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Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt

Independent Expert on foreign debt, other international financial obligations and human 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 52/17, from April 2023, where the mandate was renewed for a period of three years. Two additional resolutions were adopted at the HRC’s 46th session, resolution 46/8 on the effects of foreign debt on the enjoyment of human rights, and 46/11 on non-repatriation of funds of illicit origin.

Read more on this history of this mandate

Current mandate holder

Professor Attiya Waris

Professor Attiya Waris (Kenya) was appointed the UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights by the Human Rights Council at its 47th session and took up this function on 1 August 2021. She holds a PhD in Law and is a specialist in Fiscal Law, Policy and Development. Ms Waris teaches at the Law School, University of Nairobi, Kenya and has previously taught in South Africa, Rwanda, Malaysia and the United Kingdom. Prof Waris has researched and published on global, African, Asian, European as well as Latin American issues.

Read Professor Waris' full biography and CV

Key documents

Flyers: Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations on human rights:

A brief summary of the scope, essential reports, and country visits of the mandate and the means of communication. This flyer has been developed to disseminate the mandate's content activities and achievements. It is available in English, French, and Spanish.

A/HRC/40/57: 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 to the Human Rights Council in February 2019.

A/HRC/20/23: Guiding principles on foreign debt and human rights:

Endorsed by the Human Rights Council in June 2012, these Guiding Principles are designed to assist States and all relevant actors in the conduct of their respective activities relating to external debt.


Contact Information

Independent Expert on foreign debt,
OHCHR-UNOG, 8-14 Avenue de la Paix, 1211 Geneve 10, Switzerland

Email: [email protected]

Follow the Independent Expert on Twitter @IEfinanceHRs

Former mandate holders

Ms. Yuefen Li (China)

Mr. Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky (Argentina)

Dr. Cephas Lumina (Zambia)

Mr. Bernards Mudho (Kenya)

Mr. Fantu Cheru (United States of America/Ethiopia)