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Human Rights Council holds dialogue with Special Rapporteur on rights of persons with disabilities and starts dialogue with Independent Expert on foreign debt

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3 March 2021

3 March 2021
MORNING

The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities and started an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on foreign debt. 

Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, outlined his priorities which he divided into three groups.  The first group had to do with grand existential threats that faced all of humanity and that underscored the urgency of multilateral action and the need for a strong disability voice.  They included COVID-19 and disability; climate change; armed conflicts, peace processes and disability; and extreme poverty and disability.  The second group of priorities would address hidden intersectionalities and included older persons with disabilities, indigenous persons and disability, and prisoners with disabilities.  The third group would address specific rights, issues or groups and other institutional issues, including, but not limited to: independent living; artificial intelligence and disability; access to, and participation in, culture; and the multiplier role of regional arrangements and organizations. 

In the interactive dialogue, speakers expressed appreciation for key aspects of the report, including the focus on the co-production of policy and an embrace of intersectionality.  Recovery efforts should fully integrate the needs of persons with disabilities, taking into consideration their opinion, and in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Positively noting inclusive equality as the overarching principle underlying the proposed actions during the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, speakers were concerned about the disproportionate effect of poverty on children with disabilities.

Speaking were Finland on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Libya on behalf of the Group of Arab States, Ecuador on behalf of a group of countries, United Nations Children’s Fund, Canada, Israel, Qatar, Brazil, Malaysia, Sovereign Order of Malta, France, Libya, Ecuador, Russian Federation, Iraq, Indonesia, Senegal, Maldives, Armenia, Marshall Islands, Venezuela, India, Iran, Namibia, Gabon, Burkina Faso, Malta, Republic of Korea, United States, Thailand, Egypt, Bahrain, Cameroon, Spain, China, Chile, Algeria, United Arab Emirates, Paraguay, Montenegro, Azerbaijan, Costa Rica, Lesotho, El Salvador, Poland, Chad, Sierra Leone, Fiji, Botswana, United Kingdom, Ethiopia, Sudan, Malawi, Cuba, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Côte d'Ivoire, Ireland, Djibouti, Tanzania, Georgia, Bulgaria, United Nations Refugee Agency, Panama, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liechtenstein, Eritrea, Morocco, Cambodia and South Africa.

The following civil society organizations also took floor: Canadian Human Rights Commission, VIVAT International, Minority Rights Group, Action Canada for Population and Development, International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, International Disability Alliance, HelpAge International, International Lesbian and Gay Association, International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, European Disability Forum and South Youth Organization.

The Council then started an interactive dialogue with 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. 

Yuefen Li, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt, expressed serious concerns about the imminent debt crisis that many developing countries were facing, which undermined the pandemic response and reversed poverty reduction and development progress.  This was regrettable at a time when the financial and fiscal capacities of States ought to be geared toward avoiding further regression in social protection and human rights.  Turning to the report before the Council, she said past financial and debt crises, in particular the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the Asian financial crisis, had exposed the inherent structural problems of credit rating agencies and their failure to perform their role.  Reforms could no longer be postponed.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers said the gravity of the sovereign debt situation, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, once again underscored the need to regulate and reform credit rating agencies at the international, regional and national levels.  External debt continued to exert negative pressure on the financial resources of low-income States, threatening their ability to meet their domestic obligations.  This situation could undermine the full exercise of all human rights, in particular economic, social and cultural rights.

Speaking were Cameroon on behalf of the Group of African States, Malaysia, Mauritania, Libya, Ecuador and the Russian Federation.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here.  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-sixth regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet at 3 p.m. to hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on cultural rights followed by an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.  The interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on foreign debt will resume at a future meeting.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Report

The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities A/HRC/46/27 on an overview of the activities undertaken in 2020 and his vision of the mandate during his tenure

Presentation of the Report

GERARD QUINN, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, noted that the report included an overview of the work done by his predecessor, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, in the last year, and an overview of thematic priorities for his tenure.  He thanked Ms. Devandas for her work and highlighted especially the publication of the “International Principles and Guidelines on access to justice for persons with disabilities”, in cooperation with the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on disability and accessibility.  Mr. Quinn noted that unfortunately two country visits to Botswana and China had to be postponed due to the pandemic, and he hoped to undertake the visits as soon as possible.  He then outlined his priorities, divided into three groups.  The first group had to do with grand existential threats that faced all of humanity and that underscored the urgency of multilateral action and the need for a strong disability voice.  They included COVID-19 and disability; climate change; armed conflicts, peace processes and disability; and extreme poverty and disability. 

The second group of priorities would address hidden intersectionalities and included older persons with disabilities, indigenous persons and disability, and prisoners with disabilities.  The third group would address specific rights, issues or groups and other institutional issues, including, but not limited to: independent living; artificial intelligence and disability; access to, and participation in, culture; and the multiplier role of regional arrangements and organizations.  Mr. Quinn also noted that ensuring a strong focus on gender and the implications for women and girls with disabilities would be indispensable, cutting across all of his work.

