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Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right Term Paper


A human right according to the UN Organization (2010) refers to alienable rights if every human being which is inherent to them and upholds their dignity. Recognition of human rights is the foundation of peace, justice and freedom in the world. The declaration of human rights highlights the rights that every human being is entitled too despite the fact that in many instances people are not aware of these rights. Even in situations when people are aware of their rights, these rights can still be abused.

Freedom from poverty is embodied in many of the rights stipulated by the UN declaration of human rights (UN Organization, 2010). Several articles pertain to poverty directly while others address situations that affect poverty. This paper will examine various thoughts on poverty as a right especially basing its argument on the international declaration of human rights.

This is the basis upon which freedom from poverty can be understood and supported. The arguments will show that freedom from poverty is a fundamental right. Enabling people to have means to live dignify lives and is therefore a human right since poverty prevents them from reaching this end.

Freedom from poverty is a human right in as far as many who are poor have had so many of their rights taken away. As a consequence, they cannot rise above poverty. When freedom from poverty is addressed and treated as a human rights, other rights are respected as well. Poverty in the world is largely as a consequence of denial of human rights in various ways. In the words of Louise Arbour a UN high commissioner “ …freedom from want is a right, not merely a matter of compassion” (UN News center, 2006).

According to the (UNDP (2005) a right to development entitles people to the right freedom from poverty. This is one of the most efficient support for freedom from poverty as a right. The UNDP states that people have rights to the realization of “… cultural, social and economic goals .working… and life allowing the person to health and well being…” (UNDP, 1998)

Type of right

While positive rights obligate action negative rights require holding back or curbing actions. The right of freedom from poverty can be compared to other negative rights like freedom from violent crime, freedom from abuse and torture among others. Although negative rights require inaction towards something they do not necessarily mean lack of action.

They advocate and require action that will ensure that the undesired factor is avoided. In the case of freedom from poverty, it requires action that can guarantee people overcome poverty. These actions may be direct like setting up systems to increase development, or indirect by ensuring that activities that promote poverty are neutralized.

Arguments for Freedom from Poverty as a Right

In 2006, Kofi Annan attributed failure to achieve human rights to deprivation (UN News Center, 2006). Those who are poorest in the world are the most likely to have their rights violated. Their right especially to decent living standards, essential health care and food remain undefended. Mr. Annan stated that unless the world recognizes that most of the population survives on less than a dollar per day there wouldn’t be any considerable progress made in ensuring human rights in the world.

Louise Arbour stated that poverty is a product and cause of human rights violation. Freedom from poverty should therefore be treated as a right as only when eradication of poverty is attained can millions of families achieve other rights. Louise affirmed that the fight to end poverty is a duty for governments and other bodies in the same way that it is a duty to ensure other rights like those of speech and life among others (UN News Center, 2006). Fighting poverty should therefore not be viewed as a altruism or charity.

Targeting poverty as a human rights violation is additionally a strategic and moral obligation. According to President Sheikha, the General Assembly president, when poverty is fought in order to uphold people’s dignity much more is gained in attaining other rights (UN News Center, 2006).

As a result this should be greatly considered as one of the foundation of human rights. Poor people are not in a position to enjoy other rights. As a result they are easily discriminated against. In addition poverty creates a cycle of more poverty and more opportunities for the violations of human rights.

Speth an administrator with UNDP stated that freedom from poverty has to be treated as a right since for the billions who are in poverty, it leads to deprivation in fundamental ways (Speth, 1997). Speth advocated for for eradication of poverty through a rights-based approach. The benefit of which includes avoidance of many other violation of rights and social ills. In this way eradication of poverty is also fundamentally functional (Speth, 1997).

Poverty has been linked to many social and political problems. Speth states than only when poverty is taken as a right and properly addressed can many of the problems in poverty-stricken states. One of the implications of taking poverty as a right can allow legislature that address stumbling blocks to economic progress (Speth, 1998). One example that Speth gives is that states would be more open to empowerment of woman and end discrimination based on gender (Speth, 1997).

