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International Human Rights Law

International Human Rights Law (4th edn)

Daniel Moeckli, Sangeeta Shah, Sandesh Sivakumaran, and David Harris
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date: 29 January 2023

p. 62230. Povertyfree

p. 62230. Povertyfree

  • Stephen P Marks


This chapter, which addresses the challenge posed by poverty to human rights protection, first explains the meaning of ‘poverty’ and explores its relationship to human rights, development, and social justice. It also considers the context of globalization, and then illustrates the ways in which human rights concerns diverge from those of development and poverty reduction. The chapter examines how economists think about poverty and human rights, and analyses the thinking of governors of central banks and ministers of finance. Next, it addresses the convergence between human rights and anti-poverty agendas, beginning with some economic thinking that is congruent with human rights, and then turns to policies aiming to combat poverty using human rights tools.


This chapter addresses the challenge posed by poverty to the protection of human rights. Human rights define the entitlements considered necessary for a life of dignity in society, including the right to an adequate standard of living, that is, the right to be free from poverty. At this high level of abstraction, the elimination of poverty and realization of human rights are similar in that both clarify what needs to be done so that all human beings enjoy minimal standards of a decent existence. The context for this inquiry is the consensus regarding the imperative of poverty reduction and human rights realization, and the contested interpretations of the relationship between the two. This context will be set out first, followed by a discussion of how international discourses on human rights and poverty diverge and, finally, how they converge.*

1 Introduction

Human rights have emerged in national and international legal systems as a means of enhancing the lives of people in a position to claim their rights. But what do these rights mean for those who live in misery and lack the basic necessities in terms of income, health, education, food, and employment? Without a minimal level of social and economic status, the extremely poor might be expected to see human rights as a luxury beyond their reach. For them, the elimination of poverty is likely to be perceived as the highest priority in the human rights struggle.

There are deep political and even ideological issues involved in the relationship between the elimination of poverty and the struggle for human rights. It has been argued that ‘the present global institutional order is foreseeably associated with such massive incidence of avoidable severe poverty, its (uncompensated) imposition manifests an on-going human rights violation—arguably the largest such violation ever committed in human history’.1 Others would rely on the self-correcting and wealth-generating power of markets, such as those who claim that most of the credit for the success in recent decades in reducing p. 623poverty ‘must go to capitalism and free trade, for they enable economies to grow—and it was growth, principally that has eased destitution’.2 Others have argued that the development of a middle class who exercise economic freedoms under competitive capitalism without state interference should come first and then political freedom and democracy will follow. Are the poor indifferent to human rights beyond the economic and social rights that enhance their economic well-being? Is the way out of poverty to provide economic freedoms under competitive capitalism and thus favour the classes that benefit most from economic growth on the assumption that it is on those classes that the affirmation of human rights must rely and that a rising tide (middle- and upper-class income) lifts all boats (including the poor)? Or is it the responsibility of the state to redistribute wealth so as to eliminate poverty and guarantee all human rights—including economic and social rights—to all, including the poor?

This chapter addresses the relationship between human rights and models of development in response to these questions. If, as the classical liberal model might suggest, human rights are a luxury that comes to people who have risen out of poverty, then it is likely to be limited to what Karl Marx called ‘bourgeois freedoms’—those that protect the interests of the middle class and the rich against those of the poor.3 The first challenge regarding the relationship between poverty and human rights is, therefore, to explore whether, and to what extent, human rights is a regime that is hostile to the interests of the poor. Such would be the case if a narrow interpretation of human rights consisting exclusively of negative freedoms (civil and political rights) were used, rather than the nearly universally accepted understanding of human rights as integrating civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights.4 In other words, if human rights were limited to those rights that protect the interests and wealth of people with resources, then the poor would rightfully be suspicious of them.

While the narrow understanding may still have proponents today (as will be seen), the more widely accepted understanding of human rights is that they not only embrace economic, social, and cultural dimensions but also empower the poor in their struggle against the obstacles to their liberation from misery. As a former Secretary-General of Amnesty International put it, ‘[h]uman rights are claims that the weak advance to hold the powerful accountable, and that is why poverty is first and foremost about rights’.5 From this perspective—and this is the real challenge raised by this chapter—poverty is a human rights issue in terms of ends and means. The end of human rights is to ensure for all—rich and poor—equal rights, including those called ‘economic, social, and cultural rights’, among which is, in the words of Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the right of everyone ‘to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control’. The means of human rights—awareness by rights-holders through learning and accountability of duty-bearers through laws, policies, and enforcement p. 624mechanisms—provide anti-poverty campaigns tools for mobilization and action. Unless and until these ends and means guide popular awareness and the functioning of institutions, poverty will pose a serious challenge to the protection, and perhaps the very concept, of human rights.

2 Poverty and Human Rights

At the outset, it is necessary to define the meaning of ‘poverty’ and explore its relationship to human rights. Development practitioners and human rights bodies have developed a variety of tools for this purpose.

2.1 Poverty as Measured by Development Practitioners

Development practitioners and scholars distinguish between extreme (or absolute) poverty and relative poverty. Extreme poverty is measured by economists as the number of people living on an income below a certain threshold, called the ‘poverty headcount ratio’ and set by the World Bank in 2015 at US$1.90 per day, in 2011 PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) terms. This threshold is the average of the national poverty lines in the poorest 15 countries. According to 2021 estimates, this number declined from 1.913 billion people (35.9 per cent of the world population) in 1990 to 696 million (9.3 per cent) in 2017.6

In 2018, the World Bank added several new metrics: ‘Lower Middle Income Class Poverty Line’ (US$3.20 PPP), ‘Upper Middle Income Class Poverty Line’ (US$5.50 PPP), and ‘shared prosperity’ (progress of the poorest 40 per cent of a population compared to the entire population).7 The first two measure absolute poverty and the third is a measure of relative poverty, which looks at people who are not enjoying the same standard of life as everyone else in the country and measures the level of what households should have to meet their basic needs. Anyone who falls below that level, regardless of the absolute poverty line, is counted as poor. The World Bank has also developed ‘the societal poverty measure’, which varies across countries and within countries over time, using the Societal Poverty Line (SPL). The SPL combines elements of absolute poverty with elements of relative poverty, and has declined at a slower rate than absolute poverty.8

