Dear Leaders of Governments, International Institutions and Lender Institutions,

COVID19 has turned our world upside down.

The Covid19 pandemic has severely impacted on the health, safety and survival of hundreds of millions of people. Communities worldwide are being pushed deeper into poverty, precarious existence and inequality – with the massive loss of paid and self-employment and livelihoods and further limiting of access to food, water and sanitation, adequate housing, education, health service and other basic needs. It is estimated that 500 million more people could be pushed into poverty as a result of the pandemic and the economic downturn that it has exceedingly exacerbated. In all the regions of the world, violence against women, girls and LGTBI+ people has escalated in number and severity.

This is an unprecedented moment of intense multiple crises with Covid-19, the global economic recession, the care crisis and the escalating climate and ecological emergency. Despite the urgency and scale of human suffering, governments and the international community are failing to move into emergency mode for people and communities.

These conditions shine a strong light on the continuing debt problem that stands in the way of people’s survival, the fight against inequality, the realization of their human rights, sovereignty and the self-determination of peoples, economic, gender and ecological justice, and the pursuit of a dignified life.

Over $300 billion is being spent annually by the global south for Public External Debt payments to bilateral and multilateral lenders such as the World Bank and IMF, private banks, speculators and investors in government bonds and securities. The debt problem is compounded by illicit financial flows also in the billions of dollars. This is money that is vitally needed for public investment on vital healthcare to fight Covid-19, economic and structural assistance to affected, vulnerable and marginalized individuals, families and communities, and building economies towards more just, equitable, climate resilient and sustainable systems.

Given the urgency and severity of the crisis we face, the responses to the debt problem have been severely insufficient in the best case, and in many occasions counterproductive.

The IMF announced a Covid-19 debt relief package in April 2020 and said it will use $500 million to cover several months of debt payments being made to the IMF by 28 countries. The IMF says it eventually aims to cover two years’ worth of payments, but this would depend on whether it receives additional pledges from member governments for its Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT). In fact, the IMF did not write off its claims. The contributions of several rich countries to CCRT were used to repay IMF claims from these 28 countries.

In the same month, G20 governments introduced the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) – not a cancelation but merely an eight-month delay of up to $12 billion worth of payments for public debts, and only 73 countries were considered eligible. Of this, just $5.3 billion of bilateral debt has actually been suspended to 43 countries, all of which is now due to be paid between 2022 and 2024.

Private lenders have so far refused to cancel or suspend any of the debt they claim. Similarly, multilateral development banks, such as the World Bank, have also failed to cancel debt.

Meantime, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Asian Development Bank are making available a combined total of $205.5 billion of loans for Covid-19 response measures. The IMF has approved more than $88 billion in emergency loans in the last 6 months to 81 countries. It is a travesty of justice that countries in the Global South will end up with even more debts in the face of the multiple crises.

The staggering problem of debt is beyond the bleeding of public coffers in the face of great need and vulnerabilities.

Much of this debt is illegitimate, lent irresponsibly and unfairly, driven by predatory lending, used to finance harmful projects and policies, failing to comply with legal and democratic requirements, saddled with onerous and unjust terms, incurred by private corporations but assumed by governments or incurred through public guarantees of private profits, wasted or stolen.

Policy conditions attached to loans, including cuts in public services and social protection, privatization and severe austerity programs, have also caused as great if not greater harm than debt servicing, especially on women and girls, indigenous peoples and most impoverished and vulnerable people and communities. These conditions have exacerbated social conflict, criminalization of poverty, and militarization and repression.

Moreover, debt and the ” indebtedness”of countries of the South is both a consequence and a tool for domination – subverting the ability of countries and peoples to shape their own economic programs and undermining sovereign institutions and democratic processes.

All these are in stark contrast to the fact that peoples of countries in the Global South have paid for the debts incurred in their name so many times over – with their money, their livelihoods, their safety, well-being, their lives, and the health of the planet. And all these in contrast to the much greater social, historical and ecological debt owed to the people of the South through centuries of colonial and post-colonial plunder and extraction of their natural resources and exploitation of their labor, including women’s unpaid domestic and care work.

We demand for much more than “debt relief,” we demand debt justice.

We call on world leaders, national governments, financial institutions, public and private, to take urgent, just, ambitious action, in compliance of their obligations and responsibilities and commit to the following:

1.Unconditional cancellation of public external debt payments by all lenders – bilateral, multilateral and private lenders – for all countries in need for at least the next four years as an immediate step and a clear program towards the unconditional cancellation of outstanding debt; In addition, borrowing governments have it within their power to stop making debt payments but they should not suffer any form of penalties for doing so;

2. Use of resources freed from debt to address immediate needs for vital and universal healthcare, social protection, and other essential services and rights, secure the safety and well being of people and communities, provide economic and structural assistance to affected, vulnerable and marginalized individuals, families and communities, undertake urgent climate action, and build economies that are equitable, uphold human rights, promote gender, race and ecological justice, are climate resilient and compatible with the health of the planet

3. National debt audits – both government audits and independent citizens’ audits – that will critically examine the nature, purpose, terms and conditions, actual use of loans, and the impacts of loan-supported policies and programs, and thorough-going review and changes in lending, borrowing and payment policies to prevent the re-accumulation of unsustainable and illegitimate debt

4. A fair, transparent, binding and multilateral framework for debt crisis resolution (under the auspices of the UN and not in lender-dominated arenas) that addresses unsustainable and illegitimate debt;

5. Thorough-going national and global review and changes in lending, borrowing and payment policies and practices aimed at preventing the re-accumulation of unsustainable and illegitimate debt, strengthening democratic institutions and processes, and upholding human rights and peoples’ self determination

6. Recognition and application of the primacy of human rights and the corresponding obligations of the States, the international community and private actors, including the extraterritorial responsibility of each State for the impacts of the action or omission of companies, speculators and investors under its jurisdiction.

7. Reparations for the damages caused to countries, peoples and nature, due to the contracting, use and payment of unsustainable and illegitimate debts and the conditions imposed to guarantee their collection.

We seek the decisive and full solution to the debt problem as part of the profound transformation of economic and financial systems that the present crises so urgently demand.


Download the open letter as PDF here, which includes a list of all signatories.