Greek austerity measures could violate human rights, UN expert says
by Cephas Lumina
UN expert on foreign debt and human rights
The United Nations independent expert on foreign debt and human rights has warned 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.”
Mr. 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.
“Debts can only be paid out of income,” Mr. Lumina said. “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.”
The independent expert also called on the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Union (EU) and the European Central Bank (ECB) 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.
“There will be no lasting solution to the sovereign debt problem if the human rights of the people are not taken into account,” said Mr. Lumina, who serves in an unpaid capacity.
A United Nations human rights expert has called for greater action to limit lawsuits from so-called vulture funds that prey on the debts of the world’s poorest nations.
Vulture fund activity, he said, “erodes the gains from international debt relief efforts at the expense of both the citizens of distressed debtor countries and the taxpayers of countries that have supported international debt relief efforts.”
Dr. Lumina called upon the international community to enact legislation to prevent vulture fund activity within their jurisdiction as a clear indication of their commitment to find a durable solution to the debt problem.”
He added: “The enactment of legislation would ensure that the billions of dollars committed to debt relief for the world’s poorest countries will not be diverted to satisfy the greed of unscrupulous companies.”
In a previous analysis, Dr. Lumina said that “debt relief provides heavily indebted poor countries fiscal space to increase spending on basic social services such as health and education, thus promoting the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).”
The funds often target governments that have received international debt relief. The World Bank reported in 2008 that 54 lawsuits had been instituted by commercial creditors against 12 so-called heavily indebted poor countries over the previous decade.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for greater investment reform and international cooperation to ensure that vulnerable countries are not burdened by “onerous conditions or burdensome external debt.”
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The Know Nothing impulse
by Nicholas Kristof
The New York Times
A radio interviewer asked me the other day if I thought bigotry was the only reason why someone might oppose the Islamic center in Lower Manhattan. No, I don’t. Most of the opponents aren’t bigots but well-meaning worriers — and during earlier waves of intolerance in American history, it was just the same.
Screeds against Catholics from the 19th century sounded just like the invective today against the Not-at-Ground-Zero Mosque. The starting point isn’t hatred but fear: an alarm among patriots that newcomers don’t share their values, don’t believe in democracy, and may harm innocent Americans.
Followers of these movements against Irish, Germans, Italians, Chinese and other immigrants were mostly decent, well-meaning people trying to protect their country. But they were manipulated by demagogues playing upon their fears — the 19th- and 20th-century equivalents of Glenn Beck.
Most Americans stayed on the sidelines during these spasms of bigotry, and only a small number of hoodlums killed or tormented Catholics, Mormons or others. But the assaults were possible because so many middle-of-the-road Americans were ambivalent. Suspicion of outsiders, of people who behave or worship differently, may be an ingrained element of the human condition, a survival instinct from our cave-man days. But we should also recognize that historically this distrust has led us to burn witches, intern Japanese-Americans, and turn away Jewish refugees from the Holocaust.
Perhaps the closest parallel to today’s hysteria about Islam is the 19th-century fear spread by the Know Nothing movement about “the Catholic menace.” One book warned that Catholicism was “the primary source” of all of America’s misfortunes, and there were whispering campaigns that presidents including Martin Van Buren and William McKinley were secretly working with the pope. Does that sound familiar?
Critics warned that the pope was plotting to snatch the Mississippi Valley and secretly conspiring to overthrow American democracy. “Rome looks with wistful eye to domination of this broad land, a magnificent seat for a sovereign pontiff,” one writer cautioned.
Historically, unreal suspicions were sometimes rooted in genuine and significant differences. Many new Catholic immigrants lacked experience in democracy. Mormons were engaged in polygamy. And today some extremist Muslims do plot to blow up planes, and Islam has real problems to work out about the rights of women. The pattern has been for demagogues to take real abuses and exaggerate them, portraying, for example, the most venal wing of the Catholic Church as representative of all Catholicism — just as fundamentalist Wahabis today are caricatured as more representative of Islam than the incomparably more numerous moderate Muslims of Indonesia (who have elected a woman as president before Americans have).
In the 19th century, fears were stoked by books written by people who supposedly had “escaped” Catholicism. These books luridly recounted orgies between priests and nuns, girls kidnapped and held in secret dungeons, and networks of tunnels at convents to allow priests to rape nuns. One woman claiming to have been a priest’s sex slave wrote a “memoir” asserting that Catholics killed boys and ground them into sausage for sale.
These kinds of stories inflamed a mob of patriots in 1834 to attack an Ursuline convent outside Boston and burn it down.
Similar suspicions have targeted just about every other kind of immigrant.
During World War I, rumors spread that German-Americans were poisoning food, and Theodore Roosevelt warned that “Germanized socialists” were “more mischievous than bubonic plague.”
Anti-Semitic screeds regularly warned that Jews were plotting to destroy the United States in one way or another. A 1940 survey found that 17 percent of Americans considered Jews to be a “menace to America.”
Chinese in America were denounced, persecuted and lynched, while the head of a United States government commission publicly urged in 1945 "the extermination of the Japanese in toto." Most shamefully, anti-Asian racism led to the internment of 110,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II.
All that is part of America’s heritage, and typically as each group has assimilated, it has participated in the torment of newer arrivals — as in Father Charles Coughlin’s ferociously anti-Semitic radio broadcasts in the 1930s.
Today’s recrudescence is the lies about President Obama’s faith, and the fear-mongering about the proposed Islamic center.
But we have a more glorious tradition intertwined in American history as well, one of tolerance, amity and religious freedom. Each time, this has ultimately prevailed over the Know Nothing impulse.
Americans have called on moderates in Muslim countries to speak out against extremists, to stand up for the tolerance they say they believe in. We should all have the guts do the same at home.
* There are 100 mosques in New York.
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