Human Rights Council
20 February 2009
The Human Rights Council this morning opened its tenth Special Session on the impact of the global economic and financial crises on the universal realization and effective enjoyment of human rights.
Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi, President of the Council, in opening remarks, said that this Special Session addressed one of the most urgent issues of our time: the human rights dimension of the most serious economic and financial crises the world had faced in the last 75 years. States everywhere must make difficult policy choices, yet States could still strike a balance between rescuing failing financial institutions and rescuing the poor from the worst effects of this crisis. He underlined that global challenges required global responses. The promotion of better economic and social conditions must be the ultimate purpose of coordinated global stimulus initiatives.
Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the financial and economic crises had a disproportionate impact on the livelihoods of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups. A human rights approach to respond to the current crises would contribute to more durable solutions in the medium and long run. States were not relieved of their human rights obligations in times of crisis and measures to protect these rights must be put in place as matters of both urgency and priority. International responses to the economic downturn should be undertaken in a way that served the interest of human rights.
Egypt, speaking on behalf of the African Group as one of the two main sponsors of this Special Session, said that some voices questioned whether there was any link between the global economic and financial crises on the one hand and the universal realization and effective enjoyment of human rights on the other. Others looked at the matter from the narrow prism of State national responsibility with regard to the rights of its own citizens, disregarding the impact of systemic crises and exogenous factors on developments at the national level. To all such doubters, today’s deliberations would no doubt provide the appropriate answers to their questions and apprehensions. Bankers and stockers mattered, but the needy and poor mattered more.
Brazil, as the second main sponsor of the Special Session, said that it was crucial that commitments were kept and that all States and the international community, as well as national authorities, took measures to avoid and diminish the negative impact of those crises on human rights. National authorities must also strive to face current challenges and maintain their commitment to the promotion and protection of all human rights. Brazil would do its part and would not allow the crises to undermine social expenditures. The Council had to send a message that the universal realization and the effective enjoyment of all human rights should remain a priority for the international community and Brazil counted on the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to spread that message.
Speakers urged the Council to send a clear message to the international community that all measures to be implemented took into account the human rights dimension of the financial and economic crises. Further, countries underlined that since the crisis was global, the response had to be global as well. Mitigating the impact of the crises on the most vulnerable and respecting rights must be an essential part and central to any governmental response to the crises. No country was immune to the magnitude of the current crisis, and they had to work together to make international cooperation and the implementation of the right to development a priority. Countries warned that the crises could wipe out all the achievements of the international community with respect to the Millennium Development Goals.
Speaking this morning was the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, and representatives of the International Labour Organization, the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization.
The following countries also delivered statements: Cuba for the Non-Aligned Movement, Czech Republic for the European Union, Pakistan for the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Egypt for the Arab Group, Chile, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Russian Federation, Qatar, China, India, Mauritius, Angola, Mexico, Canada, United Kingdom, Djibouti, Malaysia, Argentina, Nigeria, Bahrain, Switzerland, Philippines, Ghana, Bangladesh, Nicaragua and Japan.
The Council will resume its debate this afternoon at 3 p.m., to continue to hear statements before adopting a resolution on the impact of the global economic and financial crises on human rights and closing the session.
MARTIN IHOEGHIAN UHOMOIBHI, President of the Human Rights Council, opening the first meeting of the tenth Special Session of the Human Rights Council, saying the session was called by Egypt on behalf of the African Group and Brazil and was supported by a number of Member and Observer States. This was the second Special Session devoted to a thematic issue. A number of representatives of international organizations from United Nations Agencies and Programmes were present today to actively participate in the session. The main sponsors of the Special Session had also submitted a draft resolution. They had held open-ended consultations on the draft resolution over the past days, as called for in the institution–building package. Today’s discussion should focus on the issue that was raised by Egypt and Brazil on behalf of all co-sponsors, that was to say the impact of the global economic and financial crises on the universal realization and effective enjoyment of human rights.
Mr. Uhomoibhi said that this Special Session addressed one of the most urgent issues of our time: the human rights dimension of the most serious economic and financial crises the world had faced in the last 75 years. Against the backdrop of collapsing financial systems, failing regulatory mechanisms and massive loss of investor funds, impoverished populations in all parts of the world were increasingly being victimized by unemployment, dispossession, hunger and homelessness. The current economic crisis was global, at least in scope. Born in the financial centers in the developed word, it came on the heels of a ravaging food crisis in much of the developing world. While it was true that no corner of the planet had escaped the dire consequences of the current crisis, it was a fact that the weaker economies of the developing world would be the most adversely affected.
According to the World Bank, the current economic crisis had trapped up to 53 million persons in poverty, with the large majority of them in the developing countries. In Africa, 37 of the 53 countries in the continent suffered from high poverty rates or high exposure to extreme poverty due to the crises. In Latin America, where most countries were considerably exposed, pessimism about the health of the economy had reached the highest level in history. In Asia, 19 countries were assessed as being highly vulnerable to extreme poverty, also as a fall out of the current crises, according to the World Bank.
