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Observations of the Hellenic League for Human Rights

Meeting with Mr Cephas Lumina, UN Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights

Athens, 23-4-2013
Observations of the Hellenic League for Human Rights (HLHR)

Nowadays, the protection and realization of socio-economic rights becomes an imperative need in Greece, as they are affected beyond repair by the austerity measures imposed. Meanwhile, in a context of social uncertainty and collective anxiety, extremist views find fertile ground to spread hatred, while the state is applying excessive use of repressive force that only feeds the already existing sense of legal uncertainty. 

A. Within the context of the prolonged recession of the Greek economy since 2009, the League has been proclaiming that the continuous imposition of austerity measures is severely jeopardizing the realization and enjoyment of all social rights. 

Firstly, in the last three years, salaries and pensions have been dramatically reduced, as have many benefits of health care and coverage of pharmaceutical costs. Social care is considerably weakened as a result of deep cuts to all kinds of social security and health services. Sometimes cuts hit up to 80% in the budgets of certain types of care such as social assistance and treatment of certain diseases. Unemployed and homeless people, as well as other vulnerable groups are left without health care. Nor are the undocumented migrants, who amount to 40% of the labour force in several regions. Public hospitals lack medicines and health equipment and pharmacies often denounce prolonged payment delays from the state which causes shortage of medicines. 

Secondly, law of collective labour negotiations has been severely restricted if not altogether altered. The main form of negotiations and labour agreements is now contracts between the workers of a certain business with their employer, while employers are no more bound by law to come to negotiations. Most employers suggest certain contractual terms and workers are called to just “take it or leave it”. Minimum wage has been severely restricted and now is 586 euro. But even this minimum wage is obligatory, only if the employer decides to sustain the national collective labour agreement. Otherwise, the employer can give a minimum wage that after the 30th of April can be defined by the legislator. At the same time, prices of all basic products remain at the same level as they were 3 years ago. 

Unemployment rate has risen to more than 27% in the beginning of 2013, even amounting to 60% for the age group of 18-24. Over 70.000 enterprises have closed down since the beginning of 2010. Taxation has been unevenly increased and special taxes, such as the progressive solidarity contribution, have been inequitably imposed. Nearly 30% of the population falls below the poverty line. The suicide rate has increased from 17% to 25%. 

Extremely problematic is that the procedure of the legislative ratification of the three Memorandums undermines the democratic character of the state. All austerity measures have been ratified through presidential decrees, ministerial decisions, or laws that have only one article or contain many and various complicated provisions, without prior compliance with the prescribed constitutional process of consultation and deliberation in Parliament. 

Against this background, there is a need to ensure a minimum core of social income and a minimum core of the enjoyment of rights, the violation of which seriously endangers the peaceful coexistence within the community. In a joint press release, HLHR, AEDH and the French League for Human Rights (LDH) have called the Greek and European institutions to oppose such austerity policies, leading to social and economic collapse of all Europeans. In meetings of the League with European human rights associations, all parts agreed that socio-economic rights are grossly violated by austerity measures. 

B. Austerity measures have deeply affected aliens (migrants, refugees and asylum seekers) residing in the country often in an uncertain or illegal manner, while at the same time, the inefficiency of the state’s migration policies provides ground for racist attacks. 

Even though the authorities may condemn racist acts and hate speech in the public sphere, at the same time governmental speech and several government policies incite racist violence. 

Specifically, migration policy in Greece concerns only a few migrants, who have had residence permit before 2005 and are able to renew it. But unemployment has brought many of them, after many years, in a condition of “illegality”. Moreover, the focus of the authorities is on the detention of migrants, even when deportation is not possible. The unjustified and prolonged (up to 18 months) detention under degrading conditions for which Greece has continuously been condemned by the ECtHR, the de facto denial of aliens to apply for asylum, the non existence of a legal aid system and of effective judicial protection, are the basic lines of the official and unofficial migration policy, a policy that creates a degrading image for the migrant population and thus cultivates a climate of hate and racism. Recently, a judgment by the Council of State that the children of “legal” migrants that grow up and go to school can gain nationality only after an administrative committee decides that they have successfully integrated in the Greek society, has made it even worse for the migrant children, that face racist bullying in schools. In this anti-migrant legislative, administrative and judicial context, extreme right nationalist party Golden Dawn exploits the immigration issue in the current economic crisis in order to manipulate social insecurity, create intolerance and gain power. According to the findings of the Racist Violence Recording Network, incidents of violent racist attacks have been dramatically increased during the last 3 years. 

At the same time, there is no effective protection for the victims, especially for those undocumented, as they face the possibility of detention and deportation. Thus, there is an urgent need for the criminalization of racist violence as such, and the provision for a temporary residence permit for the victims and the witnesses of racist attacks. 

HLHR proclaims that the only sustainable and effective antiracist politics can only begin with a fair redistribution of income and a welfare policy which will strengthen the sense of social security. When people feel unsafe, they are easily influenced by anyone who tells them that the only ones to blame are the immigrants. 

C. Within this climate of social insecurity and civic unrest, the police and other relevant state mechanisms are applying overwhelming repression policies and excessive use of tear gas in each demonstration, since the spring of 2009. 

The League has repeatedly expressed its concern on the repeated excessive use of violence to people who peacefully manifest against the austerity measures and has called the respective Minister and prosecutors to investigate several cases of extreme police violence and to initiate criminal proceedings. Extremely problematic is also the widely observed practice that police officers are not using distinctive signs, which makes the identification of those exercising excessive violence almost impossible. 

Finally, HLHR strongly disapproves the excessive use of chemicals and force by the police, against those who react to the investment of gold mining in Halkidiki and expresses its deep concern due to reports about violations of basic human rights guarantees, procedural and substantive, in the criminal procedure. 

For HLHR, 
Eleni Kalambakou, 
Georgia Arapidou


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