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Human rights principles to assess austerity are needed, says UN expert

Austerity measures

28 February 2018

French | Spanish

GENEVA (28 February 2018) - The negative impact of austerity measures on human rights should no longer be ignored, and effective action to avoid the impact is long overdue, the UN’s expert on foreign debt, finance and rights has told the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“There are well-documented lessons about the negative impact of economic measures adopted in times of financial crisis,” said Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, who presented a full report on the issue to the Council.

“Some of these lessons date back decades, but they remain neglected in decision-making, and so the same mistakes are made over and over again. The instrumental role that human rights can and must play in designing and implementing economic reforms has not been effectively incorporated.”

His report is the first in a series aimed at highlighting the known shortcomings of economic reform policies, including austerity measures, which have severe consequences on human rights, especially in social security, work, health and housing. These measures have also weakened democratic institutions and can lead to insecurity, conflict and violence.

Mr. Bohoslavsky has embarked on a year-long project to develop guiding principles for States and other relevant parties to assess economic reform policies from a human rights perspective, and to learn from past and present mistakes. Preliminary aspects of these principles are outlined in the report presented today, and aim at triggering discussion and broad participation.

“Managing economic and fiscal affairs is a core government function, intimately linked to its human rights obligations,” Mr. Bohoslavsky underlined.

“The extent to which budget cuts undermine human rights depends entirely on who is consulted, what priorities are established and how such cuts are implemented.”

The UN expert added: “Ultimately, the critical questions to ask are whether budget cuts will worsen existing inequalities, and who will be the most affected by those measures.”

The Independent Expert also presented three reports on his 2017 visits to Tunisia, Panama and Switzerland, which all include assessment of the progress made on curbing illicit financial flows.

“Tax justice is a pressing human rights issue,” said Mr. Bohoslavsky. “The more emphasis we place on its international dimensions and human rights implications, and on the need for all countries to engage domestically and internationally in fighting tax evasion, tax fraud and overall opacity, the closer we will come to meaningful changes.”


Join the Independent Expert and other key panellists in a side-event to discuss the thematic report, Palais des Nations, room XXVII, Friday 2 March, 12:00 to13:30.  

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. 

Follow the Independent Expert’s work on twitter at: @IEfinanceHRs

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:
Juana Sotomayor, Human Rights Officer- OHCHR/ SPB (+41 22 917 9445 or +41 78 77 60 371 [email protected]) and Frédérique Bourque , Associate Human Rights Officer (+41 22 917 9946 [email protected]) or write to [email protected]

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact
Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

This year, 2018, is the 70th anniversaryof the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Upfor Human Rights: