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Poverty in Chile risks being overlooked, says UN human rights expert

Extreme poverty in Chile

24 March 2015

SANTIAGO (24 March 2015) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston today warned that “poverty remains under the radar for many policy-makers in Chile, despite the country’s impressive array of anti-poverty programs.”

“It remains to be seen whether the current middle class-driven political and social agenda will pay sufficient attention to the tragedy of those living in poverty,” said the independent expert tasked by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on situations of extreme poverty and human rights worldwide.

At the end of his official visit* to Chile, where he met with President Michelle Bachelet, Mr. Alston noted that “Chile is a model for the Latin American region in terms of its commitment to human rights, its high economic growth rates, and it sustained social policy innovations.”

“However,” he stressed, “it continues to tolerate levels of poverty and inequality which are very high for a country belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).”

“Persistent inequalities result in a highly segregated society, in which separate residential areas, separate schools, and separate employment markets operate to entrench privilege and stifle mobility,” he said.

Mr. Alston praised the current government’s determination to tackle these issues, but stressed that even more had to be done. “Very high levels of inequality are incompatible with full respect for human rights,” he said.

For the Special Rapporteur, “reducing inequality and overcoming poverty is not solely a matter of fiscal policy, nor of education reform.” In that regard, he noted that the fight against gender and other forms of discrimination must be an integral part of a reform program.

“Labor law reforms are needed to enable trade unions to defend the rights of workers effectively,” he said. “Women’s participation in the workforce needs to be facilitated by a range of measures that include better community care facilities, and better economic rewards for currently unpaid female care workers.”

The expert also called for measures to reduce the high rate of adolescent pregnancy, especially among the poorest. “It will be necessary to go well beyond the current debate about access to abortion, as important as that is. A more sustained effort needs to be made to acknowledge and promote sexual and reproductive rights, both as a matter of human rights and as a necessary complement to labor market reform,” Mr. Alston added.

The Special Rapporteur suggested that Chile’s record on the rights of indigenous peoples represents the ‘Achilles Heel’ of its human rights record in the twenty-first century.

“The Chilean State’s response to the widely acknowledged problems of exclusion, marginalization, and discrimination has been piecemeal and half-hearted,” according to the UN expert. “Efforts to eliminate extreme poverty in Chile cannot succeed without a concerted focus on the situation of indigenous peoples.”

Mr. Alston called for a specific, integrated plan to tackle both poverty and extreme poverty and for more effective coordination mechanisms. But he noted that this is unlikely to be achieved by relying solely on the efforts of the Ministry for Social Development.

“There is a deep need for an entity with the responsibility, authority, funds and resources to coordinate government-wide human rights policies,” he said, calling for progress towards the creation of the new Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. “The process seems, however, to have stalled and needs to be kickstarted.” The expert added that, once the new Ministerial structure is created, it should ensure that economic, social and cultural rights are an integral part of its mandate.

During his nine-day official visit, the Special Rapporteur also met with the new Senate president, Patricio Walker, and a range of government officials, civil society leaders, academics, international organization representatives, and people living in poverty.

Mr. Alston’s full findings and recommendations will be presented in a report to the Human Rights Council in June 2016.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement:

Professor Philip Alston (Australia) took office as UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in June 2014, following his appointment by the Human Rights Council. He is John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law at New York University School of Law. Mr. Alston has previously served the UN in several capacities including as Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Special Adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Millennium Development Goals, as well as chairperson of the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Learn more, log on to:

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Chile:

For more information and media requests, please contact:

In Geneva, before and after the visit: Junko Tadaki (+ 41 22 917 9298 / [email protected]) or write to [email protected]

In Santiago, during the visit: María Jeannette Moya (+56 2 2210 2977 / [email protected])

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

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