Mr. Uhomoibhi said that there was a real practical value in looking at the current crises with a moral lens. While suffering from economic downturns multiply with depleting resources, States everywhere must make difficult policy choices. Yet States could still strike a balance between rescuing failing financial institutions and rescuing the poor from the worst effects of this crisis. He underlined that global challenges required global responses. The promotion of better economic and social conditions must be the ultimate purpose of coordinated global stimulus initiatives. The responsibility to cooperate in addressing the economic and financial crises must also include a responsibility to address the needs of the poorest of the society. In an adverse economic environment in which the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals might be at risk, joint efforts to guarantee the enjoyment of fundamental rights were especially urgent. Mr. Uhomoibhi reiterated that success in global economic recovery efforts could not, and would not be achieved without the incorporation of human rights-oriented policies in coordinated efforts by the international community to overcome the current crises.
NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, welcomed this Special Session of the Human Rights Council on the impact of the global economic and financial crises on the universal realization and effective enjoyment of human rights. These crises had a disproportionate impact on the livelihoods of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups. A human rights approach to respond to the current crises would contribute to more durable solutions in the medium and long run. States were not relieved of their human rights obligations in times of crisis and measures to protect these rights must be put in place as matters of both urgency and priority. International responses to the economic downturn should be undertaken in a way that served the interest of human rights.
Ms. Pillay described instances of vulnerabilities that were of pressing concern, specifically mentioning migrant workers, most likely the first in line to lose their jobs, and women and girls, who were more likely to suffer violence and saw their job opportunities shrink as a consequence of crises. The negative effects of the financial and economic crises were felt disproportionately in the developing and least-developed countries.
Cooperation and aid should be provided in a way that influenced outcomes of policies by intergovernmental organizations and financial institutions aimed at alleviating economic hardship. Ms. Pillay welcomed the outcome document of the Doha Review Conference on Financing for Development that had called on all donors to maintain and deliver on their commitments. Millennium Development Goals should not become casualties of the crises. Now, more that ever, there was a need for a holistic, integrated human rights approach to development strategies, as it helped to meet the challenges of poverty and climate change.
Ms. Pillay also discussed the role of non-State actors in the context of those crises, noting that governments should ensure that private concerns and the corporate sectors were fully aware of the role they played in fostering or undermining human rights. States had a primary duty to protect their populations against human rights abuses by non-State actors and to provide justice when abuses did occur. Ms. Pillay welcomed the Council’s endorsement of the framework offered by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.
The United Nations human rights system could support national efforts to monitor the impact of the crises on the universal realization and effective enjoyment of human rights. All parts of the United Nations system were tackling the humanitarian, economic and political aspects of the current crises and the Human Rights Council took leadership in highlighting the human rights dimension of global financial and economic challenges.
Statements by Sponsors of the Special Session and Regional Groups
HISHAM BADR (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that this Special Session was a joint initiative by the African Group and Brazil, originally initiated by Egypt, overwhelmingly supported by the members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Non-Aligned Movement, China and Russia, and many members of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries. This Special Session would contribute to reinforcing the credibility and relevance of this Council and make more people feel ownership of its agenda. This Council had shown that it was responsive to the world public opinion and that it was capable of addressing a united political message, from a human rights perspective, in the face of emerging challenges and thematic issues. The Council had also succeeded in achieving the required balance between the various human rights, bearing in mind that they were all interdependent, interrelated and mutually reinforcing.
Some voices questioned whether there was any link between the global economic and financial crises on the one hand and the universal realization and effective enjoyment of human rights on the other. Others looked at the matter from the narrow prism of State national responsibility with regard to the rights of its own citizens, disregarding the impact of systemic crises and exogenous factors on developments at the national level. Yet others were afraid to address the matter altogether in the Council for fear of being blamed for the systemic failure and for the cost of fixing its associated costs on developing countries. To all such doubters, today’s deliberations, starting with the statements heard from the High Commissioner and the President of the Council, and the presentations of various international organizations and Special Procedures and civil society, would no doubt provide the appropriate answers to their questions and apprehensions. Bankers and stockers mattered, but the needy and poor mattered more.
It was no exaggeration to say that the globalized international community was figuratively speaking, sailing in the high seas in the eye of an unprecedented storm, the likes of which had not been seen in recent history including in the Great Depression of the last century. The problem was that they were not all on the same boat, rather on several boats with different degrees of sturdiness and capacity to withstand the storm as well as the dangers of the high seas. Indeed, some boats were far better equipped and secure than others. Some would definitely succeeded in overcoming the storm, others would barely make it at a formidable human and material cost and upon suffering deep injuries, and yet others would not be able to survive it altogether. What the Special Session was supposed to do was to give life jackets to those most in need, or at least advocate their cause because the grim reality was that many would not be able to survive the storm.
MARIA NAZARETH FARANI AZEVEDO (Brazil) said Brazil favoured the Special Session because it believed that the Council should act and react to the impacts of global issues on human rights. In relation to imminent meetings of world leaders to deliberate on the measures needed to address the crises, Brazil noted that the promotion and protection of all human rights could not be the price to pay in the path to economic recovery. Forces should be joined to avoid that the economic and financial crises became political ones. The World Bank estimated that 53 million more people could be trapped in poverty as the global economic growth slowed, while about one third of all developing countries were considered to be highly exposed to the poverty effects of the crises. The World Health Organization warned that about one billion people were facing difficulties to access food.
