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As Europe confronts Greek debt crisis, UN expert says new measures must not lose sight of human rights

The Mani peninsula in the southern Peloponnese, Greece.
Ari Gaitanis
The Mani peninsula in the southern Peloponnese, Greece.

As Europe confronts Greek debt crisis, UN expert says new measures must not lose sight of human rights

The implementation of new austerity measures in Greece amid the country’s deteriorating economic crisis must not come at a cost to human rights, a United Nations expert warned today as he urged international institutions and the Greek Government to make “fully informed decisions” before adopting additional reforms.

“I am seriously concerned about voices saying that Greece is in a humanitarian crisis with shortages in medicines and food,” Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, the UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, stressed in a press statement today. “Priority should be to ensure that everybody in Greece has access to core minimum levels of economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to health care, food and social security.”

“A debt service burden that may be sustainable from a narrow financial perspective may not be viable at all if one considers the comprehensive concept of sustainable development, which includes the protection of the environment, human rights and social development,” he added.

Mr. Bohoslavsky’s appeal comes just days after the Government of Greece and European institutions came to a bailout agreement requiring the Mediterranean country to undergo substantial reforms aimed at reducing the cost of the public sector.

Speaking from Addis Ababa where he is currently participating in the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, the UN expert cautioned, however, that there remained a need to integrate social and distributional aspects in debt sustainability analysis to make fully informed decisions before new austerity measures.

“Greece seems to be already in a situation in which insolvency and illiquidity are indistinguishable,” he continued.

To that point, he noted the fissures in opinion on the substance of the new agreement between experts at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Eurozone leaders.

On Tuesday, the IMF, in fact, suggested that debt relief in the form of a so-called ‘haircut’ would have been the better choice to bring Greece’s debt back to sustainability. Mr. Bohoslavsky admitted that such an approach would have also helped reduce the country’s “unhealthy dependence on creditor institutions and reflect the principle of co-responsibility in the built-up of the public debt of Greece.”

At the same time, the nature of the new agreement also called into question the nature of democratic institutions within the European framework, according to the UN expert, who referred to the recent referendum held by the Greek Government and which resulted in an overwhelming vote against further austerity. The referendum, he observed, appeared to produce little positive response from Greece’s official creditors.

“If this people’s democratic pronouncement becomes almost irrelevant, there is obviously a great challenge in Europe on how the democratic dialogue integrates national, regional and financial interests at stake when negotiating debt agreements without compromising human rights.”

Mr. Bohoslavsky has been invited by the Government of Greece to undertake an official visit to the country from 30 November to 7 December. He also plans to meet representatives from European institutions, the IMF and main creditor countries.