Header image for news printout

Human Rights Council holds dialogue with Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery and starts dialogue with Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development

GENEVA (16 September 2020) - The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive discussion with the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, and started an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to development.

Speaking on contemporary forms of slavery were European Union, Norway, Liechtenstein, Sovereign Order of Malta, UN Women, Pakistan, France, Armenia, India, Japan, Indonesia, Libya, Senegal, Iraq, Ukraine, Australia, Morocco, China, Iran, Belgium, Cameroon, Venezuela, Nepal, Uruguay, Malaysia, Paraguay, Lebanon, Greece, United Kingdom, Philippines, Egypt, Bolivia, Tunisia, Chad and South Africa.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations : Anti-Slavery International, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Action Canada for Population and Development, Minority Rights Group, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Prahar, Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of Good Shepherd, Conectas Direitos Humanos (video message), Réseau Unité pour le Développement de Mauritanie, and the International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The Council then began an interactive discussion with the Special Rapporteur on the right to development.

Speaking on the right to development were European Union, Netherlands, Cabo Verde, Burkina Faso, Fiji, Pakistan, Holy See (video message), Cuba, Djibouti, Ecuador, Burkina Faso, Maldives, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Iraq, Togo, Morocco, Chile, El Salvador, South Africa, China, Namibia, Iran, Cameroon, Angola, Switzerland, Venezuela, Nepal, Malaysia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Russian Federation, Syria, Azerbaijan, Philippines (video message), Egypt, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Bolivia and Chad.

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-fifth regular session can be found here.

At 3 p.m., the Council will conclude the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to development.  It will then hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery

Presentation of Reports

TOMOYA OBOKATA, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, presenting his report on the impact of the coronavirus disease pandemic on contemporary forms of slavery and slavery-like practices, said there was evidence that the pandemic had provided incentives for some businesses to exploit workers, such as those producing, processing and providing essential items including food, medicine and medical equipment, and personal protection equipment.  Examples of violations of labour rights had already been reported in various parts of the world in this regard.  The direct and indirect impacts of the coronavirus disease pandemic on contemporary forms of slavery were real and it had hit the vulnerable populations the hardest.  This unfortunately was likely to continue for the foreseeable future and this was why he counted on Member States to take decisive action now.  Despite resource constraints and other difficulties experienced by all States, international human rights law continued to apply during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Turning to the report on the country visit to Togo by his predecessor, Urmila Bhoola, Mr. Obokata said she had noted that despite encouraging developments, child labour was still widespread in Togo.  Poverty and inequality were driving factors for this, but there were cultural and social factors as well.  Further, child marriage remained an issue of concern in some parts of the country.

Statement by Concerned Country

Togo, speaking as a concerned country, said the Government had adopted in July 2019 a national child welfare policy for 2019-2030.  In addition, more specific measures had been taken, in particular the adoption, in February 2020, of the National Action Plan to Combat the Worst Forms of Child Labour, which had been supplemented a few months later, in May 2020, by Decree n° 1556, which outlined the hazardous types of work prohibited for children.  The identification and detection of vulnerable children or victims was ensured, in particular by reporting through a hotline called Allo1011.  The Togolese Government was working to ensure that all the basic needs of children were met, including nutrition, health and education, in order to guarantee the enjoyment of their rights and their full development, preferably within the family and community framework.


Speakers noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had notably affected women who were in precarious employment.  The pandemic had led to a deterioration of the socioeconomic situation worldwide, which would likely increase global poverty and inequalities, as well as heighten the worse forms of exploitation, including slavery and child labour.  Specific references to a State in a report dealing with a global problem should be avoided or only be included following consultation with the concerned State, some speakers said.  The nexus between slavery and irregular migration was underscored by some speakers, who called for a human rights-based approach to address this issue. 

Interim Remarks by the Special Rapporteur

TOMOYA OBOKATA, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences, said financial investigations and asset recovery could help alleviate the financial difficulties that States faced as a result of the pandemic.  He encouraged States to support academic research on slavery, and stressed that civil society played an important role, notably by providing protection to victims, which must be acknowledged and supported. 


