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Human rights and the financial crisis

The improvement of human well-being, central to all human rights, including the right to development, is threatened by the global financial crisis that began in 2007. As a result of the financial crisis, many people have lost access to work, affordable food, housing, water and other basic necessities. The crisis has disproportionately impacted the rights of women, children, and vulnerable and marginalized persons. States have largely failed to address the root causes of the financial crisis identified by the General Assembly to include inter alia de-regulation of the financial sector, rising inequality and other systemic weaknesses.

The bank bailouts and widespread imposition of austerity measures that followed the crisis reduced government expenditures on human rights, development and social welfare when and where they were most needed. Evidence suggests that austerity measures are actually hindering economic recovery and contributing to rising unemployment. As of January 2013, the jobless rate of 11.9% in the Eurozone was an all-time high. By the end of 2012, the unemployment rates in Greece and Spain, States which have implemented severe austerity measures, exceeded 25%. Furthermore, austerity measures that affect spending on social welfare programmes and public services disproportionately impact the disadvantaged such as the poor, women, children, persons with disabilities, older persons, people with HIV/AIDS, indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, migrants and refugees.

In recognition of these and other impacts of the financial crisis and austerity on employment, social welfare expenditures, and human rights, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recently addressed a letter to all States to remind them of their obligations to use the maximum available resources to fulfil economic, social and cultural rights, even in times of crisis. Instead of austerity, a rights-based response to the economic crisis would call for inter alia regulatory reform, improved job training and creation policies, social security, education and health for all. This approach, derived from the inalienable human rights of all persons, is legally directed, economically sound and broadly supported. OHCHR, concerned by the inadequacy of current efforts to address the root causes of the financial crisis, supports the continued study and implementation of rights-based approaches to financial regulation, macroeconomic policies and economic recovery.

Rights in Crisis: An expert meeting on rights-based approaches to financial regulation, macroeconomic policies and economic recovery
(New York, 24 – 25 April 2013).


On 24 – 25 April 2013, OHCHR held an expert meeting, Rights in Crisis, on rights-based approaches to financial regulation, macroeconomic policies and economic recovery. For more information about the meeting, please follow the links below:

Human Rights and the Financial Crisis in Focus: an expert meeting on promoting a rights-based approach to financial regulation and economic recovery (1 July 2013, Vienna).

On 1 July 2013, OHCHR will host an expert meeting, Human rights and the financial crisis in focus, on promoting a rights-based approach to financial regulation and economic recovery. For more information about the meeting, please follow the links below:

Selected previous work related to rights-based approaches to financial regulation, macroeconomic policies, and economic recovery

  • The 10th special session of the Human Rights Council addressed "The Impact of the Global Economic and Financial Crises on the Universal Realization and Effective Enjoyment of Human Rights" - Friday, 20 February 2009.

  • As requested by the Human Rights Council in its resolution A/HRC/S-10/1, many of its special procedures have addressed the human rights impacts of the financial crisis in their reports.