Brazil noted it was crucial that commitments were kept and that all States and the international community, as well as national authorities, took measures to avoid and diminish the negative impact of those crises on human rights. National authorities must also strive to face current challenges and maintain their commitment to the promotion and protection of all human rights. Brazil would do its part and would not allow the crises to undermine social expenditures. The Council had to send a message that the universal realization and the effective enjoyment of all human rights remained a priority for the international community and Brazil counted on the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to spread that message.
JUAN ANTONIO FERNANDEZ PALACIOS (Cuba), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned-Movement, said that by holding this Special Session, the second of a thematic nature, the Council was reaffirming its mandate to deal with existing or emerging situations that represented a challenge for human rights for all. The Non-Aligned-Movement was concerned about the negative impact that the global economic and financial crisis was having on the enjoyment of human rights. The full enjoyment of fundamental human rights such as the right to work, the right to adequate housing, the right to education, the right to food, among others, was at a greater risk as a result of the combined effects of the global economic and financial crisis. Poverty, underdevelopment, marginalization, illiteracy, hunger, malnutrition, and lack of access to healthcare kept increasing, while industrialized countries left aside the most affected sectors of society and continued to rescue banks and big companies. Vulnerable groups such as migrants, women, children and others were now in a more difficult situation, thus being subjected to increased levels of discrimination and intolerance in several parts of the world, particularly in some industrialized countries, where they had seen additional discriminatory measures against migrant workers and their families.
The Non-Aligned-Movement underlined that this crisis was neither created nor provoked by developing countries. However, they were the most affected by it, as a result of the globalized world in which they lived. The economic and financial crisis was global in nature and therefore required global solutions. The international trade, monetary and financial systems must be re-created so as to make them open, equitable, non-coercive, rules-based, predictable and non-discriminatory.
TOMAS HUSAK (Czech Republic), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the European Union acknowledged that the current economic and financial crisis was global and that the entire international community was responsible for addressing this issue. States should ensure that responses to financial pressure did not erode human rights protections, in particular for those who were already vulnerable. Among others, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and article 11 of the International Committee of the Red Cross provided for measures to be taken to ensure such protections. All measures should be taken to protect the rights of children, in particular in preventing child labour. Special attention needed to be paid to women’s rights in this context, in particular by supporting non-State actors, and integrating the gender dimension in policy formation. This was essential for sustainable economic growth. The economic and financial crisis directly affected the full enjoyment of human rights, but also civil and political rights. It would be useful for all relevant bodies to take into account the human rights perspective, in looking at the current crisis and seeking solutions to stabilize it.
MARGHOOB SALEEM BUTT (Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, welcomed the convening of the Special Session on an issue of such direct relevance to the lives of millions around the world. Since the Great Depression of the 1930’ the world had witnessed numerous financial and economic crises. Until the time the root causes and imbalances were addressed, the world would keep facing such crises. In the past, the core issues had been sidestepped, which had prevented the universal realization and effective enjoyment of human rights. The Organization of the Islamic Conference felt that the three pillars of the United Nations – peace and security, development and human rights – were interrelated and interdependent and the lack of progress on any one of them had a direct adverse impact on the others.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference expressed concern about the impact of the economic and financial crises on the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people worldwide and made several recommendations, including innovative financing mechanisms to fill funding gaps in achieving the Millennium Development Goals which might emerge due to the current financial crisis and international support to national governments to establish the social safety nets for the protection of the most vulnerable. The Organization welcomed the decision by the United Nations General Assembly to convene a High-Level Conference on the impacts of the global economic and financial crises and hoped that today’s Special Session would come out with concrete recommendations to address the gaps in global economic and financial architectures.
HISHAM BADR (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that the Human Rights Council was called upon to act. The Council was meeting to comment on the impact of the financial crisis on the enjoyment of human rights. The Council had to send a strong signal, since it was the beating heart of a world system that had to be more inclusive to developing countries. This crisis was unprecedented and the world had become globalized.
The Arab Group recalled that more than a billion were living in abject poverty today. This crisis undermined and threatened the social fabric in developing countries. It also threatened the rights and protection of the most vulnerable. They now had to focus on the human dimension of the crisis and support the Millennium Development Goals. The Arab Group hoped that the Council would send a clear and unequivocal message to the international community to support the right to development. Further, the economic and social structure in the world had to be reviewed. The Arab Group suggested that Special Rapporteurs should be invited to assess the humanitarian consequences of the financial crisis and that they then report to the General Assembly.
STATEMENTS BY SPECIAL PROCEDURE AND REPRESENTATIVES OF UN AGENCIES AND PROGRAMMES
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, said that today the Council was discussing an issue which continued to cause much anxiety and uncertainty in many countries – the effects of the global financial and economic crisis. The news from around the world was depressing: the prospect of massive job losses – 15 to 20 million people this year alone – according to the International Labour Organization; migrant workers being expelled by their host countries; an emerging inclination towards trade protectionism; and people from all socio-economic backgrounds losing their homes.
The current global financial markets system had failed the billions of people whose livelihoods depended on the globally interconnected financial architecture. The crisis exacerbated the effects of the existing food and fuel crisis and soaring commodity prices that adversely affected both developed and developing countries. The global financial meltdown signalled that it was time to design a new system which was inclusive and equitable. It was also obvious that the financial sector needed better regulations in order to avert a repeat of the unprecedented publicly financed bailout packages that banks and other sectors had received from Governments in various countries. These bailout packages posed a risk to already limited funds of many States to provide for basic goods and services.
