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Human rights must be top priority in economic reforms, says UN expert

27 February 2019

GENEVA (27 February 2019) — Human rights must be the top priority in economic reforms, says the UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky.

The issue is being highlighted on 28 February when Mr. Bohoslavsky reports to the Human Rights Council on his visits to Ukraine and Sri Lanka in 2018.

Mr. Boholsavsky will also present the Guiding Principles on human rights impact assessment of economic reform policies - such as austerity - which are based on existing human rights obligations of States and other actors, offering legal and operational guidance to ensure respect and fulfilment of their obligations. “Impact assessments help us know to what extent human rights are effectively protected and respected both in times of economic crisis and in other circumstances,” he says.
“In Ukraine, multilateral and bilateral lenders have aided to cover some of the country's financial needs and to embark on economic reform in order to boost investment. Extensive fiscal consolidation has also been applied since 2014 and major privatisations are under discussion. Several measures to address poverty, inflation and the dire social situation of a majority of its population were adopted to mitigate the impact of these reforms,” the expert says.

“However, my report concludes that important challenges remain, particularly in striking the right balance between fostering economic development, realising all human rights and implementing measures to combat corruption,” the expert says.

“Various efforts were made recently to fight against illicit financial flows, but rooting out endemic corruption cannot be achieved without a holistic approach and emphasis on prevention,” he stresses.

In his report on Sri Lanka, Mr. Bohoslavsky also expresses a number of human rights concerns arising from the country’s economic policies.

“Public debt in Sri Lanka has increased significantly in recent years. In order to promote growth the Government has adopted economic policy reforms and implemented important public investment programmes. Fiscal consolidation and reforms were put in place in sectors such as land, labour, social safety nets and State-owned enterprises,” he says.

“Maintaining free education and healthcare schemes has remained a priority, but I am concerned about some of the ongoing reforms on public spending and some social sectors and potential impact on social, economic and cultural rights. Human rights impact assessments should be conducted systemically prior to the adoption of economic reforms,” he adds.

“My report also points out that women have been affected in extreme ways, many becoming victims of reckless micro-lending, over-indebtedness and outrageous exploitation, greed and abuses from a number of lenders.

“I welcome the Sri Lankan Government’s current policy of writing off the debts taken on by women in 12 drought-hit regions. But further steps should be taken. The entire sector should be robustly regulated and closely monitored to ensure that all forms of abuse end immediately,” Mr. Bohoslavsky emphasises.

“International human rights instruments are crucial as they help to ensure that major projects can lead to real benefits for the entire population,” he says.

“Both the legislative and policy frameworks already provide some relevant criteria to assess projects; however it is essential that Sri Lanka builds upon what already exists to develop and implement a comprehensive framework to assess the human rights impact of its policies.”


Note: The Independent Expert and other key panelists are taking part in a side-event to discuss the thematic report at Palais des Nations, room XXV, Friday 1 March, 13:00 to 14:30.

Mr. 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:
Ms Junko Tadaki, Human Rights Officer- OHCHR/ SPB (+41 22 917 9298, [email protected]) or Ms 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
Mr. Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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