Greek austerity measures could violate human rights, UN expert says

Cephas Lumina, UN expert on foreign debt and human rights

30 June 2011 – The United Nations independent expert on foreign debt and human rights warned today that the austerity measures and structural reforms proposed to solve Greece’s debt crisis may result in violations of the basic human rights of the country’s people, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported.

“The implementation of the second package of austerity measures and structural reforms, which includes a wholesale privatization of state-owned enterprises and assets, is likely to have a serious impact on basic social services and therefore the enjoyment of human rights by the Greek people, particularly the most vulnerable sectors of the population such as the poor, elderly, unemployed and persons with disabilities,” said Cephas Lumina, who reports to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“The rights to food, water, adequate housing and work under fair and equitable conditions should not be compromised by the implementation of austerity measures,” he said, urging the Government to “strike a careful balance between austerity and the realization of human rights, taking into account the primacy of States’ human rights obligations.”

Mr. Lumina also called upon the authorities to maintain some fiscal leeway to meet its people’s basic human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights.

“Tax rises, public expenditure cuts and privatization measures have to be implemented in such a way that they do not result in unbearable suffering of the people,” he said.

“Debts can only be paid out of income,” Mr. Lumina said. “A shrinking economy cannot generate any revenue and contributes to a reduced capacity to repay the debt. More time should have been allowed for the restructuring measures already in place to work.”

The independent expert also called on the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Union (EU) and the European Central Bank (ECB) to remain aware of the human rights impact of the policies they design in attempting to resolve the sovereign debt crises in Greece and other countries.

“There will be no lasting solution to the sovereign debt problem if the human rights of the people are not taken into account,” said Mr. Lumina, who serves in an unpaid capacity.


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