Odious Debt, Human Rights, Democratic Transparency, and An Audit Commission for Greece

The IMF/EU imposed Greek austerity program has and will generate human rights violations in the areas of health, nutrition, education of children and youth, life expectancy, welfare of the elderly and disabled, right to shelter, right to public transport and related social safety nets. Many countries forced to follow IMF discipline experience five to ten year decreases in adult life expectancy after the imposition of equivalent measures.

This economic violence stemming from debt repayment meets the criteria of “odious debt.” After 2003, the Bush and Obama administrations on behalf of the post invasion Iraqi government. quietly invoked “odious debt” to annul international debt incurred by the Saddam Hussein regime. The United States previously invoked this concept in the aftermath of its expropriation of Spanish colonies after the Spanish-American War, so this concept has been invoked to serve imperial agendas but stigmatized in reference to anti imperial politics in Argentina and Ecuador and now in reference to Greece.

In 2007 Ecuador under Correa convened a national audit commission (PDF) and based on its findings in 2008 invoked the concept of odious debt to default on debt repayments that would have assaulted the quality of life and human rights in that country. An Audit Commission for Greece is urgently needed to investigate its recent odious debt history and would be the equivalent of a Truth Commission or War Crimes tribunal by investigating gross violations of human rights and of constitutional law by successive Greek governments in the incurring of massive debt and and in their execution of IMF and EU disciplinary measures thereby defaulting on the well being of the Greek people.

While Germany under Merkel mobilized a propaganda campaign of economic racism against the “lazy and irresponsible Greeks” they previously and simultaneously used bribery and further loan promises to get the Greek state to purchase 16 billion euro worth of military equipment. Greece is the largest importer of arms in Europe ( mainly from
US, Germany and France). The economic and moral hypocrisy here is monumental as these are the self-same countries that want IMF austerity imposed on Greece. This is one example among many of the incurring of odious debt by the Greek state that needs to be investigated. (For German/Greek arms deals see this Wall Street Journal article)




We the undersigned believe that there is a pressing need for an Audit
Commission to examine Greek public debt. Current EU and IMF policy to deal with public debt has entailed major social costs for Greece. Consequently, the Greek people have a democratic right to demand full information on
public and publicly-guaranteed debt.

The aim of the Commission will be to ascertain why public debt was incurred, the terms on which it was contracted, and the uses to which borrowed funds were put. On the basis of these considerations, the Commission will make appropriate recommendations to deal with debt, including debt that is shown to be illegal, illegitimate or odious. The purpose of the Commission will be to help Greece take all necessary measures to confront the burden of debt. The Commission will also seek to find who was responsible for problematic debt agreements.

Public and private debt is at the heart of the Eurozone crisis. The global crisis that began in 2007 took the form of a debt crisis of the periphery of the Eurozone. According to the latest government budget, Greek public debt is expected to rise from 299 billion euro (or 127% of GDP) in 2009 to 362 billion euro (or 159% of GDP) in 2011. The increase in public debt has heightened the danger of national default in the periphery of the Eurozone and raised the possibility of bank failure across Europe. The EU, in conjunction with national governments, has responded through rescue programs that have facilitated temporary borrowing by Eurozone states and protected banks. But these measures have failed to calm financial markets and, as a result, borrowing rates have continued to rise for peripheral countries. Furthermore, the price of the programs has been austerity. Greece, Ireland and other countries were forced to cut wages and pensions, contract public expenditure, shrink welfare provision, privatize public enterprises, and deregulate markets. Further social costs are inevitable due to higher unemployment, business failures and loss of output.

Greece has been at the forefront of EU rescue programs, but the Greek people have been kept in the dark regarding the composition and terms of public debt. The lack of information represents a fundamental failure of the democratic process. The people who are called upon to bear the costs of EU programs have a democratic right to receive full information on public debt.

An Audit Commission can begin to redress this deficiency. It can also encourage the active participation of broader layers of society in movements that tackle the problem of public debt. The Commission will be international, comprising debt and fiscal auditors, legal experts, economists, representatives of labour organizations, and participants from civil society groups. It will be independent of political parties, though it will not exclude politicians from membership provided that they accept its aims. The Commission will ensure possession of expert knowledge, while guaranteeing democratic accountability and control over all involved.

To achieve its aim the Commission ought to have full access to public debt agreements and debt issues over time, including bond issues, bilateral, multilateral, and other forms of debt and state liabilities. It ought to have requisite powers to place at its disposal all documents that it judges necessary to complete its work. It is also necessary to instigate appropriate procedures that would allow the Commission to call public functionaries to give evidence, as well as to examine, after a reasoned request and judicial support, bank accounts, particularly public accounts with private banks and with the Bank of Greece. Finally, a sufficient period of time ought to be made available to it to examine debt agreements and produce its report.

The case for an independent and international Audit Commission to examine Greek public debt is unanswerable. The Commission is also a democratic demand of the Greek people who are bearing the burden of the crisis and want to know its causes. In all respects an Audit Commission for Greece could act as prototype for other countries of the Eurozone.


The seminal Greek documentary Debtocracy on the current violence of EU and IMF neoliberalism is streaming at:


Ironic are the scenes of economy-rapist Dominick Strauss-Kahn currently charged with attempted rape of an African immigrant hotel worker in New York — neoliberal space-time compression at its most visible.

The struggle for self-constituting democracy has expanded from North Africa, the Gulf and Syria to Syntagma Square, Athens, the eulogized birth place of the demos. The death/rebirth of Hellenic democracy and the massive police violence on democratic sovereignty with a 1,000 civilian casualties too date can be witnessed on 24 hour webcam here.

Today the Greek police almost succeeded, where Mubarak’s thugs failed in Tahrir: in evicting democracy. They blockaded the square used massive tear gas clouds to disperse the protestors and burned the medical tents set up to treat wounded protesters who were forced to flee with medical personnel to a nearby subway station. Of note is how well equipped in this country of economic austerity are the Greek police with body armor and the latest in tear gas hoses that eject gas like bug spray directly into the faces of protestors, which I, at least, have not seen in action before. I was informed by Social Text contributor Rania Astrinaki that the day the socialist PASOK part assumed power the police presence in the street escalated disproportionate to the levels of crime or protest at that time.

Greek Police repression-technology can be seen here

Other visual data on the protests can be found below:




























Allen Feldman

Allen Feldman, a pioneer in the ethnography of violence, the body, and the senses, is the author of Archives of the Insensible: Of War, Photopolitics and Dead Memory (University of Chicago, 2015) and Formations of Violence: the Narrative of the Body and Political Terror in Northern Ireland (1991).