Hospitals & Asylums    




Poverty Reduction Obligation Under Deliberation, Human Rights Day HA-4-12-06

By Anthony J. Sanders,

 “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” Article 25 (1), Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Human Rights Day is observed by the international community every year on 10 December. It commemorates the day in 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Its formal inception dates from 1950, after the Assembly passed resolution 423 (V) inviting all States and interested organizations to adopt 10 December of each year as Human Rights Day.  In the 2006 the theme is Fighting Poverty:  a matter of obligation, not charity. 




Poverty is the gravest human rights challenge facing the world today.


40 per cent of the world’s population living with the reality or the threat of extreme poverty, and one in five persons living in a state of poverty so abject that it threatens survival.


The vision of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a world free from want and fear. The United Nations Millennium Project suggests the end of poverty is an achievable goal. Governments around the world have expressed their strong commitment to eradicating poverty and hunger.


It is the right of people to live in freedom and dignity, free from poverty and despair. Poverty is a cause and a product of human rights violations.  People whose rights are denied -- victims of discrimination or persecution, for example -- are more likely to be poor. 


The poor find it harder or impossible to participate in the labor market and have little or no access to basic services and resources.  The poor in many societies cannot enjoy their rights to education, health and housing simply because they cannot afford them. 


Poverty affects all human rights:  for example, low income can prevent people from accessing education -- an “economic and social” right -- which in turn inhibits their participation in public life -- a “civil and political” right -- and their ability to influence policies affecting them. 


Poverty is the result of factors like the denial of human rights and human dignity, discrimination, unequal access to resources, and social and cultural stigmatization have always characterized it, that the governments and those in a position of authority can, indeed are obliged to, do something about. 


We overwhelmingly accept a number of human rights treaties and sign on to the international consensus to make poverty history, through the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals.  The realization of human rights – including the fight against poverty -- is a duty, not a mere aspiration.


Guidline 1: Identification of the Poor


(1) Any strategy for poverty reduction has to begin with an identification of the poor. This task is composed of two steps:

(a) identifying the attributes that are deemed to constitute poverty and

(b) identifying the population groups that possess these attributes.  Basic capabilities must be adequately nourished, avoiding preventable diseases and premature mortality, being adequately sheltered, having basic education, being able to ensure personal security, having equitable access to justice, being able to live in dignity, being able to earn a livelihood and being able to take part in the life of a community.  Once the basic capabilities have been determined, the next step is to identify the population groups that suffer from inadequate achievement of those basic capabilities. 


(2) The human rights approach demands that it should be guided by two special considerations. 

First, the objective of the exercise should not merely be to come up with a number, such as the percentage of poor people in the population, but to ascertain who these people are and how poor. 

Second, special efforts must be made to identify those among the poor who are especially deprived and marginalized and have special needs (e.g., women, or people living with HIV/AIDS, or the elderly, or the disabled, or those suffering from racial, political or religious discrimination).


Guidline 2: National and International Human Rights Framework 


(1) While the documents spelling out poverty reduction strategies are not legal instruments, they must be consistent with, and informed by, the State's national and international human rights commitments for two reasons: (a) this will make the strategy more effective; and (b) otherwise, some features of the strategy may be unlawful. 


(2) A State should ensure that: (a) Its human rights commitments are expressly referred to in the poverty reduction strategy;

(b) Those responsible for formulating and implementing the poverty reduction strategy receive basic human rights training so that they are familiar with the State's human rights commitments and their implications;

(c) Individuals are appointed with a particular responsibility to ensure that the State’s human rights commitments are taken into account throughout the formulation and implementation of the poverty reduction strategy (e.g., departmental human rights officers);

(d) Processes are designed, and put in place, to ensure that the State’s human rights commitments receive due attention throughout the formulation and implementation of the poverty reduction strategy.


Guidline 3: Equality and Nondiscrimination 


(1) The right to equality and the principle of non-discrimination are among the most fundamental elements of international human rights law.

First, the right to equality guarantees, first and foremost, that all persons are equal before the law, which means that the law shall be formulated in general terms applicable to every individual and shall be enforced in an equal manner.

