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Independent Expert on foreign debt

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

Purpose of the mandate

Despite repeated rescheduling of debt, developing countries continue to pay out more each year than the amount they receive in official development assistance. The increasing debt burden faced by the most indebted developing countries is unsustainable. It presents one of the greatest obstacles to developing sustainably and eradicating poverty.

For many developing countries, excessive debt servicing has severely limited their ability to promote social development and provide basic services to create the conditions for the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights.

The Independent Expert sets out to examine:

  • the problem of the debt burden of developing countries, in particular of the least developed countries,
  • the social impact of the measures arising from foreign debt,
  • the impact of illicit financial flows on the enjoyment of human rights.

Learn more about why foreign debt is a human rights issue.

About the mandate

The mandate was initially established as a Special Rapporteur position by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1998. It has undergone many changes since that date. The current terms of the mandate of the Independent Expert are contained in Human Rights Council resolution 43/10, from June 2020, where the mandate was renewed for a period of three years.

Read more on this history of this mandate.

Current mandate holder

Ms. Yuefen Li, UN Independent Expert on Foreign Debt and Human Rights © UN Photo
Ms. Yuefen Li, UN Independent Expert on Foreign Debt and Human Rights © Eric Bridiers

Ms. Yuefen Li (China) took up her function as the UN Independent Expert on Foreign Debt and Human Rights on 1 May 2020. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Foreign Studies of China and Master’s degree from the American Graduate School of International Management. Before joining the UN in 1990, she was a lecturer in the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, China. She has held various positions at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), including Senior Economic Affairs Officer and Head of UNCTAD’s debt and development finance work. Read Ms. Yuefen Li’s full biography.

Key documents

Guiding Principles for assessing the human rights impact of economic reform policies: Based on existing human rights obligations and responsibilities, the guiding principles underline the importance of systematically assessing the impact of economic reforms on the enjoyment of all human rights before decisions are taken to implement such reforms, as well as during and after their implementation. The Independent Expert submitted the Guiding Principles (A/HRC/40/57, also in Portuguese) to the Human Rights Council in February 2019.

View report page | PDF (user-friendly version): English | Français | Portuguese Português

Guiding principles on foreign debt and human rights: Endorsed by the Human Rights Council in June 2012, these Guiding Principles (A/HRC/20/23) are designed to assist States and all relevant actors in the conduct of their respective activities relating to external debt. View report page

Latest thematic reports

Addressing, from a human rights perspective, the debt-related problems of developing countries caused by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic: In this report, the Independent Expert looks into pre-existing debt vulnerabilities and the existing financing gap affecting efforts to contain the pandemic, highlighting the impact of debt on emergency response efforts of and resources available to States. View report page | View document A/75/164

Private debt and human rights: The Independent Expert studies the negative human rights implications of microcredit, health, education and housing-related debts, abusive collection practices, including the criminalisation of debtors, consumers and migration-related debts, and debt bondage. Private debt can be both a cause and a consequence of human rights violations. View report page | View document A/HRC/43/45

Latest country reports

Visit to Mongolia (2 to 11 September 2019)
View document A/HRC/43/45/Add.2

Visit to the Plurinational State of Bolivia (6 to 15 May 2019)
View document A/HRC/43/45/Add.1

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