Speth (1998) points out that it is through this approach that multiple rights aims can be attained using the same plans and principles. Poverty is often associated with pre-existing denial of rights. Lack of education for example interferes with other rights in the later part of people’s lives. It is therefore imperative to attend to other rights before poverty can be adequately handled. This reveals the nature of the interrelatedness of the whole boy of human rights and the need to address human rights in that context (Speth, 1997).

To argue for the right not to suffer from poverty, Caney (2007) states that human rights should be informed by human interest. Since it is a human interest to not suffer deprivation poverty should be taken as a violation of human rights. Further more poverty restricts people from following their interests and what they judge to be good (Caney, 2007).

This can often be seen by the failure of the poor to attain good education, secure good jobs or even afford provisions for their families. These are things of interest to people of all races and classes. Poverty for example restricts the rights of children to education when their parents or governments cannot afford it. As a result poverty violates a basic human right.

International bodies that are responsible for promoting human rights and social progress need to impress it upon the international community that poverty is at the heart of violation of most human rights (Speth, 1997).

The international community therefore has the obligation to make international polices that take this into account and bring about the desired effects. It is the developed countries that are in a position to ensure fair decisions are made on international matters. They have more economic and political powers than the developing countries ridden with poverty that are not able to effectively advocate for their case (Speth, 1997).

Implications of Freedom from Poverty as a Right

One of the implications of treating freedom from poverty as a right is that people are entitled to resources and means that will get them out of poverty. This means that governments and other stakeholders have a responsibility to actively fight poverty, engage in poverty eradication measures and make sure they are implemented.

For instance governments will be obligated to reduce unemployment. Unemployment is one of the leading causes of poverty in the developing world. Mismanagement of public funds, corruption and poor governance can be addressed in new light and offenders held to accountability.

Through the international bodies of justice those who commit crimes against humanity are pursued and tried. In the same way those who are involved in practices that lead to poverty would be held accountable which would lead to lower rates of these cases in the developing world where poverty is prime.

When deliberate and serious practices that increase poverty are treated as crimes there can be hope that societies will be more careful. Crimes against humanity especially in the modern world are greatly reduced due to the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC). By extension abuse of human rights through such practices like mismanagement of public funds and corruption can be reduced at the threat of international and local prosecutions.

According to Pogge (2005), poverty is the common denominator in most cases of violations of human right. Poverty has in most cases been confounded by government officials in developing countries liaising with leaders in the developed country to the detriment of the developing countries.

According to Pogge (2005), poverty in developing countries lead to illiterate and stunted masses. These people are too involved in survival to give election of good government leaders time. They therefore get leaders who do not advocate for their interest.

Pogge (2005) advocates for the kind of measures that go beyond the interest of a country within its borders. This is because the systems in the world that have been set in motion have been unfavorable to poorer nations. Eradicating poverty is not a matter of charity but one of justice in which richer countries owe it to the world to try and regain a balance in power as well as decent life for all. Within the framework of socio economic human rights this end can be achieved (Pogge, 2005).

According to (UNDP (2005), rights equate to obligation while violations of rights require remedial solutions. UNDP (2005) reports that in its Vienna meeting, there was obligation collectively given to the international community especially the developed countries with key emphasis on alleviation of foreign debt burden which the UNDP cited as imperative (UNDP, 2005).

This obligation is additionally to be expressed in the form of support for development in the developing countries as well as economic relations that are equitable between different countries. The meeting also stressed need for creation of reasonable economic environments so that countries can have fair chances at global level.

Another implication is that there would be distributive justice. Most of the wealth in many countries is concentrated on few number of people. Fighting poverty would entail ensuring that resources and goods are fairly and equitably distributed. Unjust ways in which wealth is accumulated by the cream of society would have to be eradicated.

