The Problematic Use of Human Rights Discourse in the Greek Crisis Debate by Dorothea Anthony


Dorothea Anthony, a PhD Candidate at UNSW Law, writes for the European Society of International Law on how human rights ended up adding little to the Greek crisis debate.

I. Introduction

In July 2015 Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced a referendum on whether to accept the national financial bailout conditions demanded by the European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund. Just days later, UN Independent Experts entered the debate. The UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order, Alfred de Zayas, and the UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and International Solidarity, Virginia Dandan, argued that the referendum, and the Greek government’s recommendation of a “no” vote, had great human rights importance.[1] Reportedly echoing sentiments of the UN Independent Expert on Foreign Debt and Human Rights, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, the experts stated that the referendum provided an ideal opportunity for the Greek people to exercise their democratic right to refuse further austerity measures proposed by the three financial institutions funding the bailout.

Despite the “no” referendum result, the Greek government conceded to a bailout under the conditions of the financial institutions; it seemed that the supposedly “human rights-safe” method of a referendum had failed to deliver the desired outcome. However, the independent experts then appeared to move from opposition to the bailout to acceptance of the new status quo, with Bohoslavsky’s bespoke human rights recommendations which attempted to provide a continuing role for human rights analysis of the political events surrounding the Greek economic crisis.[2] This approach raises the question of whether such human rights contributions are taking a decisive role in efforts to address the economic crisis.

On this question, this reflection discusses the ways that the three independent experts used human rights concepts to evaluate both the referendum and the Greek government’s subsequent decision to undertake further austerity measures. It considers whether the experts maintained a consistent stance on the issue of economic austerity, and whether the human rights achievements the experts proposed were nominal or could represent significant gains for the Greek people. Ultimately, it questions the effectiveness of their human rights-based approach to the problems facing Greece.


Read the full article on ESIL's website.