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Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

7 July 2020

Concludes Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls

The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights after concluding an interactive dialogue with the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls.

Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, presenting the final reports of his predecessor, Philip Alston, warned against the self congratulatory message on the fight against poverty. According to the official narrative, the world had succeeded between 1990 and 2015 in reducing the number of people in extreme poverty from 1.9 billion to 736 million, and from 36 per cent to 10 per cent of the world's population. This figure, however, was based on a very weak, unsatisfactory measure of poverty : the international poverty line used by the World Bank, of $ 1.90 per day. The Special Rapporteur spoke about Mr. Alston’s visits to Malaysia and Spain.

Malaysia and Spain spoke as concerned countries. The national human rights institution of Spain, Defensor del Pueblo de España, also took the floor.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers welcomed Olivier de Schutter in his role as the new Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, reiterated their support for his mandate, and recognised the obstacles to sustainable development, acknowledging a growing gap between and within States. Speakers agreed with the report’s statement that the current definition of poverty was inadequate, and it must be defined by a multi-dimensional lens.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were Finland on behalf of a group of countries, State of Palestine on behalf of the Arab Group, France on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Chile on behalf of a group of countries, Burkina Faso on behalf of the African Group, United Nations Children’s Fund, Togo, Paraguay, Russian Federation, Sovereign Order of Malta (video message), Ecuador, China, Venezuela, Cuba, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, France, Pakistan, Armenia, India, Philippines (video message), Syria, Iran, Luxembourg, Indonesia, Botswana, Morocco, Iraq, Senegal, Sudan, Egypt, Nepal, Djibouti, Albania, Niger, Brazil, Peru (video message), Timor-Leste, Kenya, Bolivia, United Republic of Tanzania and Eritrea.

Taking the floor were also the following civil society organizations : Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (video message), FIAN International e.V., China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, Franciscans International (video message), Global Institute for Water, Environment and Health, Centre Europe - tiers monde, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (VELS) Asociación Civil (video message), CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Federatie van Nederlandse Verenigingen tot Integratie Van Homoseksualiteit - COC Nederland (video message), and China Society for Human Rights Studies (video message).

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls. The dialogue started in a previous meeting and the summary can be seen here.

In the discussion, speakers said structural and systemic discrimination must be tackled along with gender stereotypes. The burden of caring for, and raising, children, mostly fell on women, and this could impede career development. It was concerning that normative gaps were emerging with regard to the future of work, notably automatization and worker mobility.

In her concluding remarks, Elizabeth Broderick, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, said that with regard to structural discrimination, in addition to the recommendations in the report, the Working Group emphasised that States should ratify and fully implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Within the United Nations system, the women’s human rights agenda was fragmented, and gender equality was not always addressed in a comprehensive manner. A more unified approach across all areas was required within the United Nations.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were Djibouti, Slovenia, Uruguay, Georgia, Myanmar, Ghana, Japan, Paraguay, Australia (video message), Israel, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Syria and Kenya.

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations : Action Canada for Population and Development (video message), Make Mothers Matter, Federation for Women and Family Planning (video message), VIVAT International, Centre for Reproductive Rights, Inc., Right Livelihood Award Foundation, International Lesbian and Gay Association, Federatie van Nederlandse Verenigingen tot Integratie Van Homoseksualiteit - COC Nederland (video message), Ingenieurs du Monde (video message) and Global Institute for Water, Environment and Health.

The Council will next meet at 3 p.m. this afternoon to conclude its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members. It will then hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences. Time willing, it will also begin an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls

The interactive dialogue with the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls started in a previous meeting and the summary can be seen here.

Interactive Dialogue 

Speakers said structural and systemic discrimination must be tackled along with gender stereotypes. The burden of caring for, and raising, children, mostly fell on women, and this could impede career development. It was concerning that normative gaps were emerging with regards to the future of work, notably automatization and worker mobility. Also concerning was the fact that men were overrepresented in high-tech sectors. It was important to address sexual harassment in the workplace through legislation and measures addressing structural causes, in collaboration with the private sector. Speakers emphasized the need to improve the working conditions of women in domestic work. The COVID-10 pandemic should not serve as a cover for slowing down women’s economic empowerment. Domestic violence had proven to be a second pandemic that required urgent action by States. Some speakers said the report had failed to address some issues that affected women’s rights despite being beyond the reach of States, notably unilateral coercive measures and foreign occupation.

