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Financial crisis: “Iceland managed better than others, but no one should be left behind” – UN rights expert

REYKJAVIK / GENEVA (15 December 2014) – Other countries can learn from Iceland’s management of its financial crisis, the United Nations Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, said today at the conclusion of his first official fact-finding visit* to the country.

“The adjustment policies implemented in Iceland were largely implemented in a manner that ensured respect for core social and economic rights,” Mr. Bohoslavsky noted. “However, access to social security benefits of last resort should be on an equal and fair footing.”

“More attention is required to address difficulties that immigrants face reintegrating into the labour market,” the human rights expert said. “Targeted further debt relief is still needed for a relatively small number of poor and highly indebted households.”
 
“A society that is rightly proud of its comprehensive social welfare system and highly values children and the family, should not tolerate that the risk of children growing up in poverty is still higher than that of adults,” the Independent Expert underlined.

Mr. Bohoslavsky drew attention to Iceland’s particular response to the crisis that included accountability and citizens’ participation, referring to snap elections, referenda, the prosecution of bankers, and the work of the Parliamentary Special Investigative Commission that investigated the causes of the banking collapse. 

Immediately after the crisis, the expert said, the Icelandic Government established Welfare Watch -an independent body with representatives from all relevant Ministries, municipalities, trade unions, employers and civil society organizations- to  monitor the social impact of the crisis and regularly submitting recommendations to Parliament and other institutions.

“Further enhancing the regulatory framework and the institutional design of oversight on the banking industry, enhancing laws on governmental officials’ accountability and strengthening judicial independence are certainly changes that would contribute to the prevention of a similar crisis,” Mr. Bohoslavsky said.

“Yet, it is also necessary to reflect on the driving forces of the colossal over-borrowing that lead an entire country into the crash,” the UN Independent Expert stressed.

During his visit to Iceland the expert met senior officials from Ministries and other state institutions, Members of Parliament, ombudspersons, the President of the Supreme Court, the Special Prosecutor, and representatives of the Central Bank, the Financial Supervision Authority, the International Monetary Fund, representatives of municipalities, the banking industry, former bankers and their lawyers, civil society organizations and scholars.

His final findings and key recommendations will be presented in a comprehensive report to the UN Human Rights Council next year.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15420&LangID=E

Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky (Argentina) was appointed as Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and human rights by the UN Human Rights Council on 8 May 2014.  Before, he worked as a Sovereign Debt Expert for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) where he coordinated an Expert Group on Responsible Sovereign Lending and Borrowing. His mandate covers all countries. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Development/IEDebt/Pages/IEDebtIndex.aspx

The Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Iceland: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/ENACARegion/Pages/ISIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests please contact Gunnar Theissen (+41 22 917 9321, gtheissen@ohchr.org) or write to ieforeigndebt@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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