and the impact of austerity measures in Spain, about unemployment and poverty rates, social security, and the situation of the most vulnerable populations. Social housing and homelessness, the rights of people with disabilities, human rights education and the impact of decentralisation rights were also discussed, as was new legislation affecting the free healthcare system and discrimination towards foreigners and gypsy populations.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Salama said that it was clear that the crisis very much affected policy making: fiscal consolidation was neither a whim nor an obsession; it was the way forward to ensure that in the near future Spain could begin the process of recovery. Spain was one of the countries in the world that best guaranteed economic, social and cultural rights and pledged to continue making progress in that regard.
Ms. Menéndez Pérez said that the delegation had given the answers that it could on very topical issues. Despite the structural reform measures the Government was committed to respect economic, social and cultural rights and the social well-being of Spain to the maximum level.
In concluding remarks, Ariranga Govindasamy Pillay, Committee Chairperson, said the Committee appreciated the State party’s firm commitment to defend economic, social and cultural rights and in that regard hoped the Government would be guided by its obligations under the Covenant when adopting austerity measures to combat the economic crisis and that the safeguarding of the Covenant must be ensured.
The delegation of Spain consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Employment and Social Security, the Ministry for Health, Social Services and Equality, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry for Development, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, as well as the Permanent Mission of Spain to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 9 May when it will begin its consideration of the combined initial to third periodic report of Ethiopia (E/C.12/ETH/1-3).
Report of Spain
The fifth periodic report of Spain can be read via the following link (E/C.12/ESP/5).
Presentation of the Report of Spain
ANA MENENDEZ PEREZ, Permanent Representative of Spain to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Spain accorded particular importance to economic, social and cultural rights which were embedded in its 1978 Constitution. The report presented to the Committee brought to light the legislative and policy innovations that Spain had undertaken since 2004 with the aim of realizing the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
ISAAC SALAMA SALAMA, Head of the Constitutional and State Attorney’s Sector at the Ministry of Justice of Spain, introducing the report of Spain, said that the report must be seen in the context of the current crisis which had severely affected Spain. Spain had just emerged from a process of the greatest budgetary adjustments since the 1978 Constitution. Only by balancing the books would Spain ensure that the social State was viable and that was why the State had increased incomes and reduced expenditures. Despite the adjustments adopted in 2012, social expenditures represented over 64 per cent of the consolidated 2012 budget, which was greater than in 2011, meaning that social spending had increased in proportion to the budget. Spain had kept its promise to keep pensions rising by 3.2 per cent from the 2011 levels. The 1978 Constitution proclaimed that Spain was first and foremost a social State committed to the removal of obstacles that hampered the development of citizens. Human rights must become a universal heritage available to all human beings and that was why the Government had adopted in 2011 its human rights plan for the promotion and protection of human rights. The most serious consequence of the crisis in Spain was unemployment, said Mr. Salama, reiterating the full commitment of the Government to fight it. The profound reform of the Penal Code of 2010 introduced severe penalties for trafficking in persons, while gender equality and the rights of women had been under particular attention during the review and measures were in place to eradicate all forms of discrimination against women.
In 2007, a Council for the Promotion of Equality and Non-discrimination on a racial or ethnic basis had been created. Spain had an Action Plan for the Development of the Gypsy Population 2010-2012 and the National Strategy for the Inclusion of Gypsy Populations. The results of those policies were visible in the employment and education rates of the Gypsy population. Education should be the main tool to ensure the full integration of people and national laws guaranteed full access to education to all children, including undocumented aliens. Education was a very powerful tool for achieving social equality and since 2004 the scholarship budget had increased by 80 per cent. Spain had enacted a plan for the education of persons with disabilities and national laws had been harmonized with the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The progress made by Spain over the past several years demonstrated its full commitment to economic, social and cultural rights despite the crisis; full enjoyment of those rights underpinned the social State in Spain.
