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Statement by Ms. Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights at the 21st Session of the Human Rights Council

12 September 2012

Madam President, distinguished members of the Human Rights Council, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured to be here to present the final draft of the Guiding Principles on extreme poverty and human rights, in fulfilment of Human Rights Council resolution 15/19.

The efforts realized by the Council, to finally conclude the process of elaboration of these principles after more than a decade, represent an explicit recognition by this body that the existence of extreme poverty is an unacceptable situation, a moral scandal, whose eradication requires cooperative and coordinated action at the national and international level. Similarly, it shows the determination of this Council to act in a decisive manner, at a moment when the current global economic crisis and the rise in food prices, which affects all countries of the world, are having a disproportionate impact on the poorest sectors of our societies. It is a call from this Council to give urgent and prioritised attention to those living in extreme poverty, to avoid aggravating their already-difficult conditions of life.

The decision of the Council to confront the serious situation of those that live in extreme poverty, through the preparation and eventual adoption of Guiding Principles on poverty and human rights - in a historic moment in which direct and decisive actions in favour of the most disadvantaged are vital - demonstrates a courage and determination which deserves to be celebrated.

Through these Guiding Principles, this Council has the opportunity to convert the words of many political commitments into concrete actions. If adopted, these Principles will be an important contribution by the Council, to give reality to the objectives of the important resolutions of the General Assembly such as the Declaration on the Right to Development and the Millennium Declaration.

We all remember that at the dawn of the new Millennium, Heads of State and government of all the country members of the United Nations, promised to construct a more just world and spare no effort to liberate millions of men, women and children from abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty. For many countries on paths of development, the achievement of these objectives at the domestic level requires that they be supported on the international plane through international assistance and cooperation, as well as the construction of more equitable international systems and institutions. The Guiding Principles that I present today not only gather these goals, but also seek to implement them in practice in each area of public policy aimed at overcoming poverty.

In this way, the approval of these Guiding Principles will permit the Council to contribute in a direct manner to the fulfilment of these international commitments, and to leave an important legacy for the future: an international text which emphasizes the human rights of the most underprivileged and provides a guide as to how these rights can be respected, protected and fulfilled.

Distinguish Delegates,

As the old Commission on Human Rights indicated at the start of this process, the goal is to provide guidance on the application of human rights norms and standards in the fight against extreme poverty.

The Guiding Principles aim to be a tool to guide the design and implementation of social policies and poverty eradication efforts, in a manner that respects, protects and fulfils the human rights of persons living in extreme poverty.

These Principles do not create new obligations in regard to human rights. They simply represent a concise guide on how to fulfil existing obligations in the design, implementation and evaluation of public policies to overcome poverty.

Madam President,

It is important to record the long history of these Guiding Principles. They date back to 2001, when the Commission on Human Rights, recognising the necessity of formulating principles on the application of human rights norms in the context of the fight against extreme poverty, recommended this work to the old Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

To realize this task, the Sub-Commission created an ad hoc group, with experts from all regional groups, who embarked on a series of consultations lasting five years. As result of this long work, the Sub-Commission presented its draft of the Guiding Principles to the 2nd session of the Human Rights Council in 2006.

In this way, over more than six years, the Human Rights Council came to include the Guiding Principles on poverty in its agenda, emphasizing year after year the importance of these Principles and asking in turn that the consultations on their content be continued.

In this manner, at the request of the Council, the draft of the Guiding Principles prepared by the Sub-Commission was distributed to all the State Members of the United Nations, inter-governmental organisations, treaty bodies and special procedures of the United Nations, National Human Rights Institutions and civil society, all of whom have been consulted on various occasions.

Meanwhile, non-governmental organisations have gathered opinion on the Guiding Principles directly from persons living in extreme poverty.

Additionally, at the request of the Council, two international seminars have taken place, one in 2009 and the other in 2010, which have featured active participation from many States and other stakeholders.

In general, throughout these consultations there has been consensus about the importance of these Guiding Principles on extreme poverty and human rights, with consulted parties unanimously agreeing that their approval would strengthen the application of international human rights norms to those that live in poverty and that the principles would represent a useful tool to guide the fight against extreme poverty.

Thus, the evolution of the Guiding Principles precedes my mandate as Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. In 2009, in compliance with a unanimous proposal from the States who participated in the first seminar on the Guiding Principles organised by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Human Rights Council asked me to assist in the process of finalizing the document. In compliance with Resolution 12/19, the Council asked me to present a report with recommendations on how to improve the draft of the Guiding Principles, based on the consultations effected until this date.

