BUCHAREST (11 November 2015) – Many Romanian officials are in a state of denial about the extent of poverty and discrimination against the extremely poor, especially the Roma, according to Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
Alston, who today completed a 10-day visit to Romania, acknowledged that this was “a tragic and difficult time for Romania, in the aftermath of the Colectiv nightclub fire on 30 October,” but he noted that it might also prove to be a time for solidarity and renewal.
“The spotlight has now been shone dramatically on denial, corruption, inadequate government services, and a lack of official accountability,” Alston said. The UN expert said that he had “encountered the same pathologies” in Romania’s response to poverty, “in which far too many of its citizens continue to live.”
Concluding his official visit* to Romania, Alston said: “In terms of corruption, major progress has been made in prominent cases, but forms of soft-core corruption persist in relation to access to, or exclusion from, many social services.”
“Government services, especially, but not only for the poorest, are generally the worst in Europe, based on indicator after indicator”, Alston added. “I was often told that poverty is a choice. It is indeed, but the choice is too often made by government policies rather than by those living in poverty. And finally, there is a continuing ethos in too many parts of government that resists transparency, consultation and accountability,” he said.
Alston concluded that many Roma face structural discrimination and are significantly worse off than the rest of the population in almost every aspect of life. “Prejudicial stereotypes abound, even among senior government officials,” he said.
While the European Union the World Bank and other external actors have pushed for more integrated approaches, successive Romanian governments have lacked the real political will to take the necessary measures”, Alston added. “The Government has essentially outsourced the problem to international donors,” he said.
The Special Rapporteur was especially critical of inadequate social policies to tackle extreme poverty. “Even the International Monetary Fund told me that Romania has enough fiscal space to increase spending on poverty eradication. But the resources have instead been used to finance even better conditions for the relatively well off,” Alston said.
He noted that Romania is at the bottom of the list when it comes to public spending on education and health as a percentage of GDP. This in turn makes it difficult for the most vulnerable groups to access education and health care and also causes inequalities between different regions.
“Very low salaries for workers in these sectors also make recruitment difficult, undermine the quality of the services, and create incentives for corruption. Not only does the Government refuse to increase spending, it has the most regressive tax system in Europe,” said Alston. “It has made the deliberate political choice not to make its tax system more progressive, missing yet another chance to help the poorer groups in society”, the independent expert concluded.
Alston’s full findings and recommendations will be presented in a report to the Human Rights Council in June 2016.
Professor Philip Alston (Australia) took office as UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in June 2014, following his appointment by the Human Rights Council. He is John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law at New York University School of Law. Mr. Alston has previously served the UN in several capacities including as Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Special Adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Millennium Development Goals, as well as chairperson of the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/SRExtremePovertyIndex.aspx
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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