Food for a tipping point thought


Human Rights Reader 263


-The fields of the poor may yield much food, but the same is swept away through injustice. (Proverbs 13:23)

-If the rich could hire others to die for them, we, the poor, would make a nice living. (Mordechai the inn-keeper, in the musical ‘Fiddlers on the Roof’). (cited by A-E. Birn)


1. What is generously distributed in the world is poverty. (A. Gomez) But poverty is not genetic. Poverty is the result of disempowerment and exclusion. Poverty humiliates. (Z. Acevedo) Poverty itself most often is a result of the violation of human rights (HR). Actually, HR violations occur both as a cause and as a consequence of poverty. Poverty, in its political dimension, shows the inequality in the enjoyment of HR among members of our societies. (W. Benedek)


2. Regrettably, poverty is progressing faster than the laborious international climate negotiations. We cannot eradicate poverty by decree. Putting band-aids on the problem of poverty has become an industry for the rich. (R. Thurow)  Chicken and miserly handouts have not reduced and will not reduce poverty. The end of extreme poverty will only come when masses of individual citizens around the world demand an end to the HR violations that come with extreme poverty and things reach a de-facto tipping point. (W. Smith)


3. Impoverishment as an ongoing process –and not just poverty– should be the focus of HR work, because impoverishment (i.e., the persistence and reproduction of poverty) is the process that actually reflects the destitution that results when some actors deny others their HR. This is why we say that ‘poverty lines’ really represent  ‘destitution lines’.


4.  There are unfair things in our societies: There are those that are born with a life that has been comfortably preset for them and those who will have to fight for every inch of their future. (Z. Acevedo) A couple of ‘iron’ laws’ apply here: i)  Suffering from hunger is terrible, but much more so when our hunger is due to our neighbor eating at leisure, (A. Gomez) and ii) Shantytowns, lost cities, favelas, villas miseria…are all the same; you either live there or you are one of the guilty ones that they exist. (C. Fuentes)


5. Malthusian arguments obscure the real roots of poverty, of inequality and of environmental degradation in capitalist societies. This, with the result that people who happen to be poor are blamed for environmental destruction rather than treated as the victims of the capitalist development mode at the base of such degradation.


6. In an apparent paradox, poor people and other marginalized groups*, are perfectly capable of ‘modernizing’ demographically while still remaining poor economically.

*: Among other, the marginalized are those living in extreme poverty, ethnic minorities and indigenous people, disadvantaged adolescents and youth, women survivors of violence and abuse, out of school youth, persons living with HIV, women engaged in sex work, men who have sex with men, persons living with disabilities, refugees and internally displaced persons, women living under occupation and a good portion of the elderly population.


7. It is no news to you that those who happen to be poor are disconnected from gainful employment, from access to clean water, from electricity, from feeder roads, from transport, from calories and micronutrients, from health care, from education, from banking, from telecommunications, from the internet, from justice, from security… –all related to the denial of their HR.


8. The potential contribution of HR to development remains the largest overlooked and wasted resource on earth.  It is mainly claim holders demanding access to productive work that will enable marginalized groups to ‘buy’ themselves solutions to many of the HR challenges they face –and these solutions involve the creation of jobs. To address a number of the HR violations affecting them, claim holders thus need to demand employment generation preferably with terms negotiated by strong labor organizations.


9. In the World Bank’s widely promoted Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), an open, truly participative discussion about how to reduce poverty (to be understood as reducing disparities) has not really taken and does not take place despite it officially being the stated goal of the entire exercise. No wonder the PRSPs approach has made little difference. (T. Siebold)


10. The poverty that surrounds those that live a marginalized life devoid of dignity has too often seeped-in into their souls; this lethargy needs to be interrupted. (Z. Acevedo) This attitude of submission stays dormant in the back of poor people’s gazes; the attitude gets stirred up every now and then though. It is then when we have to capture it so as to turn it around. The concept of justice remains unquestioned, but quiescent in their minds, making it look like downtrodden people have a lack of social and political consciousness. Nothing further from the truth!


11. Analizing the nature of the social relations brought about by the prevailing market is crucial to understand who wins and who loses.  The current globalized, unfair market keeps poor people stuck in poverty traps. Losers simply have to more aggressively start demanding equal access to justice as an important component of any poverty eradication process.


12. Let us be clear: Better governance –as so often is called for– will simply not automatically lead to governments combating HR violations, blatant disparities and poverty with greater urgency.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City


Adapted from The Broker, issues 15, 16, 22 and 24, Aug.2009, Oct 2009, Oct/Nov 2010 and Feb/March 2011 respectively; F+D (IMF) 47:1 and 47:2, March and June 2010 respectively; D+C 37:12, Dec 2010; and Getting the MDGs right: Towards the founding of an operational framework for the MDG-Human Rights Nexus. Copenhagen , Nov. 2010.




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  1. 1Iftikhar Soomro

    its hard and thick truth.

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