Secondly, all persons are entitled to equal protection under the law against arbitrary and discriminatory treatment by private actors. In this regard, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, disability and health status, including HIV/AIDS, age, sexual orientation or other status.  People living in poverty are typically victims of discrimination. 


(2) If Governments are responsible for such discrimination, they are under an obligation immediately to prohibit and cease all discriminatory laws and practices. If discriminatory attitudes are caused by traditions among the population, Governments shall adopt and enforce laws prohibiting any discrimination by private actors.

(a) Inequalities and discrimination may assume various forms, including explicit legal inequalities in status and entitlements, deeply rooted social distinctions and exclusions, and forms of indirect discrimination. 

(b) As discrimination may cause poverty, poverty also causes discrimination. 


(3) The twin principles of equality and non-discrimination require States to take special measures to prohibit discrimination against the poor and to provide the poor with equal and effective protection against discrimination.


Guidline 4: Setting Targets, Benchmarks and Priorities


(1) Poverty is so deeply entrenched in many societies that it is unrealistic to hope that even with the best of intentions it can be eliminated in a very short time. Equally, one must accept the reality that in a context of scarce resources it may not be possible to fulfill all human rights immediately. All human rights - economic, civil, social, political and cultural - impose negative as well as positive obligations on


(2) The obligation of States is captured in the distinction between the duties to respect, protect and fulfill.

(a) The duty to respect requires the duty-bearer to refrain from interfering with the enjoyment of any human right.

(b) The duty to protect requires the duty bearer to take measures to prevent violations of any human right by third parties.

(c) The duty to fulfill requires the duty-bearer to adopt appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures towards the full realization of human rights.


(3) In cases where a right cannot be realized immediately due to resource constraints, the State must begin immediately to take steps to fulfill the rights in question as expeditiously as possible. 

First, the State must acknowledge that with a serious commitment to poverty reduction it may be possible to make rapid progress towards the realization of many human rights even within an existing resource constraint. 

Second, to the extent that the realization of human rights may be contingent on a gradual expansion in the availability of resources, the State is required, as an immediate step, to develop and implement a time-bound plan of action. 

Third, as the realization of some human rights may take considerable time, the plan must set benchmarks (i.e., intermediate targets) corresponding to each ultimate target. 

Fourth, the targets, benchmarks and indicators must be set in a participatory manner, so that they reflect the concerns and interests of all segments of the society, including the poor.  At the same time, appropriate accountability mechanisms must be set up, so as to ensure that the State commits itself fully to realizing the agreed targets and benchmarks.


Guidline 5: Participation 


(1) As States have primary responsibility for fulfilling the human rights of the people living in their respective jurisdiction, it follows that any poverty reduction strategy must be a country-driven process. Country ownership should thus be an essential attribute of any poverty reduction strategy. 

(a) The strategy has to be owned by all stakeholders within the country, including the poor. This can be possible, however, only when all stakeholders, including the poor, participate effectively in all stages of policy formulation. 

(b) Active and informed participation by the poor is not only consistent with but also demanded by the human rights-based approach, because the international human rights normative framework affirms the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs.

(c) It is not enough for the poor merely to participate in decision-making; they must be able to participate meaningfully and effectively.


(2) One may distinguish four stages of participation: preference revelation; policy choice; implementation; and monitoring, assessment and accountability. 

First, Preference revelation is the initial stage of any policy formulation. Before policies can be formulated, people must be able to express what objectives they want to achieve.

Second, Policy choice refers to the stage at which policies are formulated and decisions taken regarding the allocation of resources among alternative uses.

Third, the implementation of policies is primarily the responsibility of the executive arm of the State, opportunities must be created to enable the poor to exercise their right to participate in it as well. 

Fourth, the final stage of participation is the monitoring and assessment of the success or failure of policies so that the State and other duty bearers can be held accountable for their obligations. 


