Governments should consider the introduction of an emergency universal basic income as “bold financial approaches” are needed to support the less well-off in the coronavirus crisis, according to Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, the UN Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and human rights.
Bohoslavsky added that, in the midst of the the Covid-19 crisis, the best response is to put “finance at the support of human rights”.
He continued: "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. I call on Governments to consider the introduction of an emergency universal basic income."
Bohoslavsky said that, while he was encouraged that many countries are contemplating large-scale economic stimulus measures, such measures “must be carefully designed to make sure that their principal contribution goes well beyond only bailing out large companies and banks.”
He added that it was 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," he said.
Bohoslavsky also urged Governments to frame their COVID-19-related economic policies in terms of the "Guiding Principles on Human Rights Impact Assessment of Economic Reforms."
He added: "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.”
According to Bohoslavsky, debt agreements and, property rights (real, personal and intellectual) “exist in a broader legal and social universe in which human rights law should prevail”. He added: “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.”
Concern about IMF's Venezuelan response
Bohoslavsky also said international financial institutions should urgently mobilize 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,” he said. “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 decision-makers.
"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.”