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 34/3, from March 2017, 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) to the Human Rights Council on 28 February 2019, on the occasion of its 40th session.

PDF: English | Français | Portuguese Português

Latest thematic reports

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

Responsibility for complicity of IFIs in human rights violations in the context of retrogressive economic reforms: This report to the General Assembly explores how 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. View report page | View document A/74/178

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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