Questions from Experts
JAIME MARCHAN ROMERO, Committee Expert and Rapporteur on the Report of Spain, said that two particular events had marked the decade since the last report of Spain: the replacement of the Spanish Socialist Party in the elections last year and the continuing very severe economic and financial crisis which had deeply affected the social status of people in the country. The measures adopted so far seemed insufficient to adequately address the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights and the provisions of the Covenant. Vulnerable populations were the most affected by the crisis and many of the affirmative measures had been eliminated which had led to backsliding in the protection measures concerning the areas covered by the Covenant. Official development assistance had dropped, the number of people without work had increased, particularly among the young, and the insufficiency of minimum salary coupled with cuts in health and education provisions had increased poverty levels which now affected more than 20 per cent of people in Spain. The severe crisis affecting Spain was a complex issue and the Committee was wondering why the poor and vulnerable must pay for the crisis they did not cause. The economic and financial crisis must not be a pretext to abandon protections guaranteed by the Covenant. For those reasons, the dialogue was a timely one and the Committee wished to talk frankly and openly with Spain and discuss measures adopted by this country to face the situation and to ensure that economic, social and cultural rights were at the centre of the State’s policies.
A Committee Expert said that even in the most serious moments of crisis, States must continue to guarantee human rights and the unfortunate effects of the crisis could in no way reduce the responsibility of the State in enforcing those rights. It was important to see how the burden of the crisis was distributed and how adjustment was implemented; this was relevant because Spain was one of the countries in Europe with the most significant problems in the distribution of wealth. How much participation was there by civil society organizations in the preparation of this report? Did Spain achieve the minimum 0.7 per cent of Gross Domestic Product provided as official development assistance? Another Expert said that it was difficult for persons whose economic, social and cultural rights were violated and asked about the status of the anti-discrimination law. Austerity measures could not affect Government spending on health, education or combating violence and discrimination against women and the Expert asked about the measures against gender role stereotypes. A Committee Expert commended the commitment and measures to protect natural resources in Spain and asked to what extent people from regions participated in the exploitation of natural resources. There were discrepancies in the level of development between regions in Spain, a Committee Expert noted and asked how the Government was guaranteeing a decent standard of living to all.
An Expert asked for comments concerning the level of independence of the ombudsmen in terms of the budget and the caseload and for further information about the content and practice of human rights training and education in Spain. The Spanish Constitution was one of the few that mentioned the rights of peoples and the Expert asked about autonomous communities and their sovereign rights, in particular the two that had been claiming their right to self-determination, namely the Basque and Valencia communities. What was happening in this area and would it be possible to revise the 1978 Constitution to ensure the right to self-determination of those communities? Would Spain strengthen further its laws for the protection of natural resources and did it support proposals from the Rio+20 Conference concerning the management of natural resources and green economy? Spain had a new system of territorial and administrative organization, with regional bodies autonomous in their powers; however, the process of decentralisation affected those powers and the delivery of services to the population. How did the decentralization match the principle of equality of rights and the full enjoyment of all rights on the territory of Spain? Half of the population of Spain perceived the Gypsy population with prejudice, said an Expert, and asked whether measures to improve the socio-economic status of this population also included awareness raising.
Response by the Delegation
Spain was a strongly decentralized country and politically was separated in individual communities. This meant that independent communities could develop their own policies in matters pertaining to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights but there were also baselines established by the State that must be respected by those independent communities. Minimum standards must be guaranteed throughout the State’s territory. On the right to self-determination for autonomous communities, the Constitution recognized a broad level of autonomy but not the right to self-determination. Many people living in the Basque or in Valencia did not request self-determination.
The preparation of this fifth report of Spain occurred during the standardisation process for reporting to the treaty bodies; in this process, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was in charge of the overall coordination, the Office of the Attorney General was the subject matter coordinator and civil society organizations were regularly consulted on the process and subject. The office of the ombudsmen had not been involved in the drafting of the report and the Government sought to rectify this omission.
Concerning official development assistance, Spain had hoped to reach 0.65 of the Gross Domestic Product but had not reached this goal and the volume now stood at 0.23 per cent due to a very complicated economic situation which had led to significant cuts in many areas of administration. The objective of 0.7 per cent was still the aim of the Government and Spain hoped to reach this objective over the next several years; it was still difficult to see what the target for next year would be. In the context of official development assistance, Spain emphasized the rights-based approach to development and Spain ensured that all those receiving its assistance were effectively rights-holders.