Guidline 6: Monitoring and Accountability 


(1) An accountability procedure provides right-holders with an opportunity to understand how duty bearers have discharged, or failed to discharge, their obligations, and it also provides duty-bearers with an opportunity to explain their conduct. The objective of monitoring is twofold:

First, to help identify, on an ongoing basis, the areas on which duty-bearers may need to concentrate in order to attain their targets for the realization of human rights in the most expeditious and effective manner; and

Second, to enable a right-holder to hold a duty-bearer to account for its failure to discharge its duties.  An accountability procedure depends on, but goes beyond, monitoring. It is a mechanism or device by which duty-bearers are answerable for their acts or omissions in relation to their duties. 


(2) While accountability implies some form of remedy and reparation, it does not necessarily imply punishment.  In the context of poverty reduction, all duty-bearers are encouraged to devise, in close collaboration with people living in poverty, innovative and non-formal monitoring and accountability mechanisms that secure the active and informed participation of the poor.  While the State is the principal duty-bearer with respect to the human rights of the people living within its jurisdiction, the international community at large also has a responsibility to help realize universal human rights.


Guidline 7: International Assistance and Cooperation 


(1) Effective poverty reduction requires international action. Access to aid, debt relief, markets, substantial and affordable capital flows, as well as stability in the global economy, have an impact on the options open to a State as it formulates and implements its poverty reduction strategy. 

(a) International assistance and cooperation help to create an environment in which the poor in developing States can lift themselves out of poverty. 

(b) The human rights approach to poverty reduction underlines the joint responsibility of States to work actively towards creating the equitable multilateral trading, investment and financial systems that are conducive to the reduction and elimination of poverty. 


(2) A developed State should not only formulate a poverty reduction strategy in relation to poverty within its domestic jurisdiction; it should have a strategy for poverty reduction beyond its borders and take into account their international human rights obligations to engage in international assistance and cooperation; the commitments they have made at recent world conferences; and the Millennium Development Goals.  Developed States should:

(a) Ensure that all bilateral and multilateral decision-making processes are fair, equitable and transparent, and sensitive to the needs of developing States, especially their disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups, including the poor.  Ensure that, in accordance with the United Nations target, their development assistance is no less than 0.7 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). 

(b) Take reasonable measures to ensure that the overseas operations of companies headquartered in their jurisdiction are respectful of the international human rights obligations of both the home and host States.


(3) Developing nations must formulate national poverty reduction strategies.  These must give careful attention to its international human rights obligations to the poor living in its jurisdiction when engaging in bilateral, multilateral or corporate negotiations.  Developing nations should:

(a) Ensure that, before adopting relevant international agreements or policies, there is an independent, objective and publicly available assessment of its impact on the poor. I

(b) If the assessment suggests that the proposed agreement or policy will have a negative impact on the human rights of the poor, effective countervailing measures must be adopted, consistent with the international human rights obligations of the concerned parties. 

(c) Endeavor to strengthen their negotiating capacity to seek international assistance to establish appropriate regulatory frameworks for the private sector without compromising the State’s comparative advantage.


Guidline 8: Integrating Specific Human Rights Standards 


(1) Any sustainable poverty reduction strategy must include provisions for the fulfillment of human rights.  

(a) Usually, people living in poverty are socially excluded and belong to politically marginalized groups. They lack the information and political power necessary for meaningful participation in political decision-making. As they are underrepresented in political decision making bodies, their specific needs are often neglected.

(b) Lack of political rights and freedoms is both a cause and a consequence of poverty. Socially and politically excluded people are more likely to fall into poverty, and the poor are more vulnerable to social exclusion and political marginalization. 

(c) Lack of political rights and freedoms is constitutive of poverty if inadequate command over economic resources plays a role in its causation.


(2) Active participation in political decision-making, as well as in the broader social and cultural life of their communities, plays a role in expanding political freedoms and in empowering people, which in turn contributes towards combating social exclusion and political marginalization.

(a) In addition, the enjoyment of political rights and freedoms is instrumental to securing other human rights such as education, work, health and equal access to justice.

