Extreme poverty and human rights

CHRGJ Faculty Director and Co-Chair, Professor Philip Alston is the current UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights performs several roles: developing a better understanding of the relationship, in both theory and practice, between human rights and the scourge of extreme poverty; influencing agenda-setting and policy-making at both the national and international levels; undertaking country-level advisory work, in the context of invited visits and also when major violations are alleged to have occurred; and giving a higher profile to these issues, through contributions to public debate, publications, and advocacy (Read more about the mandate on the website of OHCHR).

Using a multidimensional approach to poverty, the incidence of extreme poverty around the world is staggering. According to UNDP’s Human Development Report 2014, over 2.2 billion people, more than 15 percent of the world’s population, “are either near or living in multidimensional poverty.” Poverty is an urgent human rights concern. For those living in extreme poverty, many human rights are out of reach. The elimination of extreme poverty should thus not be seen as a question of charity, but as a pressing human rights issue.

Since he was appointed in June 2014, Prof. Alston has stressed the importance of relying on a human rights based approach when confronting extreme poverty. In his first report to the General Assembly, for instance, Alston called on Governments to embrace the United Nations Social Protection Floor Initiative—to guarantee the right to social protection. Prof. Alston has also criticized the World Bank’s unwillingness to take into account human rights in its development work. Together with 27 other UN Special Procedures, he has written a letter to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim about the lack of any meaningful reference to human rights in the World Bank’s draft new Safeguards policies. Alston has also raised a range of specific issues with the governments concerned, including debt restructuring in Argentina, the reduction of the minimum wage in Guatemala, the impact on the poor of water policies in Detroit, and the failure to provide emergency assistance for homeless migrants in the Netherlands.

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