Since 1996 there had been a significant change in the approach of Spain to the environment and it was impossible now to separate the approach to environmental rights from the approach to global development. The Constitution defined the responsibility of the authorities to defend and restore the environment. This was particularly important in the context of collective solidarity and the management of common or public goods, which according to the law were established for the good of the whole population. Legislation undertaken on natural resources did not seek to benefit communities living close to those resources, but to benefit the whole population of Spain. Still, those who were closer to the natural resources were always included in the environmental impact assessment and were informed and involved in projects related to the exploitation of those resources. Vis-à-vis Rio+20, Spain was committed to dialogue on environmental standards and rights related to the environment. Spain supported a rights-based approach concerning Rio+20 and was committed to the implementation of any decisions and outcomes of this Conference.
The right to non-discrimination and equality was recognized as a fundamental right and enjoyed various levels of protection. The right to equal treatment and to non-discrimination meant equality in front of the law and material equality, and protected people from historic inequalities. In general terms, Spain had very progressive legislation that in many cases went beyond international standards, including those of the European Community. The law on equality and non-discrimination had not yet been approved. The Government was undertaking a mapping of discrimination to allow it to see where and when discrimination was taking place and what were the most affected population groups. Discrimination unfortunately was present in the Spanish society and could affect any individual. One of the major problems was not that of lack of legislation but the implementation of the existing legislation; that was why it was important to look into access to justice for victims of discrimination. The Council for Equal Treatment and Non-discrimination provided assistance to victims, but also reported on equal treatment and discrimination and provided relevant information to the public. Victims of discrimination received assistance delivered jointly between the Government and non-governmental organizations through the so-called satellite systems. The aim was to ensure true access to justice to victims of discrimination in the area of employment, of goods and services, and of social benefits, thus covering almost all areas from the International Covenant.
In times of crisis it was particularly important to ensure that gender-based violence did not increase and that it had not been affected by austerity measures. Since 2004 Spain had made significant efforts in combating gender-based violence which included appropriate legislation based on all United Nations conferences on women and the guidelines of the European Union. The Gender Equality Law had a two-pronged strategy to integrate gender in all public policies and on the other hand to effectuate positive discrimination. In January 2012 a law protecting the rights of women working on farms in rural areas had entered into force. A number of measures were in place to combat gender-based stereotypes, from advertising laws prohibiting the use of women’s bodies as objects, to paternity provisions and childcare. The Government was working on a national strategy to rationalize timetables at work and in school in order to reduce the burden on women. The Equality Law enshrined the obligation of submitting a balanced ballot list and as far as provinces were concerned it was often very difficult to ensure that women were voted in provincial bodies.
The Government would not reduce its efforts to fight the scourge of gender-based violence. There would be no budget cuts to finance this combat and five million euro were put aside for those programmes and to support community-based initiatives, fund the help line, and run the Zero Seventeen service to call in and discuss cases in many languages and in total anonymity. Budgetary resources were also available to support victims of sexual violence and the Government was developing a national strategy to assist victims of gender-based violence.
Questions by Experts
An Expert asked how the provision of free choice of a job was implemented for young people. It was not easy to read the report and grasp the whole picture concerning the right to work, said another Expert, and requested tables with segregated data concerning sex, age and disability instead of narrative in the future report. In times of crisis it was the vulnerable and disadvantaged who suffered most, such as youth, women and persons with disabilities. What were the measures that Spain had in place to ensure their protection from discrimination and ensure equal treatment? How was it possible to explain the persistent gender pay gap and employment rates given the increased participation of women in public life and combating gender stereotypes?
Long-term unemployment was a particular problem and accounted for over 40 per cent of the unemployed in 2010. In over ten per cent of households, every active member was unemployed. Were there specific tools and programmes to resolve this particular and long-standing problem? Considering that not all persons with disabilities were covered with benefits and it seemed that their coverage was dependent on the level of disability, the delegation was asked to comment on criteria for coverage of persons with disabilities and on the effectiveness of programmes aiming to increase their employability. What social assistance measures had been cancelled due to the economic and financial crisis? What measures were being taken by the Government to regularize the informal economy? Applications for unemployment benefits increased by more than 40 per cent over the past year; did those benefits provide the minimum necessary for decent living. About 580,000 households in Spain received no income whatsoever; could the delegation confirm this information and if so what remedies were available to address this unfortunate situation.
