Private debts: too often cause and consequence of human rights violations – UN expert
02 March 2020
GENEVA (2 March 2020) – Contracting individuals’ and households’ private debt must not be used as a substitute to States’ human rights duties and to make up for the States’ colossal failures to ensure economic, social and cultural rights for all, said a UN expert in a report presented to the Human Rights Council today.
As housing, health, education and even justice are not considered as rights but as goods that can be bought, too many people have no choice but to resort to debt to access these rights, both in developing and developed countries, the expert said. Low wages, poverty and inequality - exacerbated by privatization, austerity measures and labour market flexibilization – push millions of people into debt.
“I observed that, while contracting debt is not a problem per se, private debt can nevertheless be both a cause and a consequence of human rights violations,” said Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, the UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights.
His report sheds light on a number of very concerning practices including debt bond, “hospital detention” for non-payment of medical bills and abusive lending and collection practices. In addition, the financial industry technology is increasingly and aggressively facilitating credit through digital means, including mobile application, which leads to over-borrowing. These practices remain highly unregulated.
Reminding that high levels of household debts have been associated with macroeconomic instability and financial crises, the UN expert provided a number of recommendations to States to protect individual debtors’ human rights.
In particular, Bohoslavsky called on States to regulate and monitor all lending activities, formal and informal, and to adopt legislation that prohibits the enforcement of debts where there is evidence of misrepresentation, fraud, miss-selling, coercion, unfair terms, harassment or other abusive practices by lenders.
The Independent Expert also presented to the Human Rights Council the findings of his recent missions to Bolivia and Mongolia.
Looking at various issues in these two countries including sustainable development, taxation, debt, mineral extraction and public participation in decision-making processes, the Independent Expert also noted the importance of using human rights impact assessments to monitor the impact of economic reforms on the population, especially on the groups in situation of vulnerability.
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.
The Independent Experts 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.
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