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UN expert issues new guiding principles on economic reforms and human rights

Experto de la ONU publica nuevos principios rectores sobre reformas económicas y derechos humanos

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GENEVA (21 January 2019) – Human rights must be an integral component of policymaking to ensure economic reforms help advance societies, rather than hinder people’s lives, an independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council said today.

Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, the Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, published the Guiding Principles on Human Rights Impact Assessments of Economic Reforms to assist States, international financial institutions, creditors, civil society and others to ensure that economic policies are embedded in human rights.  They will be presented to the Human Rights Council on 28 February 2019.* 

"The thrust of the Guiding Principles is that States cannot shy away from their human rights obligations in economic policymaking at all times, even in times of economic crisis," said Bohoslavsky. 

"Any economic policy measures – whether fiscal austerity, structural adjustment reforms, privatisation of public services, deregulation of financial and labour markets, or changes in taxation – all have human rights consequences.

"Governments at all levels - including local and subnational governments - must properly take into account their human rights obligations when designing and formulating economic reforms. Human rights impact assessments are key to this process," he said. 

"In particular, such assessments should pay particular attention to potential and cumulative impacts of economic measures on specific individuals and groups, such as women and persons with disabilities," he stressed.  

Bohoslavsky added that the new Guiding Principles make clear that international financial institutions, creditors and donors must not turn a blind eye to the human rights impact of their loans and grants.

"In particular, the international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, have an obligation to ensure that their loan conditionalities, advice and proposals for economic reforms do not undermine the borrower State’s human rights obligations," said Bohoslavsky, who has previously urged the IMF to undertake human rights impact assessments.


* The UN expert’s presentation will be broadcast live on the UN WebTV, from 9:00 am (GMT+1) on 28 February 2019.

Background note: Human Rights Council resolutions 34/3 and 37/11 requested the Independent Expert to develop guiding principles for assessing human rights impact of economic reform policies and to submit them at its 40th session. The Guiding Principles are based on extensive consultations with States, international financial institutions, civil society and academic experts over the last two years.  The details of the consultations and submissions received are available on the Independent Expert’s webpage.

Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky (Argentina) was appointed as Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and human rights by the United Nations Human Rights Council on 8 May 2014.  He has previously 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. He is independent of any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity.

The Special Rapporteurs 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 either 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.

For more information and media requests, please contact:Junko Tadaki (+41 22 917 9298 / jtadaki@ohchr.org) or Frédérique Bourque (+41 22 917 9946 fbourque@ohchr.org) or write to ieforeigndebt@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org).