The link between the financial crisis and the enjoyment of human rights – particularly economic, social and cultural rights – was abundantly clear, underscored Mr. Lumina. Illustratively, the report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing to the Council session that was scheduled to start in a few days highlighted the need for States to “take promptly all measures needed to increase the availability of adequate housing options”. These measures may include a variety of options specifically tailored to individual contexts. Similarly, budgets for education and health needed to be protected despite the crisis, to ensure delivery of basic services. Further, the massive job loss forecasted by the International Labour Organization, among others, would result in the erosion of the rights and standards of living of workers and members of their families throughout the world. Many would be pushed into extreme poverty.
While it was legitimate and necessary to reconstruct the financial sector and stimulate national economies, it was equally legitimate and necessary to ensure that this was done in a way that did not impair the capacity of States to fulfil their obligations for the promotion and protection of human rights, stressed Mr. Lumina. It was for this reason that he was speaking with the Council urgently today – to highlight the close link between the financial crisis and the enjoyment of human rights – and to call for the adoption of a human rights-based approach in order to ensure that the most vulnerable in societies were not adversely affected and that all stakeholders participated effectively in the crafting of responses to the crisis.
RAYMOND TORRES, of the International Labour Organization, said it was a very timely moment for this Special Session. He wished to focus on risks and opportunities brought about by the current crises. The first risk was long lasting market recession and social unrest. The latest predictions said about 50 million more jobs were to be lost than previously predicted. Job losses and unemployment would fall disproportionately on vulnerable groups: youth, women and migrants. Addressing unemployment was urgent as the longer the market labour recession persisted, the more difficult it would be to erase it. The second risk was related to social protection, with already evident negative impact on pensions and pension benefits. Labour market recession posed additional risk to developing countries, which did not have fiscal spaces to react and thus were affected by the international mechanisms and diminished trade and aid.
The current response to the crisis had not yet managed to repair the three transmission mechanisms of the crises: the credit system, which still did not function despite the efforts by governments; the economy itself, which had been gaining its own depression mood and loos of confidence; and the global trade. The International Labour Organization believed that employment and social protection were central in the response to the crisis. Current crises offered opportunities as well, as they could pave the way for a more sustainable world economy and creation of new models based on social, economic and civil rights.
WILLY ALFARO, of the World Trade Organization, said that the World Trade Organization had recognized that this crisis was unprecedented. They were in the middle of the worst global economic crisis in decades. Its full impact, duration and repercussions were not fully known yet. But they were already witnessing the more immediate devastating effects not only on the financial markets, but also on the real economy. The financial crisis was impacting the multilateral trading system in three areas: a drastic reduction of trade flows; a rise in protectionist tendencies; adding to the need to conclude the ongoing multilateral trade negotiations.
The world growth projections were today at 0 per cent, with developed countries posting a negative growth of minus 2 per cent and developing countries a positive one around 5 per cent. But the positive growth came from emerging countries which were highly dependent on trade. Trade had become another early casualty of the recession provoked by the severe financial crisis. For interventions of governments and regulations to be successful, all actors had to agree on common targets and approaches and work together. Global cooperation within and across countries was therefore of the essence. At times of global economic crisis, enemy number one was isolationism.
Now more than ever it was time to stress the value of trade as an engine of economic growth and the value of the multilateral trading system, with its 60 years of global regulations, as an insurance policy against protectionism. This was the time to strengthen the global rules-based system which had so carefully been constructed over the last 60 years. A conclusion of the Doha Development Round of negotiations was therefore all the more relevant and urgent. But this crisis would take much more than a Doha deal to restore the path of growth. However, a successful outcome of the Doha Development Round could be part of the solution to the economic downturn. It would also send a political signal that at harsh and difficult times, governments were capable of working together to provide the kind of global answer which was so desperately needed.
ANDREW CASSELS, of the World Health Organization, said that countries at all levels of development were concerned about the impact of the financial crisis on health. If unemployment continued to rise, safety nets for social protection failed, savings and pension funds eroded and public spending dropped, it was evitable that people’s health would suffer. The impact on health was direct when stress caused a rise in mental illness and in the use of tobacco, alcohol and other harmful substances. It was made worse when health services were starved of resources and could no longer provide the level or quality of care that people needed when they got sick. This prediction was not based on theory. The World Health Organization reviewed the evidence from past recessions, and had consistently found that private spending on health fell, mainly due to reductions in household income, accompanied in some cases by falls in remittances, which were often used for health care expenditures.
If costs were lower, people then turned to the public sector for their health care, said Mr. Cassels. Therefore, if Government spending on health also fell, the pressure on existing services would become intense, and the availability and quality of care was likely to suffer. In such a situation it was usually the poor who got squeezed out. In countries where recession was accompanied by devaluation of domestic currencies, as was the case in East Asia in 1997-1998 and in Latin America in 2001-2002, the price of imported medicines, raw materials and medical equipment would rise – increasing the overall cost of health care to Governments and patients. Isolating the impact of economic downturns on health outcomes could be difficult, but there was evidence from Asia, Latin America and Europe of increases in morbidity and mortality – associated with times of economic stress.
