Special Rapporteurs Identify Poverty as Key Obstacle to Human Rights
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
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The UNGA's Third Committee heard presentations from the Special Rapporteurs on the Human Right to Food, the Right to Education, Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Adequate Housing, Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, and Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health.

The Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Food stressed that “zero hunger in 2030, it’s almost impossible,” explaining that the major reasons are conflict related.

The Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights called for separating the poor as a specific category, saying they experience the overwhelming majority of violence and are the leading victims of civil and political rights violations.

23 October 2017: Special Rapporteurs identified poverty as the main obstacle to realizing basic human rights during a discussion of the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural). In a series of presentations, Special Rapporteurs observed that millions of people globally lack access to food, education and housing and called for targeted approaches to address the needs of vulnerable populations.

The meeting took place on 23 October 2017, at UN Headquarters in New York, US.

Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Food, said 70 million people in 45 countries require emergency food assistance, which represents a 40 percent increase compared to 2015. Noting that 489 million undernourished people live in conflict zones, she explained that deaths in those areas are typically caused by hunger and disease, not combat. She also cautioned that the Rohingya people of Myanmar face serious starvation and violations of their right to food. However, she stressed, the international community had never called for an international criminal trial against government officials or non‑State actors for creating, inflicting or prolonging famine, all of these being cases that should be referred to the International Criminal Court.

Elver underscored the need for guidance to convey the message that violating the right to food is a crime against humanity, saying such guidance should be able to be understood by any player, including countries and terrorist organizations. Noting that every conflict has powerful friends behind it, she suggested the Human Rights Council organize a study group on the topics. Elver stressed that “zero hunger in 2030, it’s almost impossible” as a result of conflicts and their resulting challenges.

Referring to the Special Rapporteur’s call for a world conference to create a framework to combat famine, Morocco asked about the feasibility of a new international binding treaty on the matter. Indonesia suggested creating an exploratory group to pursue a legal framework on the issue. Cameroon asked about next steps towards an international legal instrument on the right to food. Cuba said it will submit a draft resolution on the right to food that affirms hunger is a violation of human dignity.

Koumbou Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, highlighted great progress on ensuring access to education, especially in Africa. However, he said, 263 million children and young people around the world still lack access to schooling, mostly in sub‑Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.

Norway asked about practical measures Member States could take to identify vulnerable groups. Qatar inquired about measures for refugees in terms of education. The EU asked about best practices for short‑term measures aimed at providing refugees with access to education.

Responding to questions, Boly Barry, identified decentralization as a solution for identifying vulnerable groups, in which grassroots‑led efforts should take priority in decision-making. She stressed governments must provide resources necessary to address the needs of vulnerable groups.

Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, said that both social sciences and human rights fact‑finding disaggregate civil and political rights violations by age, gender, race and ethnicity, but not according to economic class.

The EU asked how indicators could be modified to better account for civil and political rights violations. The US inquired how Member States can enhance access to rights by women and girls in the lowest income brackets.

On indicators that could enable better understanding of the civil and political rights violations suffered by the poor, Alston highlighted a need to separate the poor as a specific category, saying the overwhelming majority of violence is directed at the poor and they are the primary victims of civil and political rights violations. He also noted that current trends toward privatization and reducing the role of the state moved the burden of care to women, adding that neoliberal economic policies are premised on failing to address the specific needs of women and girls.

Leilani Farha, Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, said persons with disabilities are commonly homeless, institutionalized and subjected to neglect, abuse and discrimination for no reason other than their disability. Noting that housing is “absolutely central” to dignity and equal rights for persons with disabilities, she added that the housing conditions of more than one billion persons with disabilities make clear the need for Member States to realize the right to housing.

Brazil highlighted the need for a change in culture to create policies that meet the needs of persons with disabilities. South Africa inquired about the corporate sector’s role in providing adequate housing.

Farha replied that it is the governments’ duty to work with the private and corporate sector to ensure they respect the rights of persons with disabilities.

Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, presented a second report, which examines how funding by France, Japan, the EU, the World Bank and the Inter‑American Development Bank (IADB) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) help realize the human right to water and sanitation. Dainus Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health, presented a report on the effects of corruption on the right to health, explaining that the health care sector is one of the most corrupt sectors. [UN Meeting Coverage][Third Committee Webpage][Third Committee Calendar of Meetings]

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