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The Global Economic Crisis – a Human Rights Perspective

In the face of the worst global economic outlook in decades, the United Nations Independent Expert on human rights and extreme poverty, Magdalena Sepúlveda, is urging countries to stay with the pledges made to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

The UN’s Independent Expert on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda, on a recent mission to Ecuador - © OHCHRA summit in September to renew commitments to achieving the Millennium Development Goals ended with pledges by the international community of around US$16 billion but the Independent Expert is concerned these promises may not be kept.

The Millennium Development Goals adopted by the UN in 2000 aim, among other objectives, to cut in half the proportion of people living in poverty and suffering from hunger by 2015.

UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon has also expressed his deep concern at the effect of the financial crisis on the developing world, “particularly on the poorest of the poor.” The Secretary General predicted too that the economic crisis would present “a serious setback” for the achievement of major goals.

“Our efforts to fight poverty and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals,” says High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, “must be firmly grounded in the universal values and principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and international human rights instruments.

“There have been some significant development gains over the years, but these cannot be sustained, if rights are not anchored in laws and institutions, and if those in power are not aware of their responsibilities to uphold people’s rights, and are not held accountable for their failures.”

Noting the trillions of dollars that have been committed to financial bail-outs in economies round the globe, the Independent Expert says the obligation to eradicate poverty must not be forgotten. 

“It must be understood,” she says “that the protection of the fundamental rights of the poor is not a luxury that can be dismissed in times of economic hardship.

“Now more than ever, we must be clear that this is not a question of charity. Fighting poverty is about the protection of fundamental civil, economic, social, cultural and political human rights.”

Cash transfer programmes are used by many governments to provide direct financial grants to poor households. Direct cash payments are generally made in return for commitments to educational, health and nutritional targets. They’ve become increasingly popular round the world as an effective poverty-reduction tool.

The Independent Expert will assess studies of these initiatives and then describe the impact of these programmes on the human rights situation of people living in poverty. Ms Sepúlveda will report to the Council again in mid 2009.

January 2009