The impact of the economic crisis on human rights in Europe and the accountability of international institutions
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The impact of austerity measures in Europe on human rights has now been widely documented by international and regional bodies and scholars working in the area. The article begins its investigation by briefly examining the impact of austerity measures adopted by European states on human rights standards, with a particular emphasis on the cases of those Eurozone states in bail-louts. The second part of the article investigates the role of international institutions in the austerity measures in Europe, and the institutional framework underlying the bailout measures in the Eurozone. It places a particular emphasis on the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), now established as a permanent crisis resolution mechanism. In this context, the article exposes a number of problems linked to the absence of accountability of the ESM, including its democratic deficit, technocratic rule and lack of transparency. At the heart of the article are questions around the degree of autonomy left to states in the context of austerity measures, and whether a certain degree of responsibility for the human rights violations resulting from these measures may be attributed directly to the institutions driving the conditionality agenda. The main legal framework will be international law, both international human rights law and international institutional law, which is still lagging behind in terms of direct accountability of international organisations for human rights violations, but remains a rich and useful field from which to derive a number of conclusions about the human rights responsibility of international institutions. The article concludes with a number of recommendations aimed directly at the international institutions in their imposition of austerity measures. Many countries in the west seem to be doing their best to go straight into the mouth of a fairly hefty snake ... austerity measures in Europe are a spiralling catastrophe (Sen 2011).