Sunday, March 06, 2016

Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights: 4 reports on inequality, illicit financial flows, lending policies of China and on Greece

The United Nations Independent Expert on Foreign Debt and Human Rights,  Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, presented 4 reports to the Human Rights Council on 7 March 2016.  These included the following:
 --Inequality, financial crises and human rights (annual thematic report);
-- Illicit financial flows, human rights and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (final study);
-- Human rights in the international lending of China (report of country visit);
-- Greece: Economic and social rights have been denied in a widespread manner (report of country visit)

Mr. Bohoslavsky has previously reported on the nature of Chinese sovereign lending in 2015 (UN Independent Expert on Foreign Debt: “A human rights focus would upgrade China’s international lending” – UN expert on foreign debt/联合国外债专家:重视人权将让中国在国际贷款方面更上一层楼), which highlighted the distinct views of the nature and character of sovereign lending (see, e.g., here, and here).

Some conclusions worth debating: (1) structural adjustment programs should be subjected to robust human rights impact assessments and not only orientated at short term fiscal targets to regain debt sustainability; (2) the human rights effects of tax avoidance ought to be considered--as well as the structural problems of taxing transnational production chains; (3) China lacks a robust framework for robust human rights impacts assessments of its lending activities, especially abroad; and (4)that lending programs for Greece must be sensitive to their human rights effects on the Greek population. Each of these insights suggest the need for coherence in policy among a constellation of economic activity in the public and private spheres.  But some of the insights can be generalized--especially those that were derived from the examination of Greek debt and Chinese lending activities. At the same time, the reports also suggest a substantial tension: the relationship between sovereign rights and responsibilities of states (especially in the Greek case) and transnational protection for human rights of those who states are obliged (under constitutional and international law) to represent.  Until that contradiction is overcome--or principles of constitutional and international governance advance, solutions will always be partial and fractured.

A summary of the reports with links follow.

Expert to present reports on inequality, illicit financial flows, lending policies of China and on Greece to the Human Rights Council

News from the United Nations Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights

On Monday, 7 March  2016 the Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, will present four reports to the Human Rights Council.

Inequality, financial crises and human rights

His annual thematic report discusses the interrelationship between inequality and financial crises and their implication for the enjoyment of human rights.  Bohoslavsky argues that extreme inequalities of today have significantly contributed to the emergence of financial crises. The report analyses also how financial and sovereign debt crises have in turn entrenched economic inequalities and how austerity measures adopted in response to them have pushed many individuals below minimum income levels.  

International human rights law has something to say about economic inequality, as States have duties to prevent inequality undermining human rights. While human rights law does not necessarily imply a perfectly equal distribution of income and wealth, it does require conditions in which rights can be fully exercised. As a consequence, a certain level of redistribution is expected in order to guarantee individuals an equal enjoyment of the realization of their basic rights without resulting in discriminatory outcomes.

His report concludes with several recommendations on how to address inequalities in the prevention of financial crises and in their response: financial market regulation, minimum wages, progressive taxation and social protection floors. Structural adjustment programmes should be subjected to robust human rights impact assessments and not only orientated at short term fiscal targets to regain debt sustainability.

Read the report                             Related side event Geneva, 9 March 2016, 14:00-16:00, Room XXIII

Illicit financial flows, human rights and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The Independent Expert will also present his final study on illicit financial flows, human rights and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  The study focuses in more detail on tax-related illicit financial flows, in particular on tax evasion and avoidance by transnational corporations. It expands on his interim study published last year.  The final study argues that tax abuse deprives governments of resources required to progressively realize human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights. In effect, tax abuse forces governments to raise revenue from other sources, including through regressive taxes, the burden of which ultimately falls hardest on the poor. This has important human rights implications because regressive tax structures limit the redistributive impact of social programmes which end up being funded by the very people they are supposed to benefit.  

Bohoslavsky welcomes that a that a target to reduce illicit financial flows has been included in the Sustainable Development Goals, arguing that achieving progress would however require stronger policy efforts by many stakeholders, including by countries of origin and of destination.  In addition clear accountability for implementing the target need to be established. Reducing illicit financial flows would also be an important element in the fight against unsustainable debt in developing countries. The study concludes with a set of recommendations.  Read his final study

Human rights in the international lending of China

The report of the country visit of the Independent Expert to China focuses on the regulatory frameworks, safeguards and policies adopted by China, its main international lending institutions, and newly established multi-lateral development banks headquartered in China to prevent negative human rights impacts in outbound investment.  

China has become a key player in providing funds for South-South cooperation and long-term financing for sustainable development to its partner countries. Development projects supported by Chinese financial institutions have brought benefits, but some projects have caused adverse environmental, social and human rights impacts to affected individuals and communities.

The report notes that there have been several efforts within China to address environmental and social impacts. However, a comprehensive framework for ensuring respect for and protection of human rights in international lending and outbound investment is still lacking. Additional efforts are needed to strengthen the implementation of existing guidelines in operational practices, to improve consultation with affected individuals and communities, and to enhance the responsiveness of financial institutions to their concerns. This includes ensuring that affected persons enjoy effective remedies for potential human rights abuses. In addition there is a need for more transparency.

Business enterprises implementing projects abroad and financial institutions funding their projects should establish accessible operational-level grievance mechanisms and independent complaints mechanisms.  China should also adopt appropriate legislative and administrative measures to ensure accountability and legal liability of Chinese companies and their abroad subsidiaries for potential human rights abuses.   Read the report

Greece: Economic and social rights have been denied in a widespread manner

The Independent Expert visited Greece in December 2015 to follow-up on an earlier visit by his predecessor in April 2013. His report finds that after several years of adjustment policies, more than one million persons in Greece have fallen below income levels indicating extreme poverty, meaning they have to live on less than 8.41 EUR per day. Unemployment, in particular youth unemployment has remained at unacceptable high levels. Unfortunately human rights obligations of Greece and its international lenders towards rights-holders within the country continue to be sidelined, both in the design of adjustment policies and in the implementation of much needed structural reforms.

The Independent Expert notes that the Government of Greece is currently partially unable to secure for a growing number of individuals within its territory the enjoyment of essential economic and social rights, a situation that has gotten worse during the last months as Greece is financially ill-positioned to provide to an increasing number of refugees stranded within its territory adequate protection, food, housing and health care.
In this context Bohoslavsky questions that the current third adjustment programme requires further financial cuts to the social security and welfare system. The Independent Expert notes that the intolerable situation in Greece is not primarily caused by a lack of political will of the current Government to curb violations of economic and social rights, but compounded by the limited fiscal space at disposal to bring the situation in conformity with international human rights obligations.

The Independent Expert argues that Greece is in dire need of debt relief in order to trigger socially inclusive growth.  Debt relief should be turned into an investment package to boost the real economy through public investment in infrastructure, research and education. He argues that Greece needs a modern social welfare system that is just, efficient, sufficiently funded, targeted to those in need, and protecting core social, economic and cultural rights in a comprehensive and non-discriminatory manner.

He calls on the Government of Greece and its international lenders to review their economic reform policies to ensure that they do not undermine human rights. For this purpose a comprehensive human rights impact assessment should be undertaken that lives up to its name. In his recommendations the Independent Expert lists several measures needed to protect the unemployed, to address gaps in the social protection system, and to restore universal access to public health care for persons that have no social insurance coverage. He calls upon European countries to increase their support for combatting poverty and social exclusion within Greece and to provide human, technical and financial resources for food, health care, and emergency housing of refugees.
Read the report

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