CARLOS PORTALES (Chile) said that Chile had joined 25 members of the Human Rights Council to call for this Special Session, convinced that the international community had the obligation to find solutions to the current crises.
Mitigating impact on the most vulnerable and respecting civil and political rights must be an essential part and central to any governmental response to the crises, both on the national and international levels. The crises had been turning off one by one engines of growth in Latin America and the Caribbean, generating uncertainty and negative impact on the labour market and poor people, already rendered more vulnerable by high food prices in 2008. Chile had started the implementation of a
$ 4 billion plan, with a primary objective of improving social policies and social protection networks.
Chile noted that all national responses to the crises must be complemented and supported by the international community and international cooperation. Free trade agreements and networks might offer the solution to the crises, including the Doha talks. It was urgent to contribute to building the capacity of States, since good governance was key to respond to economic and financial crises. States must fulfil their international obligations, particularly those on development and international cooperation.
GUSTI AGUNG WESAKA PUJA (Indonesia) said that the current global economic and financial crisis would have far reaching consequences that would probably span beyond what had so far been predicted. It was incumbent on all of them to address the impact of the issue at hand on the effective realization of human rights in countries regardless of their size and wealth. In the past, they had on many occasions considered the impact of development on the realization of human rights and the general consensus was that while development was a primary obligation, the two together were essential to the development of a nation and thus, inseparable. Indonesia considered that the current crisis had made the concerns, which previously existed, come further to the forefront of discussion mainly because it would inevitably affect the capacity of developing countries to meet their commitments and objectives. There could be certainly no doubt that this current financial and economic crisis would potentially hinder the realization of the Millennium Development Goals, especially within the specified deadlines.
Indonesia said that this crisis should be a stark reminder to all of them that no country was immune to the magnitude of the current crisis. Therefore, it was high time that the Council worked together to make international cooperation and the implementation of the right to development a priority once and for all.
ABDULWAHAB ABDULSALAM ATTAR (Saudi Arabia) said that Saudi Arabia supported the statements made on behalf of the Arab Group, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Non-Aligned Movement. This Special Session was a fine opportunity to exchange views in order to tackle the negative impact of the economic and financial crisis on the enjoyment of human rights. This showed how important it was to establish international cooperation to find the right solutions. Programmes and policies must be adopted by States to mitigate this crisis. Saudi Arabia was concerned and focused on stabilizing the oil markets and international trading. The Government was committed to providing development aid. In 2008 the Government had donated half a billion dollars to the World Food Programme, and had worked with many stakeholders to provide bilateral and multilateral assistance.
VALERY LOSHCHININ (Russian Federation) noted that the current economic and financial crises were unprecedented, both in their scope and speed. There was no doubt that to the greatest extent they were affecting the poorest countries – education, food, health care in those countries faced acute problems. It was clear that the crisis had a human rights dimension and the Council could not stand idle. The yardstick for any policy today must be human rights interest and how States protected them.
Russia said that the message adopted today must stress the central role of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the central role the Human Rights Council should play in the June high-level conference. Russia agreed with the assessment of speakers who had already taken the floor – it was possible to overcome the crisis only if all pulled together. The main focus of the crises responses was on the burden of national governments and no one else could carry out this crucial task.
Russia thanked the delegations of Egypt and Brazil for their constructive spirit during consultations on the draft resolution and hoped to see it among other participants in the process. For the Human Rights Council it was essential and politically crucial that the document was adopted with one voice and that it sent the proper signal to the rest of the international community.
FAISAL ABDULLA AL-HENZAB (Qatar) said that human rights, particularly economic and social rights, were today compromised because of the crisis. The crisis had seriously impacted on a number of countries worldwide, there had been a sharp drop in earnings, a rise in unemployment, a grave shortage of food products, and a lack of resources for education and health. Migrant workers and marginalized groups suffered the most. Further, the crisis undermined development projects, both national and regional projects. The Council had to recall the need to face the challenges coming from the crisis. The recent consultations in Doha showed that effective partnerships were needed to tackle the consequences of the crisis which had had a negative impact on all vital economic sectors. In fact, the crisis had shown how interdependent economic systems were. Qatar supported all efforts of the Council, particularly sending out a clear signal to the international community regarding the impact of the crisis on human rights.
LI BAODONG (China) said that China supported the convening of the Special Session and thanked Egypt and Brazil for their efforts. This session could not have been timelier. This unprecedented financial crisis was deteriorating and sending shock waves around the world, and subsequently many countries were experiencing a recession. Many developing countries were experiencing economic slowdown and financial stress. Economic and financial issues had a direct relationship with the enjoyment of human rights and economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to food, health and housing. China warned that the crisis might wipe out all the achievements of the international community with respect to the Millennium Development Goals. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provided that all people had the right to social security, decent living, food and adequate health care. All rights were interdependent and thus fundamental. As a principal organ of the United Nations system, the Human Rights Council was urged to shoulder more responsible, and to support the right to development. The Human Rights Council should also join with other specialized agencies to seek solutions, and moreover China urged all countries to work together in this context. Furthermore, China urged the Human Rights Council to minimize the effects faced by developing countries. China was actively engaged in the international community with various stakeholders to tackle this crisis, and would further raise trade cooperation with Africa, among others things. China was committed to working towards ensuring that economic, social and cultural rights and other human rights were upheld.