(b) Enabling the poor to participate actively in the social, cultural and political life of their communities should therefore form an integral part of a poverty reduction strategy.


Political Rights


(1) Political rights are usually defined as the right and opportunity to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives, for instance by means of the right to vote and to be elected in parliamentary and other elections, and the right of equal access to public service.

(a) Political freedoms include essential democratic rights such as freedom of speech, expression, information, association, assembly and the media.

(b) While political rights are usually restricted to citizens, political freedoms are general human rights to be equally enjoyed by all human beings, regardless of citizenship or other status. 


(2) States should organize public information campaigns directly addressing the poorest sectors of society and informing the poor about their rights as well as relevant governmental services aimed at poverty reduction, including free access to education, health and social security services, the administration of justice and other services. 

(a) People living in poverty should be encouraged and enabled to express, freely and publicly, their opinions, ideas, political claims and criticisms of governmental policies. 

(b) People living in poverty should further be encouraged and enabled to form their own special associations, unions, political parties or foundations for the more effective protection of their rights and interests.


Right to Work


(1) The right to work.  People living in poverty invariably lack adequate and secure livelihoods. In both rural areas and cities, the poor experience unemployment, underemployment, unreliable casual labour, poverty wages and unsafe working conditions. 

(a) Work as specified in international human rights law must be decent work, that is, work in which human rights and the rights of workers, in terms of work safety and remuneration, are protected. 

(b) Rights in work include the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work, including fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value, equal opportunities, remuneration which is sufficient to ensure a decent living for workers and their families, safe and healthy conditions of work, and reasonable hours of work and rest, as well as the rights to organize and bargain collectively.


(2) A strategy to realize the right to work in the context of poverty reduction must aim at improving the quantity and quality of work for the poor. This entails reducing unemployment/underemployment of people living in poverty, on the one hand, and raising the return on their labor, on the other. For this to be possible on a wide and sustainable basis, action should be guided by three principles. 

First, measures should be taken to improve the production potential of the economy on a sustained basis, because without growth in economic activity, an adequate quantity and quality of work cannot be provided for any substantial number of people in a sustainable manner. 

Second, policies should ensure that growth in production takes place in such a way as to maximize the demand for labor, because it is only through greater demand for labor that unemployment and underemployment can be reduced and returns on labor increased. Policies that provide artificial incentives for the use of capital at the expense of labor at the level of the aggregate economy—should be avoided, although in specific sectors, greater capital intensity may sometimes be warranted on productivity grounds.

Third, conditions should be created to enable the poor, especially the most deprived among them, to integrate into economic processes so that they can take advantage of labor demanding growth.


Right to Adequate Food


(1) The right to adequate food.  Adequate food is needed for human survival. Under nutrition handicaps people for life: brain cells do not develop, growth is stunted and diseases become rife, limiting potential and condemning the hungry to a marginal existence. 

(a) Hungry children cannot concentrate at school and hunger reduces workers’ productivity.  Thus, the right to adequate food has a crucial role to play in relation to poverty reduction.

(b) Enjoyment of the right to adequate food is instrumental in securing other rights such as health, education and work. The right to food includes the right to water.

(c) The importance of the right to adequate food is underlined by the millennium development goal that aims to halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. 


(2) The right to adequate food is the right of all individuals, alone or in community with others, to enjoy physical and economic access to adequate food or the means for its procurement. It should be understood primarily as the right to feed oneself, rather than the right to be fed. The right to food implies:

(a) the availability of food in sufficient quantity and quality to satisfy the dietary needs of all individuals in a form that is culturally acceptable; and

(b) the accessibility of food in ways that are sustainable and do not interfere with the enjoyment of other human rights. 


(3) The “availability of food” refers either to the possibility of feeding oneself directly from productive land or other natural resources, or the existence of a well functioning distribution, processing and marketing system that moves food from the site of production to where it is needed in accordance with demand. 

(a) The “accessibility of food” encompasses both economic and physical accessibility.

(b) “Economic accessibility” implies that the personal or household costs associated with the acquisition of food for an adequate diet should be at such a level that the satisfaction of other basic needs is not compromised. 


