The UK government cannot reconcile austerity measures with human rights

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Authors: Jamie Burton, Alice Donald and Koldo Casla
This article was published in Open Global Rights (Open Democracy)
A UN Committee of independent experts recently issued a harshly worded report on the extent to which public authorities have been complying with international law on socio-economic rights. The Committee monitors states compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which the UK has voluntarily ratified along with 163 other countries. Adherence to the Covenant is a matter of rule of law. However, after months of engagement with government officials and evidence gathering from civil society groups (including Just Fair), the Committee’s report could hardly have been more damning.

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Months ago I called for a vote out. Why did you have to listen, Britain? Why???


Last February, I wrote a short piece praising British humour and weather, thanking London for hosting me and, yes, asking Brits to vote for Brexit. The text was full of irony, and I warned the reader that I would not do it if I were British. But, as a European citizen living in London, I did call for a vote out. And I regret it deeply now.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m well aware my text didn’t make a difference on the 17+ million Brits who chose to leave the European Union yesterday. But I feel sorry anyway.

I feel sorry because last weeks I have added one more item to the long list of things I like from this country and its global capital.

I have discovered a European side to London and its British inhabitants that I had never seen before. Yes, most of my friends and London-based Facebook acquaintances are highly educated and sophisticated. And London is multicultural, multilingual and profoundly diverse. Unsurprisingly, it has gone 60/40 for Remain. England is an entirely different story. Still, one didn’t really see EU flags hanging out the window in London flats, and in common parlance locals used to refer to Europe in third person, as if the English Channel was not 20 mile long, as if Britain constituted its own continent. We may easily go back to that sooner than later, but somehow Brits and Londoners campaigning for Remain made me feel welcome in a way that I had never felt before.

Like most people, I was convinced Brexit was not going to happen. Hence I felt I could stand by my ironic and provocative “vote-out-if-you-dare”. And I believed (and still do) the EU had a lot to work on in terms of social rights protection and democratic accountability. So I didn’t want to line up behind Cameron and Osborne.

I felt welcome and confident with my predictions and convictions. So yesterday, when I put an “in” sticker on my t-shirt, I had to clarify to someone that it was “a critical in”. As if it made a difference.

If yesterday I felt welcome, confident and critical, today I feel sad, shocked and sorry.

We’ll have to resort to the trite keep-calm-and-carry-on. We need to live with the consequences. I say “we”, because I for one don’t intend to leave just yet. But I say “we” although I know that the burden will not be fairly shared among “us”. Disenfranchised English working people, many of whom voted out, will suffer the consequences of Brexit just as much they missed most of the benefits of being part of the EU. This strikes me as the most devastating outcome of this referendum.

There are other critical issues that Brits will have to face, of course. For example, the future of a Europhile Scotland outside the EU, the profound divide between London and the rest of England, or the generational gap between a Eurosceptic elderly and a younger generation that had envisioned their future as part of the European Union. That is gone now.

Other European countries will not be in a good mood, and EU institutions are unlikely to let the Tories regroup and trigger Article 50 TEU (the exit door from the EU) at their convenience: “Of course, Sir, we’ll wait until October for you. Anytime, really. Thank you very much for these lovely decades of charm”. England may see Scotland go, Northern Ireland join the Republic and Boris Johnson hold the keys of Number 10. And at this point it’s too early to tell if the meagre chances of having a socialist Labour opposition have just evaporated. After all, supposedly Jeremy Corbyn has also lost this referendum.

Recapitulating, Britain, I understand you couldn’t care less about my opinion, but I still want you to know that I regret urging you to vote out. If I had known, I would have kept quiet. To the 17+ million of you who voted out, I’m also sorry for bothering you with my presence in your country. For now, however, I don’t plan to do anything about that.

The postman just knocked on the door to hand me a parcel. “Thank you”, I say. “You’re welcome, my friend”. Well, at least, I have that.

Koldo Casla


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Open letter from a Eurocitizen living in London: Brits, vote for #Brexit.

This post was published first in Open Democracy.

London-Cable-Car-Emirates-Air-Line-1I have lived in England for nearly five years, mostly in London, but for personal reasons I have also become familiar with other parts of the country as well. I have always felt welcome here – for which I am grateful. I like England very much. I adore the preciseness of language, the humour, the diversity and buzz of the capital… I don’t even mind the weather! Ideally, I would like to stay for some time.

This is my caveat, which I believe to be necessary since I will argue that the European Union would be better off without the United Kingdom.

The UK has been part of the European Communities and then the EU for more than four decades. In the second half of this period it has enjoyed a special treatment granted by the other Member States. It did not adopt the Euro, it does not participate in Schengen, and it can pick and choose from within the areas of security, justice and police cooperation as it pleases. Even the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is not fully applicable in the UK.