Speakers said the report had failed to shed light on the situation of women engaging in consensual sex work. Refusing to recognize such work went against the right to bodily autonomy and contributed to the further marginalization of a whole sector. Measuring economic performance should take into account unpaid care work. Reproductive freedom and the right to bodily autonomy were tenets of gender equality, some speakers emphasized. Other speakers asked what would be the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women in non-standard forms of employment. Considering that only 40 per cent of States protected against discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, speakers asked the Working Group to comment on ways in which the rights of lesbian, bisexual and trans women could be protected. Trans women were women, and yet their experiences were ignored. Speakers warned that conservative religious groups' opinions on this matter, including those voiced at the Human Rights Council, did not represent that of all religious institutions.

Concluding Remarks

ELIZABETH BRODERICK, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, in concluding remarks, said that with regard to structural discrimination, in addition to the recommendations in the report, the Working Group emphasised that States should ratify and ensure full compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and all relevant International Labour Organization treaties. Within the United Nations system, the women’s human rights agenda was fragmented, and gender equality was not always addressed in a comprehensive manner. A more unified approach across all areas was required within the United Nations. Stereotypes about gender roles contributed to occupational segregation, relegating women to low paid work, and transforming this required a shift in policy, including fast tracking women workers into new industries. There was a need to reaffirm that cultural, religious and family values were not incompatible with the human rights of women and girls. Ensuring universal access to full services was fundamental to achieving gender equality. The COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated discrimination faced by women and girls across the world, and recovery provided an opportunity to fundamentally transform the world of work, prioritising women’s needs. 

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on the Parlous State of Poverty Eradication (A/HRC/44/40 Advanced Unedited Version).

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on the Visit to Malaysia (A/HRC/44/40/Add.1).

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on the Visit to Spain (A/HRC/44/40/Add.2).

The Council has before it the Comments by the State on the Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on his visit to Malaysia (A/HRC/44/40/Add.3).

The Council has before it the Comments by the State on the Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on his visit to Spain (A/HRC/44/40/Add.4).

Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights

OLIVIER DE SCHUTTER, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, presenting the final reports of his predecessor Philip Alston, warned against the self congratulatory message on the fight against poverty.

According to the official narrative, the world had succeeded between 1990 and 2015 in reducing the number of people in extreme poverty from 1.9 billion to 736 million, and from 36 per cent to 10 per cent of the world's population. This figure, however, was based on a very weak, unsatisfactory measure of poverty : the international poverty line used by the World Bank, of $ 1.90 per day. Mr. Alston called for the adoption of a much more realistic measure of poverty, based on the satisfaction of basic needs and individuals' capabilities. If one spoke to people in poverty and asked them about their experience of poverty, they would tell about the anguish, the stress, the disempowerment, the discrimination and the social and institutional abuse. In his own work as the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Mr. de Schutter intended to focus on these "hidden dimensions" of poverty.

Concerning the structural causes of extreme poverty, Mr. Alston urged moving away from an almost exclusive focus on economic growth as a means to reduce poverty and focus rather on the reduction of inequalities and the redistribution of wealth ; being cautious about philanthropy, which should not become a substitute for the protective role of governments, as it was neither democratic nor transparent ; and deepening democracy and embracing participatory governance.

Mr. Alston had conducted two country visits, respectively to Malaysia in August 2019 and to Spain earlier this year. In Malaysia, Professor Alston had witnessed the "immense progress on poverty alleviation", attributable to the fact that economic growth in Malaysia primarily benefited the 40 per cent lowest income earners. At the same time, he expressed concerns that the national poverty line was still set too low (below $ 2 per day, 8 Malaysian ringgit) to be significant. On Spain, he had noted it was a rich country which still had more than one quarter of its population at risk of poverty or social exclusion, and which faced a housing crisis of huge proportions, as well as a structurally high level of youth unemployment. On 3 June, Mr. de Schutter said he had welcomed the introduction in Spain of the minimum income scheme, benefiting some 1.6 million people in extreme poverty, while calling for the removal of any bureaucratic hurdles that could reduce the rate of take-up.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Malaysia, speaking as a concerned country, noted that it had submitted a detailed response to the report. Mr. Alston’s visit was a reflection of the Government’s commitment to alleviate poverty in the country and promote an inclusive development agenda. Malaysia had had 11 national development plans since independence to continuously lift the living standards of all Malaysians in an equitable manner. The country was carefully studying the recommendations in the report to be appropriately implemented where suitable. Some of the similar recommendations had already been incorporated earlier into the draft of the twelfth Malaysian Plan (2021-2025), which would be tabled in Parliament in early 2021. In addressing poverty, which had been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government had introduced the Economic Stimulus Package worth 260 billion Malaysian Ringgit. For the agriculture sector, a Food Security Fund worth 1 billion Malaysian Ringgit had been allocated to ensure sufficient and continuous food supply. In closing, Malaysia reaffirmed its commitment to continue pushing the human rights agenda forward, including in relation to poverty eradication.

