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Latvia: “Any measure for economic growth and stabilisation must benefit all” – UN expert on foreign debt

RIGA / GENEVA (18 May 2012) – The United Nations Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt on human rights, Cephas Lumina, today urged the Latvian Government to ensure that “economic growth translates into improved living standards for the population.” At the end of his first mission* to Latvia, Mr. Lumina also ask the authorities to “pay special attention to the needs of vulnerable groups to ensure that they are not disproportionately affected by austerity and other economic measures.”

“Any measures to promote economic growth and macroeconomic stabilisation should be directed to ensuring that the benefits of growth accrue to the people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable groups,” He stressed, noting with concern a number of current socio-economic problems, including high unemployment, growing poverty levels, high emigration rates among the economically active population, insufficient support to families with a number of children, and increasing trafficking rates.

In this context, Mr. Lumina called upon the Government to “consider adopting a human rights-based approach to policy making to ensure that the design, implementation and monitoring of public policies is consistent with the obligations for the promotion of economic, social and cultural rights that the country has assumed through ratification of core international human rights instruments.”

The UN Independent Expert visited Latvia from 14 to 18 May to assess the impact of the country’s external debt burden on the realization of human rights and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. He also explored the impact of the global financial crisis and the austerity measures under the EU/IMF stabilisation programme on the country’s capacity to ensure the enjoyment of these rights.

During his five-day mission, the rights expert met with Government officials, representatives of relevant Parliamentary Committees, multilateral agencies based in the country and civil society, in order to gain a broad perspective.

Mr. Lumina commended the Government of Latvia for putting in place a social safety net, with the support of partners such as the EU and the World Bank, in order to mitigate the social impacts of the austerity measures on the most vulnerable segments of the population. The safety net included a guaranteed minimum income benefit, the extension of the period for receipt of unemployment benefits, a public work scheme, free health care to those with insufficient income, housing benefits, and transportation support.

At the institutional level, the Independent Expert encouraged the Government to “adopt the necessary measures to facilitate the full accreditation of the Office of the Ombudsman as a National Human Rights Institution, and the adoption of a new national human rights action plan that provides an overarching strategy for the promotion and protection of human rights in Latvia, particularly in the light of the economic difficulties the country has recently emerged from.”

Mr. Lumina also encouraged the Latvian authorities to “consider amending the Law on Budget and Financing of Independent Bodies to ensure that these institutions are financially and institutionally independent.”

The UN Independent Expert will submit a full report on his visits to Latvia to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2012.

Mr. Cephas Lumina is an Advocate of the High Court for Zambia and an Extra-Ordinary Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria. He was appointed 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 by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2008. He is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. The mandate covers all countries. Learn more, log on to: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/development/debt/index.htm

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12164&LangID=E

OHCHR Country Page – Latvia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/LVIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Ruta Silina, Head of Communication and international cooperation division, Ombudsman of the Republic of Latvia (+371 67201416 / ruta.silina@tiesibsargs.lv) or Brenda Vukovic (+41 79 752 0484 / bvukovic@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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