Moving towards Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights

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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed by all UN Member States in 1948 but, more than 60 years later, human rights still remain an empty pledge for people living in extreme poverty across the world - in both developed and developing countries. Out of a total world population of almost 7 billion people, well over 1 billion people live in extreme poverty. As a result of the financial crisis, many more people have fallen into extreme poverty.

The UN Human Rights Council is presently working on the formulation of Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights . The process started in 1987 when Joseph Wresinski – the founder of ATD Fourth World – visited the United Nations Commission for Human Rights (now the UN Human Rights Council) in Geneva, Switzerland. Since that time ATD Fourth World has worked together with many others to get these guidelines formulated and adopted. After consultations with people living in extreme poverty across the world, a group of UN Human Rights experts produced in 2006 a document entitled Draft Guiding Principles on “Extreme poverty and human rights : The rights of the poor.”

There followed an extensive round of comments from governments, international agencies and civil society organizations, including consultations facilitated by ATD Fourth World with people living in poverty in France, Poland, Peru, Senegal and Thailand. The views of people living in poverty were presented in the report, "Dignity in the face of extreme poverty."

The main conclusions to emerge from the consultation process were to make the Draft Guiding Principles more operational, and to focus more clearly on the concrete obstacles and challenges with regard to people living in extreme poverty. In 2009 the Human Rights Council asked Ms. Magdalena Sepulveda - the independent expert on extreme poverty – to submit her recommendations on how to improve the Draft Guiding Principles. Following contributions from human rights experts and NGOs, including ATD Fourth World, a proposed draft annotated outline of the Guiding Principles was presented in the Independent Expert’s report and welcomed by the Human Rights Council in September 2010 (see resolution A/HRC/15/L.25). In the resolution, the Council has asked that further consultations now be carried out in 2011 with a view to a final version of the Guiding Principles being presented to the Council for adoption in 2012.

Why are the Draft Guiding Principles (DGPs) necessary?

The DGPs set out the actions to be taken by all relevant actors – governments, the private sector, civil society and the international community – in order to ensure that people living in extreme poverty are able to enjoy all of their rights. The DGPs are founded on the indivisibility and effectiveness of human rights and on the participation of the poorest and most excluded in the decisions affecting their lives.
Their adoption would be a great step forward in the fight to eradicate extreme poverty in that they:

  • recognize that extreme poverty and exclusion from society constitute a violation of human dignity;
  • recognize the principle that priority attention should be given to the poorest and most excluded;
  • provide the basis for long-term solutions to extreme poverty;
  • clearly define the responsibilities of duty bearers; and
  • provide a common point of departure for action by all stakeholders, based on the realities of the situation of persons living in extreme poverty.

What can you do to support the adoption of the DGPs?

  • Lobby your government to give priority to the DGPs, and contribute to their finalization and adoption by encouraging them to contribute to the consultation process launched by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. Views and Comments in response to the questionnaire could be e-mailed before 1 June 2011 to:
  • Follow the development of the DGPs by regularly checking the websites of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and encourage organizations working with people living in extreme poverty to also participate in the consultation.
  • Post articles about the DGPs on your website, or publish them in your newsletters.

For more information, contact ATD Fourth World’s delegation to the UN in Geneva


Information on the draft guiding principles and their history

PDF - 1 Mb
Report of the independent expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty,

PDF - 152 kb

Wherever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, human rights are violated.
To come together to ensure that these rights be respected is our solemn duty.

Joseph Wresinski

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