Unfair economies would be reevaluated and solutions found for systems that will ensure each society balances its wealth. In addition richer countries would be required to be more committed to fighting poverty in the developing countries. The fight is often left to charity and so far that has not been successful in making headways in eradicating poverty.

An issue that is raised as an implication is the effect of transnational economies in increasing poverty. According to Meckled-Garcia (2009) transnational economies have been associated with poverty in developing countries raising the question as to whether they violate human rights.

Meckled-Garcia (2009) states that although these transnational businesses do not set out to cause harm, they non the less operate in ways that might be deemed unfair, exploitive and manipulative. They often lead to unfair competition against which the economies of developing countries cannot compete (Meckled-Garcia, 2009). These economies are formulated in ways that offer the domestic sector advantages. To counter these arguments, economic policies aim to ensure that trade is promoted and that the basics of trade are followed.

Naturally, business entities need to make profits, look for new markets and capitalize on cheaper labor and resources. In addition many parties are involved in making decisions and most of the outcomes are unintended by the participants to the trade agreements.

However, Meckled-Garcia (2009) argues that although there is argument that the choices are not forced, in most cases struggling economies find it hard to refuse what is offered. Developing countries do not have the authority or power to bargain for better deals and often take deals that might not favor them in the long run.

Making fair agreements and choices therefore becomes an issue not only of morality but also of justice (Meckled-Garcia, 2009). Only when freedom from poverty is treated as a right can there be systems put in place in economic circles to protect the poor.

This is because trade agreements can be regulated by international bodies to ensure fairer agreements and transactions (Meckled-Garcia, 2009). In this way ethical choices ca be made since it is clear that decisions by subjects in one jurisdiction can have dire consequences on the jurisdiction of another country (Meckled-Garcia, 2009).

According to Singer (1972), developed countries do now make nearly as much pledge or implementation towards ending poverty in the developing world. When reporting on the refugee situation in east Bengal India in 1971, he noted that countries which were in a position to contribute towards the country failed to do so.

Instead they engaged in other developments (Singer, 1972). He reported that in total out of the country funds given amounted to 65,000,000 million pounds. At the same time Britain committed more than 275,000,000 million pounds to a transport project while Australia gave amounts about 8% of what it spent on an opera house.

According to Singer (1972), this kind of response passes as long as countries take their aids as charity. However if it was part of their responsibility there would be more effort to increase foreign aid and eradicate poverty.

However, this is one area in which there has been and still remains arguments against forcing developed countries to bear the financial burden of developing countries. The developed countries cite their own burdens. In addition have already contributed developing countries through aid, loans and grants for development projects.

Handing out money does not strike them as the solution. Singer however uses arguments in his report to make a case for more responsibility. He argues that developed countries have a moral obligation to aid fight poverty in countries while doing so will not lead to a sacrifice of other things of moral importance (Singer, 1972). It is this international outlook and approach that will lead to enhancement of human rights.

Caney (2007) states that according to the UNDP reports in 2000 more than a billion people have less than a dollar to live on daily. In addition over a billion lack clean drinking waters while about two and a half billion have no sanitation (Caney, 2007). These conditions exacerbate their health problems. Caney (2007) argues that if poverty makes it impossible for people to enjoy other rights like access to food, water and essential health care then poverty becomes a violator of human rights and should be addressed by all stakeholders as such.

Carey (2007) cites the burden that is tossed around in provision of negative rights. Avoiding poverty is a negative right and often times, there is much argument as to who should provide it (Caney, 2007). According to Caney (2007) there have been suggestions to place the responsibility on the national government, institutional schemes and lastly on any persons who are in a position to help.

However all the three parties have a role to play in the eradication of poverty and owe the poor all the help that can be justly given. Carey states that the extreme poverty that is witnessed in the world is as a result of neglect of negative duties by those in a position to effect change. Negative duties in human rights are as binding as positive duties since they contribute to the overall aims of human rights (Caney, 2007).