Absolute poverty was declining by about 1 per cent per year from 1990 to 2015 and then fell to 0.5 per cent per year from 2015 to 2017.9 However, this trend is being reversed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is expected to push between 88 and 115 million more people into extreme poverty in 2020.10 Further setbacks are expected as a result of conflict and climate change. The World Bank estimates that 68 to 132 million will be driven into poverty by 2030 as a result of climate change and that 40 per cent of the global poor live in the 37 economies formally classified as affected by fragility, conflict, and violence.11

While calculating the number of people living on extremely low income is a convenient way of identifying poverty, it is widely acknowledged that the definition of poverty p. 625is broader than income data. As the Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen put it, ‘[the] identification of poverty with low income is well established, but there is, by now, quite a substantial literature on its inadequacies’.12 In addition to low income, Sen identifies four types of contingencies that determine variations in the impact of poverty: individual physical characteristics, environmental conditions, social conditions, and behavioural expectations within the community.13 These characteristics vary by individual, family, and society such that a given level of income may result in one person living in poverty in terms of their capability to lead a life they value, compared to another with the same income but whose ‘functionings’ (the term used by Sen for what you actually do) provide a higher level of happiness or well-being. In sum, ‘real poverty (in terms of capability deprivation) can easily be much more intense than we can deduce from income data’.14

Building on Sen’s capability approach, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) launched in 1990 the Human Development Report, which has included since 2009 a Human Development Index (HDI), followed in 2010 by an Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI), as well as the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), developed in cooperation with the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI).15

The MPI uses the same three dimensions as the HDI (health, education, and standard of living). However, instead of the HDI indicators, the MPI uses ten indicators covering, respectively, for health: nutrition and child mortality; for education: years of schooling and school attendance; and for standard of living: electricity, sanitation, drinking water, housing, cooking fuel, and assets. According to the 2020 report, 1.3 billion people (or 22 per cent of the people in the 107 developing countries covered) live in multidimensional poverty, most of whom (84.3 per cent) live in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.16

Building on this challenge to monetary income as a sufficient measure of poverty and further to a resolution of the UN General Assembly,17 the World Happiness Report was first published in 2012. It ‘provides a broader indicator of human welfare than do measures of income, poverty, health, education, and good government viewed separately’.18 It ranks 156 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be, using data from the Gallup World Poll and various academic centres. This index looks at gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, healthy life expectancy at birth, social support, freedom to make life choices, generosity, perceptions of corruption, positive affect (laughter and enjoyment), and negative affect (worry, sadness, and anger). The Nordic countries rank at the top (Finland ranking first) and countries in conflict at the bottom (Afghanistan ranking last).

Whether measured in relative or absolute terms or in terms of capabilities or subjective well-being, the problem of global poverty is staggering in its magnitude and affects both developing and developed countries. It has attracted the attention of the human rights community for decades.

2.2 Poverty as Examined by Human Rights Bodies

In preparation for the drafting in 1948 of the UDHR, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) convened in 1947 a Committee on the Philosophical Principles of the Rights of Man to reflect on an eventual declaration of human rights, p. 626which noted that members of the UN ‘believe that men and women, all over the world, have the right to live a life that is free from the haunting fear of poverty and insecurity’.19 The text of the UDHR reflected this concern in Article 22, according to which everyone ‘is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality’. Those rights are enumerated in Articles 23 to 27, especially Article 25 on everyone’s ‘right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family’. Finally, Article 28 provides that ‘[e]veryone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized’, which also implies the elimination of poverty as a necessary condition for such a social and international order. In 1968, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the UDHR, the International Conference on Human Rights proclaimed that ‘[t]he widening gap between the economically developed and developing countries impedes the realization of human rights in the international community’.20 Thus, the basic idea that poverty and underdevelopment are human rights concerns has been part of the rhetoric of human rights since the founding of the contemporary human rights movement.

It is also reflected in the provisions of human rights treaties aimed at improving the well-being of rights-holders, thus contributing to poverty reduction through the obligations on states to address resource constraints in order to implement human rights norms. Article 2(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), for example, requires states parties ‘to undertake steps, individually and through international assistance and cooperation, to the maximum of their available resources with a view to achieving progressively the full realisation of the rights recognised’ in the Covenant. Poverty is not an excuse for not realizing these rights, as confirmed by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR): Article 2(1) establishes a ‘core obligation to ensure the satisfaction of, at the very least, minimum essential levels of each of the rights’ and ‘even in times of severe resources constraints … the vulnerable members of society can and indeed must be protected by the adoption of relatively low‑cost targeted programmes’.21 The CESCR also interpreted the mention of ‘international assistance and cooperation’ in Article 2(1) as creating an obligation for all those ‘in a position to assist’ (essentially developed countries) to provide that assistance and technical cooperation.22 In 2000, the UN Commission on Human Rights requested the UN human rights treaty bodies to take into account, when considering the reports of States parties, the question of extreme poverty and human rights’.23

The CESCR shared the critique of an income-based definition of poverty in a statement in 2001, endorsing a ‘multi-dimensional understanding of poverty, which reflects the indivisible and interdependent nature of all human rights’ and defined poverty ‘as a human condition characterized by sustained or chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living’.24 It also clarified that ‘[i]nternational human rights provide a framework of norms or rules upon which detailed global, national and community-level poverty eradication policies can be constructed’ and that ‘anti-poverty policies are more likely to be effective, p. 627sustainable, inclusive, equitable and meaningful to those living in poverty if they are based upon international human rights’.25

