United Nations General Assembly adopts basic principles on sovereign debt restructuring

11 September 2015

A draft resolution on "Basic Principles on Sovereign Debt Restructuring Processes" (A/69/L.84) was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York at its Sixty-Ninth Session on 10 September 2015, with 136 member States voting for, six against and 41 abstentions. UNCTAD, with over 40 years of experience on debt management and restructuring issues, served as secretariat for the negotiations among Members on the resolution.


The set of nine principles, contained and endorsed in the new resolution, follow years of negotiations and deliberations on sovereign debt restructuring processes. A year ago, the United Nations General Assembly tasked UNCTAD to provide substantive support to these discussions.

In adopting the resolution, the UN General Assembly states that sovereign debt restructuring processes should be guided by customary law and by basic international principles of law, such as sovereignty, good faith, transparency, legitimacy, equitable treatment and sustainability.

The adoption of the resolution reflects growing concerns about renewed sovereign debt crises and long-term debt sustainability in the context of continued global economic fragility, an issue that has been the focus of UNCTAD's work for many years.

There is also increasing recognition that the existing system for addressing sovereign debt problems is inadequate to resolve growing incidences of debt crises in a timely, legitimate, balanced and efficient manner.

The centrality of these concerns, in particular for the achievement of basic development goals and the post-2015 development agenda, was highlighted during the General Assembly session by, for example, South Africa's representative, who introduced the draft resolution on behalf of the Group of 77 and China.

This sentiment was echoed in supportive statements by representatives from African, Latin American, Asian and Caribbean member States.

Support for the resolution and, more generally, for the need for a global bankruptcy process, has also recently been voiced by eminent figures in academia, public life and civil society, including the leader of the Catholic church Pope Francis and the economists Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Piketty.

However, the resolution failed to garner consensus among all Members. Disagreement remains, especially pertaining to the legal interpretation of some principles and to a preference by some Members to see international negotiations about sovereign debt restructurings hosted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Member States will have the opportunity to continue their deliberations on this issue, including the a view to promote consensus-building, during a High Level Segment on the first day (3pm–6pm) of the Sixty-Second Session of the Trade and Development Board (14 September–25 September) in Room XVIII of the Palais des Nations, Geneva.