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Social Protection is a human right: “Embrace the Social Protection Floor Initiative” – UN expert

27 October 2014

GENEVA / NEW YORK (24 October 2014) – UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, today urged Governments around the world to embrace the United Nations Social Protection Floor Initiative to ensure guaranteed basic income security and access to essential social services for all.

“The Global North has often been accused of imposing human rights norms on the Global South, but Social Protection Floors will not run that risk because their origins lie in path-breaking initiatives by Southern countries like Brazil and India,” said the UN human rights expert during the presentation of his report* on the Initiative to the UN General Assembly.

“Regrettably, the World Bank, a distinctly ‘Northern’ institution, has not backed this Initiative in a serious way, and this is consistent with its refusal to engage meaningfully with human rights in other contexts as well,” Alston said. “The World Bank continues to back the much more limited notion of social safety nets, which are only targeted at specific groups and are a recipe for bureaucratic power grabs at the domestic level.”

“The Social Protection Floor Initiative seeks to implement existing international human rights law, calls for States to define their own approach consistent with human rights principles and through consultation, is universal rather than selective, envisages a right which is to be guaranteed in national law, and is affordable by all states as long as international cooperation is available where absolutely necessary,” explained Alston.

In his statement to the UN General Assembly, the UN human rights expert drew attention to what he termed the systematic avoidance of human rights language in the discussions on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and in other key development forums. “The use of human rights language does matter”, stressed Alston. “Let me apply this to the plight of those living in extreme poverty. Recognition of their human rights acknowledges their dignity and agency, empowers them and their advocates, and provides a starting point for a meaningful debate over the allocation of societal resources.”
“We need to acknowledge the extent to which governments and the international community are intentionally avoiding the language of human rights in the context of development debates, and to ask ourselves why this is happening. Perhaps it is precisely in order to avoid all of the positive consequences of using human rights language,” said the UN Special Rapporteur.

* Read the full report here:

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. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent and acts in his personal capacity. Learn more, log on to:

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