Human rights and the financial crisis in focus: some thoughts after a meeting in Vienna

20130701_100422Last Monday I took part in an “expert meeting on promoting a rights-based approach to financial regulation and economic recovery”. The meeting took place at the UN office in Vienna and it was co-hosted by the OHCHR and the Center of Concern, as part of the ongoing work of the OHCHR on the issue of human rights and the financial crisis (see further information here; I´ve been told that the statements and presentations will be available there soon). The meeting (find agenda here) gathered UN human rights experts (Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures), OHCHR representatives, experts from the financial sector, NHRIs, NGOs and academic experts. I attended the event on behalf of the Ombudsman of the Basque Country (Ararteko) to present our views about the impact of the economic crisis and austerity-led policies on the enjoyment of human rights in the Basque Country.

According to the 1978 Spanish Constitution (Article 54) and the 1979 Basque Statute of Autonomy (Article 15), the Ombudsman of the Basque Country is defined as the High Commissioner of the Parliament of the Basque Country for the protection and promotion of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, which must be interpreted in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights law (Article 10.2 of the Constitution). Therefore, the mandate of the Basque Ombudsman is not only dealing with individual complaints (although this is definitely our main task from a resource perspective), but also constructing and defending a human rights approach to public policy and fostering human rights values and principles in the Basque society.

I believe the most productive ingredient of this meeting was that it brought together very different people and made them discuss the same topics, namely, the crisis, economic policies, financial regulation and human rights. Human rights people and financial regulatory services seldom talk to each other. It often seems they speak in different languages. To tell the truth, I don´t think we managed to break this sound barrier last Monday but at least we paid attention to what each other had to say, which is no mean feat. Continue reading “Human rights and the financial crisis in focus: some thoughts after a meeting in Vienna”

Importance is not enough

Yesterday, the European Ombudsman (that is, the Ombudsman of the European Union) issued a press statement under the following headline: “Ombudsman investigates whether the Commission should do more to combat increased bee mortality”. The statement said:

According to the complainant, the Commission has failed properly to address the issue of bee mortality, which may be linked to the use of certain neonicotinoids. In its view, the Commission should take new scientific evidence into account and take appropriate measures, such as reviewing the authorisation of relevant substances, in order to address the problem.

No need to check: Neonicotinoids are some sort of insecticides. It didn’t take me a minute to share the link with friends and colleagues via e-mail and Twitter, preceded by a self-explanatory ‘no comment’. Soon after, I started receiving a few answers. The point of most of them was basically that bees play a very important role in the ecosystem. And it’s true! According to a 2010 report by the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), decline of bees is becoming a global and dangerous phenomenon with direct consequences on the environment, the biodiversity and ultimately our own lives! Even if I was very superficially aware of their importance, I didn’t have an idea about the exact facts and figures. There you have the one thing I learned yesterday. If you want to know more, there is a must-visit website: www.aworldwithoutbees.com/. Scary future lies ahead… In any case (let me get back to the Ombudsman now), I must say I still find the piece news both funny and shocking, and I’ve decided to write down here why.

Continue reading “Importance is not enough”

Alegato en defensa de la Defensoría

El gigante Mercado no termina de fiarse de España. Ya no basta con medidas draconianas del Gobierno central. Aprovechando la coyuntura de las recientes elecciones locales y autonómicas, y mientras el FMI y la Unión Europea aprietan un poco más las tuercas a los griegos, el mensaje en España es claro: las Comunidades Autónomas tienen que aplicar recortes drásticos, y tienen que hacerlo ya. Cataluña está sentando ejemplo con un proyecto de presupuesto que recorta el gasto público un 10% de cara al año que viene, recorte que al parecer será todavía insuficiente para calmar los nervios de los inversores extranjeros. Al otro lado de la península, en Galicia, los dos principales partidos han alcanzado un acuerdo para fijar por ley (¡por ley!) un techo al gasto público. Ríanse ustedes de los que critican por antidemocráticas y excesivamente legalistas las propuestas de justiciabilidad de los derechos económicos y sociales. Al parecer, garantizar por ley el derecho a la vivienda no es democrático (se trataría, dicen, de un ‘principio rector de la política social y económica’ y por lo tanto sujeto a la discrecionalidad del gobierno de turno) pero restringir por el mismo medio el gasto público es perfectamente válido. Paradojas… Continue reading “Alegato en defensa de la Defensoría”