Human Rights and Sovereign Debts in the Context of Property and Creditor Rights

34 Pages Posted: 2 May 2017 Last revised: 26 Oct 2017

Arturo C. Porzecanski

American University - School of International Service

Date Written: May 1, 2017


Post-War conceptions of human rights have evolved independently of long-established theory and practice of property and creditor rights, to the detriment of the development and implementation of human rights law. This chapter attempts to build a first bridge between these two fields of law. It begins by recalling the strikingly different origin and implementation of ‘human’ versus property and creditor rights, because the differences have significant implications. Human rights laws are more honoured in the breach than in the observance in most parts of the world, principally because states accepted international standards governing the treatment of their own nationals in their own territory while reserving to themselves the sovereign right to enforce those rights as they saw fit. In sharp contrast, when it comes to property and creditor rights, there are few gaps between principled intentions, legal mandates, and actual enforcement. Property and creditor rights are important for the attainment of other human rights, especially those of an economic nature, and many human rights are connected to, and are rather inseparable from, broadly conceived property rights. There follows a discussion of the still wide gap between aspirational human rights and economic reality. The time has come for human rights scholars to ratchet down their expectations to match the very limited capacity of low-income and formerly communist countries most prone to human rights deficiencies to import the Western European welfare state model. The final section focuses on the poorly understood interconnections between sovereign debts and human rights. Neglect of property and creditor-rights considerations has led many contemporary human rights advocates down an infertile, if not inappropriate, intellectual and policy path. Speculation that contracts governing cross-border debts and investments may not be sufficiently compelling, at least relative to human rights commitments, is unwarranted and counterproductive.

Keywords: Human Rights, Property Rights, Creditor Rights, Sovereign Debt, HIPC

JEL Classification: F3, F34, F35, H63, K11, K12, K33, K38

Suggested Citation

Porzecanski, Arturo C., Human Rights and Sovereign Debts in the Context of Property and Creditor Rights (May 1, 2017). School of International Service Research Paper No. 2017-1 Revised version forthcoming in Sovereign Debt and Human Rights, ed. by Ilias Bantekas and Cephas Lumina (Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2018).. Available at SSRN: or

Arturo C. Porzecanski (Contact Author)

American University - School of International Service ( email )

4400 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

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