These interpretations of treaty obligations were further expanded upon by various UN agencies and mechanisms. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights declared in 1998 that extreme poverty was the worst violation of human rights.26 The issue had already been raised by the Commission on Human Rights, which in 1990 requested its Sub-Commission to consider the relationship between human rights and poverty.27 The Sub-Commission appointed Leandro Despouy as Special Rapporteur on human rights and extreme poverty, whose report was published in 1996.28 In a related development, the High Commissioner published in 2001 a document setting out the basic principles of a human rights approach to the process, content, and monitoring of poverty-reduction strategies.29 A mandate of Independent Expert on extreme poverty and human rights was created in 1998. The second mandate holder after AM Lizin (1998–2004), Arjun Sengupta (2004–8), defined extreme poverty as ‘people suffering from income poverty (being below an agreed level of minimum disposable income or expenditure required for leading a sustainable life) and people suffering from human development poverty (without access to, or availability of, certain basic goods and services to make it possible for them to lead a meaningful life) as well as people in social exclusion (without basic security to lead an adequate social existence, dependent on the structure of social relationships)’.30

In preparing the guiding principles on extreme poverty and human rights, the third Independent Expert on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona (2008–14), pointed out that:

Persons living in poverty are confronted by the most severe obstacles—physical, economic, cultural and social—to accessing their rights and entitlements. … Persons experiencing extreme poverty live in a vicious cycle of powerlessness, stigmatization, discrimination, exclusion and material deprivation, which all mutually reinforce one another.31

The fourth mandate holder was Philip Alston (2014–20), who addressed a wide range of issues, including the World Bank, UN responsibility for the cholera outbreak in Haiti, universal basic income, civil and political rights of persons living in poverty, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), privatization, and climate change.32

Olivier De Schutter became Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in May 2020 and immediately focused on the economic recession caused by the COVID-19 p. 628pandemic.33 He has also launched a new approach to human rights and poverty, focusing on what he calls ‘[t]he “just transition” in the economic recovery’, by which he means protecting those affected by the ecological transformation and the economic crisis by creating ‘new opportunities and strengthen the rights of people living in poverty’.34 He proposes a six-component human rights-based transition focusing on progressive taxation schemes; protecting those affected by the ecological transformation; investing in energy, buildings, food, and mobility and moving away from unsustainable consumption-driven growth; reducing inequalities; ‘fighting against the premature obsolescence of consumer goods’; and national action plans ‘based on social dialogue and the participation of people living in poverty’.35 De Schutter has also proposed the establishment of a global fund for social protection to help low-income countries to establish rights-based social protection systems and to improve their resilience against shocks.36 This proposal and his ‘just transition’ ideas are likely to be central to the discussion of human rights and poverty for the coming decades.

3 Divergence of Poverty Reduction and Human Rights Agendas

To a certain extent, the divergence in perspective between the human rights and poverty reduction discourses can be explained by the dominance of law, political science, and philosophy among those who theorize about and develop policies on human rights and the dominance of economics, public policy, and planning among those who theorize about and develop poverty reduction strategies. Some of these divergent ways of thinking are explored in Section 3.1, which examines how economists think about poverty and human rights. Section 3.2 analyses the thinking of governors of central banks and ministers of finance.

3.1 Resistance to Human Rights Discourse in Economic Thinking

Economists and economic decision-makers only rarely invoke human rights concepts, although many are open to related notions. Some economists tend to consider their professional role as value-neutral, offering the tools of analysis to be applied to policies set by others. Other economists address moral dimensions of economic issues, but avoid human rights language. Jeffrey Sachs proposed to end extreme poverty by 2025 through a nine-step programme that he placed in the historical trajectory of the ending of slavery, colonialism, segregation, and apartheid. Although all of these were human rights movements, he did not call them that.37 The reluctance to use human rights language is also found p. 629among other economists.38 Thomas Piketty opens his Capital in the Twenty-First Century with a quote from the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen but only returns to it nearly 500 pages later, without including human rights in his analysis of capital and inequalities.39 A more recent example is Good Economics for Hard Times by Nobel economists Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. Their study of interventions to alleviate poverty through redesigning social programmes argues that the ultimate social purpose of ‘good’ economics is to lift people out of poverty. However, their primary test for progress is GDP growth. Although they acknowledge the implications of growth for human welfare and discuss in detail issues such as discrimination and prejudice, education, employment, and inequality, they do not mention their human rights significance.40

Economists often apply notions of minimum standards, transparency, participation, and the like in the context of development policy, without relating them to a human rights framework. Thus, in the economics literature on international trade, there has been much discussion about appropriate mechanisms to promote labour standards, including addressing child labour in developing countries.41 Likewise, the literature on public services has highlighted how a lack of transparency, insufficient accountability, and corrupt government officials will increase social wastage and distort economic and service delivery outcomes.42 Other research has focused on matters of ‘process’, correlating economic performance with democracy and the rule of law.43

These analyses are illustrative of the divergence between human rights and economic thinking insofar as the authors grapple with many of the same concerns as are used in human rights (fairness, accountability, transparency, labour standards, child labour, democracy, rule of law) without reference to the relevant standards contained in international human rights instruments. Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, in his influential book Making Globalization Work, contrasted how at the national level ‘we argue for and against different policies on the basis of whether they are just, whether they hurt the poor, whether their burden falls disproportionately on those less well off’, whereas in the international arena, ‘not only do we fail to do the analysis, we almost never argue for a policy on the basis of fairness’.44 He does allude in his conclusion to the UDHR but only as something the founding fathers of the USA would be pleased with, rather than as the inaugural document of a rather extensive set of international instruments relevant to reducing what he calls the ‘gap between economic and political globalization’.45

Furthermore, there are many points of tension between mainstream economic thinking and human rights-centred approaches when it comes to defining development goals or implementing anti-poverty policy. One such point of tension is that growth-oriented economic analysis tends to disregard the impact of income on the realization of human rights, such as the rights to health and education or cultural and political rights. Economic analysis and policy interventions are fundamentally about making choices among alternatives in a world of limited resources. In contrast, the language of human rights (and associated obligations towards bearers of rights) appears less forgiving about choices and p. 630options. Rights language tends to be used by economists when it enhances, rather than limits, choices. As Sen has said:

In economics the concept of rights is often invoked … however … [n]o intrinsic importance is attached to the existence or fulfilment of rights, and they have been judged by their ability to achieve good consequences, among which the fulfilment of rights have not figured.46

In his 2015 report on the World Bank, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston underscored the divergence of perspective by describing the Bank as, for most purposes, ‘a human rights-free zone’ that is ‘unable to engage meaningfully with the international human rights framework’.47 The World Bank tends to express broad support for human rights, but does not explicitly adjust its programming to use a human rights approach. Its ‘Human Rights, Inclusion and Empowerment Umbrella (HRIE Umbrella)’ programme pursues five strategic priorities: (1) governance, inclusive institutions, and empowerment; (2) infrastructure; (3) fragility, conflict and violence, and forced displacement; (4) social inclusion; and (5) human rights research and evaluation.48 However, there remain entrenched institutional challenges to human rights mainstreaming, including varying interpretations of the legal constraints, limited staff knowledge about human rights, and attitudes of borrowing countries and other lenders.

