Report on the international seminar on human rights and the debt, Cotonou 26-27 October 2009

6 November 2009 by Pauline Imbach , Hélene Baillot

On 26 and 27 October 2009 CADTM International (Committee for the Cancellation of the Third World Debt) and CADD Bénin (Cercle d’Auto-promotion pour un Développement durable) coorganized an international seminar on the issue ’Debt and human rights ’at Cotonou (Bénin).
Over 80 people participated in the event, among whom representatives of Benin organizations and member organizations in the CADTM network from Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Lumumbashi and Kinshasa), Congo Brazzaville, Morocco, India, Tunisia, Mali, Haiti, Senegal, France, and Belgium. The presence of a representative from the Venezuela embassy at the opening testified to the international nature of our struggle against the debt, as pointed out by one of our speakers.

Monday 26 October 2009
The day opened with songs and dances welcoming participants, who at the end of the performance all sang together (in French) « Elle tue, elle pille, elle assassine ! Annulons, annulons, annulons la dette ! ». Such dynamic starter was followed by opening speeches by Emilie Atchaca (CADD/CADTM Bénin), Samir Abi (ATTAC/CADTM Togo) and Eric Toussaint (CADTM Belgique). They recalled the aims of the CADTM network and explained that beyond the issue of debt cancellation, the network challenges the current system and proposes alternatives. They also pointed out that this seminar and its final resolution will represent a reference that all organizations will have to use as a support for their analyses and actions towards an immediate and unconditional cancellation of the Third World debt, the auditing of the debt, and compensations for long robbed populations.
Participants were reminded of how essential it is to stand up for a local and self-relying development by contrast with the turnkey development favoured by international financial institutions (IFI), the failure of which no longer need to be argued. Only through a form of development that focuses on the country itself can fundamental human rights and rights to development be implemented. The introduction ended with a quotation by Thomas Sankara, who stands as a model in the struggle on the debt issue.

The debates of the day went on in a plenary session with a number of contributions on the current crises and their consequences on fundamental human rights.
Mimoun Rahmani (ATTAC / CADTM Morocco). What is currently at stake in the issue of the migration debt. The issue of migrations highlights the violence of neoliberal policies.
Mimoun reminded us of the fact that there have always been migrations and that today over 200 million people are migrants, particularly in the South. Migration issues must be considered in the context of globalisation and of the current crisis.
From a historical point of view there are several stages in migrations: the first one is related to the slave trade, the second to colonisation, and the third to postcolonial migrations.
There is today an externalised management of migration flows, particularly in North Africa. We ought to challenge a number of notions spread by neoliberalism. Behind the idea of ’co-development we find a grisly reality: human beings are expelled, thrown out in often inhuman ways, even though they actively take part in the development of their native country. The socalled ’chosen immigration’ merely sanctions the use of ’kleenex’ migrants, who are selected then rejected according to the needs of the capitalist system; the ’retrun directive’ officializes a common EU policy towards migrants, etc.
The issue of migrations highlights the violence of neoliberal policies. Indeed migrations feed on inequalities in development. In the current context what is taking place is not so much a flow of people as a flow of labour to be ruthlessly exploited.
Migrants are the first victims of the current global crisis, as shown by unemployement figures in Spain.
Moreover, with ’Fortress Europe’, Meditarrenean countries and some African countries are turned into policemen helping Europe to fight illegal immigration. Agreements between Libya and Italy (for an amount of 5 billion euros), which were presented as ’reparations’, or readmission requirements included in the Economic Partnership Agreements, clearly illustrate such policy.
Finally Mimoun set out the CADTM network’s main demands on this issue such as free circulation of people and regularisation of all undocumented migrants, application of international conventions, cancellation of readmission agreements, suppression of conditionalities, debt cancellation and return of assets currently held abroad, suppression of short-stay visas, suppression of EPA, etc.

Nicolas Sersiron (CADTM France) What is at stake in the climate crisis. Capitalists’ answers are part of a logic of consumption and profit Profit The positive gain yielded from a company’s activity. Net profit is profit after tax. Distributable profit is the part of the net profit which can be distributed to the shareholders. .
We are facing two ecological crises: a climate crisis and an environmental crisis. Industrialized countries are responsible for 80% of the warming of the planet though other countries are now stepping in, such as China. Industrialized countries have an ecological debt to developing countries. The industrial revolution contributed to the domination of countries of the North on countries of the South. Debts and corruption are other mechanisms through which the North further appropriated raw materials. This pilfering led to an excessive consumtion of resources in the North, which owes primary cause of the current environmental crisis.
Nowadays nobody can deny this crisis. Capitalists’ answers are part of a logic of consumption and profit. They take the form of green capitalism or green growth... But if we understand that the European Investment Bank and the World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

invest 6 times more in fossile energies than in renewable ones to see through the deception.
We want to emphasize that we must fight both for social justice and for climate justice for the two are closely related.

