Impact of austerity measures on the enjoyment of human rights

Since 2009, austerity measures have become an increasingly dominant State response to the global financial and economic crises. In many countries across the developing and developed world, measures such as cuts to social protection systems and public services as well as regressive taxation reform, are threatening States’ human rights obligations and disproportionately impacting on the rights and livelihoods of persons living in poverty.

At the 17th session of the Human Rights Council (June 2011), the Special Rapporteur submitted a report that set out the parameters of a human rights-based approach to recovery from the global economic and financial crises, with a particular focus on the most vulnerable and marginalized groups. The report urged States to see recovery from the crises as an opportunity for change, a chance to rectify deeply ingrained poverty and social exclusion, restore social cohesion and lay the foundations for more equitable, sustainable societies. It identified the human rights framework that States must comply with when designing recovery measures, analysed a number of recovery measures from a human rights perspective and then recommended measures that States should consider taking to facilitate a human rights-based recovery from the crises. Subsequently, the Special Rapporteur participated in several fora including the Human Rights Council special session on the impact of the crises.

The Special Rapporteur continued to work on this issue, with her engagement increasingly focusing on monitoring the impact of austerity measures on the human rights of the poorest and most vulnerable people. Her objective was to raise awareness about the human rights impact of austerity measures and influence the agendas of States and intergovernmental bodies, in order to secure recognition of and response to the wide range of human rights concerns.

Underlying her approach was the duty of each State to ensure that economic policy respects human rights obligations, including relating to non-discrimination, progressive realisation of economic, social and cultural rights and non-retrogression, and the requirement that policy design and implementation upholds the principles of participation, transparency and accountability.

She continued to highlight the need for human rights-based approaches to recovery through advocating for policies that protect the most vulnerable and ensure the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by all individuals.