by Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos, Ambassador ad.H.
Published in Diario de Noticias 29.06.2015
After five months of fruitless negotiations between Greece and its lenders, the Greek Prime Minister blasted the Institutions for submitting proposals that would destroy Greece and humiliate its people. So he proposed that a referendum be held next Sunday with the question of whether or not the Greek people support the EU proposals. On Sunday morning parliament adopted the proposal and the referendum will be held next Sunday.
The EU proposals were rejected because they would have devastating effects on the country. They anticipated reduction of wages and pensions, increase in food prices and other measures affecting the middle and lower classes.
The EU never expected that the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras would dare ask for a referendum. Now attempts will be made by the EU and other circles to prevent the referendum from happening as was done in 2010. Already Christine Lagarde of the IMF made statements today saying that the Referendum will be invalid because after Tuesday the proposals will no longer exist. The Eurogroup also rejected a request from Greece to extend the exisiting program until after the referendum. Consequently as from Tuesday, the so-called financing of Greece from the institutions will stop and Greece will be obliged to pay its outstanding debt to the IMF. More attempts will take place during the week by creating panic to the people in the means of preventing access to their accounts, fomenting internal unrest etc. The EU is good in this. We saw what happened in Kiev in December 2013. But panic exists in the EU where the fear is spreading that the eurozone is collapsing.
If the outcome of the referendum is NO, then presumabely the government will inform the institutions of the will of the Greek people. It cannot be excluded that the Government denounces the Loan agreement of 2010 on the basis of articles 48-52 of the Vienna Treaty on Treaties which anticipate under which conditions an international treaty is null and void,and it covers the Greek case too. The denunciation in written form will be sent to the Secretary general of the UN, since the Vienna Treaty has been deposited at the UN, and Greece will legally stop all payments to the lenders since the Loan Agreement will be null and void. The money kept will help Greece in its road towards economic recovery. The next step will be the gradual and orderly exit of Greece from the eurozone, which will take place in a period of six months to one year. This position is also supported by the Unified Popular Front (EPAM), a party of which I am a member, and it will actively participate in support of the no vote.
If the outcome of the referendum is yes then the road for Greece to achieve colonial status will become a reality.
We are witnessing an incredible event, the EU destroying its member-states. During the last five years, the member states of the Eurozone, the EU as an institution, the IMF which is only a specialized agency of the UN, and the previous Greek governments,have violated most existing international treaties on the respect for human rights, i.e. the Lisbon treaty, the International Covenant of economic, social and cultural rights, the UN Charter etc, making them also criminally responsible for these violations. But this not our EU, it is not the EU that neither Greece, Portugal or Spain joined. It is an aberration.
I personally hope that this Greek revolution spreads to Portugal and Spain and to the other EU countries for the benefit of the peoples of Europe and of humanity.
Syriza: Plunder, Pillage and Prostration. (How the ‘Hard Left’ embraces the policies of the Hard Right)
Introduction: Greece has been in the headlines of the world’s financial press for the past five months, as a newly elected leftist party, ‘Syriza’, which ostensibly opposes so-called ‘austerity measures’, faces off against the “Troika” (International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and European Central Bank).
Early on, the Syriza leadership, headed by Alexis Tsipras, adopted several strategic positionswith fatal consequences – in terms of implementing their electoral promises to raise living standards, end vassalage to the ‘Troika’ and pursue an independent foreign policy.
We will proceed by outlining the initial systemic failures of Syriza and the subsequent concessions further eroding Greek living standards and deepening Greece’s role as an active collaborator of US and Israeli imperialism.
Winning Elections and Surrendering Power
The North American and European Left celebrated Syriza’s election victory as a break with neo-liberal austerity programs and the launch of a radical alternative, which would implement popular initiatives for basic social changes, including measures generating employment, restoring pensions, reversing privatizations, reordering government priorities and favoring payments to employees over foreign banks. The “evidence” for the radical reform agenda was contained in the ‘Thessaloniki Manifesto’ which Syriza promised to be the program guiding their newly elected officials.