Emilie Atchaca (CADD/CADTM Benin). The issue of the food crisis.
It is essential to set up alternatives, particularly at the national level
Emilie too mentioned the causes of the food crisis and how they can countered. She reminded us of the fact that the price increase for imported commodities Commodities The goods exchanged on the commodities market, traditionally raw materials such as metals and fuels, and cereals. (over 74% from 2007 to 2008) led to reducing other expenses, such as health care Care Le concept de « care work » (travail de soin) fait référence à un ensemble de pratiques matérielles et psychologiques destinées à apporter une réponse concrète aux besoins des autres et d’une communauté (dont des écosystèmes). On préfère le concept de care à celui de travail « domestique » ou de « reproduction » car il intègre les dimensions émotionnelles et psychologiques (charge mentale, affection, soutien), et il ne se limite pas aux aspects « privés » et gratuit en englobant également les activités rémunérées nécessaires à la reproduction de la vie humaine. and education... She also exposed the role played by agrofuels, which led to a decrease in food crops Food crops Crops destined to feed local populations (millet, manioc, etc.), as opposed to cash crops, destined for export (coffee, cocoa, tea, groundnuts, sugar, etc.) and thus in the offer of food commodities.
Moreover speculation on farming commodities led to a 30% price increase (as estimated by the World Bank) while wage incomes are not sufficient to meet such increase. In this context it is essential to set up alternatives, particularly at the national level: basic products must be subsidized, buffer stocks must be organized, self-managed microfinancing developed, the issue of climate warming must be integrated into the analysis, etc.

Eric Toussaint (CADTM Belgium). The food crisis and the financial crisis.
The financial crisis provided evidence that the public external debt of developing countries can be cancelled.
Éric Toussaint started his contribution by discussing the issue of the food crisis. He mentioned the fact that governments must protect their local producers and develop policies aiming at food sovereignty. Governments must also create agencies to make sure that local producers will be paid decent prices. Social movements must have a clear position against solutions proposed by capitalists such as Bill Gates’ and the World Bank’s ’green revolution’. It is also important to remember that the use of insecticides and pesticides must be limited and that organic fertilized must be promoted.

The financial crisis provided evidence that the public external debt of developing countries (now amounting to some USD 1,350 billion) can be cancelled. For 2007-2009 banks had to delete 4,000 billion dollars of toxic credit. They can do it for debts in the North and refuse to do the same for developing countries. We bailed out banks in the North with public money (some 2,000 billion dollars), which led to an explosion of public debt in countries of the North. Structural Adjustment Structural Adjustment Economic policies imposed by the IMF in exchange of new loans or the rescheduling of old loans.

Structural Adjustments policies were enforced in the early 1980 to qualify countries for new loans or for debt rescheduling by the IMF and the World Bank. The requested kind of adjustment aims at ensuring that the country can again service its external debt. Structural adjustment usually combines the following elements : devaluation of the national currency (in order to bring down the prices of exported goods and attract strong currencies), rise in interest rates (in order to attract international capital), reduction of public expenditure (’streamlining’ of public services staff, reduction of budgets devoted to education and the health sector, etc.), massive privatisations, reduction of public subsidies to some companies or products, freezing of salaries (to avoid inflation as a consequence of deflation). These SAPs have not only substantially contributed to higher and higher levels of indebtedness in the affected countries ; they have simultaneously led to higher prices (because of a high VAT rate and of the free market prices) and to a dramatic fall in the income of local populations (as a consequence of rising unemployment and of the dismantling of public services, among other factors).

Porgrammes multiply in the North, this is an opportunity for our network to show that there are common struggles in the North and in the South.

These talks were followed by a debate. Participants witnessed to direct consequences of the current crises. A number of points were highlighted such as the issue of organisation strategies to stimulate a more effective mobilisation and a more favourable power relationship, particularly towards leaders of the South. The issue of repressed social movements was also addressed.

Debates were carried on into the afternoon. Two workshops were organized, the first one on auditing the debt: principles, tools and strategies, introduced by Nouhoum Keita (CAD Mali) and Pierre Ngampou (APASH / CADTM Brazzaville), the other on arbitration tribual vs repudiation introduced by Renaud Vivien (CADTM Belgique) and Victor Nzuzi (NAD RDC). The two workshops made it possible to share Share A unit of ownership interest in a corporation or financial asset, representing one part of the total capital stock. Its owner (a shareholder) is entitled to receive an equal distribution of any profits distributed (a dividend) and to attend shareholder meetings. legal strategies around such keywords as repudiation, cancellation, odious debt Odious Debt According to the doctrine, for a debt to be odious it must meet two conditions:
1) It must have been contracted against the interests of the Nation, or against the interests of the People, or against the interests of the State.
2) Creditors cannot prove they they were unaware of how the borrowed money would be used.

