UN says Greek austerity is taking a toll on human rights

Austerity measures are hitting Greece’s human rights record, a international expert warned on Friday while slamming the “excessively rigid” demands dictated by the debt-wracked nation’s rescue program.

UN independent expert on foreign debt and human rights Cephas Lumina, who spent four days in Greece as part of a UN fact-finding team, said that ballooning unemployment and shrinking welfare protection have left a growing number without health insurance while pushing some 10 percent of the population below the poverty line.

“The available evidence indicates that these excessively rigid measures have resulted in a contraction of the economy and significant social costs for the population, including high unemployment, homelessness, poverty and inequality,” Lumina said.

The protracted recession of Greece’s economy, now in its sixth year, has pushed the official jobless rate to a record 27.2 percent. Some analysts predict it will increase further.

A multi-bill including a series of so-called “prior actions,” including 15,000 layoffs in the civil service by the end of next year, was submitted to Parliament on Friday ahead of a vote on Sunday.

Lumina expressed concern about the fact that only a small fraction of the country’s 1.3 million unemployed continue to receive benefits. Greece has a one-year limit on state assistance and strict rules to qualify for it.

He urged the government and foreign creditors to strengthen the country’s welfare system, also by launching a social housing program. An estimated 20,000 people are homeless in Greece, mostly in Athens – 25-30 percent higher than 2009.

He also warned of a spike in racially motivated attacks. His warning came two days after a network of NGOs issued a report showing both the number and intensity of hate attacks increasing in 2012.

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