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FACTDROP: Council of Europe report: 10 austerity imposed human rights abuses in Greece


Council of Europe report: 10 austerity imposed human rights abuses in Greece

Πηγή: The Press Project
Feb 16 2014

Commissioner Muiznieks of the Council of Europe presents a report detailing the ways that austerity and “reforms” imposed by the international lenders have caused human rights abuses across Europe. TPPI presents the report’s findings of abuses occurring in Greece due to austerity.
Spending cuts and structural reforms imposed by Greece’s lenders under the policy of austerity may have lead to the country posting a primary budget surplus this year, but they have come at the expense of basic human rights according to the Council of Europe.

The Strasbourg based watchdog released a report yesterday titled “Safeguarding human rights in times of economic crises” (full report in pdf) which makes clear that by making fiscal consolidation through immediate austerity the overriding policy priority in countries such as Greece, citizens’ rights to work, healthcare and education have been severely impacted. Unsurprisingly, it is the most vulnerable members of society who are most affected.

“The EU governments have forgotten their obligation to protect their populations against the financial institutions,” said the Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks yesterday when presenting the report. He said that one of the goals of the report was to, “put human rights back in the agenda of the governments.”

Below are the ten main areas in which human rights have been significantly eroded due to austerity policies in Greece:

Council of Europe Report on Austerity in Greece:

1. Labour rights: Exploitation of workers, trafficking and mistreatment of migrants
In Greece, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association found repeated and extensive interventions into free and voluntary collective bargaining and an ‘important deficit of social dialogue’. High unemployment tends to weaken workers’ bargaining power, leading to high worker vulnerability and lower economic growth rates.(16) Labour exploitation, including child labour, human trafficking and mistreatment of migrant workers, has been a constant concern of experts as demand for cheap labour increases, economic conditions deteriorate and fewer public authorities are available to conduct labour inspections or offer child protection services.

2. Pension reform: Increase of vulnerability and risk of poverty for the elderly
Many governments have chosen to reform pension systems, potentially deepening the increasing vulnerability and risk of poverty among older persons. In Greece, for example, the ECSR observed in its decision on a collective complaint that pension reform measures would “risk bringing about a large-scale pauperisation of a significant segment of the population”.22

3. Homelessness: Spreading among migrants, young, women, families
The crisis has been identified as a key driver of expanding homelessness in Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the UK. New groups of homeless have emerged, with homelessness spreading among migrants, young people, women and families.

4. Health cuts: Long term impact on public health
Cuts in health-related spending have affected the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health. In Greece, the EC, ECB and IMF have demanded that public spending on health should not exceed 6% of GDP, with a potentially long-term impact on public health.

5. Infringements of the freedom of expression and excessive force
The severity of austerity measures alongside the frequent failure to consult with the people affected has provoked large-scale demonstrations especially in Spain, Portugal and Greece. Concerns have been raised about the use of excessive force against demonstrators and infringements of the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. Harsh reactions to social unrest may engender mistrust in the democratic system.36

6. Unemployment: ‘Scarring’ consequences for the young
The correlation of spiralling unemployment among young people under 25 with the crisis years is undisputed. Over half of all young people are officially unemployed in Spain, Portugal and Greece, with little improvement expected until 2016. The rate of young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) has increased by around 1% since 2008 region-wide, and by 4% and 6% in Spain and Greece respectively, with severe and long-lasting “scarring” consequences for these young people.54

7. Unconstitutionality: Budgetary measures vs European Social Charter and the national laws
Likewise, the ECSR, with reference to commitments made by Greece to the Troika, made it clear that “states parties…should – both when preparing the text in question and when implementing it into national law – take full account of the commitments they have taken upon ratifying the European Social Charter”. It follows that states carry the primary burden for proving that any proposed austerity measures are in line with their standing human rights obligations. Recent domestic jurisprudence in Latvia, Portugal and Lithuania illustrates the normative superiority of constitutionally protected human rights principles over unjustified budgetary measures.

8. Lack of analysis on the effects of austerity
In recent decisions related to collective complaints about pension rights from Greece, the ECSR has highlighted the failure of the government to conduct the minimum level of research and analysis on the effects of austerity measures and assess in a meaningful manner their full impact on vulnerable groups in society in consultation with the organisations concerned. The duty to consult stakeholders applies to EU institutions as well through Article 11(2) and (3) of the Treaty on European Union, which states that “[EU] institutions shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with representative associations and civil society. The European Commission shall carry out broad consultations with parties concerned in order to ensure that the Union’s actions are coherent and transparent.”

9. Pressure on human rights structures
Currently, NHRSs are often forced to do more with less under budgetary pressure. Demand for NHRS services has increased, while many institutions have simultaneously experienced budget and staff cuts, the closure of regional offices or mergers into less-focused structures. For example, NHRSs in Greece, Ireland, Latvia and the UK have faced cuts in their budgets and staff which may hinder their effectiveness. Dwindling human and finan cial resources and uncertainty over future resources are putting NHRSs in a difficult position as regards ensuring easy access for vulnerable groups to their services and advancing more ambitious, forward-looking projects such as monitoring budget measures. Stable resource allocation for these critical institutions should be maintained during the crisis and any moratorium on recruitment in the public sector should not apply to them.

10. Media freedom: curtailing freedom of expression
Media freedoms have endured setbacks in the context of austerity measures, including in countries where fiscal contraction has been deepest. Public and private media have suffered staff and salary cuts and the closure of outlets, including the temporary closure of the Greek public broadcaster. Not only do these cutbacks contribute to worsening existing problems of decreasing media diversity, they also threaten the effective operation of a fundamental pillar of democracy. The ability of journalists to perform their essential educational and watchdog roles has been impaired, curtailing freedom of expression and the right to be informed.

Aside from the erosion of human rights, the report also makes clear that the politics of austerity are failing on their own terms, causing record levels of unemployment that make a true economic recovery a far-off prospect. “After three years of austerity, these chosen measures have not yet achieved their stated aims,” the report concludes.

In short, from the outset of the crisis saving the banks was more important to Europe’s leaders than safeguarding human rights and the effects of this policy decision are now becoming apparent.

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