A large proportion of the population in Spain were foreigners and about 65 per cent of them were active; why then did only a small proportion of foreigners and immigrants enjoy unemployment and social protection benefits? In what way were the new foreigners recruited for work in Spain and were there guarantees for work at the expiration of the contract? The report had provided the impressive figure of 3 million jobs created between 2004 and 2008 and that 5 billion euro had been earmarked to generate new jobs since 2008 and the delegation was asked to comment on those numbers. Was there a need for Spain to introduce for example labour intensive approaches to job creation in some of the economic sectors? What was the experience with the system of job creation benefits provided to employers and not employees?
An Expert asked for some more detail on the right to strike in Spain, and on whether the national labour laws and minimum wage provisions applied to legal domestic workers.
Spain’s austerity programme was again raised by an Expert, who said that Spain had acted in accordance with the European Central Bank’s request, but when a State was undergoing austerity that usually meant a bigger employment problem and therefore greater poverty. The Expert sympathised and said he was sure the delegation knew that: the situation was like being between a rock and a hard place. However, could the delegation comment on whether there may be a middle course between the European Central Bank’s austerity request and measures to decrease poverty levels by increasing employment?
Response from the Delegation
In answer to an earlier question about tax revenues, a delegate said the Government hoped to raise 4.1 billion euro in 2012 from a new tax bracket for higher earners. Corporate tax for the major companies, which were capable of paying higher taxes, had been increased and would hopefully raise in excess of 5 billion euro in 2012. While some real estate taxes had been increased for the high value estates, property taxes on regular homes had been decreased in order to reduce the burden on the majority of people. A bill to prevent tax fraud was recently adopted, which would give the tax-gathering authorities greater powers. All measures were designed to ensure fiscal consolidation followed the principle of social parity. The idea was to prevent the crisis having a hard impact on those who possessed the least.
The Government was aware of the need to provide equal access to natural resources. In Spain the State had sole power and competence to allow access to natural resources and who could exploit them. For example, access to water and use of hydroelectric power was solely managed by the State.
An Expert had commented that very few people in Spain invoked their right to equality, but in reality citizens in Spain were fully aware of their rights, a delegate said. Spain had the greatest proportion of lawyers to people, and those lawyers played an active role in disseminating knowledge before courts and the administration.
Giving human rights training for people who administered justice was a Government priority. Between 2009 and 2012 training courses dispensed for judges and judicial officials included placements at the European Court of Human Rights. Intense human rights training was given to members of the Office of the Public Prosecutor, while courses were planned for 2012 on the implementation of the European Convention of Human Rights, which again would include visits to the European Court of Human Rights. Other key subjects for training included gender-violence and femicide.
The Ombudsman was a Constitutional body whose independence was guaranteed by the Constitution. The position was appointed by a qualified majority of three-fifths of the Senate, and had a mandate of five years with security of tenure. The Ombudsman was the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Spain and could receive complaints from any citizen, and investigate any public body.
Under no circumstances did law enforcement personnel use ethnic profiling, a delegate clarified, saying there had been no evidence of that happening, or widespread checks being taken to identify foreign criminals. Law enforcement personnel were guided by preventative mechanisms designed to prevent crime and improve the security of people living in Spain. Operations were generally based on technical awareness, such as locating them at major sporting events, places likely to witness drug trafficking, or other areas where a greater occurrence of crime had been detected. In the fight against racism and discrimination extra training programmes were provided for all law enforcement personnel, who were explicitly told to carry out their duties in neutrality, without any expression of racism. Furthermore, not only was human rights training given, but personnel were trained on how to report any racist crime they encountered.
In addition to training law professionals, human rights education was part and parcel of the school syllabus and compulsory by law.
Of the vocational accidents in workplaces that led to staff taking sick leave, in 2010 the majority, around 89,000, were light accidents, 4,000 were serious accidents, and around 500 workplace accidents were fatal. There had been a 10 per cent fall in numbers of deadly accidents, and the accident rate was currently at its lowest level since 1988. Students were now being taught about health and safety in the workplace, so that when they started work they could apply what they had learnt in practical situations to protect themselves. Compared to other European countries, and together with France, Spain had the highest number of diseases considered to be occupational diseases, and that was another area the Government was addressing.
Measures to reduce long-term employment included economic incentives, training, and recent labour law reforms, and concentrated on groups with the greatest number of persons who were difficult to employ, such as persons over the age of 45. In view of the unemployment situation in the country and social justice reforms the list of key target groups had been extended to those who no longer received unemployment benefits and those with a history of attempting to re-join the workforce.