However, prior to, and immediately after being elected, Syriza leaders adopted three basic decisions precluding any basic changes: Indeed, these decisions set it on a reactionary course.
First and foremost, Syriza accepted as legitimate the foreign debt of over $350 billion dollars, although most had been signed by previous government Kleptocrats, corrupt banks, business, real estate and financial interests. Virtually none of this debt was used to finance productive activity or vital services which would strengthen the economy and Greece’s future ability to payback the loans.
Hundreds of billions of Euros were stashed away in foreign bank accounts and foreign real estate or invested in overseas stocks and bonds. After affirming the ‘legitimacy’ of the illicit debt, Syriza followed up by declaring its ‘willingness’ to pay the debt. The ‘Troika’ immediately understood that the new Syriza government would be a willing hostage to further coercion, blackmail and debt payments.
Secondly, and related to the above, Syriza declared its determination to remain in the European Union and Eurozone and thus accepted the surrender of its sovereignty and ability to fashion an independent policy. It declared its willingness to submit to the dictates of the Troika. Once under the thumb of the Troika, Syriza’s only policy would be to ‘negotiate’, ‘renegotiate’ and make further concessions to the EU overseas banks in a totally one-sided process. Syriza’s rapid submission to the Troika was their second strategic, but not their last, betrayal of its electoral program.
Once Syriza demonstrated to the Troika, its willingness to betray its popular program, the Troika escalated its demands and hardened its intransigence. Brussels discounted Syriza’sleftist rhetoric and radical theatrical gestures as blowing smoke in the eyes of the Greek electorate. The EU bankers knew that when it came time to negotiate new loan agreements, the Syriza leadership would capitulate. Meanwhile, the Euro-American Left swallowed Syriza’s entire radical rhetoric without looking at its actual practice.
Thirdly, on taking office, Syriza negotiated a coalition with the far-right, pro-NATO, xenophobic, anti-immigrant Independent Greeks Party, guaranteeing that Greece would continue to support NATO’s military policies in the Middle East, the Ukraine and Israel’s brutal campaign against Palestine.
Fourthly, the bulk of Prime Minister Tsipras cabinet appointees had no experience of class struggle .Worse still, most were academics and former PASOK advisers without any capacity or willingness to break with the dictates of the Troika. Their academic ‘practice’ consisted largely of theoretical ‘combat’, ill-suited for real-world confrontation with aggressive imperial powers.
From a Scratch to Gangrene
By capitulating to the EU from the outset, including accepting to pay the illegitimate debt, hooking up with the Far Right and submitting to the dictates of the Troika, the stage was set for SYRIZA to betray all its promises and to worsen the economic burden for its supporters. The worst betrayals include: (1) not restoring pension payments; (2) not restoring the minimum wage; (3) not reversing privatizations; (4) not ending austerity programs; and (5) not increasing funds for education, health, housing and local development.
The Troika and its publicists in the financial press are demanding that Syriza cut the Greek pension system even further ,impoverishing over 1.5 million retired workers. Contrary to the media’s planted ‘examples’ of fat pensions enjoyed by less then 5% of pensioners, the Greeks have suffered the deepest pension reductions in Europe over the past century. In just the last past 4 years the Troika cut Greek pensions eight times. The vast majority of pensions have been slashed by nearly 50% since 2010.The average pension is 700 Euros a month but 45%of Greek pensioners receive less than 665 Euros a month – below the poverty line. Yet the Troika demands even greater reductions. These include an end of budget subsidies for pensioners living in extreme poverty, an increase in the retirement age to 67, an abolition of pension provisions tied to hazardous occupations and for working mothers. The earlier regressive measures, imposed by the Troika and implemented by the previous right-wing coalition regime, severely depleted the Greek pension fund. In 2012, the Troika’s ‘debt restructuring’ program led to the loss of 25 billion Euros of reserves held by the Greek government in government bonds. Troika austerity policies ensured that the pension reserves would not be replenished. Contributions plummeted as unemployment soared to nearly 30% (Financial Times 6/5/15 p4). Despite the Troika’s frontal assault on the Greek pension system, Syriza’s “economic team” expressed its willingness to raise the retirement age, cut pensions by 5% and negotiate further betrayals of pensioners facing destitution. Syriza has not only failed to fulfill its campaign promise to reverse the previous regressive policies, but is engaged in its own ‘pragmatic’ sellouts with the Troika.