Another point of tension between human rights and economic thinking is that, even when the importance of goals other than that of economic growth is recognized in economic analysis, there is a temptation to consider civil and political rights as optional goods that can await a sufficient level of economic growth. The holistic human rights approach would not accept such a trade-off. Economic literature has come down on both sides of this issue. There are scholarly articles, both theoretical and empirical, which suggest that priority attention to political rights, for instance, can make a positive contribution to economic growth.49 Others suggest that economic growth is more likely to pave the way for institutional, including political, development—and that prioritizing political freedom may not be the best strategy for developing countries to pursue economic growth.50 There seems to be little doubt that the enjoyment of political freedoms is positively related to economic growth and that rising living standards foster democratic freedoms, while declining living standards subvert them. However, as Benjamin Friedman has said:

That there is usually more freedom in countries with higher per capita incomes does not by itself reveal whether having a high income leads a society to value and therefore provide these freedoms, or whether having widespread rights and liberties enables a country to achieve a higher level of income—in other words, whether a high material standard of living fosters freedom, or freedom facilitates economic success.51

The more interesting question is how adherence to human rights principles can instrumentally contribute to the effectiveness of economic policy interventions, including those aimed at growth and efficiency.

p. 631Thus, there is no simple answer to the question of how economists think about poverty and human rights. Some attempt to be value-neutral; some favour eliminating poverty through redistribution; some apply the concept of development as freedom; but most favour raising the condition of the poor through market-based growth. The latter group tends to dominate in high-level decision making among central bankers and treasury departments.

3.2 The Perspective of Central Banks and Ministries of Finance

The divergence between human rights and poverty reduction agendas is perhaps best illustrated by the Group of Twenty (G20).52 Founded in 1999, it claims to represent around 60 per cent of the world’s population and 80 per cent of world GDP.53 It describes itself as ‘the premier forum for international cooperation on the most important issues of the global economic and financial agenda’,54 which do not include human rights. The G20 finance ministers and central bank governors meet once a year. Typical of their approach are the statements adopted at their meetings in China in 2005 and in South Africa in 2007, where neither ‘human rights’ nor ‘human development’ is mentioned.55 Following the 2008 financial crisis, the G20 began meeting at the summit level of heads of state and government. The G20 acknowledged ‘the human dimension to the crisis’ but made no reference to ‘human development’ or ‘human rights’, only the rather feeble commitment ‘to support those affected by the crisis by creating employment opportunities and through income support measures’.56 The Pittsburgh Summit the same year expressed the underlying philosophy of the summit: ‘the only sure foundation for sustainable globalisation and rising prosperity for all is an open world economy based on market principles, effective regulation, and strong global institutions’.57 Critiquing the London communiqué of the G20, two human rights scholars noted:

The crisis, its human impact, and the proposed solutions are also issues of international human rights law—and in particular of state obligations to take collective action to create a global economic system amenable to the fulfilment of basic rights to subsistence, security, and freedom.58

The focus on growth continued, including under the Russian presidency in the 2013 summit, which ‘aimed at starting the new cycle of economic growth’.59 In contrast, a group of independent researchers called Civil 20 prepared, for the 2013 summit, a report enumerating among the ‘Common Principles and Policies for All’ the following: ‘good p. 632governance and basic human rights, specifically, universal access to the rule of law, anti-corruption, anti-tax evasion, and equal access to essential food, water, health care and rights of movement for citizens within the country’.60

Subsequent G20 summits have followed the trend of a strong focus on growth with vague references to equality and sustainability and no direct mention of human rights or human development. The communiqué of 2014 alluded to ‘poverty elimination’ but in the context of reducing the global average cost of transferring remittances.61 When human rights is mentioned, the reference is ambiguous. For example, the communiqué of 2016 states that ‘we will reinforce the G20’s efforts to enhance international cooperation against corruption, while fully respecting international law, human rights and the rule of law as well as the sovereignty of each country’.62 In the G20 Leaders Declaration adopted in 2017, contrary to previous documents, human rights is mentioned in relation to sustainable global supply chains; national action plans on business and human rights and elimination of child labour; forced labour, human trafficking, and all forms of modern slavery; displacement and migration; and ‘protecting the human rights of all persons regardless of their status’.63 The growth-based approach to development remained dominant in the G20 summits of 2018 (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 2019 (Osaka, Japan), and 2020 (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia).64

In October 2021, the G20 adopted the Rome Leaders’ Declaration focusing on their ‘common efforts to recover better from the COVID-19 crisis’ and ‘to overcoming the global health and economic crisis stemming from the pandemic’.65 Among these efforts, the Declaration mentions human rights once in relation to the right to education, once in relation to ensuring full respect for the human rights of persons displaced by the pandemic, and once in relation to ‘countering online abuse, hate speech, online violence and terrorism while protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms’, in addition to several significant mentions of women’s empowerment.66

A similar focus on growth and markets as the solution to poverty characterizes the pronouncements of seven highly industrialized nations (France, Germany, Italy, the UK, Japan, the USA, and Canada) known as the G7. Although it is committed ‘to achieve strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth’, the G7 also refers to its ‘shared values of freedom and democracy, peace, security, the rule of law, and respect for human rights’.67

