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An immediate human rights response to counter the COVID-19

“An immediate human rights response to counter the COVID-19 and the global recession ahead is an urgent priority,” says UN expert


GENEVA (20 March 2020) – The best response to a potential economic and social catastrophe provoked by the COVID-19 crisis is to put finance at the service of human rights and to support the less well-off through bold financial approaches, today said a UN human rights expert.


“Fiscal stimulus and social protection packages aimed directly at those least able to cope with the crisis are essential to mitigating the devastating consequences of the pandemic,” said Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, the UN Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and human rights. “I call on Governments to consider the introduction of an emergency universal basic income.”


“I am encouraged that many countries are contemplating large-scale economic stimulus measures. However, these measures must be carefully designed to make sure that their principal contribution goes well beyond only bailing out large companies and banks,” he said.


“It is essential that public services are provided free of charge for those who cannot afford them. Debt-servicing should be suspended for individuals who would otherwise be unable to cope with the public health crisis. Mass evictions must absolutely be prevented,” the Independent Expert urged.


“Those working in the informal sector, who are self-employed, and who cannot work from home need economic and fiscal incentives to stay at home. They will otherwise need to go to work and thereby put at risk their personal and family health and those of the broader community,” he said.


Noting that the global recession that is unfolding can either be an unmitigated disaster or an opportunity for innovative solutions, the UN expert urged Governments to frame their COVID-19-related economic policies in terms of the “Guiding Principles on Human Rights Impact Assessment of Economic Reforms.”


“Over the last years, we have witnessed the adverse consequences of the marketization and privatization of a number of essential services, including health care and public health. So-called ‘cost-saving’ policies have been implemented in many countries. These developments must be reversed urgently so that States are able to meet the human rights and fiscal challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis,” Bohoslavsky said.


According to the Independent Expert, debt agreements and, property rights (real, personal and intellectual) exist in a broader legal and social universe in which human rights law should prevail. If duly justified, States are able to take the necessary economic and legal measures to more effectively face the current health crisis. In particular, no private economic entitlement should trump public’s rights to health and survival.


The Independent Expert also called on international financial institutions to urgently mobilizing their financial resources to help countries combatting the pandemic.


“I am deeply concerned by the IMF’s recent response to Venezuela’s request for financial support to cope with the COVID-19 crisis. IMF’s argument of the lack of ‘clarity’ on Venezuela’s government’s international recognition cannot be the basis for a decision that gravely endangers the whole of the Venezuelan population, and by extent the whole world. Such decisions may amount to gross violation of human rights and would require accountability from the institution and its deciders,” Bohoslavsky said.


“This crisis is an opportunity to reflect on and reverse the ideology according to which economic growth is the only way forward. In particular, it calls on us to question and change our consumption patterns and behaviours, if we are serious about trying to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights by all and to protect the environment,” Bohoslavsky concluded.

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