Worse still, Syriza has deepened and extended the policies of its reactionary predecessors. (1)Syriza promised to freeze privatizations: Now it vows to extend them by 3.2 billion Eurosand privatize new public sectors. (2) Syriza has agreed to shift scarce public resources to the military, including an investment of $500 million Euros to upgrade the Greek Air Force. (3) Syriza plundered the national pension fund and municipal treasuries of over a billion Euros to meet debt payments to the Troika. (4) Syriza is cutting public investments in job creating infrastructure projects to meet Troika deadlines. ( 5) Syriza has agreed to a budget surplus of 0.6% at a time when Greece is running a 0.7% deficit this year – meaning more cuts later this year. (6) Syriza promised to reduce the VAT on essentials like food; now it accepts a 23% rate.
Syriza’s foreign policy mimics its predecessors. Syriza’s far right Defense Minister, Panos Kammenos, has been a vocal supporter of the US and EU sanctions against Russia- despite the usual flurry of Syriza’s faked “dissent” to NATO policies, followed by total capitulation – to remain in good standing with NATO. The Syriza regime has allowed each and every well-known kleptocrat and tax evader to retain their illicit wealth and to add to their overseas holdings with massive transfers of their current ‘savings’ out of the country. By the end of May 2015, Prime Minister Tsipras and Finance Minister Varofakis have emptied the Treasury to meet debt payments, increasing the prospects that pensioners and public sector workers will not receive their benefits. Having emptied the Greek Treasury, Syriza will now impose the “Troika solution” on the backs of the impoverished Greek masses: either sign-off on a new “austerity” plan, lowering pensions, increasing retirement age, eliminating labor laws protecting workers’ job security and negotiating rights or face an empty treasury, no pensions, rising unemployment and deepening economic depression. Syriza has deliberately emptied the Treasury, plundered pension funds and local municipal holdings in order to blackmail the population to accept as a ‘fait accompli’ the regressive policies of hardline EU bankers – the so-called “austerity programs”.
From the very beginning, Syriza gave into the Troika’s dictates, even as they play-acted their ‘principled resistance’. First they lied to the Greek public, calling the Troika ‘international partners’. Then they lied again calling the Troika memorandum for greater austerity a ‘negotiating document’. Syriza’s deceptions were meant to hide their continuation of the highly unpopular ‘framework’ imposed by the previous discredited hard rightwing regime.
As Syriza plundered the country of resources to pay the bankers, it escalated its international groveling. Its Defense Minister offered new military bases for NATO, including an air-maritime base on the Greek island of Karpathos. Syriza escalated Greece’s political and military support for EU and US military intervention and support of “moderate” terrorists in the Middle East, ludicrously in the name of “protecting Christians”. Syriza, currying favor with European and US Zionists, strengthened its ties with Israel, evoking a ‘strategic alliance’ with the terrorist-apartheid state. From his first days in office, the hard right Defense Minister Kammenos proposed the creation of a “common defense space” including Cyprus and Israel – thus supporting Israel’s air and sea blockade of Gaza.
Syriza’s political decision to ‘embed’ in the EU and the Eurozone, at all costs, signals that Greece will continue to be vassal state, betraying its program and adopting deeply reactionary policies, even while trumpeting its phony leftist rhetoric, and feigning ‘resistance’ to the Troika. Despite the fact that Syriza plundered domestic pensions and local treasuries, many deluded Leftists in Europe and the US continue to accept and rationalize what they choose to dub its “realistic and pragmatic compromises”.
Syriza could have confiscated and used the $32 billion of real estate properties owned by the Greek Armed Forces to implement an alternative investment and development plan – leasing these properties for commercial maritime ports, airports and tourist facilities.
