Poverty as a violation of human rights

I’m grateful to CROP, the Comparative Research Group on Poverty, for drawing my attention to a development in the UN: the declaration that poverty is a violation of human rights.  The Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, agreed in 2012, begin with an understanding of poverty as “a multidimensional phenomenon that encompasses a lack of both income and the basic capabilities to live in dignity”.  States have duties, for example

  • to protect people in poverty from stigmatisation, and to “prohibit public authorities, whether national or local, from stigmatizing or discriminating against persons living in poverty” (pp 5-6)
  • to enhance the involvement of women in decision-making (p 6)
  • to give poor people rights of redress (p 11)
  • to ensure that persons living in poverty have access to at least the
    minimum essential food that is nutritionally adequate and safe, basic
    shelter, housing and sanitation (p 15)
  • to “repeal or reform any laws that criminalize life-sustaining activities in
    public places, such as sleeping, begging, eating or performing personal
    hygiene activities” (p 17)
  • to provide legal aid for criminal and civil cases (p 19), and
  • to ensure that all workers are paid a wage sufficient to enable them and
    their family to have access to an adequate standard of living (p 27)

The document has no direct legislative force, but breaches of human rights are in principle justiciable, and members of CROP have been arguing for some years that developing legal rights against poverty could have a major material effect on government policies.


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