We must underline that according to the doctrine of odious debt, the nature of the borrowing regime or government does not signify, since what matters is what the debt is used for. If a democratic government gets into debt against the interests of its population, the contracted debt can be called odious if it also meets the second condition. Consequently, contrary to a misleading version of the doctrine, odious debt is not only about dictatorial regimes.

(See Éric Toussaint, The Doctrine of Odious Debt : from Alexander Sack to the CADTM).

The father of the odious debt doctrine, Alexander Nahum Sack, clearly says that odious debts can be contracted by any regular government. Sack considers that a debt that is regularly incurred by a regular government can be branded as odious if the two above-mentioned conditions are met.
He adds, “once these two points are established, the burden of proof that the funds were used for the general or special needs of the State and were not of an odious character, would be upon the creditors.”

Sack defines a regular government as follows: “By a regular government is to be understood the supreme power that effectively exists within the limits of a given territory. Whether that government be monarchical (absolute or limited) or republican; whether it functions by “the grace of God” or “the will of the people”; whether it express “the will of the people” or not, of all the people or only of some; whether it be legally established or not, etc., none of that is relevant to the problem we are concerned with.”

So clearly for Sack, all regular governments, whether despotic or democratic, in one guise or another, can incur odious debts.
, illegitimate debt, citizens’ auditing, etc.
The first day ended with a synthesis of the workshops presented by Achille Esse (FNDP/Côte d’Ivoire)

27 October 2009
The second day opened with two workshops. The first one debt relief vs cancellation introduced by Pauline Imbach (CADTM Belgium) and Valentin Gnonlonfoun (CADD/CADTM Bénin), allowed participants to understand the need for social movements to demand an immediate and unconditional cancellation of the Third Workd debt. Debt relief is not an alternative since it does not make it possible to break away from the vicious circle of indebtedness. Valentin illustrated the issue with the situation in Benin.

The second workshop, introduced by Renaud Vivien (CADTM Belgium) and Luc Mukendi (AMSEL/ CADTM Lumumbashi), focused on the issue of trials against international financial institutions. After setting out the reasons for charging the World Bank (violation of human rights, environmental disasters, support to dictatorships..), Renaud explained to participants that a trial against the World Bank is possible since this institution is not covered by immunity. Luc then discussed the specific case of the DRC with the telling example of GECAMINES. 10,656 workers were laid-off during the ’voluntary departure operation’ coordinated by the World Bank. They were given the ridiculous amount of 3,000 dollars compensation, i.e. ten months of wages, while they had not been paid for the last three years.

The second part of the morning was dedicated to the issue of compensations. It was introduced by Claude Quémar (CADTM France) and Camille Chalmers (PAPDA Haiti). In many cases we ought to demand a double compensation.
Claude defined the notion of compensation and commented on the various forms it can take: restitution of material goods (works of art, land, etc.), restoration of the conditions prevailing before an illicit action, money compensation, formal apologies or at least acknowledgement of some violation, plege not to repeat the offence. He illustrates each case through historical examples, for instance at the end of the 18th century, Quakers freed their slaves and compensated them for years of unpaid labour. Camille explained the situation in Haïti. In 1825 Charles X forced a treaty on Haiti that stipulated that the country had to pay 150 million gold-francs to France as compensation for the loss of its colony. This case shows that the notion of compensation has more often been used by oppressors and that they know how to use this legal notion when they want to look after their own interests. In many cases oppressed countris should claim a double compensation, both for suffered damage and for unduly paid compensation. Camille stresses that law is only the reflection of existing power relationships and that it is up to people to change them. He concluded that opting out of the capitalist system is an imperative necessity.

In the afternoon a heated plenary took place on the topic social movements and violations of human rights . Speakers were Jean-Victor Lemvo (SOLIDAIRES Congo Brazza), Igor Seikho (CSTB), and Mimou Rahmani (ATTAC/CADTM Morocco).
The various contributions showed that in front of systematic repression it is necessary to unite. The deputy secretary of CSTB forcefully presented trade unions struggles in Benin and had the audience chant « FMI dehors, Banque mondiale dehors ! »
The ensuing debate was quite heated.
The day ended with Esmat (ATTAC Togo) providing a synthesis of what had been done and some concluding words by Emilie Atchaka, who thanked participants and invited them to carry on what had been started here in the context of the next event, planned in Lomé (Togo) from 31 October to 2 November 2009.

This seminar was rich through the debates it prompted. It combined political analyses and tools for the implementation of alternatives. It defined a framework and political line for the CADTM network to fight the plague of the debt, IFIs and all those who oppress and exploit peoples and nature. It made it possible for all and everyone to develop intellectual weapons largely derived from a better knowledge of international law, and to share experiences. Such meetings are key elements in the construction of struggles led by members of the African CADTM network with respect to training, exchange of experiences and networking.

Other articles in English by Pauline Imbach (7)

Hélene Baillot

Stagière au CADTM en 2009



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