(4) The right to adequate food also encompasses food safety and food security.

(a) “Food safety” implies that food should be free from adverse substances, whether from adulteration, poor environmental hygiene or other causes.

(b) “Food security” implies the absence of vulnerability to hunger, i.e., a low risk of falling victim to hunger through changes in personal or external circumstances. In other words, people are food-secure if they can afford and have access to adequate food at all times.


Right to Adequate Housing


(1) Most people living in poverty are disadvantaged and endangered by the places and physical conditions in which they live.

(a) They experience precarious shelter; problems caused by overcrowding and pollution; seasonal exposure to the worst conditions; insecurity of person and property; remoteness; problems stemming from non-existent or inadequate infrastructure, including the lack of access to safe drinking water; and stigma. 

(b) The importance of the right to adequate housing is underlined by the millennium development goal that aims to achieve a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.


(2) This right to adequate housing has a number of components, including:

(a) Legal security of tenure. Everyone should enjoy legal protection from forced eviction, harassment and other threats;

(b) Habitability. Housing must provide inhabitants with adequate space and protection from the elements and other threats to health;

(c) Location. Housing must be in a safe and healthy location which allows access to opportunities to earn an adequate livelihood, as well as access to schools, health care, transport and other services;

(d) Economic accessibility. Personal or household costs associated with housing should be at such a level that the attainment and satisfaction of other basic needs are not compromised;

(e) Physical accessibility. Housing must be accessible to everyone, especially to groups whose access to housing may pose particular difficulties, such as the elderly, persons with physical disabilities and the mentally ill;

(f) Cultural acceptability. Housing must be culturally acceptable to the inhabitants, for example reflective of their cultural preferences in relation to design, site organization and other features;

(g) Adequate infrastructure. The services, materials and facilities essential for health, security, comfort and nutrition—such as safe drinking water, sanitation and washing facilities—must be available.  States should develop and allocate adequate resources to low-income housing programs and develop tax credits and other incentives to encourage the construction of low-income housing in the private sector.


Right to Health


(1) Ill health causes and contributes to poverty by destroying livelihoods, reducing worker productivity, lowering educational achievement and limiting opportunities. Because poverty can lead to diminished access to medical care, increased exposure to environmental risks and malnutrition, ill health is also often a consequence of poverty.

(a) Ill health is both a cause and a consequence of poverty: sick people are more likely to be impoverished and people living in poverty are more vulnerable to disease and disability.

(b) Good health is central to creating and sustaining the capabilities that the poor need to escape from poverty. A key asset, good health contributes to their greater economic security.

(c) Good health is not just an outcome of development: it is a way of achieving development. 

(d) Health targets are prominent among the MDGs to be achieved worldwide by 2015: among them, the goals of reducing under-five child mortality by two thirds and maternal mortality by three quarters, of halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water, and of reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS and the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.


(2) The right to health is not to be understood as the right to be healthy: the State cannot provide protection against every possible cause of ill health. It is the right to the enjoyment of a variety of facilities, goods, services and conditions necessary for the realization of the highest attainable standard of health.

(a) The right includes both health care and the underlying determinants of health, including access to safe drinking water, adequate and safe food, adequate sanitation and housing, healthy occupational and environmental conditions, and access to health-related information and education. 

(b) The right to health contains both freedoms and entitlements. The freedoms include the right to control one’s body, including reproductive health, and the right to be free from interference, such as freedom from torture and non-consensual medical treatment. The entitlements include a system of health care and protection that is available, accessible, and acceptable and of good quality. 


(3) Accessibility has a number of dimensions, including physical, information and economic. Thus,

(a) “Information accessibility” includes the right to seek, receive and impart information concerning health issues, subject to the right to have personal health data treated with confidentiality.  

(b) “Economic accessibility” means that health facilities, goods and services must be affordable for all.

(c) Furthermore, all health facilities, goods and services must be acceptable, i.e., respectful of medical ethics and culturally appropriate, and of good quality.


