World is ignoring human rights of poor despite disproportionate abuses – UN expert
GENEVA (16 October 2017) – The world’s poor are at disproportionate risk of torture, arrest, early death and domestic
violence, but their civil and political rights are being airbrushed out of the picture, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme
poverty Philip Alston has warned in a hard-hitting statement to mark International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on
17 October. Even human rights groups are failing to draw the link between civil and political rights violations and
poverty. Alston, who will report on the issue to the General Assembly later this month, said it was shocking that on the
25th anniversary of the international day, so much remained to be done:
“If you are a victim of torture, the chances are significant that you are also poor. The same applies if you are a woman
or a child who is a victim of domestic abuse.
As a poor individual, you are more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for crimes and, if you are, you are less likely
to be able to afford a lawyer. The poor experience additional barriers when they want to vote and often have virtually
no influence on political decision-making.
In short, people in lower socio-economic classes are much more likely to get killed, tortured or experience an invasion
of their privacy, and are far less likely to realize their right to vote, or otherwise participate in the political
Development and human rights organizations, as well as Governments, mostly ignore violations of the civil and political
rights of the poor, with terrible results.
Key international agencies, such as the World Bank and the OECD, ignore human rights altogether and have paid no
attention to the specific civil and political rights of those living in poverty.
Even those working in international human rights, including many UN Special Rapporteurs, experts, groups and committees,
often focus on civil and political rights violations without dealing with the fact that these are interlinked with
The same applies to international human rights NGOs. Analytical work like the 2006 report by the World Organization
Against Torture (OMCT) on the root causes of torture is the proverbial exception that proves the rule.
Airbrushing the civil and political rights of the poor out of the picture has taken several forms.
Firstly, human rights organizations have assumed that poverty can be explained exclusively by various forms of
discrimination. But the use of a surrogate lens is clearly inadequate for capturing the very specific consequences of
the varied forms of discrimination, oppression, stigma and violence experienced by many of the poor on a daily basis.
Secondly, virtually all Governments, UN human rights bodies, and human rights organizations have ignored the fact that
key provisions in all major human rights treaties prohibit discrimination of any kind on grounds of social origin,
property, birth or other status.
The result is that discrimination based on socio-economic class is hardly ever part of any analysis.
I call for a new approach by the human rights community, the development community and Governments that gives due
attention to how often and how exactly the civil and political rights of the poor are violated.
It is for everyone involved to determine how that goal can best be achieved, but a key starting point is to begin
So little is known about how the poor are differently and disproportionately affected by civil and political rights
violations, that no sensible response can be expected without more knowledge of its root causes.
All of us who advocate for people’s human rights to be respected, whether from within the UN system or any other group
or organisation, must be part of painting the poor back into the picture, closing the knowledge gap and rededicating
ourselves to the search for solutions to their disproportionate suffering.”