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Development Goals: rights not rhetoric, urges UN expert on extreme poverty

Statement by the UN Independent Expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty, Magdalena Sepúlveda, to mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty
(17 October 2010)

GENEVA – “Intolerable levels of poverty and deprivation still characterize today’s world. If China is excluded, the number of people living in extreme poverty has actually increased since 1990, according to the UN. In sub-Saharan Africa, recent studies show that half the population lives in extreme poverty; at this rate, the region will not achieve
MDG1 – the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger- until 2076. This is unacceptable.

At the recent Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Summit, world leaders reaffirmed their commitment to fighting poverty ahead of the 2015 deadline. However, despite some progress, the international community has not lived up to its promises and the prospect of failure to meet the Goals looms large due to a lack of resources and political will.

We must accelerate towards 2015 and put human rights at the heart of an urgent rescue package for those living in poverty around the world. We must be clear that addressing their plight is not a question of ‘aid’ or ‘charity’, but the protection of fundamental human rights - a duty which States have committed to under law.

We must go beyond the MDGs; remembering that even if the Goals are met many will be left behind. Human rights, including non-discrimination and equality, can be powerful tools in tackling poverty. A human rights approach would direct efforts to the most vulnerable and marginalized, rather than just pursuing averages and targets. It would help to tackle corruption, a stubborn obstacle to development, anti-poverty efforts and the enjoyment of human rights. It would hold governments accountable and force the powerful to listen to the voices of those living in poverty and include their concerns.

We will not end poverty through aspirational rhetoric. In the wake of the MDG Summit, where world leaders said they were ‘deeply concerned’ by the plight of the world’s poor, it is time to turn this concern into action, and put human rights at the centre of the push to achieve the Goals and to tackle extreme poverty. It is not a question of humanitarian generosity, but rather of human rights; not a choice but an obligation.”

Magdalena Sepúlveda is the Independent Expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty since May 2008. She is a Chilean lawyer currently working as Research Director at the International Council on Human Rights Policy in Geneva.

Learn more about the Independent Expert mandate and work: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/poverty/expert/index.htm

For further information and media requests, please contact: Allegra Franchetti (Tel: +41 22 917 9340 / email: afranchetti@ohchr.org)