White and Perelman (2010) like Carey advocate for changes in the approaches used in addressing poverty eradication. They point out to the cultural transformation required in order to make concrete head ways in poverty eradication (White and Perelman, 2010). Unless cultural issues are addressed systems that embed poverty in society will continue to thrive.

Additionally, there has to be a move for a reform in institutions and practical approach to social and economic rights advocacy (White and Perelman, 2010). These according to White and Perelman are some of the ways in which a rights approach would change social, political and economic grounds in poor nations. The people who are in most influential position are developed countries.

Developed countries on the other hand have expressed resistance to shouldering the whole responsibility. Poor nations have a responsibility to sort out their economic, political and social problems. In many ways the developed countries have tried to give aid in various ways.

However governments in the developing countries compromise their efforts. Oborne (2010) in an article states that there has been numerous questions about the real role that foreign aid plays in improving development. This has been further fueled by arguments that the effects of foreign are often unmeasurable (Oborne, 2010). How foreign aid is intended for use and how it is actually used are often different things.

The experiences of developed countries with foreign aid has been negatively affected. In some cases foreign aid has even been associated with human rights abuse. This is because in many cases those who are in power use the funds to oppress their countrymen Oborne, 2010). Funds may often not create the intended effect since there are many factors that the international community cannot help.

One instance of this is funding for education in poorer nations. While schools may be set up and resources given unless efforts are made to create jobs, the economic prospects of those who receive the education are not substantially improved.

Drawing from the experiences of British government aid in Ethiopia Oborne (2010) states that the much of the 300 million pounds sent from Britain towards developmental aid was used to sustain the government in power. The Human rights bodies often find abuse of foreign aid in countries as a result of improper management.

Additionally, funds meant for foreign countries sometimes find their way into the pockets of people in the country of origin (Oborne, 2010). People who have no intentions of making developmental contributions to the developing countries can still set up NGOs. These organizations often have no solid regulations leaving then open to abuse and abuse of taxpayers money.

It is for these reasons that developed countries are resistant to pressure to give aid towards developmental programs. Instead they advocate for deeper collaboration with developing countries. When the developing countries are involved and contribute to the solutions, there is more opportunity for success.

This has been part of the practice in addressing environmental issues. There have been arguments for developed countries to help developing countries reduce environmental pollution. According to White and Perelman (2010) this is one of the issues in tackling poverty in developing countries. Land has been a key issue in fighting poverty in Africa for example. There is need to maximize the use of land so as to maximize food production (White and Perelman, 2010).


Poverty is clearly a big issue that determines if other rights will be achieved. Poverty can be linked to violation of human rights as people and societies try to attain economic development. One of the most effective ways of eradicating poverty is by addressing it from a rights approach because in essence it is a right.

This approach has the opportunity to not only secure favorable assistance from developed countries but will also make developing countries more responsible in eradicating poverty. Only in the context of fundamental need to deal with poverty can real changes be made to human rights as a whole.


Caney, S. (2007). ‘Global poverty and human rights’ In Thomas Pogge (ed.), Freedom from poverty as a human right. New York: Oxford University Press.

Meckled-Garcia, S. (2009). Do transitional economics violate human right? Ethics and Global Politic., Vol. 2, No. 3, 259–276.

Oborne, P. (2010) Overseas aid is funding human rights abuse. Web.

Pogge, T. (2005). Severe poverty as a violation of negative duties. Ethics and International Affairs. Vol 19, Issue 1, 55-84.

Singer, P. (1972). Famine, affluence, and morality. Philosophy and Public Affairs. Vol 1, Issue3, 229-243.

Speth, J. G. (1997). Advocating and promoting governance and UNDP. Web.

Speth J. G. (1998). Freedom from poverty: a fundamental human right. Focus. Vol 12, Issue 3, 14-17.

UNDP. (2005). Human rights in UNDP. Web.

UN News Center. (2006). . Web.

UN Organization. (2010). . Web.

White, L. and Perelman, J. (2010). Stones of Hope: how African activists reclaim human rights to challenge global poverty. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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