Global recession threatens human rights of poorest, warns UN rights chief

20 February 2009
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay

The world's poor and disadvantaged are bearing the brunt of the suffering resulting from the current global financial crisis and ensuing economic turmoil, the top United Nations official for human rights stressed today.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, appealed to states and the corporate world to ensure that their policies and practices do not jeopardize people's human rights, in an address to a Special Session of the Human Rights Council.

Ms. Pillay warned that the downturn in economies around the world was likely to “undermine access to work, affordability of food and housing, as well as of water, basic health care and education.”

And she urged states to “ensure that domestic policy adjustments, particularly those in fiscal spending, are not taken at the expense of the poor through cutbacks in basic services and social protection mechanisms.”

“A human rights approach will contribute to making solutions more durable in the medium and long run,” she told the gathering of government delegates, international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

She underscored the necessity “to identify the specific needs and entitlements of vulnerable groups and individuals, particularly women and children, migrants, refugees, indigenous peoples, minorities and persons with disabilities.

“They stand at the frontlines of hardship, and are most likely to lose their jobs and access to social safety nets and services.”

The High Commissioner also noted that migrant workers are already being affected in many countries, and that there is a clear risk of increased xenophobia as a result of the crisis.

“These workers are most likely to be the first in line to losing their jobs not only because their status is called into question, but also because they are employed in sectors that are particularly affected by the economic crisis,” she said.

“Worse, recession may give rise to xenophobic passions, discriminatory practices and even attacks against migrant workers and their families,” adding that it is essential that migrants are given adequate protection by states.

The negative effects of the crisis will be “felt disproportionately in developing and least developed countries,” Ms. Pillay told the gathering.

She reminded them that the Doha Review Conference on Financing for Development at the end of last year called on “the international community, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, to draw on the full range of their policy advice and resources, as appropriate, to help developing countries and countries with economies in transition to strengthen their economies, maintain growth and protect the most vulnerable groups against the severe impacts of the current downturn.”


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