UN rights expert urges Chile to boost efforts in fighting extreme poverty

Special Rapporteur Philip Alston. UN Photo/Loey Felipe

24 March 2015 – The issue of poverty continues to remain “under the radar” for many Chilean policy-makers despite the country’s impressive array of anti-poverty programmes, an independent United Nations human rights expert has warned.

The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, extolled the South American country as a model for the region in terms of “its commitment to human rights, its high economic growth rates, and it sustained social policy innovations.”

But, he added in a news release, the country nevertheless continued to tolerate “very high levels” of poverty and inequality for a State belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

“The Chilean State’s response to the widely acknowledged problems of exclusion, marginalization, and discrimination has been piecemeal and half-hearted,” Mr. Alston said.

“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.”

The expert observed that efforts to eliminate extreme poverty in Chile could not succeed without “a concerted focus” on the situation of indigenous peoples or labour law reforms aimed at enabling trade unions to “defend the rights of workers effectively.”

In addition, he called for the facilitation of women’s participation in the workforce through a range of measures including better community care facilities, and better economic rewards for currently unpaid female care workers.

Mr. Alston’s remarks come on the heels of a nine-day official visit to Chile during which he met with President Michelle Bachelet and a range of government officials and civil society leaders whom he urged to develop a specific, integrated plan and more effective coordination mechanisms tackling poverty.

“There is a deep need for an entity with the responsibility, authority, funds and resources to coordinate government-wide human rights policies,” he continued, 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 kick-started.”

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