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Human rights not expendable even in times of crisis and recovery, warns UN expert on extreme poverty

GENEVA (1 June 2011) –“Unjustified reductions in expenditures devoted to implementing public services that are critical to the realization of economic, social and cultural rights will be in violation of human rights standards,” warned United Nations Independent Expert Magdalena Sepúlveda during the presentation of her report on human rights and extreme poverty* to the Human Rights Council.

“Human rights are not expendable during times of crises and recovery. Even when resources are limited, States are legally bound to respect, protect and fulfill international human rights obligations,” Ms Sepúlveda said. “The challenge of recovering from the global economic and financial crises is an opportunity to embrace a vision for the future aimed at the full realization of human rights.”

The Independent Expert warned that several recovery measures adopted by States in the aftermath of the crises seriously jeopardize the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by the poorest and most vulnerable groups. “Austerity measures such as cuts to social protection systems, regressive taxation measures, and elimination of food subsidies are proving detrimental to the poorest of the poor, exacerbating their already precarious situation.”

“There is no space in human rights for a trickle-down approach,” Ms Sepúlveda stressed. “From a human rights perspective, recovery must start with the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.”

Increasing inequalities and food insecurity, the declining availability of natural resources and unpredictable changes to climate patterns are likely to increase the potential for social unrest throughout the world. “Any recovery plan must anticipate these challenges and assume that there will be many more crises to recover from,” she said. “Only human rights-based change can directly address the long-term structural barriers to equality and set the foundations for a sustainable, socially inclusive society.”

Ms Sepúlveda urged States to view the challenge of recovery as a unique opportunity to aim towards the full realization of all economic, social and cultural rights for all individuals. “Through a human rights-based recovery, States have the chance to embrace new and ambitious approaches to reducing inequality, eliminating poverty and creating stable societies that will withstand future shocks.”

The expert’s report outlines a number of innovative measures to which States should lend serious consideration when formulating their economic recovery, including implementing a comprehensive social protection floor, adopting socially responsible taxation policies, and enhancing regulation that protects individuals from abuse by private actors.

(*) See the full report: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/17session/A-HRC-17-34.pdf


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. She has extensive experience in economic, social and cultural rights and holds a PhD in international human rights law from Utrecht University.

Learn more about the Independent Expert mandate and work: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/PovertyExpertIndex.aspx

For further information and media requests, please contact: Lidia Rabinovich (Tel: +41 22 917 9763 / email: lrabinovich@ohchr.org) or write to ieextremepoverty@ohchr.org

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