8.7.2011

Κοινωνία, Πολιτική

Greece, human rights and the crisis

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Greece, human rights and the crisis

Human rights are international norms that help to protect all people everywhere from severe political, legal, economic and social abuses. Examples of human rights are the right to freedom of religion, the right to a fair trial when charged with a crime, the right not to be tortured, and the right to engage in economic and political activity. These rights exist in morality and in law at the national and international levels. They are addressed primarily to governments, requiring compliance and enforcement.

Human rights are political norms dealing mainly with how people should be treated by their governments and institutions. They are not ordinary moral norms applying mainly to interpersonal conduct (such as prohibitions of lying and violence). As Thomas Pogge puts it, “to engage human rights, conduct must be in some sense official” (Pogge 2000, 47).

Human rights are international norms covering all countries and all people living today. International law plays a crucial role in giving human rights global reach. We can say that human rights are universal.

The economic crisis, which has been widely qualified as the worst in many decades, has brought recession to many parts of the world and left many people out of work.

Increased poverty and deficit have led to denial of economic and social rights – including food shortages and the use of food as a political weapon; forced deportations. Yet human rights problems have been demoted to the backseat as political and business leaders try to fight with the economic crisis in Greece.

Thousands of people are suffering from insecurity, injustice and indignity in Greece. In many cases, the economic crisis made matters worse, many more sliding into poverty.

Unsustainable debt levels has a direct negative effect on the capacity of government of the country to fulfill its human rights obligations, especially economic, social and cultural rights.

The United Nations independent expert on foreign debt and human rights warned some days ago 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.” Dr. 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.

There are growing signs of political unrest and violence, adding to the insecurity that already exists because of deadly conflicts which Greek authorities looks like unable or unwilling to resolve. In other words: Greece gives the impression to be sitting on a powder barrel of inequality, injustice and insecurity, and it is about to explode. Although some of the government sectors directly or indirectly promote human rights, it seems that Greek administration does not have a specific policy requiring all its programmes to be consistent with a human rights-based approach to development.

Primary objective obviously will be to assist Greece to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development in line with country’s national interest. It is important that Greece aid programmes dedicate more efforts to sustain the work of local civil society organizations that play a vital role in ensuring public participation and accountability. “There will be no lasting solution to the sovereign debt problem if the human rights of the people are not taken into account,” said Dr. Lumina, who serves in an unpaid capacity.

Sources:

Greek austerity measures could violate human rights, New York, Jun 30 2011 4:10PM

Pogge, T., 2000. “The International Significance of Human Rights,” Journal of Ethics, 4: 45–69.

Pogge, T., 2002. World Poverty and Human Rights: Cosmopolitan Responsibilities and Reforms, Cambridge: Polity Press

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations, 1948b).

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Γράφει η Susie Michailidis

Susie MichailidisΗ Susie Michailidis, PhD είναι Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Καθηγήτρια στο University of Indianapolis Athens, Αντιπρόεδρος Euro-Mediterranean Academy of Arts and Sciences, μέλος της Ακαδημίας Επιστημών της Γεωργίας και της Ακαδημίας Φυσικής Ιστορίας της Ρωσίας.

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