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Thematic reports

A/74/178: Responsibility for complicity of international financial institutions in human rights violations in the context of retrogressive economic reforms: report


16 July 2019

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Foreign and external debt


This report demonstrates that the introduction of austerity measures does not contribute to economic recovery, but instead has negative consequences in terms of economic growth, debt ratios and equality, and routinely results in a series of negative human rights impacts. There is therefore a solid legal basis to make the case for a prima facie inconsistency between the imposition of austerity policies in times of recession and the enjoyment of human rights.

Because of the usual circumstances in which States find themselves when seeking assistance from international financial institutions, conditionalities are often imposed and are not necessarily negotiated with borrower States, not to mention their populations, who are even less involved in the associated consultations, discussions or negotiations. The scope of such conditionalities, which has been continuously expanded over recent decades, helps in understanding their pervasiveness and omnipresence in key sovereign businesses.

According to standards of international law, international financial institutions may be held responsible for complicity in the imposition of economic reforms that violate human rights. The causal link between the assistance provided (in the form of loans, surveillance and technical assistance, and attached conditionalities) in the commitment of an internationally wrongful act (complicity) and the harm done (human rights violations) is evident and well documented. The knowledge of the wrongful nature of the act could be presumed if, even when advancing the implementation of economic reforms that normally lead to human rights violations, no ex ante impact assessment is undertaken. Legal responsibility for complicity raises obligations in terms of cessation, non-repetition and reparation.

Issued By:

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

Delivered To:

74th session of the GA