Authors discuss how a human rights approach could help reduce poverty

November 10, 2008
By Ana Jatar, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy

In a seminar hosted by The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy late October, economic approaches to reduce poverty and how human rights specialists can contribute to the cause were discussed.

The seminar was part of a book project jointly organized by the Harvard School of Public Health’ s Program on Human Rights in Development, the Centre for Development and Human Rights in New Delhi and the Norwegian Institute of Human Rights of the University of Oslo.

Some authors focused on how the fields of human rights and economics deal, either similarly or differently, with the consequences of globalization and social exclusion. As opposed to individual rights which are the core of basic freedoms with an “absolute and immediate value”, socio-economic rights by their nature are programmatic and can only be progressively achieved. Part of the discussion centered on how a human rights approach to socio-economic policy could help prioritize government actions which best empower the poor instead of those policies more perceived as charity. In other words, according to this perspective, the progressive achievement of socio economic rights could be facilitated by governments which also respect the fundamental individual freedoms and the human dignity guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“We are pleased to contribute to this effort,” said Lois Andreasen, executive director, Carr Center. “The Carr Center is committed to make human rights principles central to the formulation of good public policy in both the developed and the developing world.”

The book looks at the economic, practical and operational implications of defining poverty as a violation of human rights. Authors include Arjun Sengupta, chairman of the Legal Commission of the Poor and UN independent expert on the Right to Development; Siddiqur Osmani, former adviser to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on matters related to economic rights; Professor Bina Agarwal from the Institute of Economic Growth at Delhi University; and Stephen Marks from the Harvard School of Public Health.

As well as considering how human rights parties can work with economic approaches to reducing poverty, authors also discussed how a human rights approach to poverty would play out in the operations of organizations such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

“This initiative will contribute to find intersections between development and human rights which may contribute to alleviate social exclusion and poverty around the world,” said Andreasen.

The meeting was part of a larger plan to establish international institutional collaboration and strengthen research and legal recognition of international economic, social and cultural rights.

For more information on the seminar and the availability of the papers presented please contact

Arjun Sengupta (left) and Siddqur Rahman (right)

Arjun Sengupta (left) and Siddqur Rahman (right) discuss poverty and solutions as part of the book project.

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