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INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT FINANCING: “IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT MORE RESOURCES” – UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS EXPERT

26 May 2015

GENEVA (26 May 2015) – The Third International Conference on Financing for Development should endorse and reinforce a human rights based approach to development, United Nations expert Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky said today, urging governments worldwide to drum up the necessary resources to ensure that future international development goals can realistically be met.

The appeal* by the United Nations Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and human rights comes as States negotiate the outcome document of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, to be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 13 to 16 July 2015.

“Human rights must be at the core of development financing to ensure that everybody can enjoy a decent life, free from hunger, and has access to education, health care, housing and drinking water,” Mr. Bohoslavsky stressed. “The Conference should reiterate that the human being is the central subject of development and should be its active participant and beneficiary.”

The expert urged negotiators to recognize in the Conference’s outcome document that unsustainable debt burdens continue to pose challenges to sustainable development and to the realization of economic, social and cultural rights. “While international debt relief for highly indebted poor countries has been important, most of them are expected to miss the UN Millennium Development by the end of this year,” he said.

“Unfortunately, some of these countries are again at risk of falling into a debt trap,” Mr.  Bohoslavsky warned. “This failure should not be repeated and long-term solutions to the global problem of unsustainable debt are required, including for middle-income and highly developed countries.”

The Independent Expert noted that private finance and businesses enterprises can make an important contribution to sustainable development; however, he underscored that “the conference should reiterate that States have to ensure that all investments must comply with relevant social, environmental and human rights standards, including the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Guiding Principles on Foreign Debt and Human Rights.”

“Infrastructure projects financed by development loans have displaced millions of people around the world during the last decade and affected individuals have not always received adequate compensation,” he said expressing concern that the environmental and social safeguard procedures of development banks have not been sufficiently robust to prevent human rights violations.

Mr. Bohoslavsky also noted that references to equality in the outcome document should not be limited to gender equality only. “International human rights law obliges States to ensure equality and non-discrimination throughout society, including persons with disabilities, children, members of minorities and other groups at risk of social exclusion,” he said.

“The Conference’s increased emphasis on curbing illicit financial flows, tax evasion and tax avoidance will be critical to ensure that States are able to meet their commitment to devote maximum available resources to the realization of economic, social and cultural rights,” the Independent Expert stated.

“However,” he warned, “the current draft is missing more clear-cut commitments to eliminate banking secrecy, to protect journalists and whistle-blowers exposing corruption or tax evasion from reprisals, and a measurable target for the reduction of illicit financial flows.”

The expert appreciated that the draft outcome document calls for a fair, efficient and timely restructuring of public debt based on the principle of shared responsibility, but reminded negotiators that “debt restructuring processes should also ensure that States can fulfil their human rights obligations.”

The Independent Expert recommended, the Conference should support UNCTAD’s work on sovereign debt workouts and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Foreign Debt and Human Rights.

“We need to reconcile sometimes conflicting obligations of States: repayment of debt and respect for human rights,” Mr. Bohoslavsky noted. “International law has the tools available to carry out this delicate task and more attention should be paid to them.”

“I hope that the Conference will also address the problem of vulture funds,” he said. “Certain hedge funds should not be allowed to undermine solutions to sovereign debt crises at the detriment of cooperative bondholders and people living in affected countries.”

“I endorse as well the suggestions by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to make the final declaration of the conference more compatible with international human rights norms and standards,” he concluded.

(*) Check the Independent Expert’s detailed comments on the revised draft outcome document:   http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/IEDebt/Paper3FFD22May2015.pdf

Mr. Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky (Argentina) was appointed as Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and human rights by the UN Human Rights Council on 8 May 2014.  Before, he 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. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Development/IEDebt/Pages/IEDebtIndex.aspx

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.

UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Pages/Tools.aspx 

UN Guiding Principles on Foreign Debt and Human Rights: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Development/IEDebt/Pages/GuidingPrinciples.aspx

OHCHR’s analysis of the draft outcome document: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Development/CommentsOnFFD.pdf

For more information and media requests, please contact Gunnar Theissen (+41 22 917 9321 / gtheissen@ohchr.org) or write to ieforeigndebt@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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For use of the information media; not an official record

HR15/142E