The United Nations Human Rights System
The following is a sampling of United Nations efforts to mainstream poverty eradication, based up on a human rights framework.
When the United Nations General Assembly resolved that extreme poverty and exclusion from society constituted a violation of human dignity (UNGA Resolution 53/146 on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty adopted December 18, 1992) it was affirming that poverty poses the single greatest threat to the human rights and the well being and survival of the greatest numbers of human beings. The strategy submits that the eradication of poverty is best achieved by abolishing poverty within a human rights framework, or rights-based approach. Such an approach offers the opportunity to draw upon the full body of international human rights standards and the compelling case for poverty as a violation of human rights (United Nations General Assembly, document A/57/369, August 2002 see paragraph 4). In the last two decades, important theoretical contributions have been made to developing human rights approaches to poverty reduction. The work of the Human Rights Commission`s first working group on the right to development in the 1980s highlighted the integral link between human rights and development, including poverty.
The Commission on Human Rights has considered the relationship between human rights and extreme poverty since 1990, when in resolution 1990/15 it requested the Sub- Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (prior to 1999 known as the Sub commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities) to study the issue.
In response, the Sub-Commission appointed the Special Rapporteur on human rights and extreme poverty, Leandro Despouy, who published his final report in 1996 (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1996/13). That study constituted the first comprehensive analysis of poverty and human rights.
In 2002, the Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution in which it "also reaffirms the critical importance of identifying and analysing obstacles impeding the full realization of the right to development at both the national and international levels, recognizes that the promotion and protection of human rights, including the right to development, rests with States, as established in Article 3 of the Declaration on the Right to Development, and further reaffirms the inextricable link between the two" (E/CN.4/RES/2002/69)
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) addresses the issue of poverty as a denial of human rights from a human development perspective. It is in the deprivation of the lives people lead that poverty manifests itself. Poverty can mean more than a lack of what is necessary for material well-being. It can also mean "the denial of opportunities and choices most basic to human development – to lead a long healthy creative life and to enjoy a decent standard of living, freedom, dignity, self-esteem and the respect of others" (UNDP Human Development Report 1997).
The Human Development Report 2000 goes a long way towards integrating human rights by way of its central message that "poverty limits freedom and deprives a person of dignity". As a consequence, to be free from poverty is a matter of basic human rights in response to which the report calls for a framework for development, trade, and investment that protects and promotes human rights. Furthermore, it suggests that debt policies and structural adjustment Programs should be assessed in terms of their impact on human rights.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for its part reaffirmed "the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food" (Declaration of the World Food Summit: Five years later, June 2002) and gave the mandate to the High Commissioner for Human Rights to better define the body of rights related to food. In 2000 a UN Special Rapporteur for Right to Food was appointed and in 2003 an intergovernmental working group was formed to establish guidelines to promote the progressive realization of the right to food. The Legal Office of the FAO greatly contributed to the debate from its particular perspective by publishing a legislative study on "The right to adequate food in emergencies" (FAO Legislative Study 77, June 2002). This study analyses the normative content of the right to adequate food in emergency cases and puts particular emphasis on the obligation for states and non-state entities to respect, protect and fulfil this particular right.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes health as a fundamental human right in its constitution, which states, "the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, and political belief, economic or social condition".
WHO contributed to the development of guidelines to assist countries in preparing regular reports to be submitted to the Treaty Bodies. WHO participates in the work of the Commission on Human Rights and its Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, on questions that have direct and indirect impact on health, included human rights and extreme poverty.
The 2003 Director-General`s Report to the 91st session of the International Labour Conference entitled "Working out of Poverty" details how the International Labour Organization (ILO) and its constituents can better respond to the aspirations of people living in poverty. The report is about the direct link between decent work as a development agenda and poverty eradication. It underlines "this strategy is about more than increasing incomes. It is about rights, dignity, and a voice. Ultimately, it is about the economic, social and political empowerment of people" (Report of the Director-General of the International Labour Organization "Working out of Poverty", 2003, page 17)
In its 2004 edition of State of the World`s Children, UNICEF identified universal education, gender equality, and empowering women as central to eradication of poverty. UNICEF commits to undertaking its work founded on a rights-based approach. A human rights-based approach to education in terms of children as rights holders and parents, communities, national and local governments an international agencies as duty bearers, "each with a unique role to play" and a shared common responsibility.
The United Nations treaty bodies have also contributed to the task of clarifying the relationship between human rights and poverty by monitoring the implementation of human rights covenants and conventions, through the reporting process, the development of general comments, and a constructive dialogue between States parties and the Committees on matters relating to poverty and development. In June 1993, representatives from 171 States adopted the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action at the World Conference on Human Rights. They concluded that "the existence of widespread extreme poverty inhibits the full and effective enjoyment of human rights. Its immediate alleviation and eventual elimination must remain a high priority for the international community". (United Nations A/CONF.157/23)
At the Millennium Summit of 2000, the Member States of the United Nations General Assembly made a passionate commitment in resolution 55/2 by pledging to spare no effort to free their fellow men, women, and children from the abject and dehumanising conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them were currently subjected. The Millennium Declaration also committed all countries to making the right to development a reality for everyone and to freeing the entire human race from want. For the first time, the heads of State recognized explicitly the link between the realization of the right to development and poverty reduction. That provided unanimous acceptance of the inextricable link between human rights and poverty. On the basis of this momentum, concrete human rights responses to the situation faced by poor people must now be set out.