The concept of public debt has been known to mankind for a long time. In science, there are various approaches to its understanding. Some believe that the public debt has an adverse effect on the state, worsens the budget policy of the state, increasing, among other things, the burden of the nation, which is considered to be negative for the state’s economy and development of society as a whole. According to the second approach, financing of state expenditures with the help of a loan is recommended, since it allows to achieve an optimal distribution of the investment burden for the state and to avoid raising taxes to ensure state activities in emergency situations. Today, this paradigm is reinforced by understanding of the human rights aspects of public debt. According to the research, a massive violation of economic and social human rights has been evidenced in borrowing states. Such data takes on special significance in the context of the need to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (2016–2030), since it will be extremely difficult for these states to achieve them. Although the primary responsibility for fulfilling international human rights obligations lies with states, but other entities, including international development, trade and finance institutions, and private corporations are also obliged to comply with international human rights obligations. Depending on the circumstances, such entities are also obliged to ensure that human rights are not violated by third parties, as well as to develop, adopt, finance and implement strategies and programs to eliminate the causes that impede the enjoyment of human rights. Methods The methodological basis of the study involves a combination of general scientific (dialectical, historical, inductive, deductive, analytical, synthetic) and private scientific methods (formal legal, comparative legal, interpretative, statistical, procedural and dynamic). © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020.