These pronouncements of the G20 and the G7 illustrate an ambiguity regarding human rights and poverty. The confrontation is not between the morally indignant voices of the poor against a band of greedy capitalists meeting in some boardroom in Washington p. 633or London. Many in the anti-globalization movement do indeed claim to speak for the poor, but so do the representatives of the G20 governments, which include India, China, Argentina, Mexico, and South Africa. These are not the forces of evil against the forces of good. They are the principal actors in the global economy and they send contradictory messages about the proposition that human rights have a vital link with poverty reduction. It is little wonder, therefore, that human rights do not figure prominently among the approaches to poverty in vogue in policy pronouncements on the international financing of development. NGOs have continued to address the human rights shortcomings of a wide range of international finance issues, including national development banks, vulture funds, private-market financed infrastructure, financing for development, and tax policy.68

However, the situation is changing progressively as human rights specialists learn more about the economic analyses of poverty and development economists learn about the compatibility of their goals with those of human rights and the instrumental value of human rights for poverty reduction. These trends have opened the space—still fairly restricted—for the convergence of human rights and poverty-reduction agendas.

4 Convergence of Poverty Reduction and Human Rights Agendas

Section 3 illustrated several ways in which human rights concerns diverge from those of development, finance, and poverty reduction. This section addresses the convergence—or at least the trends that demonstrate mutually reinforcing relations—between human rights and anti-poverty agendas, beginning in Section 4.1 with some economic thinking that is congruent with human rights and continuing in Section 4.2 with policies to combat poverty using human rights tools.

4.1 Trends in Economic Thinking Congruent with Human Rights

Apart from the economic studies referred to already, which deal with fairness, transparency, and participation, there is another strand of development economics that acknowledges human rights as providing goals for development: the development ethics movement. The International Development Ethics Association (IDEA), for example, defines its members as ‘a cross-cultural group of philosophers, social scientists, and practitioners who apply ethical reflection to global development goals and strategies and to North/South relations’. They advocate a normative approach to development-based theories ‘that appeal to social justice, human rights, basic needs, and theological understandings of the human condition’.69 In 1989, IDEA adopted the Mérida Declaration, which enumerates among their guiding ethical principles ‘the absolute respect for the dignity of the human person, regardless of gender, ethnic group, social class, religion, age or nationality’.70 Leading development economists, such as David A Crocker, Paul Streeten, and especially Denis Goulet, spearheaded this movement. Human rights and poverty are central to their concerns, although human rights as such is rarely an operative concept in their work.

p. 634Another major exception to the divergence between human rights and economic thinking is the ‘human development and capabilities’ approach, mentioned previously in Section 2.1, which is embraced by UNDP’s Human Development Report and is promoted by an association of academics and practitioners called the Human Development and Capability Association (HDCA). The openness to human rights of this perspective is due to the centrality of the concept of development as freedom and expanding choices. In the words of the Human Development Report:

Human development shares a common vision with human rights. The goal is human freedom. And in pursuing capabilities and realizing rights, this freedom is vital. People must be free to exercise their choices and to participate in decision-making that affects their lives. Human development and human rights are mutually reinforcing, helping to secure the well-being and dignity of all people, building self-respect and the respect of others.71

A third example is William Easterly, an economist who is quite explicit in attributing the failure of many poverty-reduction projects to the failure of economists to break out of their technocratic straightjackets and to apply human rights. ‘[P]overty is really about a shortage of rights’, he writes.72 For him, ‘the poor should have the same rights as the rich’.73

Among government economists, the farther one moves from trade, finance, and treasury departments of governments, including in their multilateral settings of the World Trade Organization and the G20, and the closer one gets to bilateral and multilateral fora for addressing poverty, the more relevant human rights considerations become. This continuum runs from the G20 to the World Bank Group and regional development banks to broad-based deliberative bodies (such as the global conferences and summits, and the UN Economic and Social Council), to development aid agencies and programmes (such as the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and UNDP), to UN human rights bodies (such as the Human Rights Council and the Third Committee of the General Assembly), to human rights treaty regimes and special procedures. To illustrate the gap in approaches to poverty based on growth, on the one hand, and on integrating human rights, on the other, compare the various G20 communiqués discussed in Section 3.2, representing one end of this continuum, with the statement of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on poverty, cited in Section 2.1, representing the other end. In that statement, the Committee regretted ‘that the human rights dimensions of poverty eradication policies rarely receive the attention they deserve. This neglect is especially regrettable because a human rights approach to poverty can reinforce anti-poverty strategies and make them more effective’.74

The World Conference on Human Rights, in its 1993 Vienna Declaration, stated that ‘[t]he existence of widespread extreme poverty inhibits the full and effective enjoyment of human rights; its immediate alleviation and eventual elimination must remain a high priority for the international community’.75 It further affirmed:

[E]xtreme poverty and social exclusion constitute a violation of human dignity and … urgent steps are necessary to achieve better knowledge of extreme poverty and its causes, including those related to the problem of development, in order to promote the human rights of the poorest, and to put an end to extreme poverty and social exclusion and to promote the enjoyment of the fruits of social progress. It is essential for States to foster p. 635participation by the poorest people in the decision-making process by the community in which they live, the promotion of human rights and efforts to combat extreme poverty.76

The test of this commitment to a human rights-based approach (HRBA) to poverty reduction is the extent to which it has been translated into the policies and practices of development.

4.2 Human Rights Approaches in Development Policies and Practices

Human rights have become part of the international development agenda, including poverty reduction, through the introduction of human rights approaches into UN development cooperation, poverty-reduction strategies, the 2030 Development Agenda, and bilateral development programmes. Each of these is examined in this section, before turning to the most systematic approach to integrating poverty and human rights, namely by considering development itself as a human right.

