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Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

Mr. Philip Alston is the current Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. The Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. This position is honorary and the expert is not a staff of the United Nations nor paid for his/her work.

Since 1979, special mechanisms have been created by the United Nations to examine specific country situations or themes from a human rights perspective. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, replaced by the Human Rights Council in June 2006, has mandated experts to study particular human rights issues. These experts constitute what are known as the United Nations human rights mechanisms or mandates, or the system of special procedures.

For more information on the Special Rapporteurs, please refer to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx


Extreme Poverty and Human rights

Today almost half of the population in developing countries lives in extreme poverty, and are denied basic human rights such as the right to an adequate standard of living, including food and housing, the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and education. 

People living in poverty across the world are often socially excluded and marginalized from political power and processes.

Their right to effectively participate in public affairs is often ignored.

The elimination of extreme poverty is not a question of charity, but a pressing human rights issue. States are legally obligated to realize human rights for all, prioritizing the most vulnerable, includingthose living in extreme poverty. 

Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

The mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights was established to evaluate the relationship between the enjoyment of human rights and extreme poverty. The expert is required by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back to member States on initiatives taken to promote and protect the rights of those living in extreme poverty.

Objectives of the mandate

Through its resolutions 8/11 and 17/13, the Human Rights Council requests the Special Rapporteur to:

  • Identify approaches for removing all obstacles, including institutional ones, to the full enjoyment of human rights for people living in extreme poverty and to identify efficient measures to promote their rights.

  • Make recommendations on how persons living in extreme poverty can participate in the definition of measures affecting them.

  • Study the impact of discrimination and to pay particular attention to the situation of women, children and other vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities living in extreme poverty.

  • Participate in the assessment of the implementation of the Second United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty and to submit recommendations on the realization of Millennium Development Goals, in particular the first goal.

  • Develop cooperation with United Nations bodies dealing with the same subject and to continue participating in relevant international conferences on extreme poverty.  

Main activities

In the fulfilment of the mandate, the Special Rapporteur:

  • Responds to information received concerning the human rights situation of people living in extreme poverty;

  • Develops constructive dialogue with Governments, international organizations, civil society and other relevant actors with a view to identifying ways to remove all obstacles to the full enjoyment of human rights for people living in extreme poverty.

  • Submits annual reports to the Human Rights Council and to the General Assembly on the activities of the mandate.

  • Communicates with States and other concerned parties with regard to alleged cases of violations of the human rights of people living in poverty and social exclusion (See Individual Complaints) and other issues related to the mandate.

Latest News:

More press releases and statements


Special Rapporteur publishes an op-ed in the Washington Post on the World Bank's long-standing aversion to discussing human rights
(7 November 2014)

Special Rapporteur delivers a keynote address at the Nordic Trust Fund for Human Rights and Development Annual Workshop: "Rethinking the World Bank's approach to human rights" (15 October 2014)

Guiding Principles on extreme poverty and human rights
The Guiding Principles have now been published in a full-colour, user-friendly booklet.
The publications are available in ArabicEnglish, French, and Spanish.


On 29-30 May 2013, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights together with the Center for Economic and Social Rights and the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, hosted a meeting in Geneva to reflect on progress made over the past two decades in implementing the landmark commitments on economic, social and cultural rights (ESC rights) made at the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights and enshrined in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA). A summary of the findings is available here.

Adoption of UN Guiding Principles on extreme poverty and Human Rights

On 27 September 2012 the Human Rights Council adopted the Guiding Principles on extreme poverty and human rights, by consensus, in resolution 21/11 (E F R S C A). Based on international human rights norms and standards, the Guiding Principles provide for the first time global policy guidelines focusing specifically on the human rights of people living in poverty. They are intended as a practical tool for policy-makers to ensure that public policies (including poverty eradication efforts) reach the poorest members of society, respect and uphold their rights, and take into account the significant social, cultural, economic and structural obstacles to human rights enjoyment faced by persons living in poverty.

The Special Rapporteur welcomes a decision by the Human Rights Commission of the Parliament of Italy to translate the UN Guiding Principles on extreme poverty and human rights into Italian. The Special Rapporteur encourages other States to follow Italy's lead in this regard as a means of increasing their availability and dissemination at the policy making level. Additionally, the Special Rapporteur also welcomes the Polish translation of the Guiding Principles done by the UN Information Centre in Warsaw; and the Portuguese translation done by the Community Law Centre of the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa.

Communication report available
In September, all the communications sent by Special Rapporteurs to countries during the last months were publicized and presented to the UN Human Rights Council. The document is already available here.

Access to justice and Rule of Law

Access to justice as one of the core pillars or ‘building blocks’ of the rule of law: Proposals from the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights to the outcome document of the High-Level Meeting of the 67th Session of the General Assembly on the rule of law at the national and international levels

Rights- based approach to social protection

Promotion of and respect for rights and dignity: Proposals from the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights to the ILO draft Recommendation on social protection floors, to be discussed at the 101st Session of the International Labour Conference
Documento en español disponible aquí
Document en français disponible ici

Rights-based social protection crucial to sustainable development - Rio+20 proposals from UN expert on poverty
21 March 2012

Special Rapporteur

Mr. Philip Alston (Australia),
since June 2014

Previous Independent Experts:

Ms. Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona (Chile), (former Independent Expert)
since May 2008-June 2014

Mr. Arjun Sengupta (India),
August 2004-April 2008

Ms. A. M. Lizin (Belgium),
April 1998-July 2004

For more information please e-mail: srextremepoverty@ohchr.org

Book on social protection

Book on social protection: Human Rights approach to social protection The Human Rights approach to social protection (PDF)