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Ogochukwu C. Nweke, lawyer
Ogochukwu C. Nweke, lawyer

Human rights, poverty and development

The subject of human rights is one that cuts across many aspects of our universal reality. The Declaration of Rights to Development, endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 1986 and in Article 1(1) reiterates the fact that every human being has the right and deserves access to economic, social, cultural and political development, both in terms to participation and contribution.

Article 1(2) went further to state that “The human right to development also implies the full realization of the right of peoples to self-determination, which includes, subject to the relevant provisions of both International Covenants on Human Rights, the exercise of their inalienable right to full sovereignty over all their natural wealth and resources.”

Poverty and the alleviation thereof is a human rights issue. It was described by Mary Robinson (former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2004), as “the worst human rights problem the world faces today.” The presence and existence of poverty brings about the denial of access to very basic opportunities and amenities, including education, quality healthcare, satisfactory housing, access to clean portable water and the privilege of enjoying decent living conditions. According to the People’s Movement for Human Rights Education “Poverty is a human rights violation. Every woman, man, youth and child has the human right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being, to food, clothing, housing, medical care and social services.” In this regard, poverty has to be viewed as the deprivation of “basic capabilities” and not just an issue related to meagre earnings which is commonly considered as the major index used to identify poverty, even though it is understandable that inadequacy of income is a reason for poverty which cannot be ignored. (Sen, 2000).

Capability deprivation, as Sen (2000) termed it, is an indication that there is a severe violation of human rights and the resolution will require a synergy of political, economic and legal approaches. According to Vizard (2006) poverty alleviation must focus on “the freedom to be adequately nourished (unaffected by endemic hunger and starvation), the freedom to enjoy adequate living conditions (with access to adequate shelter, housing, and sanitation), the freedom to lead normal spans of life (unaffected by premature mortality or ‘excess’ morbidity), and the freedom to read and write (unconstrained by illiteracy and inadequate educational provision).”

The absence of these freedoms is a violation of human rights and considering the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), party-states must do all that is necessary to ensure that its citizens and non-nationals living within their territories enjoy these rights, irrespective of their colour, ethnicity, sex, creed or orientation. Article 2 (1), (2) and (3) of the ICESCR clearly project that in the preservation of economic, social and cultural rights (and in this case, the eradication or alleviation of poverty) the governments of the state have got a very important role to play. The Government of the Republic of Ghana for example, since 2017 began the implementation of the Free Senior High School Policy, which made access to education at the secondary school level free for all Ghanaian citizens and even non-nationals living within Ghana. This increased the number of students admitted into the secondary school system in Ghana from 2017 to date and has also formed a very important instrument for the fight against poverty in the country. (Abdul-Rahaman et al, 2018).

It must be noted that the fight against poverty from a Human Rights perspective, according to Banik (2007) will face the major challenge of how international normative standards can be converted into national practices; the challenge of accountability of donors and multinational organisations in the fight against poverty, especially in the area of unfair transnational practices; and the challenge implementation of international human rights standards on a national level. This reflects that states and non-state-actors are very important in the human rights approach to the fight against poverty and the absence of the political, economic and legal will to pursue this path, would mean that poverty will continue to be the worst human rights problem that the world faces today. (Robinson, 2004)

In the past, many people held human rights and development to be different. However, the unfolding trends show that development and human rights have become “separate strands of the same fabric” to the extent that human rights is one of items that is currently being used to measure or assess the development level of a society. (Uvin 2004).

Poverty, described from the perspective of capabilities deprivation is an indication that there is also a development dimension to the situation, thereby making development a human rights issue as well. The United Nations recognises, access to good health, quality education and satisfactory living conditions are measures used in determining the development level of a society. To this extent, we see again the nexus among Human Rights, Poverty and Development.

The course of development must be enshrined in the pursuit to improve the freedom that people enjoy and to achieve this, all kinds of deprivation (including capabilities deprivation) must be eradicated. It does not matter whether or not a person has need for this freedom at a material time, as the important issue is the fact that the person has the right to choose to participate or contribute to the exercise of that freedom. Freedom is very important to development as it is one of the items that helps to create a conducive atmosphere for development to thrive. Furthermore, the presence of poverty is a deprivation of freedom (Sen, 2000).

The first item on the list of the Sustainable development goals, is the pursuit towards the reduction of poverty. This goes to buttress that poverty is a major focus on the development agenda and at the same time is a human rights issue. The reduction or eradication of poverty is a pursuit that thus plays a dual role, namely, the fostering of human rights and the achievement of development. (Kaltenborn et al, 2020). When infrastructure is improved, people will have better access to healthcare and live longer, they will also have access to education and become more empowered. This is definitely a way to achieve the reduction of poverty.

There is clearly a link existing among the three subjects that make up this discussion, namely: Human Rights, Development and Poverty. A dedicated pursuit towards the achievement of development and the improvement of human rights, especially with regards to fostering economic, social, political and cultural rights, will bring about the reduction of poverty.

Columnist: Ogochukwu C. Nweke


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