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Greek crisis: “Keep in mind the people’s basic human rights” – UN expert on rights and foreign debt

GENEVA (30 June 2011) – The UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human Rights, Cephas Lumina, warned Thursday that implementation of further austerity measures and structural reforms proposed by the Troika (the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank) to solve Greece’s debt crisis may result in serious violations of the basic human rights of the people.

“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,” Mr. Lumina said.

“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 emphasized, 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.”

The Independent Expert also called upon the authorities to maintain some fiscal space 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.”

“Debts can only be paid out of income,” Mr. Lumina said recalling that despite the austerity of the past year, introduced as part of Greece’s first rescue package, its economy remains weak, the primary budget in deficit and the debt unpayable. “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.” In his view, “the problem of insolvency needs to be addressed as part of the rescue plan.”

The Independent Expert also called on the Troika 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. Underscoring the need for a human rights-based approach to the debt problem worldwide, Mr. Lumina said that “there will be no lasting solution to the sovereign debt problem if the human rights of the people are not taken into account.”

Cephas Lumina 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. Mr. Lumina is an Extra-Ordinary Professor in the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria.

Learn more about the mandate of the Independent Expert, visit: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/development/debt/index.htm

OHCHR Country Page – Greece: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/GRIndex.aspx

For further information and media requests, please contact Brenda Vukovic or Jamshid Gaziyev (Tel: +41 22 917 9861 / +41 22 917 9183/ email: ieforeigndebt@ohchr.org).

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