On 27th September 2012, the UN Human Rights Council adopted by consensus Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. Through its adoption, member states of the Human Rights Council affirmed that eradicating extreme poverty is not only a moral duty but also a legal obligation under existing international human rights law.
With the United Nations
Over 60 member states actively supported the resolution as co-sponsors. Led by France, its ambassador reminded the Council that, “Extreme poverty is, if a reminder is needed, a universal phenomenon. In this context, adoption by consensus of this resolution constitutes a significant advancement in the fight against this scourge that concerns us all.”
In its statement to the Council on the Guiding Principles, the Peruvian representative expressed his country’s thanks to States that have supported this theme, as well as to “Civil society organisations and people in extreme poverty for their valuable proposals and contributions throughout this process.”
The objective of the Guiding Principles is to provide guidance on how to apply human rights standards in efforts to combat poverty. They are intended as a tool for designing and implementing poverty reduction and eradication policies, and as a guide to how to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of persons living in extreme poverty in all areas of public policy. They are global in scope, recognizing that extreme poverty is a phenomenon which affects all countries.
ATD Fourth World initially called on the United Nations to consider extreme poverty itself as a violation of human rights in 1982, collecting 300,000 signatures that were delivered to the then Secretary-General. With the support of leading human rights experts, committed governments, and other human rights NGOs, this eventually led to the Human Rights Council’s predecessor body deciding that a rights-based approach to the fight against poverty would be a powerful tool in the eradication of extreme poverty. The Council then mandated the Special rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda, to finalize the Guiding Principles for their adoption.
Through its long-term grassroots presence and action alongside the most marginalized populations, ATD Fourth World has understood that the first step in moving out of poverty and exclusion is when people can effectively claim their rights. The Guiding Principles draw on existing international agreed human rights norms and principles that States have already signed up to, such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights or the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. Yet too often an implementation gap exists between countries signing up to guaranteeing a right – to health, education or participation in decision making – and their effective realization by their most marginalized citizens.
Their adoption is timely in many ways. At the international level the Guiding Principles must act as a tool to ensure the discussions already underway on a successor framework to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) work towards creating a post-2015 development framework that envisages the full realisation of human rights for all. At the national level, when many countries particularly in Europe, see themselves forced to implement austerity measures, the Guiding Principles act as a reference to ensure that measures taken do not disproportionately affect people in poverty and jeopardise their ability to claim their rights.
The next stage is to begin to make the Guiding Principles known in order for them to be implemented at national and international level. Following their adoption, ATD Fourth World’s director general Isabelle Perrin urged that, “These Guiding Principles cannot be left in a drawer. We must look to spread the news of their adoption, especially among those trapped in extreme poverty. These Guiding Principles offer encouragement and must become a criteria for what should be put in place to end the viole,ce of extreme poverty.”