GOPINATHAN ACHAMKULANGARE (India) said that the policy debate so far had focused on political dimensions of the economic and financial crises, while this Special Session turned the attention to their hidden impacts. As experience had demonstrated, the enjoyment of social and economic rights suffered in times of crises.
The unprecedented scale of today’s crises posed a political risk to social stability and it must be taken into consideration. Emerging economies had not been the cause, but were among its first victims, as development gains would be reversed and millions more pushed into poverty. These were not transient impacts, but might last for generations. The adverse impact of the crises on development was a special responsibility of the Human Rights Council.
A coordinated global response that must distinguish between the immediate and medium term objectives was needed. The cause of the crisis was not the responsibility of developing countries. There was thus an international responsibility of developed countries towards developing countries, not only in aiding but also in reforming international financing architecture. In the light of the crises, the implementation of human rights obligations could no longer be viewed as only a national obligation.
SHREE BABOO CHEKITAN SERVANSING (Mauritius) said that Mauritius was concerned about the negative impact that the economic and financial crises would have on the full enjoyment of fundamental human rights such as the right to work, right to adequate housing, right to education, right to food, right to health and others. These crises could eventually become a human rights crisis unless targeted measures were taken to protect the vulnerable groups. The developing world had already been struggling with higher prices for food and energy last year. With these latest developments, many people who had struggled so hard to rise out of poverty could be forced back into destitution, erasing hard-won gains towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Smaller and vulnerable economies, almost by definition, were more open to trade and finance, and therefore more vulnerable to a global slowdown and volatility. Smaller countries might also be more affected by a possible reduction in worker remittances.
For small island developing states like Mauritius, trade and the service sectors were among the main vehicles of their economic growth. It was important to ensure that an equitable and operational multilateral trading system existed with the firm development principles at its core. It was also of crucial importance that the financial crisis did not lead to a new wave of protectionism. Global partnership for development was given heightened importance by increased globalization. Mauritius emphasized that the current economic and financial crises called for international cooperation and solidarity. It was important that while the international community, more particularly the more developed among them, rethought the global economic and financial architecture that had plunged us in this mess, due attention was given to basic issues like the interface between human rights and economic development and that the right of the poor were allowed to be articulated in such gathering.
ARCANJO MARIA DO NASCIMENTO (Angola) said that this crisis was the worst seen in recent history. Africa was a main net importer of food and energy, and as such it was hardest hit. The consequences of the crisis had already been felt, in particular by the closing down of shops, dismissal of workers, bank cuts to loans, among other things. Budget cuts were being made to social spending such as health and education, and this directly affected the achievements made in the protection of human rights. The crisis had a direct relationship with the Council’s duty to impact economic, social and cultural rights. Angola urged countries to resist leaning towards protectionism. Cooperation was urgent between all countries and other relevant stakeholders.
LUIS ALFONSO DE ALBA (Mexico) expressed thanks for the excellent presentations today, all of which had stressed that the Human Rights Council must highlight the human rights dimension of the economic and financial crises. Mexico was committed to finding solutions for all countries that would guarantee enjoyment of all human rights, including through strengthening national capacities.
The international community must face the crises together and it was only through an integrated approach that the solutions could be found for all parts of the world. Integrating human rights dimensions in responses and specific programmes was crucial and it was essential they addressed those most vulnerable: the poor, women and girls, and migrants. Mexico had agreed on policies to strengthen markets and to face difficulties in economic growth and employment, including the national agreement on mitigating the impact of the crisis on jobs of those most vulnerable. Mexico hoped the Special Session would lead the international community to attach more importance to human rights in the measures and responses to the economic and financial crises.
MARIUS GRINIUS (Canada) remained deeply concerned about the effects of the global financial crisis and the subsequent economic downturn. Canada underlined that while the current situation posed challenges for all States, respect for human rights did not depend on the economy. States were not relieved of their obligations to respect civil and political rights in times of economic recession. It was the primary responsibility of States to promote and protect the human rights of individuals under their jurisdiction. An effective response from the Human Rights Council on the economic and financial crisis must emphasize this primary national responsibility, which was to be supported by an enabling international environment.
Canada added that the obligation to realize economic, social and cultural rights already took into account the availability of resources. States had an added responsibility in economic downturns to make renewed efforts to respect the rights of the most vulnerable. States must not use the current economic situation as an excuse not to meet their international human rights obligations. The Human Rights Council should leave no ambiguity on this point.
PETER GOODERHAM (United Kingdom) said that the United Kingdom supported the statements made by the Czech Republic on behalf of the European Union. The global financial and economic crisis that took hold last year was unprecedented in its scale and the speed with which it developed. It posed an immense global challenge. This crisis could not be resolved by any one country alone. There would need to be a coordinated global response. The Council could add value to efforts going on across the United Nations and the international community to address the situation if it focused on the impact on human rights that could arise as a result of the current difficult global financial climate. Human rights were indivisible. While economic, social and cultural rights might be the first to be affected by an economic crisis, all rights would suffer if a State failed in its duty to implement and respect international human rights law. States bore the primary responsibility to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights. The Council should call upon all States to maintain their vigilance and ensure that their national response to the economic crisis supported, and did not undermine, the enjoyment of human rights within their jurisdiction.
