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article imageAusterity in Greece having impact on human rights, says UN expert

By Robert Myles     May 2, 2013 in Politics
Athens - That’s the opinion of a United Nations expert who warned yesterday that some of the austerity measures imposed on the Greek economy undermine Greek citizens’ access to jobs, health, water and energy.
The views were those of Cephas Lumina, an Advocate of the High Court for Zambia and an Extra-Ordinary Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria in South Africa.
Mr Lumina was appointed to his role as independent expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2008. He is independent from any government or organization and serves in an individual capacity.
In his initial statement issued yesterday, Mr Lumina urged the Troika of international lenders to Greece, the European Union (EU), European Central Bank (ECB), and International Monetary Fund (IMF), as well as the Greek government itself, to adopt a human-rights-based approach when it comes to economic reforms.
In 2010, to avoid a default on its international debt obligations, Greece reached agreement with the EU, the ECB and the IMF to implement deep cuts in government expenditure in exchange for an internationally sourced bailout loan. To obtain the bailout, the Greek government also had to adopt a stringent programme of structural economic reforms focusing on reducing the country’s fiscal deficit and returning the Greek economy to an upward growth path.
These strict austerity measures have caused the Greek economy to shrink by around 25%. The Greek economy remains stuck in recession and as Mr Lumina highlighted, after his week-long visit to the country, “More than 10 per cent of the population in Greece now lives in extreme poverty, and unemployment amongst youth has reached an unprecedented rate of 59.3 per cent.”
Mr Lumina was concerned that the Greek austerity programme was being implemented in the context of a social protection system ill-equipped to absorb the shock of unemployment, salary cuts and tax increases. He said, “Greece remains the only country in the Eurozone where a comprehensive social assistance scheme serving as a social safety net of last resort is missing.”
Apart from unemployment, the UN expert expressed concerns regarding the Greek public health system, which he claimed was becoming increasingly inaccessible, in particular for poor citizens and marginalized groups, warning, “Nearly one third of the Greek population is without public health insurance, mainly due to prolonged unemployment.”
Mr Lumina praised the resilience of the Greek people which had seen a number of free community clinics emerge, operated by volunteer groups. For many Greeks, these had become the only option for affordable healthcare, but their existence, he said, did not absolve the State of its primary responsibilities: “Run by volunteers, the clinics are a laudable expression of solidarity within the Greek society. However, it is a primary obligation of the State to ensure access to basic health care for all without any discrimination.”
As the Greek government moves forward, under pressure from international lenders, to augment its State coffers, with plans to privatize a number of state industries, including water and energy, Mr Lumina urged caution and sensitivity to the rights of the population at large. He foresaw a situation arising whereby Greeks, already under severe economic constraints, would, after privatization, be faced with “further increases of user fees for the basic services.”
Mr Lumina also expressed concerns regarding fall-out from the Greek economic crisis which has seen a sharp increase in the number of attacks on foreigners and the rise of far-right political groups such as Golden Dawn. Recently, as reported in Digital Journal, the Council of Europe went as far as saying the Greek government could ban the Golden Dawn political party. After a number of recent, apparently xenophobic, attacks in Greece, the Greek government had taken significant measures to combat hate crimes including appointing a related Special Prosecutor, as well as around 70 anti-racist police units. Mr Lumina welcomed these measures, adding that Greek authorities needed to send a strong message that such criminal acts would not be tolerated, by strengthening the legal and institutional framework for combating them.
In conclusion, he called on the Greek government and the international Troika to adopt a human rights-based approach to designing and implementing economic reform, saying, “These policies must be consistent with the obligations for the promotion of human rights that the country has assumed through ratification of core international human rights instruments. Development cannot be sustainable if human rights are not sufficiently taken into account. Ensuring the full participation of all segments of society in decision-making processes, enhancing efforts to reduce inequality, and respecting, promoting and protecting all human rights are critical to sustainable development,”
This was Mr. Lumina’s first visit to Greece. It took place between April 22 and 26. During his visit, the UN researcher met with senior Government officials, including representatives of various Ministries and members of Parliament. He also held meetings with representatives of international organizations, national human rights bodies and civil society, as well as persons affected by the economic crisis. Mr. Lumina is scheduled to present a report of his final findings to the Geneva based UN Human Rights Council in March 2014.
More about greek austerity, Greek economy, troika, Greek bailout, Human Rights
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