BY SEAN HEALY
A top official of one of the world's most powerful financial institutions, the International Monetary Fund, has admitted what many people long suspected: that the IMF feels it has no responsibility to comply with human rights treaties and conventions when designing its economic programs.
The IMF determines the conditions under which recipient countries, mainly in the Third World, receive international lending; it also sets conditions for debt repayment or debt relief for countries struggling to pay their creditors.
More than 90 countries are currently signatories to IMF-designed structural adjustment programs, which routinely include measures to privatise state assets, cut government funding to social services and subsidies on basic goods and allow easier access for Western capital.
Grant Taplin, assistant director at the IMF's Geneva office, stated before the United Nations Subcommission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights on August 9 that the fund, in a strict sense, does not have a mandate to promote human rights.
Nor is the IMF "bound by various human rights declarations and conventions", he added.
The discussion in the subcommission — an advisory body of the UN Commission on Human Rights that wrapped up its three-week sessions on August 17 — arose from a specialised study that indicated international financial institutions paid little or no attention to the matters of fundamental rights and other social values.
The study found that IMF and World Bank measures for debt reduction do not take into account the human rights difficulties of developing countries.
Taplin's defence of the IMF was based on the international accord that created the financial institution on January 1, 1946. "Human rights were not mentioned in the articles of agreement", said Taplin.
He insisted, however, that the IMF was "doing many things through many channels" to promote human rights.