The wage gap between men and women had many different causes so covering that gap required different types of measures. When the gap was due to direct or indirect discrimination, in the legislation there were sufficient measures to punish perpetrators. Other factors leading to the wage gap stemmed from collective bargaining. The most recent labour reform of 2012 included occupational categories which saw circumstances where there was indirect wage discrimination which affected women.
The minimum wage had been established at a level that was needed to provide a basic standard of living. Parameters were established to review the minimum salary, which was not only based on the economic situation, but also the activity and income of workers and the consumer price index. The last 30 years had seen an unprecedented increase in the minimum wage, which since 2004 had grown by 34.5 per cent.
All workers had the right to strike, but a series of exclusions did exist both in law and the Constitution. For example, the right to strike was forbidden for magistrates, judges and prosecutors and there were restrictions for the police and the civil guard.
During 2011 there were significant innovations to improve the working conditions of domestic workers. Domestic employees now had stronger rights to wages, working hours, leave and benefits. They had been given greater job security, as year-long contracts had been eliminated in favour of indefinite contracts. By law, employers must now provide information to the employee on central elements of their contract.
Major changes had occurred in the period covered by the report. Spain had suffered an enormous transformation in its employment situation over the last decade. In the last five years the population grew by three million. In 1999 the active working population was 18, in 2005 it was 20 million and today it exceeds 23 million workers. That increase happened in a very short period of time and forced the Government to implement major changes in the labour market. To generate employment Spain needed to grow at a rate of above 2.5 per cent gross domestic product. Economic growth last occurred between 2007 and 2008, but since then the economic crisis had gripped the economy. In Spain, as in all other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, there were two major indicators to measure the labour market parameters. First, data on the working population was gathered via a census, and secondly the number of unemployed was measured by the number of people registered at unemployment offices. Those indicators involved different data collection techniques. As of May 2012 registered unemployment had reached 4.7 million persons, out of which 655,999 people were foreigners – 13.69 per cent of total unemployed in Spain. At the same time specific groups were the subject of specific problems; namely the young - youth unemployment was sky high – and the long-term unemployed. In 2009 figures showed that 926,000 people had been unemployed for over a year. In the first quarter of 2012 that figure grew to over two million. In the same period, youth unemployment increased from 155,000 in 2009 to over 400,000 today. That data illustrated Spain’s current problems.
Measures to reduce unemployment were wide-ranging and included funding for youth
training, improvement of employability of the other collective groups with a particular focused on long-term unemployed, support for women who were underrepresented in certain sectors, and support for the country’s entrepreneurs, to ensure the creation of employment and particularly help people under the age of 35 – especially women – start their own business. Specific measures were also geared towards persons with disabilities. In recent years there had been no change in the laws on unemployment benefits. The average total unemployment benefit was 1,285 euro per month, with the minimum being 947 euro. There had been a large increase in the number of people receiving unemployment resources, as in 2007 the figure was 1.4 million, at a cost to the State of 7 billion euro. In 2011, 2.9 million people received unemployment benefits, at a cost of 30 billion euro. The number of people receiving unemployment benefits in 2012 currently stood at over three million. Around 70 per cent of registered unemployed workers currently received those benefits, of which 13.5 per cent (300,000) were not Spanish citizens.
Since 1983 Spain had promoted employment policies for persons with disabilities, who enjoyed a long-running job creation policy. Specialized employment centres promoted the integration in the workplace of persons with disabilities and received considerable State subsidies. Today 63,000 workers with disabilities – 55 per cent of employment for workers with disabilities – worked in the public sector, especially in the specialized employment centres, while 45 per cent worked in the private sector.
Poverty rates had increased in Spain. The poverty rate for people over 65, however, had fallen. From 2004 to 2011 the relative poverty rate had fallen by eight per cent, to 10.1 per cent. Those figures of relative poverty reduced significantly when taking into account the value of rent as a percentage of the value of property.
The presence of women on company boards had increased from 6 to 11 per cent. Clearly that was not enough, but it showed progress was being made in the right direction. Paternity leave currently stood at 13 days plus two days for each child already in the family. That was the minimum by law, and could be increased by mutual consent with an employer.