Syriza buried Greece even deeper into the hierarchy dominated by German finance,by surrendering its sovereign power to impose a debt moratorium, leave the Eurozone, husband its financial resources, reinstate a national currency, impose capital controls, confiscate billions of Euros in illicit overseas accounts, mobilize local funds to finance economic recovery and reactivate the public and private sector. The fake “Left sector” within Syriza repeatedly mouthed impotent “objections”, while the Tsipras -Varofakis sell-out charade proceeded to the ultimate capitulation.
In the end, Syriza has deepened poverty and unemployment, increased foreign control over the economy, further eroded the public sector, facilitated the firing of workers and slashed severance pay- while increasing the role of the Greek military by deepening its ties to NATO and Israel.
Equally important, Syriza has totally emptied leftist phraseology of any cognitive meaning: for them – national sovereignty is translated into international vassalage and anti-austerity becomes pragmatic capitulations to new austerity. When the Tsipras – Troika agreement is finally signed and the terrible toll of austerity for the next decades finally sinks into the consciousness of the Greek public, the betrayals will hopefully evoke mass revulsion. Perhaps Syriza will split, and the “left” will finally abandon their cushy Cabinet posts and join the disaffected millions in forming an alternative Party.
“Germany and the BRICS countries can create a new credit system for global construction and development!”
Three were the reasons that made Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis push for the accession of Greece to the EEC in 1975, as it was then called. The first was to consolidate democracy in a country that had just come out from a catastrophic seven year military dictatorship. It should be recalled that the then democratic EEC had countered the dictatorship with every means possible and particularly by freezing the Association Agreement it had with Greece and the Financial Protocol. NATO, on the other hand, had supported the Junta. The second reason was to protect Greece against Turkey that had invaded Cyprus in 1974 and the third was to advance the economic development of the country.
When Greece joined the EEC in 1981, it had a dynamic industry with a yearly rate of development of 7.4%, a dynamic agriculture and self-sufficiency in most products with 24,2% of the population working in this sector. Unemployment was then around 3 to 4%.Afterthe accession, Greece was obliged to limit its steel production since there was an overproduction of it in the EEC and do dismantle its nascent automobile industry. Greece reduced its olive oil production to help reduce the olive oil lakes existing in the EEC and thus restructured its agriculture, reducing the percentage of population actively employed in that sector to 10%. And for many years, by the purchase of military hardware, Greece kept the French and German workers employed in the arms industries of their countries. From 2005 to 2010, Greece was the first importer of arms from Germany, purchasing 15% of its total production and the third largest customer of France. In 2010, Greece spent 1 billion euro on arm purchases from France and Germany. The social budget was reduced by 1.8 billion within the austerity measures program. Of course, EU funds helped the development of Greece and many important infrastructure products were done with EU co-financing. As such we have the Venizelos Airport, the Athens Ringroad, the Egnatia Highway and the Athens Metro. Agriculture was also assisted, often through subsidies paid for reducing agricultural means and productions rather than increasing them, even though it remains unclear how much funding actually reached its objective.
On January 1, 2002 Greece joined the Eurozone -and after only a few years the problems started that resulted in today’s situation.
Let us examine now the EU economic crisis that started as a result of the global financial crisis of 2008. The Greek government was persuades to sign a Loan Agreement in May 2010. The idea was that it could – through austerity measures – reduce the public debt which in 2009 was 129% of the GNP or 299 billion euro in absolute numbers. The promised results forecasted by experts and the predicted recovery as result of these measures, first announced in 2009, did not take place. De facto, we are still waiting for it. After two memoranda and admittedly mistaken policies from the EU, the IMF and the Greek governments, Greece to is on the verge of disaster with an increased debt of 175% of the GNP or 321 billion euro in 2013. Today it is around 180% of the GNP. One of the reasons for the failure of these measures was that the human factor was not taken into consideration and as a result Greece is facing today a social disaster without precedence. Instead of enhanced investment, recovery and growth, the economy has significantly decreased GDP reduction of 12.7% in 2012), factories, industries, shops have closed down almost on a daily basis. Those countries and companies who have invested are ignoring all workers rights of the EU or making their profits outside of Greece due to tax-haven-arrangements through e.g. the Netherlands ike the gold mining company Eldorado. And, in spite of the fact that the “institutions” had acknowledged their mistakes, they continue to insist on the implementation of the same ineffective policies that are destroying a member-state of the EU. Fortunately, the new Greek Government that came out from the elections of January 25, is refusing to implement measures that are ineffective and disastrous for the country.
