One of the gravest human rights crises of our time is the fact that more than one billion people are living in extreme poverty. Poverty is not just an issue of lack of income. Poverty is the denial of access to the resources, capability, security and power. All people need all these, in order to realize their human right to live with dignity.
Behind the statistics of poverty are individual and usually untold stories of discrimination, neglect and abuse. Those living in extreme poverty, furthermore, suffer human rights abuses as a consequence of the marginalization and exclusion that are characteristics of the poor in every country. Poverty has been associated by the poor themselves with being invisible, voiceless, vulnerable and excluded and even dependent and subordinate. The relative powerlessness of the poor perpetuates a systematic government failure to improve the worsening situation.
Poverty results from negligence and discrimination by governments and others in power, and from an unwillingness to change the status quo. Yet those responsible for the violations that create poverty are not held accountable, and those affected are denied the knowledge and power to shape their future.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) provides that all human beings “… are born free and equal in dignity and rights2.” In a globalized world, the fact that such large numbers of people live in conditions that denies them their dignity, even as the gap between rich and poor widens, between and within countries, is a direct contradiction to this notion of the equal worth and dignity of each individual life. As we approach the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the UDHR, the aspiration for a world free from want as well as fear is unrealized for millions of people living in poverty, routinely denied many if not all of their human rights.
Amnesty International believes that poverty is driven by human rights violations and perpetuates further abuses, including discrimination, abuses of physical and mental integrity and denial of freedom of expression. AI will work with the worldwide movement to combat poverty, with the resounding call for accountability of governments to provide access to all human rights for all.
People living in poverty have a right to hold to account those responsible for the human rights violations that affect them. All human rights should be legally enforceable, including economic, social and cultural rights. All those responsible, including companies and governments at home and abroad should be legally accountable for the impact of their activities on human rights.
Governments should promote equality and ensure non-discrimination in their poverty eradication programmes at home and abroad. Global development projects should secure greater protection for the human rights of people living in poverty, which should include redressing patterns of exclusion and increasing access to key resources and services including land, housing and health care.
Amnesty International also calls for the respect of people’s agency – the people’s inherent right to control their lives. People living in poverty should be respected and empowered as the key agents of the fight for their right to live with dignity. Governments, companies and others in power should respect their right to information, the right to take part and to protest — to genuine participation in deciding how they will be affected by development and investment, and to be able to speak out and defend their rights without fear or intimidation.
Amnesty International will stay true to its mission of standing up for the marginalized. The human dignity of all people is at the heart of the human rights cause. Promoting the dignity of people who by reason of poverty and prejudice have least access to human rights is Amnesty International’s most pressing task. And as an active part of this worldwide movement for human rights, Amnesty International renews its conviction and determination to do everything in its power to stand up and defend universal human rights for all people everywhere.