Questions from Experts
An Expert asked for information on the killing of women, femicide, and on domestic violence. He asked about whether levels of drug addiction and abuse in Spain had increased in parallel with the deterioration of the economy? Binge drinking was a big problem in most European countries, particularly where football was very popular. The State party had provided a very helpful data sheet, which showed an alarming increase in monthly binge drinking. What measures had the State party taken to tackle that problem?
Regarding the right to health, a new decree declared that migrants had excessively used the health services, and now were only entitled to emergency healthcare (with an exception for minors). The Expert asked whether that declaration had been made publicly, as saying that migrants were excessively using health resources could lead to discrimination. Not only were over 40 per cent of young people out of work in some areas, but many of them had never been in paid work because they were not able to find work. That had a huge impact on their national insurance contributions. What impact would that have on their healthcare provisions under the new decree, especially persons over the age of 26 who have never worked? Could the delegation please provide information on the suicide rate in places of detention? What was being done to improve the healthcare of prisoners in general, and particularly of people in psychiatric institutions?
An Expert said that one in four people in Spain were at risk of poverty, while inequality was increasing. Did Spain have a national plan to fight poverty, and if so, were the measures cross-cutting and human rights based? If there was no such plan, would one be developed with those characteristics? Already 300,049 families could not cover their mortgage payments. Did the State plan to help them?
There was an element of autonomy in terms of health service reform in Spain, and in some regions it seemed that local Governments were close to making healthcare private. Was the intention to privatise health services in some areas and cut back on some of the rights contained within the health law?
Regarding the new law on abortion, an appeal had been lodged with the Constitutional Court which was pending. What sort of cuts in public expenditure would limit access to legal abortion, as had been allowed with the previous Government?
In the field of education, an Expert asked about the high school failure rate of Roma children, and what had been done to address that issue. The overall high school drop-out rate of 14.9 per cent appeared to be double the European average. Could the delegation submit figures for the evolving cost of education, as well as the expenditure on education as a percentage of the Government budget? Measures to prevent trafficking in persons were queried by an Expert, who asked for details on what exactly the Government was doing about the issue.
Social housing, forced evictions and homelessness were issues raised in the last concluding observations of the Committee’s 2004 review, an Expert said. Not only had those problems not yet been solved, due to the austerity measures they had been exacerbated. His specific questions asked for the reasons for the scarcity of social housing, the causes of the rising number of homeless people, whether homelessness was defined by law, how many children and low-income groups had been made homeless, and whether any legislation regulating forced evictions complied with international human rights standards.
Concerning cultural rights, which was an important article of the Covenant, an Expert relayed his concern that in times of crisis cultural rights were seen as a luxury one could dispense with, when there were more pressing needs to attend to, which would be a mistake. What measures had the Government taken to ensure that its national and regional-level cultural programmes did not witness any decrease in funding or care?
Response from the Delegation
Centres to house aliens (formally known as detention centres) were subject to new laws and regulations which provided not only healthcare for residents but also leisure facilities. The last reform of the Alien Law, in 2009, contributed to the perfecting of judicial oversight for those centres. The average occupancy had decreased from 66 days to 18 days; the law provided that internment should be no longer than 60 days, which was much lower than the European Union average. A delegate specified that all reported cases of alleged ill-treatment of people in detention centres had been investigated and subsequently rejected as none were deemed worthy of pursuing legal proceedings.
Healthcare for foreigners was a sensitive issue, and as the Committee was aware the Government recently had been forced to redefine the right to healthcare – a proposal that was currently being considered by Parliament. It was a proposal no Government wished to make, but there seemed to be no alternative. A delegate took the opportunity to clear up a widespread misunderstanding. He said that some people claimed aliens were taking advantage of the healthcare system in Spain, but the media had misrepresented those pronouncements. It was not true that aliens living in Spain had taken advantage of the healthcare system. Rather the media had alleged that Spain was paying for the healthcare of European Union citizens who no longer lived in Spain, and those people were abusing the system. The issue arose because of Spain’s very flexible laws granting residency rights for European Union (EU) citizens. People were issued a European Healthcare card in Spain, and then returned to their home EU country where they received health treatment that was then billed back to Spain. Spain had received healthcare bills for over 700,000 patients from other EU countries in the past year alone. That was the problem; it was not aliens living in Spain and availing themselves of the healthcare system. Spain would not stop providing emergency public healthcare, as well as healthcare for all minors and pregnant woman. Spain was not alone in that ruling, as in 19 of the 26 European Union Member States undocumented foreigners were only entitled to emergency healthcare.