But it is not only that the measures are erroneous, they also have violated human rights in Greece as well as the Lisbon Treaty. On December 18,the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the Hellenic League for Human Rights published a report entitled ”Downgrading rights: the cost of austerity in Greece”, in which the legal responsibility and accountability of the Greek governments, the EU, its member-states and the IMF for violating human rights in Greece, are explained. The responsibility of these four actors is shared on the grounds that they jointly designed, negotiated, funded and implemented the two “economic assistance programs” which are the source of the violations.
Greece, as the sovereign state of the territory on which austerity measures were implemented, holds primary responsibility for failing to uphold its obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of all under its jurisdiction.
EU Member-states that took part in the negotiation, conclusion and financing of the adjustment programs were obliged to help Greece fulfill its obligations concerning the respect of human rights. They should have abstained from any action limiting the ability of Greece to respect its international obligations on human rights.
The European Union, being an Organization that enjoys a legal personality distinct from that of its members, should also be held accountable, since its accountability and responsibility are derived from EU primary law, as reflected in the founding instruments of the Union, as well as from customary rules of international law, on the responsibility of international organizations and universal human rights standards, that the EU has pledged to uphold and respect. By allowing its institutions and bodies, (Commission and the ECB) to be placed at the disposal of a group of States, seeking to incite Greece to adopt policies that will forseeably violate its human rights obligations, the EU has violated its obligations under article 2,3(1), (5) and 6 of the Treaty on the European Union.
The IMF is a specialized agency of the UN and as such should respect article 55 of the UN Charter, which includes universal respect for, and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.
It should be mentioned here that German activists have filed a lawsuit at the International Criminal Court of the Hague (OTP CR 345/12) against unknown people for damage done to the health of the Greek people.
But what went wrong with the EU, why is it destroying its Member-States and peoples? Personally, I think it has to do with the “expertisms” that has infiltrated the governmental bodies. Lobbyism and “Big Companyism” have gained a power far exceeding what it was in the early days of the European Idea, when the EU was functioning in a satisfactory way with Ministers dealing themselves with the issues pertaining to the Budget, Agriculture as well as other technical issues without the presence of “experts”. They locked themselves in consultations until the wee hours of the morning, often even stopping the clock, and resolved the problems in direct dialogue. And of course, the basic priority was that any solution had to benefit the people, in contrast to what is happening today where new contracts and agreements are planned in which companies, big industrial players and global financial conglomerate get granted almost unlimited power (TTIP). The EU gradually fell under the control of lobbyists and bureaucrats. Negative effects were created by the constant celebratory statements of European Councils that created erroneous impressions by announcing after each Summit that all problems of the EU were even better resolved than before. However, what failed most was the 2000 Lisbon Strategy that had as aim to make the EU the most competitive and dynamic economy of the world by 2010 with better and more work positions and social cohesion. Look at the 27 nations today, those they call PIIGs, and the others whose letter are to be added shortly. There is not a single nation within the EU which is not suffering from increased unemployment, decreased social welfare, increased taxes and costs and decreased effective incomes – compared to the year 2000. In the meantime it has reached a point where nowhere in the EU a family can be maintained with one income, which was the standard in all European nations in the beginning days of the EEC.