The United Kingdom hoped that this Council would acknowledge that protecting and promoting human rights was an essential part of an effective response to the crisis. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights set out clear terms, the right to work, of assembly, to form and belong to a trade union. It was particularly important to ensure that the rights of women, children and vulnerable groups were protected and to ensure that, despite any economic difficulties, that there was a continued effort to combat all forms of discrimination with determination. The United Kingdom took extremely seriously the issue of the economic and financial crisis. The United Kingdom fully recognized that the crisis was affecting people in all parts of the world, and the country was committed to seeking an effective and coordinated global response.
DAHER DJAMA ABBAS (Djibouti) welcomed this Special Session and said it indicated the will of members of the Human Rights Council to address crisis situations and promote international cooperation. In the absence of a coordinated response, the capacity of governments to deal with crisis impacts would be diminished and would put at risk the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
Africa needed a strong signal from developed countries that they would increase aid to 0.7 per cent of their GDP and pursue efforts towards more consistent and effective aid. It was now a good moment to rethink the international financial architecture, in order to base it on principles of transparency and better control of the global financial system by independent institutions.
OTHMAN HASHIM (Malaysia), said that the current global economic and financial crises obstructed poverty reduction efforts. Lending and investment opportunities had been declining and banks had stopped to provide trade finance. Malaysia underscored that measures must be taken to safeguard human rights. The international community had to undertake all possible efforts to reach common goals such as peace and prosperity for all. It was also of crucial importance to realize the Millennium Development Goals. Malaysia would not isolate itself entirely from the crisis. It emphasized that the current global crisis required a global response in order to restore global stability.
ALBERTO J. DUMONT (Argentina) said that Argentina welcomed the convening of this Special Session of the Human Rights Council. This crisis had affected a great number of people’s social and economic rights, and as such the international community needed to act swiftly and quickly. Argentina was alarmed by the outbreaks of intolerance and xenophobia as a result of the crisis, which should not be tolerated. Migrant workers around the world suffered the implications of the measures taken, which stood in the way of their legal residence and to find a dignified job. This in turn pushed their families into poverty and made them more susceptible to violence and crime. Social plans have been adopted in Argentina to support and strengthen the rights of migrants and their families by strengthening the national plan for food security and creating 20,000 jobs. Rather than criminalize migration, Argentina urged States to support migrant workers.
In April 2006, Argentina launched a national programme for the regularization of migrant documents, which was praised by Director-General of the International Organization for Migrants. Furthermore, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights imposed on Member States the obligation to achieve the full rights enshrined in it. And as such, there should be full respect and protection for all migrant workers and their families. These instruments were meant to be guidelines only. Times of economic difficulties did not excuse acts of intolerance and xenophobia. Argentina appealed to the international community to use a human rights perspective in working towards solutions for relieving this crisis.
IFEANYI NWOSU (Nigeria) noted that the crisis had not reached its climax yet and that it had not been provoked or created by developing countries. Yet, they were the most affected. The crisis not only threatened financial institutions and systems, but also productive structures. The full impact of the combined global economic and financial crises continued to increase the level of underdevelopment of most economies and the deepening of poverty, hunger, malnutrition and access to basic services, with a particularly devastating impact on vulnerable groups. It was highly probable that in that scenario, most developing countries would not achieve targets of the Millennium Development Goals.
According to the World Bank, 40 per cent of the developing countries, including Nigeria, were highly exposed to the poverty effects of the crisis and unless urgent targeted measures were taken to protect vulnerable people, the crisis threatened to become a human crisis in many developing countries. Nigeria strongly supported the call by the World Bank President for financial support for such nations and the call for setting up a Vulnerability Fund.
ABDULLA ABDULLATIF ABDULLA (Bahrain) said that a clear signal needed to be sent to the international community. The present financial and economic crisis affected peace and security worldwide. If the crisis spread, it would cast a dark shadow on the enjoyment of all human rights, which were interdependent. Bahrain was trying to improve living standards. It had many projects in vital sectors such as housing and education. States were invited not to reduce their development budgets. Further, the United Nations should not stand idly by in this crisis.
DANTE MARTINELLI (Switzerland) said that this unprecedented economic and financial crisis which effected all members of the international community and the world, could tip 53 million more people into poverty, bringing those living with less than 2 dollars a day to 1.5 billion people. Despite the fact that all affected in this crisis were not equal, all were entitled to enjoyment of the same rights. Switzerland supported a human rights-based approach in facing this challenge. The global economic crisis threatened universally recognized rights, such as the right food, a decent living standard and the right to adequate housing. This should sound as an alarm to all States. Given the doubts and questions, the international community had already launched a number of initiatives to counter the effects of the crisis. The work, among others, of the International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the Financial Stability Forum was welcomed. Switzerland urged the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights play its due role in this context, and ensure that the human rights approach was centre to each initiative. Whatever may have been the causes, people needed to be at the centre of concern. Furthermore, the utmost must be done to decrease the effects of this crisis affecting the most vulnerable people in the world urgently.