4.2.1 UN development cooperation

In 2003, representatives from across the UN defined a Common Understanding on a Human Rights-based Approach to Development Cooperation.77 This document became a standard reference for translating normative human rights commitments of member states into development cooperation policies and projects of UN agencies, funds, and programmes. In his report Strengthening of the United Nations: An Agenda for Further Change, the UN Secretary-General called human rights ‘a bedrock requirement for the realization of the Charter’s vision of a just and peaceful world’. He listed, among 36 actions to realize this vision, Action 2 designed to strengthen human rights, which integrated human rights into humanitarian, development, and peacekeeping work throughout the UN system.78 Until 2009, this programme supported over 60 UN country teams and their national partners in capacity-building to integrate human rights into their work,79 including by issuing the UN Common Learning Package on HRBA.80 In late 2009, the UN Development Group Human Rights Mainstreaming Mechanism (UNDG-HRM) replaced Action 2 with the overarching objective ‘to further institutionalize human rights mainstreaming efforts in the UN development system and to strengthen system-wide coherence’.81 Currently, the mainstreaming efforts are integrated into the work of the UN Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG) and its Human Rights Task Team. The UNSDG guidance for UN country teams and experts across the UN system mentions human rights 100 times and clearly states that ‘[a]t its most basic level, being left behind in poverty, and without access to education, water, shelter, social protection, security of tenure and basic services, is a violation of human rights’.82

p. 636A related innovation is the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF), a country-level effort integrating human rights in the cooperation framework on the basis of six Guiding Principles, including the HRBA as well as gender equality and women’s empowerment.83 These efforts are consistent with Secretary-General António Guterres’ ‘Call to Action for Human Rights’ on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations in 2020, which includes the principle that ‘[r]ealizing human rights is … intrinsically linked to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’.84

Similarly, the UNDP adopted in 1998 a policy of integrating human rights into sustainable human development.85 Since then, according to the UNDP, ‘human rights have emerged as a key concern of the organization’s development activities’.86 From 2008 to 2013, this policy was implemented through the Global Human Rights Strengthening Programme, which promoted best practices and approaches, including guidelines on issues such as energy and human rights, and supported strategic global, regional, and country-level programming processes. In 2011, UNDP established the Tripartite Partnership to support National Human Rights Institutions (TPP), a strategic partnership with both the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). An example of the work of the TPP is the publication in June 2021 of an overview of the role and activities of national human rights institutions in addressing the human rights dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic.87

4.2.2 Poverty-reduction strategies

After the Asian financial crisis in the 1990s, there was a rethinking in the World Bank and the IMF of their earlier policies of structural adjustment, sometimes taking into account the human rights impact of such policies, but mostly to avoid social impacts that reduce the productivity of workers and the stability of regimes. Health and education are frequently cited as having suffered the most from structural adjustment programmes. In 1999, the IMF and the World Bank launched the Poverty Reduction Strategy process, involving ‘a comprehensive country-based strategy for poverty reduction’. The process was initially linked to debt reduction, but was delinked in 2015.88

Currently the IMF provides support through the Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust (PRGT), consisting of three concessional lending facilities (extended, standby, and rapid credit facilities). The IMF applies some principles, such as national ownership of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, similar to those of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC) discussed later in Section 4.2.4, and relies heavily on World Bank expertise and advice but does not integrate a human rights approach.

4.2.3p. 637 Human rights in the 2030 Development Agenda

Following the commitments made by heads of state at the Millennium Summit in 2000, all governments and international institutions set specific targets for poverty reduction in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While these goals served to guide development planning, they tended to ignore human rights, for which they were criticized by numerous NGOs and academics.89 Considerable efforts were made to integrate human rights more meaningfully into the post-2015 development agenda. The final product that emerged was Resolution 70/1, adopted by the UN General Assembly on 25 September 2015, with the title ‘Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. It enumerates the 17 goals and 169 targets, the first of which is to ‘[e]nd poverty in all its forms everywhere’.90 From the human rights perspective, the 2030 Agenda is certainly an advance over the MDGs, beginning with the affirmation in the preamble that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ‘seek to realize the human rights of all’.91 Compared to the MDGs, which make no reference to human rights, the SDGs contain 14 references to human rights, such as the affirmation, in para 10, that the SDGs are ‘grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [and] international human rights treaties’ and, in para 19, that states are responsible ‘to respect, protect and promote human rights’. The essential tools for tracking the SDGs from the human rights perspective are the global indicator framework developed by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs),92 the Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals,93 and the Human Rights Guide to the SDGs developed by the Danish Institute for Human Rights, which makes links between the 169 targets and the relevant UN and regional human rights, labour, and environmental treaties.94

Implementation of the SDGs is monitored by the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), a UN platform meeting annually under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council, and every four years under the auspices of the General Assembly. Indicators were prepared by the IAEG-SDGs and agreed upon by the UN Statistical Commission in March 2017.95 The Center for Economic and Social Rights commented that ‘the new development agenda could be an important vehicle for human rights fulfilment’, adding that to do so ‘the indicators will also need to be human rights-aligned’.96 For this purpose, it has published a policy brief, enumerating human rights-based criteria for indicator selection.97 Additional monitoring is provided through the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), established in 2015, although the process is not very rigorous and does not explicitly include human rights.98

4.2.4p. 638 Bilateral development cooperation

The trend of national development agencies to adopt human rights approaches has been studied by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank, as part of the effort of the World Bank Nordic Trust Fund (NTF), which was created in 2008 ‘to help develop an informed view among Bank staff on how human rights relate to the Bank’s core work’.99 That study is premised on the proposition that ‘human rights offer a coherent normative framework that can guide development assistance’.100 The advantages identified by the study relate to adaptability to different political and cultural environments, the potential for operationalizing human rights principles, relevance to good governance and meaningful participation, poverty reduction, and aid effectiveness.101 Examples of bilateral policies and programmes applying a HRBA to development are found in Sweden, the UK, Germany, Austria, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, the USA, Switzerland, New Zealand, Norway, and Ireland.102