(4) According to international human rights law, the right to health encompasses a number of more specific health rights, including the right to maternal, child and reproductive health; the right to healthy natural and workplace environments; the right to prevention, treatment and control of diseases; and the right to health facilities, goods and services. 

(a) States should improve the supply of personal health services and make them more accessible to the poor by targeting delivery to the poor by providing tailor-made services for groups whose access to health services may raise particular challenges, such as women, the elderly, children, indigenous peoples, minorities, slum-dwellers, labor migrants and those living in remote rural communities, via outreach clinics.


Right to Education 


(1) Education is the primary vehicle by which children and adults can lift themselves out of poverty. The exercise of the right to education is instrumental for the enjoyment of many other human rights, such as the rights to work, health and political participation.

(a) Lack of education, as manifested by high illiteracy rates and low primary school enrolment ratios, itself constitutes a dimension of poverty. 

(b) The relevance to poverty of the right to education is underlined by the fact that universal primary education is a millennium development goal to be achieved worldwide by 2015.


(2) Equality and non-discrimination are important aspects of the right to education, and States should give priority to equal access for girls and other groups vulnerable to discrimination, such as children with disabilities and minority and refugee children.  The quality of education should be directed to the development of the child’s personality, talents and abilities to their fullest potential, and to the preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in a spirit of tolerance and respect for human rights, the natural environment, his or her parents and cultural identity, and civilizations different from his or her own.


(3) Poverty reduction strategies should give close attention to the realization of the right to education and ensure that people living in poverty are the first to benefit from better access to education. 

(a) In addition to providing free and compulsory primary education for all children, States have an obligation to progressively introduce free and equal secondary education (including vocational training) for all and equal access to free higher education on the basis of capacity.

(b) States also have an obligation to intensify fundamental (basic) education, leading above all to the elimination of illiteracy, for adults who have not satisfied their basic learning needs.


(4) Any human rights-based, pro-poor education policy should ensure that the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in society have access, free of charge, to the most fundamental types of education, such as primary education, vocational training, literacy programs and other forms of basic adult education.

First, States should formulate and adopt a detailed plan of action for the progressive implementation of the principle of compulsory primary education free of charge for all. 

Second, special support programs should enable the poor to have access also to secondary and higher education. For example, children living in poverty should be supported financially by scholarships and provided with transport to school, adequate textbooks, school meals and other services free of charge.

Third, in addition to providing free and equal access to these types of education, Governments should ensure that people living in poverty are not discriminated against when receiving education and that their drop-out rates are not significantly higher than those for other groups in society. 


Right to Personal Security and Privacy


(1) People living in poverty usually suffer from various forms of insecurity. As well as experiencing financial, economic and social insecurity, they are often homeless, marginalized, discriminated against and subject to physical violence and attacks on their privacy, integrity, honor and reputation by State and non-State actors. Accordingly, efforts to strengthen the right of the poor to personal security should have a crucial place in poverty reduction strategies. 

(a) The right to personal security is a human right independent of the right to personal liberty.

(b) If individuals or groups are subject to death threats, violent attacks, harassment, intimidation or severe discriminatory treatment, States have a positive obligation to provide a minimum standard of protection for their lives, integrity and personal security.

(c) In addition, States are under an obligation to ensure that no human beings shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference by State or non-State actors, with their privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on their honor and reputation.


(2) The concept of privacy protects the particular area of individual existence and autonomy, including a person’s appearance, identity, integrity, intimacy, sexuality, communication, family and home, that does not touch upon the liberty and privacy of others. 

(a) Policies aimed at eliminating, or at least substantially reducing, violence against the poor should clearly distinguish between violence by State and non-State actors. Violence may take the form of death threats, violent attacks, harassment, intimidation or severe discriminatory treatment. 

(b) As women are particularly vulnerable to domestic and other forms of gender-specific violence, special measures should be taken to combat these crimes. 

(c) States should conduct education programs for the population in general, and for the police in particular, aimed at promoting better understanding of poverty as well as nondiscrimination towards the poor.

