Guiding Principles on foreign debt and human rights

Published
10 April 2011
Author
The Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt on human rights
Presented
To the HRC at its 20th session

The Guiding Principles are designed to assist States and all relevant actors in the conduct of their respective activities and pursuit of their respective interests relating to external debt.

The Independent Expert submitted the Guiding Principles on Foreign Debt and Human Rights to the Human Rights Council in June 2012. They were endorsed by its resolution 20/10. In March 2014 the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt, Mr. Cephas Lumina, submitted a Draft Commentary to the Council (as submitted, unedited).

Background

The Human Rights Council requested the Independent Expert through its resolution 20/10 to develop a commentary to the guiding principles by inviting comments from States, international financial institutions, regional economic commissions, civil society organisations, the private sector and academia.

In resolution 2004/18, the then Commission on Human Rights requested the Independent Expert on economic reform policies “to draft general guidelines to be followed by States and by private and public, national and international financial institutions in the decision-making and execution of debt repayments and structural reform programmes, including those arising from foreign debt relief, to ensure that compliance with the commitments derived from foreign debt will not undermine the obligations for the realisation of fundamental economic, social and cultural rights, as provided for in the international human rights instruments, and to present a preliminary draft on this matter to the Commission at its sixty-first session and a final draft at the sixty-second session of the Commission.”

By its decision 2/109, the Human Rights Council requested the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to convene an expert consultation for the purpose of contributing to the process of drafting the general Guidelines. The consultation was expected to provide: (a) an overall picture of how foreign debt and debt relief programmes, as well as different kinds of economic reform programme, impact on the capacity of States to comply with human rights standards; and (b) identify suggestions on possible recommendations to States, international organisations and other stakeholders regarding possible policy elements to promote and protect human rights in developing countries while implementing debt and economic reform programmes”.

Following the expert consultation, Mr. Mudho informally presented a preliminary draft of the guidelines to the seventh session of the Human Rights Council (March 2008), and noted in his report that the guidelines needed further consultation and work (A/HRC/7/9).

In subsequent resolutions (7/4, 11/5, and 12/119), the Council requested the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt, Mr. Cephas Lumina, to continue to work on the guidelines, including by seeking “the views and suggestions of States, international organisations, United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, regional economic commissions, international and regional financial institutions and non-governmental organisations”. The Council also called on OHCHR to assist the Independent Expert in the organisation and holding of regional consultations on the draft general guidelines.

Consultations on the Draft General Guidelines on Foreign Debt and Human Rights

With the support of OHCHR, the Independent Expert held four regional consultations on the draft general guidelines between June 2010 and June 2011 (Latin America and Caribbean in June 2010; Africa in November 2010; Asia Pacific in February 2011; and Western Europe and other groups in June 2011). The purpose of the regional consultations was to generate ideas, based on regional experiences and perspectives, on the form and content of the draft guidelines with a view to improving them.

The regional consultations brought together government representatives, members of Parliament, regional economic commissions, individual experts, civil society organisations and other stakeholders to formulate ideas and recommendations on how best the guidelines could serve the purpose of assisting States and public and private, national and international financial institutions in the decision-making and execution of debt repayments and structural reforms programmes, including those arising from foreign debt relief, to ensure that compliance with the commitments derived from foreign debt do not undermine the obligations for the realisation of fundamental economic, social and cultural rights”. A report on the regional consultations was presented to the seventeenth session of the Human Rights Council in June 2011 (A/HRC/17/37).

Final Expert Consultation on the Draft Guiding Principles on Foreign Debt and Human Rights, 17-18 November 2011

In November 2011, the Independent Expert convened an expert meeting to review a new draft that he had prepared based on the insights from the regional consultations. In February 2012, he convened a public consultation in Geneva on the updated text of the guiding principles that had been prepared following the aforementioned expert meeting. Several States and civil society organisations participated in this consultation. The text of the principles was also placed on the Independent Expert’s web page together with an invitation for public comments. Several stakeholders, including States, international financial institutions, regional economic commissions, civil society organisations and individuals provided written comments on the new draft.

For further information, please see the following documents:

Summary of the draft general guidelines

Fourth Regional Multi-Stakeholder Consultation on the Draft General Guidelines on Foreign Debt and Human Rights, Geneva, 20-21 June 2011

In resolution 7/4, the Human Rights Council requested further work on the development of the guidelines on foreign debt and human rights. In this regard, the Council called upon the Independent Expert to seek the views and suggestions of States, international organisations, United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, regional economic commissions, international and regional financial institutions and non-government organisations on the draft general guidelines.

Subsequent to the regional stakeholder consultations held in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and Asia/Pacific, the fourth regional consultation will convene delegations from Central Asia, Western and Eastern Europe and North America.

The consultation organised by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights took place from 20 to 21 June 2011.

Experts in the field of human rights, finance, economics and development were invited to this regional consultation, which provides an opportunity to exchange ideas and propose suggestions on improving the quality and relevance of the existing guidelines on foreign debt and human rights.

For further information, please see the following documents:

Based on these consultations, a version of the Guiding Principles was submitted to the Human Rights Council in June 2012 and endorsed by its resolution 20/10.