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28 June 1996
ENGLISH Original: ENGLISH/FRENCH/SPANISH
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities Forty-eighth session Item 8 of the provisional agenda
THE REALIZATION OF ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS
A. Concerning extreme poverty in particular
205. In all the important documents of the past 10 years and particularly at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna and the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, extreme poverty has been identified as a denial of human rights overall, and its eradication figures among the main goals and objectives. More recently, the declaration of the period 1997 2006 as the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty echoes this perception of poverty and invites the entire United Nations system to play a decisive role in combating it. In concluding his study, the Special Rapporteur considers it opportune to make the following recommendations.
At the international level
(a) Decade for the Eradication of Poverty
206. Consideration of the phenomenon of extreme poverty and its impact on human rights as a whole should be a principal axis of the United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty. Steps taken to achieve this objective should be evaluated in the light of the extent to which they have or have not reached the very poorest.
(b) Regular human rights bodies
207. The topic of extreme poverty should be put on the agendas of the General Assembly, the Commission on Human Rights and the Sub Commission as a high priority item.
208. The Sub Commission, which has produced some useful thinking on these matters, should:
Continue to be the proper forum for keeping open a channel of communication between the experts and non governmental organizations so as to permit a genuine exchange and follow up of the question.
The Sub Commission could also supplement its earlier efforts with a study analysing in detail the content, scope, enforceability and implementation of economic, social and cultural rights.
In the context of Mr. José Bengoa’s study on the relationship between the enjoyment of human rights, in particular economic, social and cultural rights, and income distribution, the Sub Commission could also help to improve quantitative indicators and develop qualitative ones for measuring poverty adequately and assessing its impact, particularly in areas or sectors of human priority.
Bearing in mind the immense contribution which non governmental organizations daily and increasingly make both in development matters and in other social and human rights areas, it would be appropriate for the Sub Commission, in close collaboration with the NGOs, to produce a study illustrating the range of their activities concerned with extreme poverty, the suitability of their working methods and the way they carry out programmes. This would enable better use to be made of their know how and experience and allow more cooperation resources to be channelled through their field projects.
(c) Human rights treaty bodies
209. The bodies monitoring the implementation of international human rights treaties are recommended, when considering the reports of States or complaints (communications) submitted to them, to request specific information from Governments about their domestic policies and measures to allow the very poor to exercise the rights enshrined in the various instruments. This recommendation follows the increasingly widespread practice within those bodies, particularly the Committee on the Rights of the Child, but may be said to be relevant in that the most substantial finding of this study is that abject poverty obstructs the effective exercise of all human rights.
210. Lastly, bearing in mind the enormous limitations that abject poverty imposes, the monitoring bodies should set up machinery to facilitate access by the poor through representative associations, so that they are in a position to assess objectively how far this particularly vulnerable sector of the population is really able to exercise its human rights. It goes without saying that when reports and communications are considered it is vital, given the indivisibility and the interdependence of human rights, to explore in depth how limitations on some affect the exercise or attainment of others.
(d) United Nations bodies and institutions
211. The responsibilities incumbent on bodies with specific competence in human rights apart, all United Nations bodies and institutions should take into account the dimension of human rights which encapsulates extreme poverty, both in drawing up their policies and strategies and in choosing their methods for eradicating it. Given the many facets of problems such as extreme poverty and social exclusion, as we saw in chapter II and in Annex I, the various components of the system bear a shared responsibility in as much as anti poverty strategies pursued by some bodies or institutions may be hindered by the macroeconomic policy line supported by others. Inter system cooperation is thus as necessary as an alignment of strategies in order to achieve the objectives of Vienna, Copenhagen and the Decade.
212. Another area where alignment must not be further delayed is that of indicators for measuring poverty. The wide range of criteria currently used internationally has a multiplier effect at the country level, creating very considerable uncertainties as to the accuracy of basic data on the social situation, as in the case of the magnitude of extreme poverty and whether it is growing. Apart from standardizing quantitative indicators, it is vital to progress in establishing qualitative indicators in order to gain a qualitative understanding of and approach to the problem.
(e) Technical and economic cooperation bodies and institutions
213. Many innovative ideas and proposals were put forward at the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, but the most important one to mention here was that more human and financial resources needed to be earmarked for international technical and economic cooperation, so that substance can be given to the human rights aspects of the Declaration and Programme of Action. The Centre for Human Rights, given its specific nature, should be allowed to play a decisive role in technical cooperation throughout the Decade.
214. Due account should also be taken of the experience acquired in the field by non governmental organizations, which have long been carrying out activities in poverty stricken areas, and the qualitative understanding they have acquired from their closeness to the people and their time in the field.
(f) Role of education in human rights and public opinion
215. As has been seen throughout this study, certain cultural factors have a direct impact on the process of exclusion engendered by abject poverty and on the aggravation and perpetuation of poverty itself. Human rights education should thus be pivotal to long term strategies to combat social exclusion and discrimination, and should incorporate a better understanding of the link between extreme poverty and human rights. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who is responsible for coordinating the activities of the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education, the Centre for Human Rights and UNESCO should pool their efforts to achieve this objective.
216. Lastly, the mass media have a decisive role to play in shaping a new cultural identity for mankind, free of prejudice and exclusion of any kind, and with much greater respect for human dignity.
