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Doha: “No room for complacency”, warns UN expert



11 November 2008

GENEVA -- The UN Human Rights Council Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, Dr. Cephas Lumina, asked the Doha Conference to prioritize human rights, and warned that “there is no room for complacency” when it comes to international efforts on debt relief and development.

“Human rights must occupy a central place in these discussions if the outcome is to have a real impact for the people who are the intended beneficiaries,” said Dr. Lumina, calling for expanded debt relief measures, human rights analysis in assessing acceptable levels of debt, and shared responsibility of creditor and borrower countries.

His views were expressed in a statement issued as a contribution to the upcoming International Conference on Financing for Development, to be held from 29 November to 2 December 2008, in which he emphasizes priorities for the Doha Conference, and the negotiations leading up to it.

The Independent Expert notes with concern that, despite several debt relief initiatives, many countries still face large debt burdens which compromise their ability to ensure human rights: “The ultimate purpose of debt relief is not merely to achieve debt sustainability, but to enable a country to achieve a debt level consistent with protecting the human rights of its people.”

Dr. Lumina regrets that human rights have not been factored into the analysis of debt sustainability, and draws attention to the connection between debt and trade, whereby the gains achieved by debt relief are diluted by onerous trading conditions for developing countries.

He calls for debt relief to be granted in addition to Official Development Assistance (ODA), rather than reporting it as part of ODA, and stresses that the “conditions attached to debt relief programs” must not “negatively affect the enjoyment of human rights.”

In emphasizing the importance of shared responsibility, the Independent Expert observes that traditionally only the borrowing country is held “responsible for dealing with unsustainable debt, while considering the creditor’s contribution a matter of charity.”

In this regard, he calls for the establishment of “impartial, independent decision-making bodies” to hear disputes over debt issues. Furthermore, he highlights the problem of illegitimate debt, which should be clearly addressed in the Doha outcome document.

“We must not miss the opportunity that Doha presents. In the midst of the most serious financial crisis in decades, the need for a renewed global pledge to meet the previously agreed commitments of international cooperation is critical to enhance the development of all countries,” warned Dr. Lumina.

Statement on the Doha Outcome Document by 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, Dr Cephas Lumina