(d) In the recruitment of police and other security forces, the attitude of candidates to people living in poverty and other particularly vulnerable groups of society should be taken into account.


Right of Equal Access to Justice


(1) People living in poverty are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations and abuses by governmental authorities and private individuals. The most important tool available to the poor to defend themselves against these abuses is court protection.

(a) However, for economic or other reasons, people living in poverty typically lack the capability to obtain justice.

(b) Even if free legal aid is available, they may lack the necessary information and self-confidence to seek redress from the courts.

(c) States should actively promote free access of the poor to courts, tribunals and other dispute resolution mechanisms as a remedy against human rights violations. 

(d) . All persons are equal before the courts and tribunals, and enjoy certain procedural guarantees in civil and criminal trials.

(e) Equality before the courts means, in particular, that all persons must be granted, without discrimination, the right of equal access to an independent and impartial court or tribunal for the determination of civil disputes or criminal charges.   

(f) The most important procedural guarantee in both civil and criminal proceedings is the right to a fair and public hearing, including the principle of equality between all parties. 


(2) The poor are accused of criminal behavior more often than the non-poor. Whether they have committed a crime or not, those living in poverty have a right to enjoy the minimum guarantees of a fair trial, such as the presumption of innocence. Experience shows that people living in poverty are more likely than others to be discriminated against and deprived of these minimum guarantees. 

(a) In criminal trials, a number of specific rights are granted to the accused, such as the presumption of innocence, the right to an adequate defense including the assistance of counsel, the right to examine witnesses, and the right not to be compelled to testify against oneself.

(b) Victims of crime should also be provided with equal access to justice and may require specific protection. 


(3) Some procedural guarantees explicitly refer to the needs of the poor: if an accused in a criminal trial does not have sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, Governments are under a positive obligation, if the interests of justice so require, to provide a counsel free of charge.

(a) Similarly, if accused persons do not understand or speak the language used in court, they should have the free assistance of an interpreter.


Anti-poverty policies based upon Human Rights


(1) Anti-poverty policies are more likely to be effective, sustainable, inclusive, equitable and meaningful to those living in poverty if they are based upon international human rights.  There is an emerging view that poverty constitutes a denial or non-fulfillment of human rights. 

(a) The capability approach defines poverty as the absence or inadequate realization of certain basic freedoms, such as the freedoms to avoid hunger, disease, illiteracy, and so on.

(b) Freedom here is conceived in a broad sense, to encompass both positive and negative freedoms.

(c) a person’s freedom to live a healthy life is contingent both on the requirement that no one obstructs her legitimate pursuit of good health – negative freedom, and also on the society’s success in creating an enabling environment in which she can actually achieve good health – positive freedom. 


(2) The reason why the conception of poverty is concerned with basic freedoms is that these are recognized as being fundamentally valuable for minimal human dignity.

(a) The concern for human dignity also motivates the human rights approach, which postulates that people have inalienable rights to these freedoms.

(b ) If someone has failed to acquire these freedoms, then obviously her rights to these freedoms have not been realized.

(c) Therefore, poverty can be defined equivalently as either the failure of basic freedoms – from the perspective of capabilities, or the non-fulfillment of rights to those freedoms – from the perspective of human rights.


(3) The idea of progressive realization has two major strategic implications.

First, it allows for a time dimension in the strategy for human rights fulfillment by recognizing that full realization of human rights may have to occur in a progressive manner over a period of time.

Second, it allows for setting priorities among different rights at any point in time since the constraint of resources may not permit a strategy to pursue all rights simultaneously with equal vigor. T


(4) The recognition of a time dimension and the need for prioritization are common features of all approaches to policy-making. The distinctiveness of the human rights approach is that it imposes certain conditions on these features, so that the pursuit of human rights is not reduced to mere rhetoric in the name of progressive realization. 




(1) Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights.  Principles and Guidelines for a Human Rights Approach to Poverty Reduction Strategies.  HR/PUB/06/12


(2) Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. Human Rights and Poverty Reduction:  A Conceptual Framework. 2004