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“A human rights focus would upgrade China’s international lending” – UN expert on foreign debt

BEIJING / GENEVA (7 July 2015) – The United Nations Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, today urged the Government of China to fully incorporate the UN human rights Guiding Principles on business and foreign debt into its foreign lending and financial assistance, and its next National Human Rights Action Plan.

“With China’s new leadership role in foreign lending and investment comes new responsibilities,” Mr. Bohoslavsky said* at the end of his first official visit to the country, noting that China has become a global player in the world economy and a major international lender. 

“International human rights standards are in particular relevant when China provides funding for projects in countries with high risks, experiencing internal armed conflicts, weak governance structures or a lack of effective enforcement of national and international law by national authorities,” he emphasized.

The human rights expert highlighted that China’s expertise in infrastructure development, health care, agricultural development and other sectors is an important contribution to the realization of economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development in many developing countries.

However, while there are many positive examples of Chinese investments, Mr. Bohoslavsky recalled that the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has noted that some of these projects have reportedly resulted in violations of economic, social and cultural rights.

“For investments in foreign countries careful planning, independent impact assessments and consultation with affected individuals and communities are required,” he said. “Negative social, environmental or human rights impacts should be avoided, mitigated, or compensated in a timely, fair and equal manner.”

“Chinas ‘going out- strategy’ should not only result in a ‘win-win’ situation for Governments and business enterprises, but also for the people on the ground, both in China and abroad,” he underscored. 

The expert said that there have been several efforts in China to ensure that its international lending is clean, green, efficient and transparent and compliant to international human rights standards. These include the Green Credit Guidelines of the Central Banking Regulatory Commission which require Chinese lending institutions to respect national and international norms in their lending.

Nevertheless, he noted, “there is still an implementation gap in operational practice in effectively implementing such guidelines, including international norms and standards in international lending and investment.”

Mr. Bohoslavsky welcomed China’s leadership role in the establishment of two multi-lateral development banks, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in Beijing and the BRICs states New Development Bank in Shanghai.

“These new development banks aim at being more efficient, clean, green and transparent than other existing multi-lateral development banks,” he said. “However, efficiency and results orientation is not a contradiction to ensuring respect for human rights, labour standards or the right to a safe, clean and healthy environment.”

“Transparency implies as well that the consultations on institutional policies, in particular in the field of social and environmental safeguards should be open to inputs from civil society,” the expert underlined.

In his view, both banks should show that projects financed by them will avoid, mitigate or compensate negative social, environmental and human rights impacts better than other multi-lateral development banks. “An effective and independent safeguards mechanism will have to be put in place,” he recommended.

“Then and only then, will these two new institutions live up to their aspirations to foster sustainable development in a comprehensive, human rights based, and social inclusive manner”, concluded the expert.

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

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16203&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 Guiding Principles on Foreign Debt and Human Rights: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Development/IEDebt/Pages/GuidingPrinciples.aspx

UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Pages/Tools.aspx 

UN Human Rights, Country Page – China: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/CNIndex.aspx

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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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