Poverty and human rights

By Elizabeth Astete Rodriguez
0 CommentsPrint E-mail CSHRS, November 6, 2009
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The year 2010 will herald humanity's entry into a new century, the beginning of a new era full of great expectations, hopes and challenges for the achievement of a better world.

Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge for governments and society alike is to make the world a better place for the largest number of people in the shortest possible time.

According to international consensus, poverty, especially extreme poverty, constitutes a violation of human dignity and, therefore, it is one, if not the main enemy of this global priority.

The relationship between poverty and human rights is reflected in the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action, which was adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna on June 25, 1993. On that occasion it was noted that the existence of widespread extreme poverty not only inhibits but also precludes the full and active enjoyment of human rights. Today we can state that it is a denial of these rights, which are nothing more than a set of rules directed towards the full realization of the dignity of all people.

The World Conference on Human Rights affirms that extreme poverty and social exclusion are concrete examples of violations against human dignity, stating that urgent steps must be taken to achieve better knowledge of extreme poverty and its causes, particularly those related to the problem of development, in order to promote the human rights of the poorest, and put an end to extreme poverty and social exclusion and promote the enjoyment of the fruits of social progress. These concepts have been reiterates subsequently in a number of resolutions adopted within the framework of the United Nations Organization.

We have spent many years trying to understand extreme poverty and we might even begin to wonder whether it would not be better to have a magical formula so that we could all taste and feel poverty for a couple of days in order quicker and more efficiently.

The need to tackle this serious problem is reflected in efforts such as the Copenhagen Declaration and the Program of Action of the World Summit for Social Development of March 1995 or the outcome document of the 2005 World Summit, among the many other documents that have been and will continue to be generated internationally on this subject in recent years.

But perhaps the size of the task to be carried out can be measured in terms of the Millennium Declaration and attaining the Millennium Development Goals, in particular, reducing by half the proportion of people who live on less than a dollar a day, as well as reducing by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015.

Extreme poverty remains pervasive and exacerbated by issues such as gender inequality – primarily affecting women and girls – the disabled, indigenous people, compounded by the recent global food, energy and financial crisis, which affects all of us.

According to information from the United Nations independent expert on human rights and extreme poverty, Magdalena Sepúlveda, the food prices crisis has pushed more than 125 million people into poverty [in 2008] and it is estimated that an additional 55 to 90 million people would be plunged into extreme poverty in 2009 1.

In a time when the population of poverty in the world is increasing, it is imperative to enhance the efforts of the civil society and international organizations, but most of all the efforts of the States agreeing to undertake a political commitment to eradicate it. The challenge involves the commitment of both countries affected by poverty and developed and prosperous countries. A true commitment to this effort requires approaching it from the standpoint of the human rights of the poor and extreme poor, rather than merely from a charitable and humanitarian perspective.

Good governance at national level is essential for effective action against extreme poverty and the strengthening of national institutions. As noted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, each country has the primary responsibility for its own sustainable development and poverty eradication2 .

However, this effort must be supported by the international community and with that understanding account should be taken of the Draft Guiding Principles "Extreme Poverty and Human Rights;" a process that started in 1987 and is nearing completion. These principles link the protection of human rights to the fight against poverty, confirm the principles of indivisibility of rights, participation and non-discrimination [of those living in extreme poverty]. Thus, they seek to strengthen the implementation of existing international human rights standards and can turn into an instrument for the promotion of the Millennium Development Goals.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), there has been a reduction in the number of people [living] in poverty in Latin America due to a growth in per capita GDP of more than 3 percent between 2003 and 2007. This has been instrumental in reducing unemployment and poverty and extreme poverty levels in most countries of the region. In 2006, 14 million people escaped poverty and 10 million people were no longer living in extreme poverty.

For its part, the World Bank estimates that approximately 60 million people in Latin America escaped poverty between 2002 and 2008, while another 14 - 15 million people would have escaped it in 2009, if only the region had continued to grow at the 4.3 percent rate.

And although it is the first time that the number of poor people in the region has dropped below 200 million since 1990, the rate of decrease has been hampered by the international financial crisis, which is likely to cause a 2 percent contraction of GDP in Latin America in 2009.

Peru, just like the other countries of the region, has been engaged in the process of poverty reduction. In 2001, total poverty in Peru stood at 55.6 percent. However, total poverty fell by 5.2 percentage points, declining from 44.5 percent in 2006 to 39.3 percent in 2007, and extreme poverty, which represents 13.7 percent of the population, declined by 2.4 percent. This process continued in 2008, declining 3.1 percentage points compared to 20073 .

An open and stable economic policy has been necessary to achieve this important change, which has triggered a substantial increase in investments, production and exports. The development of several projects that teach the poor how to optimize their resources which involve, among others, farming techniques and animal husbandry for profit, as well as more simple things such as an orderly distribution within the stockyard, which ultimately improves animal productivity, have also contributed to reducing poverty and extreme poverty in Peru.

It is common for rural areas in Peru and the rest of the continent to remain mired in persistent poverty and traditionally excluded from the economic growth process. In the conviction that such delays can change, we have drafted the "Sierra exportadora" project in order to promote what is produced in the Sierra by generating strategic alliances between public and private sector which would contribute to the strengthening of organizations, the introduction of new technologies and market access, among others.

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