dcsimg


Header image for news printout

Human Rights Council hears presentation of reports on foreign debt and on adequate housing

MIDDAY

GENEVA (1 March 2017) - The Human Rights Council in its midday meeting heard the presentation of reports by Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, and by Leilani Farha, the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living.
 
Mr. Bohoslavsky, Independent Expert on foreign debt, introduced his thematic report which focused specifically on austerity-related labour market reforms affecting labour and human rights.  Those reforms had often led to a retrogression of work-related gender equality, and increased economic inequality and the number of people in insecure and informal employment.  It was essential that the social and human rights impact of labour market reforms be assessed prior to their implementation, and that employers and trade unions, with their particular knowledge of the workplace reality, played a key role in realizing human rights at work. 
 
Mr. Bohoslavsky also presented his reports on his missions to the European Union and to Tunisia.
 
In the presentation of her reports, Ms. Farha, the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, said that her thematic report focused on the financialization of housing and its implications for the right to housing.  Housing had become valued as a commodity rather than a human dwelling, and a means to accumulate wealth rather than a place to live.  Housing had lost its currency as a human right, while financialization exacerbated inequality and social exclusion and detached housing from its connection to communities and to the human dignity and security that were at the core of all human rights. 
 
The Special Rapporteur also presented two country reports based on her missions to India and Portugal. 
 
The Council will hear statements from concerned States and hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on foreign debt and the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing at 9 a.m. on Thursday, 2 March.
 
The Council is holding a full day of meetings today.  At 3 p.m., it will hold its biennial high-level panel discussion on the death penalty.
 
Documentation
 
The Council has before it the Report of the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights (A/HRC/34/57).
 
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights – mission to the European Union (A/HRC/34/57/Add.1).
 
The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context (A/HRC/34/51).
 
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context – mission to India (A/HRC/34/51/Add.1).
 
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context – mission to Portugal (A/HRC/34/51/Add.2).
 
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context – comments by India  (A/HRC/34/51/Add.3).
 
Presentation of Reports
 
JUAN PABLO BOHOSLAVSKY, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, explained that his thematic report focused specifically on austerity-related labour market reforms affecting labour and human rights.  Such reforms had been promoted by international financial institutions in many countries on the assumption that they would lead to economic growth and thus prevent or help overcome debt crises.  Those reforms had included freezing or reducing wages and minimum wages, extending working hours, placing workers on precarious contracts or labour reserve schemes, and labour law reforms to facilitate dismissals.  Faced with financial and economic crises, Governments had tended to scale down public employment and labour rights.  That trend corresponded to the dominant tendency in the approach of international financial institutions to labour reform.  But, there was no evidence that the flexibilisation of labour markets had actually resulted in most countries to increased economic growth or employment.  Such reforms did not always produce the intended results.  On the contrary, labour market reforms had often led to a retrogression of work-related gender equality, and increased economic inequality and the number of people in insecure and informal employment.  It was essential that the social and human rights impact of labour market reforms be assessed prior to their implementation.  Employers and trade unions that had particular knowledge of the workplace reality had a key role to play in realizing human rights at work.
 
Speaking of his visit to Brussels in May 2016, Mr. Bohoslavsky said there should be no room for a return to nationalistic and populist agitation in Europe.  His criticism of certain economic and institutional policies of the European Union aimed to remind that economic and social rights should be at the core of its policies.  There was a legal obligation of the European Commission to ensure that any memorandum of understanding signed by it had to be consistent not only with the European Union Charter on Fundamental Rights, but also with international human rights law binding on its Member States.  While European Union Member States had overall increased social protection expenditure in response to the financial crisis, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal had witnessed harsh cuts in spending on education and health care, and on social benefits for family and children, and persons with disabilities.  There was a need to enhance policy coherence in the field of external and internal human rights policies of the European Union. 
 
Mr. Bohoslavsky also raised his concerns on the debt crises affecting rights holders in Mozambique and Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States.  Regrettably, he had not received substantive responses from those countries.  The same applied to the International Monetary Fund and to those private financial institutions that had been involved in facilitating secret lending affecting Mozambique. 
 
Speaking of his visit to Tunisia, he emphasized the need for responsible lending and borrowing to ensure that public resources were directed towards realizing human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals.  Mr. Bohoslavsky concluded by saying that he looked forward to his visits to Panama and Switzerland where he would learn about the efforts and challenges in curbing illicit financial flows and in returning stolen assets. 
 
LEILANI FARHA, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, presented her thematic report on the financialization of housing and its implications for the right to housing, as well as two country reports based on her visits to India and Portugal.  Housing had become valued as a commodity rather than a human dwelling and a means to accumulate wealth rather than a place to live.  Housing had lost its currency as a human right.  An influx of capital had increased housing prices in many cities to levels that most residents could not afford, and housing prices were no longer commensurate with household income levels, and instead were being driven by demand for housing assets among global investors.  She said her report identified a threefold assault on human rights caused by the financialization of housing, which firstly undermined democratic governance and community accountability, secondly exacerbated inequality and social exclusion, and finally detached housing from its connection to communities and to the human dignity and security that were at the core of all human rights.  However, financial markets and global housing investments were not beyond the control of States and international organizations.  States had to regulate and engage with private market and financial actors to ensure that the rules under which they operated were consistent with the right to adequate housing.  States should review all domestic laws related to foreclosure and indebtedness and ensure that housing was built for people to live in, not for the purpose of speculation and the accumulation of wealth.
 
Turning to her country visit reports, Ms. Farha noted that India was soon to be the world’s most populated country with 1.3 billion people.  The challenges were daunting, with an extensive need for essential services such as electricity, water, sanitation and waste management.  India was generally on the right track to address the situation of those who were landless, homeless, inadequately housed and displaced.  Regarding the situation of homelessness, she noted that most homeless people were “pavement dwellers” living in indigent conditions, enduring extreme weather, violence and discrimination.  She had made several recommendations in her report, underscoring five, which included a national moratorium on forced evictions and demolitions of homes. 
 
As for her visit to Portugal, Ms. Farha noted that austerity measures had resulted in an increase in poverty levels and higher rates of homelessness and unaffordable housing.  Despite several programmes and policies aimed at mitigating the effects of austerity, Portugal was one of the most unequal countries in Europe, and residents still faced serious long-term challenges which were directly linked to housing exclusion.  She had been particularly concerned about housing conditions experienced by the Roma (ciganos) and people of African descent, many of whom continued to live in informal settlements.  Among several recommendations she had shared with the Government of Portugal, she stressed the importance of avoiding demolitions and evictions that resulted in homelessness.

___________

For use of the information media; not an official record