Good practices to avoid negative human rights impacts in the context of financial crisis

Debt crisis, austerity measures and structural adjustment policies raise important human rights concerns regarding the protection of economic, social and cultural rights, because they are often incompatible with the obligation of States to take steps for their progressive realization and to avoid deliberate retrogressive measures, in particular those that are incompatible with the core obligations of each right and the duty of States to use all available resources in an effort to satisfy, as a matter of priority, these minimum obligations. The Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights has documented the impact of debt crisis and adjustment programmes on the enjoyment of human rights in various countries, ranging from least developed countries (Democratic Republic of Congo, A/HRC/20/23/Add.2), middle income countries (Argentina, A/HRC/25/50/Add.3), to advanced economies, such as Greece (A/HRC/25/50/Add.1) or Latvia (A/HRC/23/37/Add.1). 

The Independent Expert believes that even during a harsh crisis Governments can make a difference. When States have to cut down public expenditures they have policy choices: They can try to minimize as much as they can the negative impact of a financial crisis on the enjoyment of social rights in consonance with their international human rights obligations, or they can further escalate human suffering; do more harm to their own people than necessary; distribute financial losses in an unjust, unequal or discriminative manner, hitting the most vulnerable in society, in particular those that have less power to stand up for their rights.

The identification of good practices to deal with financial crisis aimed at avoiding unnecessary negative human rights impacts is therefore one of the priorities of the Independent Expert. Not as much policy advice has been published suggesting how adjustment policies can be implemented in a manner that human rights, including those of marginalized groups, are respected and that essential levels of economic, social and cultural rights remain guaranteed.

The Independent Expert visited Iceland in December 2014. The visit had two purposes: 

(1) to understand the human rights challenges the country has been facing after the 2008 banking crisis, and
(2) to identify good practices in dealing with the financial crisis that may be helpful for other countries facing similar problems.

Read the report of his country visit to Iceland (A/HRC/28/59/Add.1)
(publication expected March 2015)