Human Rights Council begins dialogue with Experts on the Effects of Foreign Debt and on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers

Human Rights Council 
AFTERNOON

28 May 2013

The Human Rights Council this afternoon began a clustered interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, and with the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.

Cephas Lumina, the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt, said official initiatives on foreign debt had failed to deliver an enduring solution. The debts of countries continued to grow and constrained their development prospects and their capacity to realize human rights. He spoke about his official visit to Latvia.

Gabriela Knaul, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, said that States bore the primary responsibility to implement the right to legal aid at the domestic level and were thus required to develop an effective and sustainable legal aid system that drew from international human rights standards and recognised good practices.  She spoke about her visits to Pakistan, El-Salvador and the Maldives, as well as a consultation in Panama City to consider the independence of the judiciary in Central America. 

The Council will resume its work at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 29 May, with a panel on the contribution of parliaments to the work of the Human Rights Council and its Universal Periodic Review.  At noon, the Council will start its urgent debate on the deteriorating situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic and the recent killings in Al Qusayr.  It will then continue with the clustered interactive dialogue on the effects of foreign debt and the independence of judges and lawyers.

Documentation

The Council has before it the report of the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights (A/HRC/23/37); and an addendum to the report concerning the Independent Expert’s mission to Latvia (A/HRC/23/37/Add.1).

The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers (A/HRC/23/43); a corrigendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers (A/HRC/23/43/Corr.1); an addendum to the report concerning the Special Rapporteur’s mission to El Salvador (A/HRC/23/43/Add.1); an addendum to the report concerning the Special Rapporteur’s mission to Pakistan (A/HRC/23/43/Add.2); an addendum to the report concerning the Special Rapporteur’s mission to the Maldives (A/HRC/23/43/Add.3); and an addendum to the report concerning consultations in Panama (A/HRC/23/43/Add.4).

Presentation of Reports on the Effects of Foreign Debt on the Full Enjoyment of Human Rights and on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers

CEPHAS LUMINA, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, presenting his report, said that for the past two decades the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund had coordinated international efforts to address the external debt of low-income countries through two mechanisms: the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative.  According to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the international debt relief efforts had “significantly reduced” the debt burdens of the participating low-income heavily indebted poor countries.  However, there was evidence to suggest that debt relief under the two initiatives had generally not reduced the vulnerability of heavily indebted poor countries, with many remaining deeply dependent on foreign borrowing and investment.  The most important limitation of those initiatives was that they were entirely creditor-driven.  Mr. Lumina said that in their current form the mechanisms in question could not provide a lasting and just solution to the debt crisis. 

Regarding his visit to Latvia in May 2012, Mr. Lumina said that his aim had been to assess the impact of the country’s external debt burden on the realization of all human rights.  Owing to its large current account deficit, high external debt and a very high loan to deposit ratio, Latvia had been forced to seek external financial support.  The country secured an international loan package and also implemented strict austerity measures, which included deep cuts in public spending, wage cuts, pension reductions and structural reforms.  Unemployment and cuts in benefits contributed to rising poverty and inequality in the country, and reforms to the health sector undermined access to healthcare.  Austerity measures had had a disproportionate impact on minorities with respect to employment opportunities, income and education.  Latvia should adopt a rights-based approach to policy-making and should also consider adopting social measures to ensure that the poor were not disproportionately affected by economic reforms.

GABRIELLA KNAUL, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, presenting her report, said that it focused on the issue of legal aid because of its importance as an essential element of a fair and efficient justice system based on the rule of law.  Legal aid represented an important safeguard that contributed to ensuring the fairness of and public trust in the administration of justice and was both a right in itself and an essential precondition for the exercise and enjoyment of a number of human rights.  Access to legal aid had to be made available to all individuals regardless of nationality or statelessness, including asylum-seekers, refugees, migrant workers and other persons that may find themselves in the territory or subject to the jurisdiction of a State.  States bore the primary responsibility to implement the right to legal aid at the domestic level and were thus required to develop an effective and sustainable legal aid system that drew from international human rights standards and recognised good practices.  Moreover, although legal aid was an essential feature of the right of access to justice, States should also take measures in other fields to guarantee this right, such as the simplification of judicial and extra-judicial procedures, the provision of legal information and education to the population, and the development of self-representation mechanisms, among others.

Concerning her visit to Pakistan, Ms. Knaul said a uniform legal system enshrined in the Constitution was necessary to avoid ambiguities and discrepancies in the administration of justice.  There was concern about reports of conflicts being resolved by informal justice systems that resulted in conflict resolution and punishments which were in contradiction with the domestic legislation, fundamental rights recognised in the Constitution, and international human rights standards.

On her visit to El-Salvador, Ms. Knaul said the current reality presented many new challenges with regard to the actual independence and impartiality of the judiciary.  Urgent reforms were essential to strengthen the proper functioning of the administration of the justice system, the institutional and functional independence and impartiality of judges, magistrates and prosecutors, and the free exercise of the legal profession by lawyers. 

With regards to her visit to the Maldives, she noted that despite constitutional safeguards aimed at ensuring respect for the separation of powers, there had been a number of situations where both the executive and legislative powers had directly or indirectly interfered with the independence of the judiciary.  It was important that the Government show strong and non-partisan leadership, pushing for constructive dialogue, guided by obligations under international human rights law.

A consultation was held in Panama City from 28 to 29 November 2012 to consider the current situation of the independence of the judiciary in Central America.  The administration of justice in Central America needed to be strengthened for the constitutionally and legally recognised principle of judicial independence to become a reality.  In light of the twentieth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, all States were encouraged to renew their commitment to respect, protect and promote the independence of the judiciary, prosecutors and lawyers.  There were serious concerns about acts of reprisal against judges, prosecutors, lawyers and other actors of the judicial system that cooperated with United Nations and regional human rights mechanisms. 

__________

For use of the information media; not an official record