UN expert on Greece: “The excessive austerity in the public health care sector literally killed the nurse and doctor before turning to the patient”

16 March 2016 by Eric Toussaint

The CADTM recommends that our readers should apprise themselves of Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky’s report on his Mission to Greece, which can be accessed via the link (A/HRC/31/60/Add.2). Report of the Independent Expert, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky [1], on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights (29 February 2016).

Here, Eric Toussaint comments on the report.

The table below showing public spending in Greece between 2009 and 2013 is very instructive. Over this period spending has decreased from €128 billion to €108 billion. The budget for unemployment relief went down by 30% while unemployment tripled, public health spending was reduced by 42% and spending to fight social exclusion lost a full 81%.

As the UN expert declared: “the excessive austerity in the public health care sector literally killed the nurse and doctor before turning to the patient”.

The only spending that has increased (by 116%) is the allocation for economic affairs, bolstered by the cost of the bank bail-outs. Much of the ’aid’ from the Troika Troika Troika: IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank, which together impose austerity measures through the conditions tied to loans to countries in difficulty.

IMF : https://www.ecb.europa.eu/home/html/index.en.html
for the bank bail-outs did not go through the budgeting structure and so does not appear in the chart. If the amounts that went to the French, German and Greek banks were included the increase would be very much higher. On the other hand, these sums have greatly increased the public debt burden supported by the Greek people.

The following table dramatically confirms the findings of the Greek debt audit.

Table 1: General government expenditure by function, Greece 2009-2013

Source: Eurostat, General Government expenditure by function (COFOG) (gov_10a_exp).

In the second half of the report, from page 11 onwards, the author turns his attention to the third memorandum conditions, imposed after the capitulation of the Tsipras government in July 2015. A central condition imposed in this third memorandum is a reduction of social security spending equivalent to 1.5% of GDP GDP
Gross Domestic Product
Gross Domestic Product is an aggregate measure of total production within a given territory equal to the sum of the gross values added. The measure is notoriously incomplete; for example it does not take into account any activity that does not enter into a commercial exchange. The GDP takes into account both the production of goods and the production of services. Economic growth is defined as the variation of the GDP from one period to another.
per year!

On page 13, the author summarizes the opinion of the Greek Debt Truth Committee that was created by the Greek parliament in April 2015 (see the reports of the Truth Committee: http://cadtm.org/Preliminary-Report-of-the-Truth ; http://cadtm.org/Illegitimacy-Illegality-Odiousness and http://cadtm.org/The-Third-Memorandum-is) and dissolved by the new president of the Greek parliament in November 2015 (see: http://cadtm.org/Letter-to-the-President-of-the and http://cadtm.org/Zoe-Konstantopoulou-The-Truth). The author commends the creation of this commission and considers that its work should continue.

The report shows that since the beginning of the crisis 230 000 small and medium sized enterprises have closed down causing 600 000 redundancies. He adds that the structural adjustment Structural Adjustment Economic policies imposed by the IMF in exchange of new loans or the rescheduling of old loans.

Structural Adjustments policies were enforced in the early 1980 to qualify countries for new loans or for debt rescheduling by the IMF and the World Bank. The requested kind of adjustment aims at ensuring that the country can again service its external debt. Structural adjustment usually combines the following elements : devaluation of the national currency (in order to bring down the prices of exported goods and attract strong currencies), rise in interest rates (in order to attract international capital), reduction of public expenditure (’streamlining’ of public services staff, reduction of budgets devoted to education and the health sector, etc.), massive privatisations, reduction of public subsidies to some companies or products, freezing of salaries (to avoid inflation as a consequence of deflation). These SAPs have not only substantially contributed to higher and higher levels of indebtedness in the affected countries ; they have simultaneously led to higher prices (because of a high VAT rate and of the free market prices) and to a dramatic fall in the income of local populations (as a consequence of rising unemployment and of the dismantling of public services, among other factors).

IMF : http://www.worldbank.org/
measures imposed on Greece have eliminated 234 847 public and civil service jobs, representing 26% of the total, between 2009 and the end of November 2015. The total damage to Greek employment amounts to 1 million job losses (see page 15 of the report).

The UN expert considers that maintaining the reduction of the minimum wage violates Article 7, Paragraph 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. He adds that only ten per cent of the unemployed receive benefits. It is estimated that in 2014, 2.4 million people lived below the poverty line with incomes of less than €12 a day for a single person, or less than €6.6 a day per person in a family of four (two adults and two children).

On page 18 (clause 75), the author shows that the institutions have completely ignored the obligation to carry out a preliminary human impact study of the measures that are imposed on Greece. He says, “Social and economic rights have been denied in a widespread manner” (clause 76). In clause 77, the UN expert explains that the dramatic deterioration in fundamental human rights that the Greek people are suffering is not because of any ’invisible hand’, but is clearly the result of the measures imposed on the country. The author notes, in clause 81, that his analysis confirms that of his predecessor Cephas Lumina in 2013-2014 (see A/HRC/25/50/Add.1). Cephas Lumina was himself a member of the above-mentioned Greek Debt Truth Commission. In clause 84 the author recommends that the new austerity measures, concerning social security, be postponed. In clause 91 he recommends that all unemployed persons be indemnified for 24 months and in clause 98 he recommends the continuation of the Greek Debt Truth Committee project: “Continue the inquiry into the origins of the debt crisis, drawing on the work initiated by the former Truth Committee on Public Debt with the aim to establish better judicial and administrative accountability of Government officials and decision makers in the private sector.” Clause 101 calls on the creditors to write down Greek debt.

The Expert’s report is written with diplomacy. The mildness of his remarks concerning those responsible for austerity policies and human rights’ violations may very well shock all who, quite rightly, are indignant at the creditors’ and the Greek Government’s actions. Nevertheless, this report is useful as it contains powerful arguments that may serve the struggle against neoliberal policies and illegitimate debt.

See also: http://cadtm.org/UN-human-rights-expert-calls-for

Translated by Mike Krolikowski and Vicki Briault Manus (CADTM)


[1Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky (Argentina) was appointed as Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and human rights by the United Nations Human Rights Council on 8 May 2014. Before, he worked as a Sovereign Debt Expert for the [United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) where he coordinated an Expert Group on Responsible Sovereign Lending and Borrowing. His mandate covers all countries and has most recently been renewed by Human Rights Council resolution 25/16. He is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. Learn more, log on to:
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.
UN Human Rights, Country Page – Greece: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/GRIndex.aspx

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012 (see here), etc.
See his bibliography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89ric_Toussaint
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

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