Around 60,000 detainees were held in Spain per year. They were attended by 400 doctors, 600 nurses and 300 auxiliary nurses, which was a very good ratio of 150 patients per doctor and 160 per nurse. First aid care was available from a team of doctors and nurses who were based in prisons and worked shifts to ensure 24 hour healthcare. Specialised healthcare was provided in public hospitals. Vaccination programmes were provided, as were educational programmes and workshops on HIV/AIDS, drug addiction, needle exchange, mental health and suicide prevention. The suicide rates in prisons had been reduced to 0.31 per 1,000 in 2011. Spain exported best practices in harm reduction from its penitentiary system to other countries, including countries on other continents.
There was a law in place in Spain which allowed abortion up to 14 weeks at a woman’s request. Abortion was allowed between 14 and 20 weeks if a doctor agreed that continuing with the pregnancy was dangerous to the woman. Those services were available free of charge in public hospitals. Some private clinics had made that service available in partnership with the public service, but there had been problems when the authorities did not pay private clinics, which subsequently withdrew the service.
Young people were the group most linked to binge drinking and high alcohol consumption. It was indeed a serious problem, as the drinking model in Spain had changed from a Mediterranean one of moderate consumption to a more Nordic model of heavy drinking over short periods of time. General levels of alcohol consumption had dropped in Spain, while there had been a sharp increase in drinking levels among young people. Measures to tackle the problem included the recent rise in the minimum age for purchasing alcohol to 18, and plans to introduce legislation prohibiting drinking in the street, fines for people who were drunk in public places, and educational programmes. Not much headway had been made to date, but the Government would continue to work on that serious problem.
Royal Decree 1622, which contained urgent measures to reform the healthcare system, was aimed at tackling the yawning deficit of 16 billion euro in the system. It was not about making cuts, it was about delivering services in a streamlined way, promoting primary and specialized healthcare, and ensuring that the system was sustainable. It also involved working with the European Union in order to provide better residential healthcare in Spain. Spain was one of the few countries where there was no need for a person to make a part-payment for drugs, hospital care or healthcare. The United Kingdom, Denmark and Spain were the only European Union countries that provided free healthcare across the board. There had been some privatizations of healthcare management, but that did not mean patients would have to start paying. There had also been mobile healthcare centres to help facilitate services, a delegate said, but she re-confirmed that at no point would people have to pay for healthcare in Spain.
An Expert returned to the conversation about the needs of and discrimination towards the gypsy population in Spain. Much had been done to improve their standard of living over the last few years, including equality of access to social welfare services. The social welfare policy had a broad understanding of providing equal social protection for all while guaranteeing rights. A recent survey showed that 50 per cent of the population of Spain had a negative view of the gypsy population, which was a challenge, but in partnership with non-governmental organizations the Government was making headway in changing stereotypes and challenging discrimination. One way was by persuading the media to stop stereotyping the gypsy population. The Romany population was a key group within the gypsy population who were active on fighting for rights, and issued a regular newsletter on key issues.
Every three years a report was published on the effectiveness of the law on violence, which consolidated reports from various bodies and ministries. Domestic violence was taken very seriously in Spain. There were special measures to help certain women who had suffered abuse to access the labour market. Spain had not yet ratified the recommendation on trafficking in children and young girls, because it first wanted to specify who the victims were. Spain did not agree with the suggested mechanism, but it had ratified the rest of those mechanisms and had a strategy to tackle trafficking in persons which was in force and so far proving effective.
As to whether the economic crisis had had an impact on drug and alcohol consumption, a recent survey found that 30 per cent of homeless people said they did not drink or take illegal drugs. Homeless people were supported and monitored where possible, and the European Union definition of homelessness was used. In that definition there were three sub-categories: those who did not have a home at all, those who had precarious accommodation and those who had inadequate accommodation. For social services purpose, the first definition was used as the basis of statistics gathering.
