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Debt standstill for distressed countries must go beyond 2020, urges UN expert

14 May 2020

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GENEVA (14 May 2020) – The new Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, Yuefen Li, called today on international financial institutions, G20 and private creditors to extend the announced six-month debt standstill to low-income and debt-distressed middle-income countries until at least the middle of next year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has widely exposed the debt vulnerability of many developing countries. “Even before the pandemic, 40 percent of low-income countries were struggling to service their debt. Today, to contain the spread of the coronavirus and keep the economy afloat, developing countries would need more than US$2.5 trillion, according to IMF and UN estimates,” said Li.

The IMF and G-20 special measures to ease debt-servicing burdens were welcome by the expert. “However,” she said, “a six-month debt standstill is too short for genuinely assisting debt distressed countries in containing COVID-19. The evolution of the pandemic seems very difficult to predict, with possible new outbreaks and its effects on economies, unemployment, inequalities and poverty will go beyond 2020.”

“I call on the IMF, the G20 countries and regional development banks, as well as the private creditors, to extend the current debt standstills for these countries beyond December 2020 to at least June 2021,” said Li.

She called on international and regional financial institutions and private creditors to carefully consider their actions in light of their own human rights obligations, as well as those of debtors to increase access to adequate health services, water, sanitation and housing and social protection to fight the pandemic.

“It is crucial that this extension is decided now to provide more certainty to the financial market, give the debt-distressed countries a space to breath and to allow them to use the maximum of their available resources to saving lives and to protecting and promoting economic, social and cultural rights until the pandemic is contained and a cure found,” the Independent Expert said.


Ms. Yuefen Li (China)is the new 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.

Prior to joining the UN in 1990, Ms. Li was a lecturer at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, China.  At the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), she assumed various high-level positions and headed UNCTAD’s debt and development finance work. She also managed various projects including on Sovereign Lending and Borrowing and Globalization. Ms. Li has been guest professor at various universities including Tsinghua University in China. She is currently Senior Advisor on South-South Cooperation and Development Finance at the South Centre.

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 organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

Follow the Independent Expert’s work on Twitter: @IEfinanceHRs

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Frédérique Bourque ([email protected]) or Mr. Bahram Ghazi ([email protected])

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9445 / [email protected])

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