The EU could have played an important role in maintaining global balance. Unfortunately it has left this role to the USA, Russia and China. And it seems, the USA is following a policy of confrontation vis-à-vis the other two countries that may endanger humanity. An answer to this may be the BRICs initiative. This is an initiative of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa to pursue a policy of economic development for the benefit of humanity. To that end they have created a Development Bank to invest billions in necessary development projects. China recently initiated the Asian Infrastructure Bank (AIIB), joined by over 20 Asian nations as founding members and has set up a Silk Road Development Fund. China has also proposed within BRICS the creation of a Free Trade Area of Asia and the Pacific (FTAAP).The incorporation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to the BRICS initiative could create a formidable power, which if remaining out of the control of the bankers and big companies’ lobbyists, could lead to a point that humanity indeed has a chance to reach global peace and end poverty through common human economic development. So, what is desperately needed is the cooperation of the USA and of the sovereign nations of Europe with the BRICS countries and their initiatives. Some European countries, to the annoyance of the USA, have already signed up. Hopefully this was done with an open mind and without a second agenda. To quote the declaration launched by the Schiller Institute of which I am a signatory: ”Only such an approach would restore the United States and Europe to their original purpose as expressed in the European Renaissance and the American Revolution …”
Because of Greece’s special relationships with China and Russia, Athens can play an important role within the BRICS initiative and also to cool down US aggressiveness towards these two nations.
Greece and Russia have always shared a special relationship. Not only because both countries are of the orthodox faith. There have been many occasions where Greeks and Russians have cooperated, worked together and helped each other. The first prime minister of a free Greece back in 1830, Ioannis Capodistrias, was Foreign Minister of Russia, before he took the helmet of a just freed Greece. General Orlof, sent by Catherine the Great, came to help the Greeks of the Peloponese to rise against the Turkish yolk. It may not have been successful at its time, but it gave the Greeks the courage to start it again in 1821. That the most famous export good of Russia, the caviar, has become exportable is thanks to Varvakis who discovered how to preserve it so shipment could be possible. Greeks have settled at the coastal area of what is Russia today since Jason was travelling with the Argo and as Greeks we can proudly say that we certainly have contributed to the Russian culture. This is some common ground that cannot just simply be discussed away or disappear due to some current differences in political views. These connections have lasted over the time and will continue to last. The visit earlier this month of the Greek Prime Minister to Moscow and the results it achieved are also due to this special relationship.
With China Greece shares the fact that both are ancient developed civilizations. Greece as well as China have travelled in the ancient times and helped to shape the cultures of the globe as they are today. The Chinese show a great respect to civilizations that existed in parallel with them, like the Greek one. Already this fact makes both of our nations respect each other thus facilitating cooperation on every level.
While criticizing the EU for the damage that it is doing to itself and to its members, the following solutions are proposed for Greece, the EU and for humanity:
– Greece : The new Government of Greece, has started negotiations with the lenders on a new basis meaning that it will no longer adopt measures hurting the people and that it will no longer receive orders from the lenders. If the EU continues to ask for measures that are unacceptable to Greece then a clash might happen that may have destructive consequences for Europe. We propose the following: The denounciation of the Loan Facility Agreement of May 2010,signed between Greece and the Member-States of the Eurozone, on the basis of articles 48-52 of the Vienna Convention concerning the Law of Treaties. These articles anticipate the invalidity of a Treaty if there was an error, fraud, coercion of a representative of a State etc. Greece will at the same time request compensation from the EU for the damage done to the country, which according to conservative estimates is about the amount of the so-called debt. The compensation claim will be based on article 41.3 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, that is incorporated in the Lisbon Treaty. The cessation of payments with the denounciation of the Loan Agreement and the compensation that will be given in time to the country, will allow Greece to repair the damages done and instigate development. It will also withdraw, within a one year period from the Eurozone, in order to implement beneficial economic policies that it cannot under Eurozone rules. The Unified Popular Front (EPAM) a political party not in parliament yet, supports this policy. And in case of an impasse in the ongoing negotiations with the lenders, there is a possibility that the present government might be forced to follow such an approach.
