Poverty and Human Rights


Dr. Khine Khine Win

In 1995 the United Nations adopted two definitions of poverty. Absolute poverty means a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services. Overall poverty takes various forms, including: lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods; hunger and malnutrition; ill health; limited or lack of access to education and other basic services; increased morbidity and mortality from illness; homelessness and inadequate housing; unsafe environments and social discrimination and exclusion. It is also characterized by lack of participation in decision making and in civil, social and cultural life.
According to UNDP’s Human Development Report 2014, over 2.2 billion people of the world’s population, “are either near or living in multidimensional poverty” and 2015 report states “ worldwide 795 million people suffer from chronic hunger”. In September 2015, United Nations General Assembly adopted the important document entitled “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” by UN member States. One of the visions of this agenda is to envisage a world free of poverty, hunger, disease and want, where all life can thrive. Indeed, the first of the seventeen of the sustainable development goals in this agenda is “End poverty in all its forms everywhere”. This agenda acknowledge that billions of citizens in the world continue to live in poverty and are denied a life of dignity. There are rising inequalities within and among countries. There are enormous disparities of opportunity, wealth and power. Gender inequalities remain a key challenge. It clearly shows that our world today is in poverty and many citizens suffer from poverty and inequalities. Moreover, this agenda recognized that eradicating poverty in all forms and dimensions is the global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.
Human rights are universal and belong to everyone regardless of rich or poor, sex, nationality, language and any other status. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They have all equal rights regardless of the place of residence, developed or developing or least developed countries. Today, human rights have become a bandwagon. Neverthe less, human rights are violated everywhere particularly for people who are suffering from poverty. People living in poverty lack secure access to sufficient quantities of basic necessities such as right to food, safe water and basic sanitation notwithstanding UDHR article 25 states everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.
People living in poverty are often trapped because they are excluded from the rest of societies. Their basic rights including right to information, right to education, right to food, right to privacy, right to participation etc are being tragically neglected.
They lack political voice. Their needs and concerns are often absent in policy debates. They are also the victims of discrimination on grounds and have very limited knowledge on their basic rights and freedom. People in poverty having no knowledge would not be able to demand their inalienable rights or seeks redress for the violation or infringement thereof.
On the other hand, poverty weakens accountability and the question of accountability lies at the very heart of poverty eradication. Generally, many of the governments of poor countries are not accountable. Corruption also burdens poverty eradication. Without accountability, corruption flourishes and corruption impedes good governance. When governance fails, human rights are violated. It is noteworthy that poverty drives weak accountability, strong corruption, less governance and more human rights abuse. I hope you now generally understand that human rights abuses are a cause and a consequence of poverty.
Countries today agreed to take bolder action against
extreme poverty in which
poverty is considered as a violation of human rights. It means end to poverty is global priority concern and prime opportunity has risen to protect the human rights.
In order to address poverty, there is Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights which is adopted in 2011 by Human Rights Council in its resolution 21/11 and is specifically focused on the human rights of people who live in poverty. Based on international norm and standard of human rights, these principles intended as a practical tool for policy makers to ensure that public policies including poverty eradication efforts reach the poorest member of society, respect and uphold their rights. Now that States have shown their commitment to eliminating extreme poverty in a human rights-based manner, it is crucial that they put this into practice through the application of the Guiding Principles in all poverty eradication measures and other policies that impact on the rights of persons living in poverty according to OHCHR.
Internationally, most governments have signed a number of treaties on human rights and other international conventions, such as the one related to labor rights and organized crime and human trafficking.  These treaties obligate governments to ensure that citizens are able to enjoy human rights regardless of rich or poor.
To conclude, to end poverty is a global priority concern even so it is not easy to address. Many obstacles and challenges are along the way to end poverty and it will not be able to achieve without a revitalized and enhanced Global Partnership as long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality exist.

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