Speakers said “building back better” must have anti-slavery efforts at its heart, and measures should be implemented to make businesses legally responsible for preventing slavery.  Additional efforts were required to ensure that labour protection extended to all vulnerable groups, notably in Commonwealth countries.  The term ‘contemporary forms of slavery’ suggested it was possible to draw a distinction between current and past experiences of slavery, allowing States that were deeply implicated in the Transatlantic slave trade to avoid taking real responsibility in the form of reparations or other remedies.  States must include in their COVID-19 response packages compensation for women’s work, particularly those from marginalized communities.

Concluding Remarks

TOMOYA OBOKATA, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, said that to build a momentum around the elimination of child labour, he had been collaborating not only with the International Labour Organization headquarters but also some of its country offices.  Proactive international law enforcement cooperation, and enhancing capacities so as to enhance such cooperation, was key to address contemporary forms of slavery.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development

Presentation of Reports

SAAD ALFARARGI, Special Rapporteur on the right to development, presenting his report, recommended that Governments allocate the most resources to the poorest regions and to vulnerable populations.  To address regional inequalities and better facilitate participation at the community level, States and development finance institutions should localize development financing by establishing local development centres and by providing technical support platforms for municipalities.  States should improve their disaggregated data collection to ensure that financing for development targeted those most in need.  In relation to tax policies, States should establish progressive tax systems that served as tools for fighting economic inequality ; limit tax holidays and special provisions for foreign investors ; and bolster tax administrations and create specialized units for enforcing taxes on the wealthy and corporations. 

Turning to his visit to Switzerland, Mr. Alfarargi encouraged the Government to continue implementing its traditional international cooperation approach that was oriented towards assisting the poorest populations in the poorest countries, and expressed concerns regarding the stagnation of official development assistance for the period 2021–2024.

Statement by Concerned Country

Switzerland, speaking as a concerned country, said it had done its best to give the Special Rapporteur an objective and transparent overview of its policies on the right to development, and saluted his open and constructive spirit.  The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda was a universal agenda that concerned all.  In line with the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation, Switzerland had put in place a coordination structure that supported the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Switzerland was committed to applying a human rights-based approach in its international cooperation programmes, and the professional integration of persons with disabilities was a priority of Switzerland’s disability policy.  Difficulties remained, and even though Switzerland had a comprehensive and solid social security system, poverty was a reality to be tackled.  Through measures to further integrate women into the labour market, Switzerland supported women’s economic empowerment.


Speakers welcomed the report’s approach that sought to align the right to development with the Sustainable Development Goals and encouraged mainstreaming it into the mobilization of resources and fiscal policies.  They flagged the lack of meaningful individual and community participation in financing for development.  Unilateral coercive measures imposed by rich countries further impeded efforts to mobilize resources needed to effectively ensure the enjoyment of the right to development.  Speakers asked the Special Rapporteur, what could be done, in his opinion, to re-dynamize efforts to increase official development assistance to 0.7 per cent of donors' national income.  “Leave no one behind” was no longer a slogan, but rather a matter of urgency in face of the destructive effects of COVID-19.  No nation was able to cope on its own, and the international community should consider cancelling the debt of developing nations.  The pandemic had laid bare the effects of poverty, which continued to wreak havoc across the world.  On a global scale, the right to development was not enacted to the expected levels, speakers noted, and urged the implementation of the Addis Ababa plan of action.

Interim Remarks by the Special Rapporteur

SAAD ALFARARGI, Special Rapporteur on the right to development, said that ensuring meaningful participation implied placing individuals and communities at the centre of decision-making processes, including those pertaining to financing for development.


Speakers said that while States had a duty to actualize the right to development at the local level, the responsibility to promote it was global.  The human right to development was an inalienable right by virtue of which the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms was achieved.  Speakers expressed support for the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations that progressive tax regimes be introduced to combat economic inequalities.


For use of the information media; not an official record