UN expert urges States to treat participation as ‘fundamental human right’

Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Magdalena Sepúlveda. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

28 May 2013 – Participation in the decision-making processes of government is “a fundamental human right,” a United Nations independent expert declared today, adding that it could help lift communities out of poverty and provide the disenfranchised with an important voice in determining their futures.

Presenting her annual report at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda, urged world Governments to enable persons living in poverty to participate in the crucial decisions that affect their lives.

“The right to participation is strongly linked with empowerment, which is a key human rights goal and principle,” she told the Council.

“It allows those living in poverty to see themselves as full members of society and autonomous agents rather than subjects of decisions taken by others who see them as objects of assistance or mere statistics.”

Ms. Sepúlveda called on States to go beyond the view of participation as “a formulaic bureaucratic exercise” and see it, instead, as a necessary mechanism to “break the cycle of material deprivation and disempowerment.”

“Participation provides an opportunity for people living in poverty to be active agents of their own destiny; a chance to speak out against and challenge injustice, discrimination and stigma,” she continued.

“Meaningful participation can build skills, knowledge and confidence and play an important role in breaking down entrenched inequality and hierarchies.”

In her report, Ms. Sepúlveda outlines the practical actions to be adopted by States to support and enable meaningful, active participation for people living in poverty, as dictated by human rights law, norms and principles such as non-discrimination and equality, accountability and access to information.

Among its many recommendations, the report urges Governments to allocate sufficient resources to support the participation of people living in poverty in any decision-making process that affects their rights, including earmarked funds to compensate participants for opportunity costs such as travel and to provide on-site childcare while also improving communications infrastructures and extending them to rural and poor communities.

“Ultimately, this will benefit society as a whole, building trust, solidarity and social cohesion, and bringing new issues and voices into the public arena,” Ms. Sepúlveda concluded.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.


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