Interactive Discussion

Speakers expressed appreciation for key aspects of the report, including the focus on the co-production of policy and an embrace of intersectionality.  Recovery efforts should fully integrate the needs of persons with disabilities, taking into consideration their opinion, in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Positively noting inclusive equality as the overarching principle underlying the proposed actions during the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, speakers were concerned about the disproportionate effect of poverty on children with disabilities.  Pledging to implement a feminist intersectional approach, they asked the Special Rapporteur how States could put intersectionality in practice nationally and globally.  Stressing that collective voices of persons with disabilities must be heard, other speakers highlighted some of their national initiatives, such as the establishment of bodies where Government officials and civil society representatives debated policies on disability.  Some speakers took issue with the Special Rapporteur’s statement that persons with disabilities had been treated as though they were invisible during the pandemic, emphasising that COVID-19 had resulted in productive increases in the use of digital technologies and remote services.
  
Interim Remarks

GERARD QUINN, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, thanking delegations for their astute observations, noted that there was wide support for the notions of “inclusion” and “inclusive equality”, which were deeply embedded in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the 2030 Agenda.  To rebuild better in the wake of the pandemic, it was notable that several delegations had referred to the idea of “co-production”.  On intersectionality, he stressed that he aimed not to engage in academic exercise on how identities converged and diverged, but rather this was an occasion to probe deeper into the loopholes of exclusion and come up with intersectional solutions, as opposed to addressing issues as silos.

Interactive Discussion

Speakers noted that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic such as increased isolation, virtual learning and increased homelessness all had disproportionate effects on persons with disabilities.  Some speakers outlined the measures adopted in their countries specifically targeting persons with disabilities to combat this reality, asked the Special Rapporteur about concrete measures they could adopt, and emphasised the need to put persons with disabilities first in line for vaccinations.  The Special Rapporteur’s recognition of the importance of including national human rights institutions as crucial partners acting as a bridge between governments and civil society was welcomed.  Sexual and gender-based violence disproportionately affected women and girls with disabilities, said some speakers, calling for a more robust understanding of independent living.  Homophobia, transphobia, anti-indigenous and anti-minority sentiment, ageism and ableism shaped the political landscape - these issues were interconnected, and as such speakers reiterated the importance of intersectional approaches to disability.  Intersex bodies were often viewed as “deformed” and disabled, while diverse sexual orientations and gender identities were sometimes still considered as illnesses to be cured.

Concluding Remarks

GERARD QUINN, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, noted that a lot had been done around the world to change culture, laws and policies, but systems and service paradigms still lagged behind.  The relationship between service change and independent living crossed over to older people, and the capacity to reinvent services existed, particularly via a commitment to the personalization of services.  The International Labour Organization had done excellent work on workplace adjustment.  International humanitarian law continued to adopt a highly medical view to persons with disabilities rather than human agents within their own right, and addressing this would be the first project that Mr. Quinn said he would be pursuing, followed by artificial intelligence and inclusive equality.

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Foreign Debt

Report

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 all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights A/HRC/46/29 on Debt relief, debt crisis prevention and human rights: the role of credit rating agencies.

Presentation of the Report

YUEFEN LI, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt, expressed serious concerns about the imminent debt crisis that many developing countries were facing, which undermined the pandemic response and reversed poverty reduction and development progress.  This was regrettable at a time when the financial and fiscal capacities of States ought to be geared toward avoiding further regression in social protection and human rights.  Turning to the report before the Council, she said past financial and debt crises, in particular the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the Asian financial crisis, had exposed the inherent structural problems of credit rating agencies and their failure to perform their role.  Reforms could no longer be postponed, particularly to prevent further retrogression on economic, social and cultural rights because of their unfettered activities.  Credit rating agencies were “the fire alarm that never rings”; instead of warning of the coming of the crisis, they ended up contributing to it. 

The so-called “big three” credit rating agencies controlled over 92 per cent of the global market, and suffered from birth defects, including conflict of interests, biased decision-making, oligopoly, and wrong business model.  Often, their grading was procyclical and lacked human rights considerations, exacerbating financial market volatility and making Governments’ efforts to contain debt crises ineffective while increasing human suffering.  While acknowledging that in recent years, there had been some indication of their interest to enhance rating standards by incorporating environmental, social and governance indicators, Ms. Yuefen stressed they were private business actors with a clear and direct impact on States’ capacity to make use of maximum available resources to fulfil human rights obligations, especially in relation to economic, social and cultural rights.  To reduce the frequency of debt crises, she outlined the following recommendations: reduce or break the current oligopoly of the “big three”; address the issue of conflict of interest; introduce a system of monitoring and accountability of credit rating agencies; and strengthen the incorporation and application of relevant international human rights standards and norms in the context of the activities of credit rating agencies, including in the monitoring, supervision and reform of their functioning. 

Interactive Discussion

Speakers said the gravity of the sovereign debt situation, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, once again underscored the need to regulate and reform credit rating agencies at the international, regional and national levels.  External debt continued to exert negative pressure on the financial resources of low-income States, threatening their ability to meet their domestic obligations.  This situation could undermine the full exercise of all human rights, in particular economic, social and cultural rights.  Noting that the report had confirmed that the debt situation would be more difficult in 2021, speakers called for an international initiative to address this situation through the Council so as to mitigate the negative social and economic impacts of this crisis.  Credit rating agencies must incorporate into their work an approach based on human rights and social, environmental and governance criteria aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as standards of transparency and accountability.  When deciding whether to use credit ratings, States should consider their possible negative consequences, including in the sphere of ensuring human rights. 


Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/fr/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/03/morning-human-rights-council-holds-dialogue-special-rapporteur

 

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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