A new system was set up to protect those in mortgage-based debt and people who could not meet their mortgage payments, which included measures to help prevent forced evictions. Guidelines were issued to credit agencies, while a 10 April 2012 decree provided a code of good practice aimed at first restructuring people’s debt into manageable repayments, at helping people who had been the subject of a court order for repossession of their house, and to provide State support under the terms of the 2009 to 2012 State Housing Plan.
In 2010 Spain ratified the Human Rights Council resolution on human rights education, and it was one of the few countries to be involved in its launch. Before 2010, the Spanish curriculum already featured citizenship, but now human rights education was taught as part of the compulsory curriculum, for students up to the age of 16.
Cultural rights were protected in the Constitution, although it was not a right that could be directly invoked throughout the Courts – rather it was a right that was linked to the legislature. The Constitution referred to the protection and promotion of culture throughout the Spanish territory. In 2011 the Holistic Strategy to Guarantee Culture for All was adopted, which was specifically aimed at persons with disabilities and was one of Spain’s obligations as a State party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Strategy guaranteed access to public spaces such as libraries, museums and theatres, but also cinemas, television and other cultural events. Sign language received official status in Spain to ensure that people with disabilities could not only access culture but could be involved in creating culture: art, theatre, films, events and so on.
Since 2005 Spain’s early drop-out rate had been high, at a peak of 30 per cent, although in 2010 it had started to fall, and was currently around 20 per cent. Spain aimed to reduce the drop-out rate to 15 per cent by 2015. Those percentages were not established haphazardly and were not simply linked to the economic crisis. Programmes to strengthen and support pupils were introduced in 2005 and 2006, through tackling the needs of the cultural and educational environment of pupils, and specifically to support children in secondary education, which was where drop-out most often occurred. Vocational training had been put in place with the aim of reaching 80,000 pupils by the end of the year. The scholarship policy had increased by 80 per cent since 2004, while scholarship grants had been introduced for students from low-income families who wanted to take vocational courses. In 2010 a ‘wage scholarship’ was introduced for young adults who wanted to take training in the higher education sector. Specialized care for Roma and gypsy children was provided, as those groups had specific educational needs, although the Government had a strong inclusive approach and tried to treat those communities on an equal footing with every other person.
Considering how important early-years education was to the long-term well-being of students, the Government recently launched a 1 billion euro programme aimed at making more pre-school education places available for children three years-old and younger, and had so far placed 49,000 children.
ISAAC SALAMA SALAMA, Head of the Constitutional and State Attorney’s Sector at the Ministry of Justice of Spain, said it was clear that the crisis very much affected policy making: fiscal consolidation was neither a whim nor an obsession; it was the way forward to ensure that in the near future Spain could begin the process of recovery. However, there was no sense in reducing social expenditure or making the poorest members of society pay for a crisis they did not cause. For that reason the Government had increased social expenditure in the 2012 State Budget from 63 per cent of total State expenditure to 66 per cent. Spain dispatched such a large delegation to the Committee because it wanted to demonstrate it was working to ensure full compliance of its obligations under the Covenant. Mr. Salama highlighted Spain’s commitment to education, a fundamental element in eradicating discrimination, xenophobia, racism and inequality. Resources for scholarships and grants had been increased, while Spain was one of three countries in the world that spent the most on early-years education. Spain was a world leader in guaranteeing economic, social and cultural rights and pledged to continue making progress in that regard.
ANA MENÉNDEZ PÉREZ, Permanent Representative of Spain to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in concluding remarks noted that much of the dialogue had been about measures and policies that were only a few months old. The delegation had given the answers that it could on very topical issues and would provide additional answers in writing within the set 48-hour timeframe. Despite the structural reform measures the Government was committed to respect economic, social and cultural rights and the social well-being of Spain to the maximum level.
ARIRANGA GOVINDASAMY PILLAY, Committee Chairperson, said he appreciated the detailed information provided by no fewer than 14 experts in the delegation who had come from various ministries and government departments. The Committee appreciated the State party’s firm commitment to defend economic, social and cultural rights and in that regard hoped the Government would be guided by its obligations under the Covenant when adopting austerity measures to combat the economic crisis. The safeguarding of the Covenant must be ensured, otherwise those austerity measures would have a negative and disproportionate impact on the enjoyment of those rights, especially on the most vulnerable sectors of the population, including children, women, persons with disabilities, the Roma, homeless people, and others.
For use of the information media; not an official record