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Missed opportunities in Doha

GENEVA -- “The international community has missed a crucial opportunity to reform the international framework on debt, for the benefit of the people on the ground,” concluded the Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, Dr. Cephas Lumina*, after participating in the Doha follow-up Conference on Financing for Development**.

“Financing for development is a matter of human rights,” said the Independent Expert stressing his profound disappointment that human rights received marginal attention in the discussions. “The way development policies are formulated and implemented, as well as the macro-economic policies which are behind them, have a serious impact on the enjoyment of human rights by the people who are meant to benefit from such policies. Human rights are legally binding obligations which should take primacy over other agreements entered into by States.”

Dr. Lumina pointed out that the problem is not one of resources, but of political will. “In the context of the current financial crisis, creditor countries have found hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out their banks which have acted irresponsibly, but they have failed to find similar resources to address the debt crisis, which has been affecting developing countries for decades now.”

The lack of progress on issues related to debt stands out as a particular concern of the Independent Expert. Although the outcome document from Doha recognizes the need for “bold and encompassing initiatives and mechanisms to resolve the current debt problems,” the document is weak in terms of identifying new political commitments.

The Expert calls for a holistic approach to debt and development. On 11 November, he urged “renewed vigorous action on debt” and emphasized “that economic-policy making and the enjoyment of human rights cannot be seen as separate issues, but rather as profoundly interconnected.” However, Dr. Lumina regrets that this approach has not been adopted in the Doha negotiations.

He particularly draws attention to the following elements which are absent from, or only weakly referred to, the Doha outcome document:
- there is no commitment to expanding debt relief;
- there is no commitment to reform the debt sustainability framework to better take account of human rights obligations and the Millennium Development Goals;
- there is no commitment to prioritize policy coherence, particularly between development, finance, trade and human rights ministries;
- there is no commitment to eliminate inappropriate conditionalities in lending;
- there is no commitment to address the issue of illegitimate debt; and
- there is no commitment to establish an independent, impartial decision-making body to address questions about debt resolution

On the last point, the Independent Expert particularly noted that “the days of creditors playing prosecutor, judge and jury in debt issues must end.”

Despite the lack of progress at Doha, Dr. Lumina expresses hope that this does not signal the end of discussions on reforming the financial architecture which governs development, debt, aid and other issues of central importance to developing nations. He is encouraged that the Doha outcome document specifically mentions the need “for a strengthened and more effective intergovernmental structure to carry out the financing for development follow-up, which would review progress in the implementation of commitments, identify obstacles, challenges and emerging issues and propose concrete recommendations and actions,” and that it places responsibility for this follow-up under the auspices of the United Nations.

The Independent Expert is committed to continuing dialogue with States, international financial institutions and all other stakeholders, in order to assist them to ensure that the full respect of human rights underpins the search for solutions to these problems.

* The Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights was appointed by the Human Rights Council in March 2008. Dr. Cephas Lumina is a professor of Law from Zambia, currently teaching at University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. His contribution to the Doha preparatory process can be found in a statement issued on 11 November 2008 at http://www.unhchr.ch/huricane/huricane.nsf/view01/953DD2212DDE13FDC12574FE003AF1B0?opendocument

For more information on the mandate and work of the Independent Expert, please visit the website:

** The Follow-up International Conference on Financing for Development to Review the Implementation of the Monterrey Consensus was held in Doha, Qatar from 29 November to 2 December 2008. More information on the Conference can be found at: http://www.un.org/esa/ffd/doha/ or write to: ieforeingdebt@ohchr.org