Poverty and Human Rights

18 Sep 2009

17 October logo

In advance of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on 17 October, this article explores how poverty undermines basic human rights.

The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is marked every year on 17 October. It was officially recognised by the United Nations in 1992, but the first commemoration of the event took place in 1987 in Paris, when 100,000 people gathered at the Trocadéro – the place where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948 – to honour victims of poverty, hunger, violence and fear. They proclaimed that poverty is a violation of human rights and affirmed the need to come together to ensure that these rights are respected.

This gathering was brought about by Joseph Wresinski (1917-1988), founder of the ATD Fourth World international anti-poverty movement. He unveiled a commemorative stone to mark the spot with his call to action engraved into the marble:

“Wherever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, human rights are violated. To come together to ensure that these rights be respected is our solemn duty”.

This year (2009), Amnesty International UK aims to highlight the huge negative impact that extreme poverty has on basic human rights through a new campaign called Demand Dignity. To complement and support this campaign, Amnesty has produced a free educational resource pack for ages 14+: Poverty and Human Rights. The pack includes an assembly, lesson plans, PowerPoints, and short films that raise awareness of the issues and enable young people to take informed action.

Laura Jayatillake, Amnesty International’s human rights education co-ordinator, gives a bit of background to the pack and the campaign:

“Across the world, more than 900 million people suffer chronic hunger and more than a billion live in ‘slums’ or informal settlements that lack basic services.

Every minute, a woman dies because of problems related to pregnancy. And more than 100 million children lack access to primary education.

None of this is natural or inevitable: it is the result of decisions made by people in power. Choices and policies made by governments, corporations and international institutions can drive and deepen poverty and that means those who make the choices and policies can be held to account.

The Poverty and Human Rights resource focuses on the experiences of the Deep Sea community in Kenya which lives in a shanty-town in Nairobi. The community lives in dire conditions that amount to absolute poverty. They are denied basic rights such as clean water, nutritious food, adequate housing, healthcare and education. They also live under the constant threat of illegal forced evictions and police brutality, a further abuse of human rights.

The first lesson introduces students to the community, the second examines the kind of work NGOs (non-governmental organisations) are doing to combat poverty internationally, and the third looks at the work Amnesty is doing to help the people of the Deep Sea settlement and presents students with a choice of actions they can take in support of the community.

The pack also includes resources to help teachers run a Taking Action Project with their students, and the Demand Dignity campaign will form the focus of Amnesty International’s Week of Youth Action, which runs from 12-17 October 2009.”

(This text has been adapted from an article in the 3 September 2009 issue of SecEd)

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