Efforts to integrate human rights have been less successful in relation to the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, adopted in 2005 by ministers or senior officials of some 85 developed and developing countries and heads of 20 bilateral and multilateral development agencies. The Declaration seeks to reform the delivery of aid and outlines the five overarching principles of ownership, alignment, harmonization, managing for development results, and mutual accountability, with agreed upon indicators, targets, timetables, and processes to monitor implementation. Each of these principles has been examined critically from the human rights perspective in a paper commissioned by the OECD from the Overseas Development Institute, which argues for using human rights to broaden the scope and content of the Paris Declaration commitments and indicators on mutual accountability.103 Although human rights are not mentioned in the Paris Declaration, they are referred to twice in the Accra Agenda for Action, adopted by the Third High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in 2008. The Agenda states that ‘gender equality, respect for human rights, and environmental sustainability are cornerstones for achieving enduring impact on the lives and potential of poor women, men, and children. It is vital that all our policies address these issues in a more systematic and coherent way’.104 The Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, held in 2011, adopted the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, which refers to ‘our agreed international commitments on human rights, decent work, gender equality, environmental sustainability and disability’105 and to rights-based approaches of civil society organizations, which ‘play a vital role in enabling people to claim their rights’,106 but does not add to the human rights content of the Accra Agenda for Action. It called for a ‘new, inclusive and representative Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation to support and ensure accountability for the implementation of commitments at the political level’.107 This GPEDC, consisting of 161 countries and 56 organizations, has since convened three high-level p. 639meetings (in 2014, 2016, and 2019). In its meeting of 2016—the first high-level meeting since the 2030 Development Agenda was adopted—the GPEDC did not go beyond reiterating ‘agreed international commitments on environmental sustainability, human rights, decent work, gender equality and the elimination of all forms of discrimination’.108 In contrast, civil society partners committed to ‘respect and promote human rights and social justice’ and ‘to develop and implement strategies, activities and practices that promote individual and collective human rights, including the right to development’.109 At the 2019 meeting, the emphasis was on aligning the global partnership with the SDGs, monitoring progress, and engaging with the private sector (based on the Kampala Principles), although there was also mention of ‘the central role of gender equality, youth empowerment, and a human rights-based approach for reducing poverty’.110

4.2.5 The right to development

One of the greatest challenges for an economic approach to poverty reduction is to accept the proposition that development itself—essentially an economic process—can be regarded as a human right—an essentially legal and governance concept. The challenge from the beginning has been to translate the hopeful but ambiguous language of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development (1986)111 into concepts that are meaningful to economists and useful to the rethinking of the development process and poverty-reduction strategies. The Declaration does not address poverty as such, although elimination of poverty is implicit in concepts such as ‘constant improvement of well-being’, ‘eliminating obstacles to development’, and ‘access to basic resources, education, health services, food, housing, employment and the fair distribution of income’. The chapter on poverty in the exhaustive OHCHR publication Realizing the Right to Development ‘examines the connection between development processes and poverty through the lens of the right to development’.112 The author recalls the High Commissioner’s statement on the 25th anniversary of the Declaration that ‘[i]t’s not an act of nature that leaves more than 1 billion people around the world locked in the jaws of poverty. It’s a result of the denial of their fundamental human right to development’.113 The UN General Assembly has regularly made the connection between poverty and this right, including recognizing ‘that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is one of the critical elements in the promotion and realization of the right to development’.114

Most developing states use the right to development to voice their concerns about the negative impact of certain aspects of international trade, unequal access to technology, and the crushing debt burden; they favour the idea of an international convention to establish binding obligations to realize the right to development. In contrast, most donor states see the right to development as a way of improving the governance and rule-of-law performance of recipient states, without the need for new binding legal obligations.

The real test is whether the right to development can help to define a middle ground between these two contrasting positions, on which consensus can be sustained and practical p. 640outcomes achieved. The High-Level Task Force on the implementation of the right to development (which functioned under Human Rights Council resolutions from 2004 to 2010) attempted to bridge this gap between political posturing and practical policy in its report to the Working Group on the Right to Development in 2010. It defined the right to development as ‘the right of peoples and individuals to the constant improvement of their well-being and to a national and global enabling environment conducive to just, equitable, participatory and human-centred development respectful of all human rights’.115 The Task Force proposed three components or attributes, which not only clarify the meaning of the right, but specify how it can be instrumental in responding to poverty. The three attributes correspond to the concepts of policy, process, and outcome. The policy defined in attribute 1 is a ‘comprehensive and human-centred development policy’. Attribute 2, focused on process, refers to ‘participatory human rights processes’, that is, processes that conform to rules and principles of human rights, participation, accountability, and transparency. Attribute 3 makes clear that the outcome of action to realize the right to development is ‘social justice in development’ in terms of fair distribution of the benefits and burdens of development. The Task Force also provided criteria, sub-criteria, and indicators to further specify what is expected of national and international development policy and practice conducive to poverty elimination and realization of the right to development.

Since the Task Force submitted its consolidated findings, the Working Group has moved away from refining the draft criteria and instead started drafting a treaty. In 2018, the Human Rights Council called on the Working Group to ‘commence the discussion to elaborate a draft legally binding instrument on the right to development’.116 In 2019, the Council decided ‘[t]hat the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group … will present a draft legally binding instrument’, extending his mandate for another three years.117 The vote on that resolution reflected the continuing political divisions, with all 27 in favour being from developing countries and all 13 against being from Europe, with seven abstentions from Latin America plus Iceland. In December 2019, the drafting group finalized the text, consisting of a preamble and 36 articles, and submitted it to the Council in January 2020.118 Although the draft only mentions poverty once in the preamble as one of ten ‘serious obstacles to the realization of the right to development’, it seeks to advance the ‘right to active, free and meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of benefits resulting therefrom’, which is conducive to poverty alleviation. In October 2020, the Council acknowledged ‘the need to strive for greater acceptance, operationalization and realization of the right to development at the international level’ and ‘the importance of constructive engagement’ by the Working Group in considering the draft treaty.119 At its session in May 2021, the Working Group engaged in an interactive dialogue with various experts and examined the text of the draft treaty, with a number of states expressing opposition to a binding treaty and preference for concentrating on implementation of the 2030 Agenda; the Working Group recommended further consultation with governments and other stakeholders on the draft.120

p. 641Responsibility for the right to development is complicated by the fact that states have not translated their commitment to this right into decision-making in their international partnerships aimed at poverty reduction and, without an explicit mandate, it is unlikely that national and international policies and programmes will incorporate the right to development. Most poverty-reduction strategies are based on political and legal commitments with clear incentives to comply with standards and procedures, often resulting in targeted funding or debt forgiveness. The right to development has no such incentives or a legally binding commitment, and prospects for an international treaty are dim. The right to development is guaranteed in two regional human rights treaties, namely in Article 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 37 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights. However, none of the institutions that monitor implementation of these treaties had taken any significant steps to hold states parties accountable according to these provisions until the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights issued its landmark decision concerning the violation of the right to development as a result of the eviction of an indigenous group from a wildlife reserve in Kenya.121 Article 22 of the African Charter was also found to have been violated by the Republic of Sudan as a result of attacks and forced displacement of the Darfurian people.122 Beyond those cases, there has been virtually no legal accountability for the right to development.