At the national level
217. Bearing in mind that Governments are chiefly responsible for seeing that the commitments made in Copenhagen are honoured in their countries, the Special Rapporteur considers it appropriate to point out that, in order to achieve the social development goals agreed upon at the World Summit, the development model selected nationally must be broad based, invite participation and ensure that the benefits of progress are spread fairly among all members of the community. Models based exclusively on achieving macroeconomic objectives, which aggravate the situation of the most underprivileged push up poverty indices and augment social exclusion, should be avoided. It has been proved that, if a development model is élitist and generates poverty and exclusion, the social policies applied thereafter will never succeed in offsetting the cost of the social deterioration it has caused.
218. To honour the commitments made in Copenhagen, Governments must draw up a definition of extreme poverty, improve conventional indicators and devise methods of measuring all forms of poverty, absolute poverty in particular. Action to eradicate poverty requires overall policies that address the various aspects of both. The elaboration of national anti poverty programmes is thus recommended, and it would be appropriate for them to take the statutory form of a framework law with due provision for enforcement machinery. Action in each government sector (education and health, for example) can then be combined with action in others (the labour and social sectors, etc.).
219. These national programmes must go hand in hand with methods of implementation which guarantee that anti poverty policies actually reach people they normally fail to reach, either because of the degree of social exclusion, because of their marginalization or because of their poverty stricken existence. It should be borne in mind that the Copenhagen guidelines included the association of the poor in the preparation, implementation, follow up and evaluation of programmes concerning them. It is also advisable for Governments to be able to draw on the know how and experience of the non governmental organizations which have long been working in poor areas. Hence it is vital to train social workers in order to ensure encouraging results at the country level. Governments without the resources for this must resort to international cooperation, which ought to be able to offer such training under the heading of human rights education. The training should take account of the points discussed in this report and in "Reaching the Poorest", the UNICEF study mentioned above. It should also respect the guidelines that the United Nations may draw up to enable the very poor to enjoy all their rights to the full.
B. General policy proposal
220. As mentioned above, one of the merits of the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action is that they recognize human rights as one of the components of social development. They explain that relieving poverty, and combating social exclusion and extreme poverty, the three main objectives of the Summit, are closely linked to the realization of human rights, a point which highlights the human rights dimension of the two documents.
221. Unlike the problem of unemployment, where ILO was identified as the key organization for achieving the Summit’s objectives, neither the Declaration nor the Programme of Action is so specific about the form or machinery needed for international action on this dimension of human rights as set out in the two documents.
222. Clearly, that the follow up to Copenhagen is a vital task for the United Nations bodies which regularly deal with human rights the General Assembly, the Commission on Human Rights and the Sub Commission. The Special Rapporteur feels, however, that the Commission should set up specific machinery to deal with the various human rights aspects of the Declaration and Programme of Action, which, like the findings of the Vienna Summit on extreme poverty and exclusion, mesh perfectly with the objectives of the United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty.
Machinery for implementation
223. The Commission could appoint a special rapporteur, or give the task to a working group if it considers that the magnitude and complexity of the task require input from experts from different regions. Another possibility, probably the most appropriate, would be to entrust the task to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who would be supported by regional experts appointed by the Commission.
Terms of reference
224. This machinery would exist essentially to carry out activities directly relating to the implementation of the human rights objectives set out in the Copenhagen Programme of Action and other keynote documents.
225. Internationally, numerous United Nations bodies and organizations, including UNDP, UNCTAD, ILO, UNICEF, the World Bank and IMF, are involved in activities in this area. The machinery to be set up would have the task of promoting dialogue within the system in order to harmonize the policies and strategies of its component parts in all matters concerning their possible impact on the human rights environment.
226. Annual reports submitted to the Commission and the General Assembly by the Special Rapporteur, the working group or the High Commissioner would enable the progress of any implementation, cooperation and harmonization activities to receive regular consideration. They would also serve as a basis for the evaluation document on the attainments of the human rights objectives of Copenhagen to be submitted probably in 1998, and certainly in the year 2000, when the General Assembly will meet for that purpose.
(iv) International cooperation and technical assistance
227. Since the machinery is basically intended to further the objectives of the Copenhagen Summit, a large part of its input would comprise technical assistance to Governments, community bodies, etc. needing cooperation in order to attain these objectives.
(v) Cultural aspects
228. Once again, stress must be laid on cultural aspects and the positive impact that promoting human rights education would have on the achievements of the Decade and the objectives defined at Vienna and Copenhagen.
(vi) The Regional Commissions
229. Similarly, the United Nations regional commissions, which have carried out important studies of their respective areas and are working hard to combat extreme poverty, social exclusion, etc., could collaborate closely with the machinery set up.
(vii) Cooperation of non governmental organizations
230. Lastly, non governmental organizations must cooperate closely with the machinery established so that advantage can be taken of their experience.
231. This linking of implementation, harmonization, cooperation and evaluation will reveal the United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty as a positive challenge, one which will at all times require much of our energy and creativity in order to persevere and prevail against the growing problems of poverty, unemployment, exclusion and extreme poverty in other words, concentrate much more on people and on the well being of all, in order to restore to development the social dimension and the human face it has so long lacked.