Austerity imposed under Greek bailouts violated rights, independent UN expert finds

5 June 2016
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There has been “large-scale violation of rights” in Greece as a result of the austerity programmes imposed by its international lenders, independent UN expert on human rights Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky said in a press conference here on Friday.

According to Bohoslavsky, an independent expert of the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of states on the full enjoyment of human rights, it was “obvious” that Greece needs a “minimal fiscal margin” in order to ensure that basic human rights are respected.

“It is not acceptable that some people should not have the capability to buy food or lose access of basic medical care or are unable to keep a roof over their heads,” he underlined.

Regarding Greece’s debt, the UN expert said the creditors’ proposals to Greece were “too little, too late” and that his main recommendation to the country’s lenders was that debt relief to Greece was “absolutely essential”. Welcoming the now widespread recognition that the country’s debt was not sustainable, Bohoslavsky noted that this was the time for action and said he was disturbed by the latest decision to postpone action until after 2018, while categorically ruling out debt reduction.

He also predicted further short-term and long-term repercussions on human rights by the further round of austerity cuts and tax increases that the Greek government was forced to impose, under pressure from the country’s lenders.

The UN expert called for a “change in approach” and welcomed the European Commission’s initiative to August 2015 to carry out an assessment of the social repercussions of the third economic adjustment programme implemented by Greece, saying it was a “first step in the right direction.” This social impact assessment should also include an assessment of the impact on human rights, he added, and noted that a European Social Rights Charter should also reflect the international obligation of member-states to protect human rights.

Bohoslavsky carried out official visits to European agencies and institutions responsible for these issues during the week, meeting with representatives of the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Eurogroup Working Group, as well as trade unionists and citizen organisations.

Speaking to reporters, he expressed “concern” over a change in EU policy that placed emphasis on fiscal stability at the expense of other concerns and undermined a previously balanced approach that protected economic stability, equality and social cohesion. He also noted that financial institutions and states had a joint responsibility to protect human rights.

“Even though the EU member-states are primarily responsible for fulfilling their international obligations for human rights, international organisations including the EU, its agencies and financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, are not above international law on human rights,” Bohoslavsky said.

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