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Can we hold the Troika to account for human rights violations?

Not only have the Troika’s austerity policies been an abject failure but in inflicting suffering on millions of people, the three headed beast of the EU-ECB-IMF has severely violated human rights that are recognized by the EU itself. But can the charges stick, asks Luciano Galliano

“The governance of the crises in the European Union has led to massive violations of human rights. The way in which the crises have been governed has exposed a series of black holes when it comes to accountability for the violation of human rights.” So said the lawyer, from the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at the London School of Economics, Margot E. Salomon.

Her essay,  Of Austerity, Human Rights and International Institutions is one of the most extensive yet on the subject, after the 2014 study by Andreas Fischer-Lescano, Professor at Bremen University (“Human rights in times of austerity policies“).

The cuts to health, pensions, wages, labour rights, education and public services imposed by the European Commission, IMF and ECB in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy and other countries have inflicted great hardship to millions of people. It is increasingly clear that the EU institutions and the IMF did not have the right to do things like that. Not only: it can be argued that carrying them out they have violated dozens of articles of agreements, treaties, charters and conventions concluded by them themselves, beginning with the founding Treaty of the EU.

Some examples

Among the rights lawfully enshrined in the European Social Charter (revised 1996) are the following:

• All workers have the right to a fair remuneration sufficient for a decent standard of living for themselves and their families. (art. 4);

• Children and young persons have the right to a special protection against the physical and moral hazards to which they are exposed. (art. 7);

• Everyone has the right to benefit from any measures enabling him to enjoy the highest possible standard of health attainable. (art. 11);

• All workers and their dependents have the right to social security.(Art. 12);

• Anyone without adequate resources has the right to social and medical assistance. (art. 13);

• Every elderly person has the right to social protection (art. 23);

• All workers have the right to protection in cases of termination of employment.(Article 24);

• Everyone has the right to protection against poverty and social exclusion.(art. 30).

One could go on citing similar articles of the
• International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (New York, 1966);
• the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union;
• at least half a dozen of conventions of the International Labour Organisation, from 1948 forward.

Finally, perhaps, Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, entitled “Crimes against humanity”, that in paragraph “k” reads:

  • Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.

In order to bring the Commission, the ECB and the IMF before the Court of Justice of the European Union, or the International Criminal Court, and why not, a European government, to make them to respond to the human rights violations outlined above, there would be several critical points we must tackle.

The reports mentioned at the beginning discard right away the main argument of the proponents of austerity:

• the constraints imposed on the EU population would be needed due to the financial crisis,
• the urgent need to improve the state of public budgets,
• the duty of the states of debtors repay creditors.

Violations of human rights, even if proven, could then still be justified by the emergency situation, that is, the “state of exception” experienced by the entire EU.

However, if we accept this point of view, as was argued by another lawyer (Paul Kirchhof), the whole of Europe as a community founded on the primacy of the law would be deprived of its raison d’etre. The effect would be that no head of state or minister or member of parliament could take binding action that affected its citizens, unless their mandate had a legal basis: otherwise the law would cease to exist. The European legal system cannot give way before a presumed state of emergency, the Bremen study finds; that is, a system of legal powers cannot be supplanted by practical political considerations.

A second critical point concerns the identification of those responsible for violations of human rights. The main tool used in the EU for a country to impose harsh austerity policies has generally taken the form of a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MoU English acronym), a document that lists in obsessive detail the cuts that a country must make to its own public spending in order to get certain concessions from the Troika. On a similar plane to the MoUs are the diktat letters sent by European institutions to member states. Both in the formulation and execution, the MoU and the like are the work of various parties, whose responsibilities would have to be ascertained. The Troika would not feature among them as it does do not have a legal personality. But member states with their own governments, the IMF, the ECB, the European Commission would be among the potential parties.

It must be added that the responsibility of these bodies in inflicting suffering on millions of people, violating human rights that are recognized by the EU itself, is compounded by the fact that the austerity policies that have led to these violations have proved a total failure.

After five years, in the recipient countries of the MoU and ECB’s military-style correspondence, unemployment has soared, as have absolute and relative poverty, GDP, down by tens of percentage points, the industrial fabric has been compromised – as is the case of Italy – and a whole generation of young people has in large part been robbed of a future. So these policies cannot be invoked as extenuating circumstances.

If the institutions of the EU and their leaders were recognized as responsible by one or other of the European court of human rights violations and of the extensive suffering that resulted, I am not sure they would run the risk of serious penalties. But it would at least be an official recognition of an unheard of fact: the millions of victims of the crisis that began in 2008 have been forced, by the austerity policies, to pay for the damage of the crisis by those that caused it, starting with their national and international rules.

Translation/edit by Revolting Europe


Luciano Gallino is a writer and sociologist

About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope


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