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The Penalization of Poverty

The Special Rapporteur's report to the sixty-sixth session of the General Assembly (October 2011) focused on the penalization of people living in poverty.

Research indicates that people living in poverty are subjected increasingly and disproportionately to a range of administrative and legal policy measures that seek to criminalize, penalize, segregate and surveil them because of their situation. Such measures include laws that explicitly target people living in poverty (e.g., laws prohibiting vagrancy, begging and panhandling), and laws and regulations that are used disproportionately against people living in poverty (e.g., measures that prohibit actions such as sleeping, drinking and bathing in public spaces). The penalization of people living in poverty also occurs in welfare systems, where discriminatory attitudes translate into unfair and unequal welfare measures that interfere in the lives of people living in poverty (e.g., onerous conditionalities, over-policing) and, through processes of detention, incarceration and institutionalization, which have a disproportionate detrimental impact on the lives of people living in poverty. These policies not only fail to address the root causes of poverty and the multiple deprivations that people living in poverty face, but also they serve to further increase stigmatization of and discrimination against the poor, and deepen their social exclusion.

Such policies are expanding and threatening the equal enjoyment of various civil, political, economic and social rights of people living in poverty. The report explores, from a human rights perspective, the wide array of policies and measures in both developing and developed countries that penalize, segregate and control those living in poverty.

The report benefits from extensive research on the multi-faceted issue of the penalization of poverty and builds upon the outcomes of a research workshop organized by the International Council on Human Rights Policy on 17 and 18 March 2011, in which the Special Rapporteur participated. The “Penalization of People Living in Poverty” workshop brought together more than 20 experts from around the world, representing human rights advocates, academics, advocates for the urban poor, representatives of grass roots organizations and UN experts working on issues related to the penalization of poverty.

To read the full report please click here.