I presented said report (A/HRC/15/41) at the 15th session of the Human Rights Council in September 2010. In October 2010, the Council took note of this report with satisfaction, reaffirmed that the fight against extreme poverty should continue being a high priority for the international community and invited the Office of the High Commissioner to hold another round of consultation about the report presented.

The same resolution asked me to continue working on drafting the Guiding Principles, based on the consultations, and present a final revised draft to the Council at this, the 21st session. Towards the completion of this task, I undertook a number of formal and informal consultations myself, with representatives of Governments and other stakeholders, for nearly two years.

This is how we find ourselves today, with a final version of the Guiding Principles, which follows the resolutions of the Council and incorporates the opinions of States and other stakeholders expressed over the years. The consultations have been numerous, and therefore the direct and indirect costs over the years have been significant. However, I have no doubt that the Council will show that the investment and the wait were not in vain, by adopting the Guiding Principles.

Distinguished delegates,

I am proud to have contributed to the process of elaborating these principles, which were initiated by a visionary idea of the State Members of the old Commission on Human Rights, and that the Human Rights Council has continued developing since its 2nd session in 2006.

The final text that I present today is the result of many formal consultations in which States from all regions have participated in an active manner. As described in detail in various official documents listed in the annex of the present report, over the years States and other stakeholders have actively contributed to the development of these principles: for example, there have been 75 written contributions by States, 12 from UN agencies and 22 from National Human Rights Institutions. These contributions form the basis of the text I present today.

Moreover, in the two international consultation seminars organised to discuss the Guiding Principles, many States, from all regional groups, as well as other stakeholders, have participated actively, presenting concrete suggestions to improve the text. The content of these contributions is contained in various official documents.

For my part, since 2010 when I was asked to help in this process, I have held numerous informal and formal consultations, with various experts from diverse regions, UN agencies, State representatives and NGOs, who have contributed their vast experience from different professional fields to the elaboration of the text.

Therefore, the text I present today has taken into account many points of view. The text should be considered, in some ways, as a compilation and systematization of existing standards related to human rights, taking into account the elements that emerged in the consultations realized over more than a decade. However, I also stress that although I have considered all opinions presented during the long process of consultation, as this is a State-owned and initiated process I have paid special attention to the incorporation of the opinions of States.

Madam President,

Allow me to briefly refer to the content of the text that I present today. I must reiterate that this document does not create new human rights obligations, but rather guides States in the implementation of obligations already assumed through a number of international instruments, in the context of the fight against poverty.

The document is relevant for all countries, at all stages of development. Each country can apply these Principles in accordance with their level of development and in compliance with their own constitutional, regional and international obligations.

The Guiding Principles represent a recognition of the interdependence and indivisibility of all human rights. They emphasize the necessity of ensuring that those living in poverty can enjoy all their rights – economic, political, social, civil and cultural.

The text is based on the understanding that each country must take all efforts, to the maximum of their available resources, to progressively realize the enjoyment of the economic, social and cultural rights of those that live in extreme poverty.

The document also guides States in how to overcome the specific obstacles that persons living in poverty confront, to be able to enjoy their civil and political rights in conditions of equality with the rest of the population.

Finally, in line with all the international commitments and obligations assumed in this respect, the text emphasizes the importance of international cooperation and assistance as an essential element to ensure that countries with fewer resources can continue advancing to overcome poverty.

Distinguished delegates,

Over more than 10 years, the Council has finally concluded the elaboration of these principles. In this critical moment, the ultimate goal of these Guiding Principles, which is the positive impact they can have in the lives of those that live in extreme poverty, must guide State members of the Council towards the adoption of the text.

The adoption by consensus of these Principles would demonstrate the unequivocal commitment of this Council to improve the enjoyment of all human rights by the poorest and most disadvantaged members of our societies.

Persons living in poverty confront serious obstacles - physical, economic, administrative and social – to access and enjoy their rights. These principles will serve as a guide so that States can take effective action to overcome these obstacles that perpetuate their poverty and impede them from exercising their rights on an equal basis with the rest of the population.

We will all benefit from living in more just and equitable societies, where the efforts of the poor to improve their situation are valued and supported. This Council has before it the unique and privileged opportunity to adopt Guiding Principles on extreme poverty and human rights. With this, not only will it conclude the efforts initiated by its predecessor body more than a decade ago, it will also contribute to the protection of the rights of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in our societies, in a critical moment in global history, when their conditions of life are under renewed threat.

I sincerely hope that the Council will take advantage of this opportunity. The adoption of the Guiding Principles will be a concrete demonstration that this body recognises extreme poverty as an urgent human rights concern.

Many thanks.