But, as is well known, David Cameron promised to get more leeway or leave. After intense talks behind closed doors, on 19 February the European Council discussed and agreed on a new settlement for the UK in the EU. Brits will be called to an in-or-out referendum scheduled for 23 June.

I say it is time to fly free – both for the UK and for the rest of the EU..

As a EU citizen (Spanish national) living in London, I urge you to vote for #Brexit. Continue reading

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Why does the Basque Country seem so quiet about independence nowadays?

This article was published first in Open Democracy.

Basque nationalism has never held more institutional power.

Together, the Basque moderate nationalist party (PNV) and the pro-independence left (Bildu, “Unite”) hold 60% of the vote and 64% of the seats (48/75) at the Parliament of the Basque Country. Navarre, which constitutes a separate administrative region but lies at the core of the Basque motherland in the nationalist narrative, is now ruled by a coalition comprised by a pro-Basque party (Geroa Bai, “Yes to the future”), Bildu and the rather small Spanish Izquierda Unida (“United Left”). Nationalism is in command in all three provincial governments, the three main Basque cities, Pamplona (Hemingway’s and other San Fermin lovers’ delight), and the vast majority of towns in the region.

Considering the nationalist surge in Catalonia and elsewhere in Europe (Scotland, Belgium, Corsica…), why does the Basque Country seem so quiet about independence? I believe this is due to three main factors, one institutional, one historical and a strategic one, and that there is a common thread through all three of them: the economic crisis. Bear with me. Let me explain. Continue reading

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Ecocide: the international crime that could have been but never quite was

This post was first published in NBXMain in October 2015

Genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity are international crimes and, since 2002, the International Criminal Court (ICC) can investigate individuals accused of having committed acts of that nature. From 2017, under certain circumstances the ICC will also have jurisdiction in relation to the crime of aggression. These are the four international crimes recognised in the Statute of the ICC. There was a time, however, when scholars, international bodies and even some government officials spoke about a possible fifth international crime: Ecocide.

Ecocide was a crazy idea promoted by a bunch of visionary/loony academics of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Aware of the fact that human action was causing irreparable damage to the ecosystem, they argued that humanity as a whole could be considered to be the victim of premeditated forms of aggression against the environment.

The idea could have remained an exercise of academic engineering had it not resonated, even if mildly, in international political discourse. Most famously, the then Prime Minister of Sweden, Olaf Palme, said in his opening address of the 1972 Stockholm Conference on Environment:

”The immense destruction brought about by indiscriminate bombing, by large scale use of bulldozers and herbicides is an outrage sometimes described as ecocide, which requires urgent international attention.”  Continue reading

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Should rights be submitted to referendum? (You won’t find the answer here)

0fe51435c8d9f2e165e32117bb1d8c65-800xEarlier this year, many of us felt proud of Ireland. 62% of Irish people voted to proclaim marriage equality in the national constitution. Ireland, a country of profound Catholic roots, had become the first country to recognise at the constitutional level the right to marriage regardless of sexual orientation. It was very good news for those who believe in human rights, equality and non-discrimination.

Last week, only seven months after the Irish vote, 63.5% of the Slovenian electorate rejected a law allowing same-sex marriage. Turnout was rather low (36%), lower than in Ireland (61%), but enough to make the result just as valid. The result was particularly disappointing considering that in 2005 Slovenia became the first Eastern European country to legally recognise same-sex partnerships. (By the way, two days after Slovenia voted against equal marriage, the Greek Parliament voted in favour of civil partnerships for gay people).

Reportedly, the Slovenian constitution forbids referendums on human rights issues, but the Constitutional Court authorised the popular vote called by a civic platform (suggestively named “Children Are At Stake”) that had gathered more than 40,000 signatures.

I haven’t been able to find the ruling in English, so I am not familiar with the Court’s reasoning, but the Slovenian story makes me wonder: Should rights be submitted to referendum? Continue reading

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La vivienda no ha sido un derecho durante la crisis. ¿Lo será después?

Según datos del Instituto Nacional de Estadística, la cantidad de hipotecas concedidas aumentó casi un 22% entre julio de 2014 y el mismo mes de 2015, hasta llegar a las 21.863 operaciones. Este número está todavía lejos de las 130.000 de 2005 o 2007, pero sugiere que el mercado inmobiliario español puede estar remontando. La crisis todavía no pertenece al pasado. Pero ahora que parece que la economía vuelve a construirse con ladrillo, resulta necesario preguntarse: ¿Seremos capaces de edificar una política de vivienda sobre la base de los derechos humanos?

En los últimos años centenares de miles de personas han perdido sus viviendas a consecuencia de ejecuciones hipotecarias. Muchas siguen a día de hoy en esta misma situación.

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