ERLINDA F. BASILIO (Philippines) welcomed the opportunity to discuss the impact of the global economic and financial crises on the realization and enjoyment of human rights. The Human Rights Council could make a significant contribution to the discourse on the effects on the crises and means to address its negative impacts, by shedding the light on the human rights dimensions and challenges overlooked by economic and financial policy and decision-makers.
Developing countries did not have the resources to formulate comprehensive and timely economic stimulus packages. If the external resources they depended on dried up due to protectionism and economic nationalism, millions in developing countries could be threatened by having their human rights and fundamental freedoms impaired. Coupled with other global challenges, such as climate change and the food crisis, the immediate future seemed bleak. The Philippines hoped that through the Special Session and its mechanisms the Human Rights Council could provide substantive inputs to the High-Level Conference on the world economic and financial crises and its impacts on development in June this year.
KWABENA BAAH-DUODU (Ghana) said that while initially it appeared that the effects of the crisis on developing countries, and African countries in particular, would be limited, it was now clear that the medium term impact would be large, notably due to weaker global demand for African commodity exports. According to the experts, in addition to the direct effects of the economic and financial crisis, there would also be indirect effects of the already weak economies of most developing countries through, inter alia, decreasing commodity prices, volatile capital flows, slowdown in private sector activity, reduction in private capital inflows and remittances from the diaspora and exchange rate volatility, all of which had a disastrous effect on African economies and a dramatic impact on the poor. Certainly, it would be impossible for poor countries to achieve poverty reduction without growth. And yet, without urgent international measures to mitigate the adverse impact on the economies of the developing countries also, the expected reduction in growth would lead to cuts in government expenditure on social services, infrastructure and all those facilities with a bearing on economic and social rights.
Ghana agreed that some national action was required to address domestic difficulties, and these would be taken. However, this was a crisis which affected all. in spite of the fact that the developing countries had no hand in its creation. Furthermore, most developing countries like Ghana neither had the resources nor the facilities to mitigate the negative impact of the crisis on their citizens. It was only logical that the entire international community was included in the search for solutions. It was equally important for the more fortunate and influential members of the international community, in consideration of their international commitments, to take into account the needs of vulnerable countries in the adoption of measures to mitigate the impact of the crisis at the domestic level.
MUSTAFIZUR RAHMAN (Bangladesh) said Bangladesh was satisfied with the convening of the Special Session on an issue as significant as the global economic and financial crisis. Indeed, the global community was bewildered at the speed, severity and scope of the current crisis. It was said to be the greatest assault on the world economy in three-quarters of a century. The domino effect that followed since the beginning of the crisis in the United States demonstrated that the financial crisis did not respect national boundaries or levels of development. It was a crisis which was at the same time individual, national and global. Considering the human impact of the unfolding crisis, convening of the session was very timely.
It was too early to predict exactly how badly the world would fare in the financial crisis. But already there were signs of reduced demands for exports, manpower and the lowering of financial investment. For the developing countries, especially for the less developed countries, it meant less growth and less Government revenue for the fragile social protection and services. For millions of the world poor, it was literally a matter of life and death.
Investment was expected to suffer as it bore much of the direct impact of the financial crisis. Remittance flows to developing countries were expected to decline in response to the global slowdown. Reduced aid and trade flows could mean that the people in developing countries paid the high price for the wildness of the credit bubble in the developed world. The people were concerned that those responsible for creating the problems were the ones bailed out. This was a global crisis, and as such the response also had to be global. If urgent and appropriate actions were not taken, the crisis would continue to go out of hand and the global community would pay a huge price. The crisis directly affected the enjoyment of a number of economic, social and cultural rights such as the right to employment, right to heath and education. As such, protection of these rights should be at the heart of the global action.
CARLOS ROBELO RAFFONE (Nicaragua) said the Human Rights Council was gathered here to offer a humble contribution to the international community’s understanding on the economic and financial crises. Only a part of the group saw there was a human rights dimension to the crisis and it was odd that some countries could not see that connection. It was also odd that some countries were not ready to admit their mistakes and start working on creating a better future.
The international economic order worked for 20 per cent of the world population and degraded the other 80 per cent. It was the poorest countries that paid for new multimillionaires. Globalization had been locked in the straight jacket of neo-liberalism and as such had globalized poverty. The current system was not sustainable. The world had seen hundreds of millions of dollars pumped into companies to bail them out, while at the same time the companies had been paying huge compensation packages to their chief executives. They were now facing the challenge and had an historic opportunity to start seeing the world as their home and the poor as their neighbours and brothers.
AKIO ISOMATA (Japan) said that the impact of the current global economic and financial crises was not limited to the economic and financial sectors but rather it was having an enormous effect on areas such as employment, education, food supply, and housing, thus affecting the realization of human rights. In Japan, the considerable impact of the crises was felt and Japan had begun to experience a variety of economic and social issues, such as the drop in the economic growth rate and the worsening employment environment. Throughout the world, in developed countries as well as in developing countries, this situation was having a negative impact on employment and food supply, to name but a few. The focus of the Human Rights Council should be to send a message to the world focusing clearly on the human rights aspect of the crises. They had to keep in mind that the Council could not present a direct solution to the crises, nor was it the role of the Council to do so.
For use of the information media; not an official record