Freedom from poverty is a human right and not a matter of compassion, say UN leaders
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights rings hollow to the millions of people around the world who have to struggle in extreme poverty, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today as he called for progress on human development to go hand in hand with advances in security and human rights.
In a message marking International Human Rights Day, whose theme this year is that fighting poverty should be a matter of obligation and not charity, Mr. Annan said that “if we are to be serious about human rights, we must demonstrate that we are serious about deprivation.”
Mr. Annan said the world's poorest are the people least capable of achieving or defending rights – such as to a decent standard of living or to food and essential health care – that others take for granted.
“We must all recognize that wherever families eke out an existence on less than a dollar a day, or children die for lack of basic yet life-saving care, the Declaration has, at best, a hollow ring,” he said.
Poverty is both a cause and a product of human rights violations, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said in a separate message noting that awareness of “the stranglehold of poverty on billions of men, women and children around the world” has never been higher.
She added that approaches to poverty reduction are all too often couched as appeals to charity or altruism.
“We reaffirm that freedom from want is a right, not merely a matter of compassion,” she said. “Fighting poverty is a duty that binds those who govern as surely as their obligation to ensure that all people are able to speak freely, choose their leaders and worship as their conscience guides them.”
General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa said the world had “a moral and strategic obligation” to combat poverty when it is so immediate and the suffering of countless people is so intense.
“The poorest are more likely to experience human rights violations, discrimination or other forms of persecution,” she observed. “Being poor makes it harder to find a job and get access to basic services, such as health, education and housing. Poverty is above all about having no power and no voice.”
Sheikha Haya added that history is littered with well-meaning but unsuccessful schemes for eradicating poverty, and called for fresh programmes that tackle the root causes, such as discrimination and social exclusion.