17 October 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

press conference on international day for eradication of poverty


The human rights obligation to fight extreme poverty was not lessened by the current global financial crisis, Maria Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, United Nations Independent expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty, said at Headquarters this morning.


“Now more than ever it must be understood that the protection of the fundamental rights of the poor is not a luxury that could be dismissed in times of economic hardship,” she said at a press conference on the occasion of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.  “It is a fundamental legal obligation that can never be ignored, no matter what the circumstances are.”


Joining Ms. Sepúlveda at the podium were Olivier Gonnet from the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations, which was to co-host a round table this afternoon on partnerships for poverty eradication; Nina Lim Yuson, President of the International Movement ATD Fourth World, a non-governmental organization that promotes a rights-based approach to fighting poverty; and Patricia Bailey, an ATD Fourth World activist in London.


Ms. Sepúlveda noted that more than $1 trillion had been committed to rescue the financial system in the past weeks, while only $16 billion had been pledged last month to renew commitments to attaining the Millennium Development Goal of reducing extreme poverty.  The current financial turmoil was raising fears that even those promises might not be kept.


Meanwhile, the 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty worldwide were routinely deprived of their rights to housing, food, water, health and justice, in addition to being regularly stripped of their dignity, she said.  It was crucial that the eradication of poverty remained high on the international agenda.


Mr. Gonnet said 17 October was a day on which the duty to fight poverty around the world was reaffirmed, alongside the necessity to include the participation of poor people in all activities effecting them.  For that reason, their voices would be heard at all events during today’s commemoration of the International Day at United Nations Headquarters.


France had always supported the need for the United Nations to prioritize the eradication of poverty, he said.  It also played an important role in recognizing the links between human rights and extreme poverty, and in renewing the mandate of the Independent Expert on that issue.


Ms. Yuson said the year marking the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the theme chosen for the International Day -– Human Rights and Dignity of People Living in Poverty -– were reminders that the fight against extreme poverty must be carried out within a human rights framework, and that people living in poverty were the first to take action against it.  “Recognizing their dignity matters,” she stressed.


She appealed for the inclusion and promotion of the rights of people living in extreme poverty in the negotiations on development financing to be completed in Doha, Qatar; in the mandate of the Second Decade for the Eradication of Poverty; and in the Draft Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, currently under discussion in the Human Rights Council.


Ms. Bailey described her experiences as a peer researcher among the poor in London under an ATD programme called “Voices for a Change”, saying the programme developed useful and well-informed recommendations while giving poor people the confidence to talk to strangers, a skill needed both to navigate the social services system and to find employment.  “Aid must not destroy human dignity”, she said.  “It requires talking to people living in poverty to understand them”.


Asked how the inclusion of poor people in anti-poverty activities could be improved at the international level, Ms. Yuson said a handbook called Turning Rhetoric into Action had been prepared for this afternoon’s round table.  Under the motto “With us not for us”, it focused on strategies for inclusiveness.


Mr. Gonnet added that there was a need for coherent, well-coordinated efforts at both the national and international levels.  More commemorative days would help bring the voices of the poor to the international stage.


Responding to questions about the effectiveness of the United Nations in the area of poverty and human rights, Ms. Sepúlveda said that since the inclusion of the right to participation in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there had been many reasons to celebrate progress.  However, there had been many disappointments as well, and the continued suffering of people in extreme poverty fell within that category.


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For information media • not an official record