Spain, speaking as a concerned country, stated that instruments such as this report were important ways of ensuring that States implemented their human rights commitments. Mr. Alston’s visit had been complex to organise, but it had been a success in the end, and while Spain did not agree with every recommendation, it had been a valuable experience. It was in the difficult task of suggesting specific measures and proposals where the report unfortunately fell short. The observations noted that the Spanish authorities were fully aware of the difficulties that marginalised groups faced, and were actively working towards mitigating them. The adoption of a minimum income would stimulate millions of households and ambitious measures to stimulate employment had similarly been taken in light of COVID-19.

Defensor del Pueblo de España, the national human rights institution of Spain, stated that the Special Rapporteur’s conclusions were devastating and indicated that not a lot of progress had been achieved. Housing was a significant problem in Spain, where clear inequalities existed, especially with regard to youth and vulnerable families, who needed protected public housing. There was a need to increase the housing supply. The problems in settlements in Huelva, in the province of Andalusia, could become issues of public health, if left unaddressed.

Interactive Dialogue

Speakers welcomed Olivier de Schutter in his role as the new Special Rapporteur, reiterated their support for his mandate, and recognised the obstacles to sustainable development, acknowledging a growing gap between and within States. The COVID-19 pandemic had had a devastating impact on poverty, and women and girls must not pay the heaviest price for this crisis, as recovery policies must be inclusive. The pandemic would have reverberating effects on social and economic rights in the long term, and speakers called for States to ensure it would not affect the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal One. Other speakers did not agree with the report’s call to recalibrate the 2030 Agenda to re-prioritise certain targets in favour of others. Everyone had to be part of the decision-making process, something that was important in the fight against extreme poverty in particular, as the extreme poor were rarely consulted. Speakers agreed with the report’s statement that the current definition of poverty was inadequate, and it must be defined by a multi-dimensional lens. Children were twice as likely as adults to be living in poverty, said speakers, reiterating the calls for universal coverage of social protection. Along with the impact of COVID-19, the climate crisis and increases in racial discrimination were significant obstacles to poverty eradication. Other speakers emphasised that unilateral coercive measures, especially when applied to developing countries, caused further entrenchment of poverty and unspeakable suffering, calling on States to work towards multilateralism instead.

Interim Remarks

OLIVIER DE SCHUTTER, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said that beyond the staggering figures on poverty and COVID-19, it was important to note that people who were already vulnerable prior to the pandemic would find themselves in a worse situation in its wake. People in poverty often suffered from comorbidities and weaker immune systems. They were overrepresented amongst manual workers who could not work from home. And yet, they had a more difficult access to health care services and social protection measures. The contraction of the economy was particularly problematic for developing countries facing strong demographic growth. Noting that 168 countries had adopted social protection measures to cushion the impact of the COVID-19, but that they were mostly temporary, he encouraged States to adopt a rights-based approach to social protection, in line with article 9 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Interactive Dialogue

Speakers noted that there was an exponential growth forecast of global poverty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 90 million people expected to fall into extreme poverty, while drastic measures to contain the spread of the virus also disproportionately affected those who were already experiencing poverty. It was therefore essential to find international economic support for countries that were most affected by the pandemic. Some speakers stated that they would present a draft resolution on extreme poverty during this session that should be adopted by consensus. Post-COVID societies must be rebuilt better, speakers said, acknowledging that the fight against poverty was also a fight against inequality. States spoke about their efforts that focused on vulnerable populations such as the youth and those in rural areas. Developing countries relying on tourist industries had been especially hard hit by the pandemic. Speakers thus sought information on what specific measures to combat extreme poverty in light of the COVID-19 pandemic could be undertaken by low-income countries. According to certain speakers, the report laid bare false assumptions within the Sustainable Development Goals ; poverty was not merely an economic matter and efforts from a variety of social sectors were needed to eradicate it. Speakers emphasised that pandemics were the result of a destructive exploitation of nature, that was also causing the climate crisis, and that its economic effects were so devastating largely due to neoliberal austerity policies and cuts to social funding implemented by many countries in the last few decades.

Concluding Remarks

OLIVIER DE SCHUTTER, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, thanked Malaysia for its cooperation, Finland and Luxembourg for their financial support to the mandate, as well as Peru. Many of the measures put in place by countries to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic were temporary. This approach was akin to recruiting firefighters after the fire had broken out. In fulfilling the mandate, he would seek to address this issue and foster long-term solutions to poverty.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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