Several UN human rights experts last month wrote an open letter to the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund to express their dismay about the general approach of the IMF to social security reforms that has sometimes put fiscal objectives above the objective of ensuring respect for the right to social security as a human right as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and various other international human rights laws.
In their letter, the experts further mentioned that several governments with IMF programmes, or under IMF’s advice, pursued fiscal consolidation measures that have cut social expenditures to such a degree that national legislation and human rights standards as contained in internationally agreed conventions and recommendations of the International Labour Organization were sidelined. This, in many cases, led to dramatic decreases in social protection coverage and in the adequacy of benefits and services thus dramatically increasing the poverty and economic inequality.
While referring to the austerity measures being taken by countries on the advice of the Fund, the experts pointed out that it has harsh effects on the vulnerable groups, such as children, older persons and persons with disabilities.
In their letter, the experts listed that several national courts have reviewed the constitutional validity of fiscal consolidation measures related to social protection, and ruled against them. To substantiate their argument they wrote: In 2013, the Portuguese Constitutional Court ruled that four fiscal consolidation measures in the budget, mainly affecting civil servants and pensioners, were unlawful and in breach of the country’s constitution; pensioners had to be returned their cut pensions. In Latvia, the 2010 budget proposed new spending cuts and tax increases, including a 10 percent cut in pensions and a 70 percent decrease for working pensioners; the Latvian Constitutional Court also ruled that the pension cuts were unconstitutional on the grounds that they violated the right to social security, and cuts had to be reversed. In Romania, 15 percent pension cuts proposed in May 2010 were also declared unconstitutional.
Requesting the IMF to avoid giving advice that continues to drive governments away from their legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the right to social security or their commitment to develop universal social protection and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, including their targets related to social protection, universal health coverage, social inclusion and reducing inequalities, the experts called upon the IMF to:
- Include in IMF policy documents and in staff guidance that efforts to improve the financial sustainability of social protection systems should pay due regard to the right to social security, as set out in international, and regional human rights law or in the respective national legislation;
- Undertake human rights impact assessments before, during and after recommending social protection reform and fiscal consolidation measures affecting the right to social security and other rights;
- Monitor the impacts of macroeconomic policies on gender equality, particularly the impacts of austerity measures, and take action to ensure the right to social security is enjoyed equally by women and men through gender-responsive social protection, provision of essential services, including care services, and measures to ensure women’s rights to work and rights at work;
- Focus on the extension of social protection to all, supporting countries to achieve universal coverage with adequate benefits, according to the right to social security embodied in international human rights treaties, ILO Conventions and Recommendations;
- Enhance the collaboration with human rights experts, UN agencies and the International Labour Organization, the lead agency of the United Nations, which has the core mandate to work on social security and social protection; and to
- Ensure meaningful participation, consultation and open social dialogue with all representative stakeholders in countries in which programmes of the Fund are implemented. This should include trade unions, employer organizations, civil society organizations of persons with disabilities, older persons, minorities, children and women or other relevant groups that may in the country-specific context be at risk of vulnerability or marginalisation.
The open letter, which was dated December 21, 2017, followed the IMF’s decision to undertake an independent evaluation on the Fund’s approach to social protection during the last decade and the publication of the report titled The IMF and Social Protection by IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office in July 2017.
The letter was directed to the IMF’s Managing Director Christine Lagarde and other Executive Directors. It was signed by Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt; Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons; Alda Facio, Chair of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice; Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; and Maria Virginia Bras Gomes, Chair of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.