UN expert issues new guiding principles on economic reforms and human rights

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GENEVA (21 January 2019) – Human rights must be an integral component of policymaking to ensure economic reforms help advance societies, rather than hinder people’s lives, an independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council said today.

Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, the Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, published the Guiding Principles on Human Rights Impact Assessments of Economic Reforms to assist States, international financial institutions, creditors, civil society and others to ensure that economic policies are embedded in human rights.  They will be presented to the Human Rights Council on 28 February 2019.*

“The thrust of the Guiding Principles is that States cannot shy away from their human rights obligations in economic policymaking at all times, even in times of economic crisis,” said Bohoslavsky.

“Any economic policy measures – whether fiscal austerity, structural adjustment reforms, privatisation of public services, deregulation of financial and labour markets, or changes in taxation – all have human rights consequences.

“Governments at all levels – including local and subnational governments – must properly take into account their human rights obligations when designing and formulating economic reforms. Human rights impact assessments are key to this process,” he said.

“In particular, such assessments should pay particular attention to potential and cumulative impacts of economic measures on specific individuals and groups, such as women and persons with disabilities,” he stressed.

Bohoslavsky added that the new Guiding Principles make clear that international financial institutions, creditors and donors must not turn a blind eye to the human rights impact of their loans and grants.

“In particular, the international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, have an obligation to ensure that their loan conditionalities, advice and proposals for economic reforms do not undermine the borrower State’s human rights obligations,” said Bohoslavsky, who has previously urged the IMF to undertake human rights impact assessments.