-The EU : The transformation of the EU into an efficient organization having as sole priority the safeguard of the interests of the people and not of the bankers is imperative. A new constitutional document must replace the violated Lisbon Treaty. The new document must be drafted by movements of citizens of Member-States who will submit their proposals to a European Assembly composed of representatives of these movements.
-Humanity : The deletion of the global debt which is about 600 trillion USD, will allow humanity to restart on a new and healthy basis. There exist many examples in history of debt deletion: From the ancient Greek Sisahtheia to the Jubilee of ancient Hebrew Communities where every 50 years the debts were cancelled. Even during the 70’s the developed countries of the West deleted the debt of the non-aligned movement, thus allowing the economic boom of Yugoslavia. The BRICS movement can promote this while the decision must be taken by the G-20.Humanity as a whole will benefit because it will be able to restart on sound and healthy principles.
In order to implement the previously mentioned proposals, it is necessary to have politicians with imagination, vision and courage, politicians who care about progress of humanity and put a stop to the greed and grabbing of Banks, Financial Institutions and Companies. Such politicians do not exist today. It is the task of us, the voters, the people, the political and unpolitical movements to create them.
“Troika bailout conditions are undermining human rights,” warns UN expert on debt and human rights
GENEVA (1 May 2013) – The prospects of a significant number of Greeks securing an adequate standard of living in line with international human rights standards have been compromised by bailout conditions imposed by Greece’s international lenders, United Nations Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, Cephas Lumina, warned.
“More than ten 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,” the human rights expert said.
He was speaking at the end of a week-long mission to Greece to assess the impact of the country’s economic crisis and austerity measures on the capacity of the Government to realize all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights.
In order to avoid default, Greece agreed in 2010 with the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund to implement radical cuts in Government expenditure in return for a bailout loan. It also adopted a structural reform programme aimed at reducing the country’s fiscal deficit and returning the economy to growth. The Greek economy has, however, shrunk by about 25 per cent and continues in recession.
“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,” Mr. Lumina said.
The austerity programme, in his view, was being implemented in the context of a social protection system ill-equipped to absorb the shock of unemployment, salary cuts and tax increases.
The Independent Expert warned that the public health system was increasingly inaccessible, in particular for poor citizens and marginalized groups. “Nearly one third of the Greek population is without public health insurance, mainly due to prolonged unemployment,” he added.
The only option for increasing numbers of Greeks was health care provided by community clinics, free of charge. “Run by volunteers, the clinics are a laudable expression of solidarity within the Greek society,” Mr. Lumina said. “However,” he added, “it is a primary obligation of the State to ensure access to basic health care for all without any discrimination.”
The expert said privatization should be undertaken cautiously and with sensitivity to the rights of the population, noting that utilities which provide essential public services such as water and energy are among the businesses targeted for privatization to reduce the public debt. “The privatization will likely entail further increases of user fees for the basic services,” he said.
Mr. Lumina also expressed concern at the significant increase in attacks on foreigners by extremist groups. “It appears that the economic crisis has magnified a problem that has existed for several years,” he noted.
The 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, he said.
Mr. Lumina welcomed the establishment of 70 anti-racist police units and the appointment of a Special Prosecutor responsible for the investigation of racist crimes “as an important step to combat such incidents”.
He urged the Greek Government and its creditors to adopt a human rights-based approach to designing and implementing economic reform. “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,” he said.
“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,” he concluded.
During his first visit to Greece from 22-26 April 2013, the expert 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.
His final findings and his recommendations will be presented in a comprehensive report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2014.
Cephas Lumina is an Advocate of the High Court for Zambia and an Extra-Ordinary Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria. He has extensive experience in human rights and holds a PhD in international human rights from Griffith University. He was appointed 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 his individual capacity. The mandate covers all countries. Learn more, log on to: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/development/debt/index.htm
(*) Read the full end-of mission statement by the Independent Expert: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13272&LangID=E
UN Human Rights, Country Page – Greece: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/GRIndex.aspx
Read the Independent Expert’s statement on Greece (June 2011): “Keep in mind the people’s basic human rights” – http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=11195&LangID=E