The politics of the right to development is largely a matter of balancing the national and international dimensions of this right, since each dimension reflects the preference of different groups of states. In theory and in the wording of the Declaration, both are complementary rather than conflicting. The greatest challenge in bringing the right to development into the realm of practice is for all states to embrace the indivisibility and interdependence of ‘all the aspects of the right to development’ as set forth in Article 9 of the Declaration and to agree to development agendas consistent with the affirmation in Article 4 that, ‘as a complement to the efforts of developing countries, effective international co-operation is essential in providing these countries with appropriate means and facilities to foster their comprehensive development’. The right to development has so far proved to be too broad in scope and too demanding in terms of structural change to be a significant factor in the practice of poverty reduction. It remains, nevertheless, the most systematic human rights framework for addressing issues of poverty at the normative level.

5 Conclusion

There are two reasons why those who favour the growth model of development resist what they see as the well-intentioned but misguided intrusion of human rights into pro-poor development work. The first is the conviction that economic progress suffers as a result of advancing human rights before a sufficient level of prosperity has been reached. However, the examples of countries that developed rapidly under conditions of human rights deprivation and that liberalized later (for example, Brazil, Chile, South Korea, and Taiwan) are far too complex to be probative, and counter-examples can be found, such as Costa Rica, Ghana, India, Senegal, and Thailand, that did not impose systematic human right deprivation as the price of economic development. The second is that those who have primary responsibility over the economy—ministers of finance and planning, corporate p. 642executives, shareholders, and many academic economists—often assume that human rights are merely matters of legal disputes or strident claims of the political opposition to the government which they represent or with which they cooperate.

However, in response to the challenges posed at the beginning of this chapter, there are compelling reasons why human rights are both definitional of and instrumental to anti-poverty objectives. The definitional component is the common purpose of both human rights and development, which specialists in both fields usually articulate in terms of human welfare. The instrumental component is the relationship between human rights and forms of empowerment that make anti-poverty measures sustainable and equitable.

A powerful justification for human rights in the anti-poverty agenda relates to the proposition that human rights define the same objective as pro-poor development, for which human development is a convenient proxy. From the capability perspective, both human development and human rights increase freedom. From the utilitarian perspective, both enhance human well-being. However, the similarity is diminished if development is defined merely in terms of growth in production and consumption of goods and services, which is the case, in particular, of the G20 process discussed in Section 3.2. Growth is desirable but not as an end in itself; it is a means towards various possible ends. If the end is the enrichment of the few at the expense of the many and of the planet, then it will not help the poor. If it is a means toward sustainable and equitable development, then it must be governed so as to reach that end. Another way of understanding the relationship between the means and ends of development is to recall that ‘[e]conomic growth is often promoted as a means to alleviate poverty; yet even when growth does materialize, its benefits are unevenly distributed and rarely accrue to the poor’.123

Thus, the first step in clarifying in practical terms the meaning of poverty in the context of human rights is to note that pro-poor human development, like human rights, is a process that enables choices by all people to lead a life they value and, thus, enhances their well-being. Human rights are also about creating an environment in which people can develop their full potential and lead creative lives by, in the words of the UDHR, assuring ‘the dignity and worth of the human person’ and promoting ‘social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom’.124 The ultimate objective of both human development and human rights is, therefore, well-being as understood in both fields. The greatest obstacle to those choices is poverty, which is both capability deprivation and a measure of the denial of human rights.

The economic empowerment of people to be subjects rather than objects of their own history, to know, claim, and realize the full range of their human rights is both morally desirable and the principal means to realize what Article 28 UDHR refers to as the right to ‘a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized’. The combats against poverty and for human rights come together in the vision of such a social and international order.

Further Reading

  • Alston and Robinson (eds), Human Rights and Development: Toward Mutual Reinforcement (Oxford University Press, 2005).
  • Andreassen and Marks (eds), Development as a Human Right: Legal, Political and Economic Dimensions (Intersentia, 2010).
  • p. 643Davis, Kjaerum, and Lyons, Research Handbook on Human Rights and Poverty (Edward Elgar, 2021).
  • Egan and Chadwick (eds), Poverty and Human Rights: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (Edward Elgar, 2021).
  • Gaisbauer, Schweiger, and Sedmak (eds), Ethical Issues in Poverty Alleviation (Springer, 2016).
  • Gauri and Gloppen, ‘Human Rights-Based Approaches to Development: Concepts, Evidence, and Policy’ (2012) 44 Polity 485.
  • Hunt, Nowak, and Osmani, Human Rights and Poverty Reduction Strategies: Human Rights and Poverty Reduction: A Conceptual Framework (OHCHR, 2003).
  • Khan, The Unheard Truth: Poverty and Human Rights (WW Norton, 2009).
  • Meyers, Poverty, Agency, and Human Rights (Oxford University Press, 2014).
  • Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights (Polity Press, 2008).
  • Salomon, ‘Why Should It Matter That Others Have More? Poverty, Inequality, and the Potential of International Human Rights Law’ (2011) 37 Review of International Studies 2137.
  • Sen, Development as Freedom (Alfred A Knopf, 2000).
  • Sen, ‘Human Rights and Capabilities’ (2005) 6 J of Human Development 151.
  • Uvin, Human Rights and Development (Kumarian Press, 2004).
  • Vizard, Poverty and Human Rights: Sen’s ‘Capability Perspective’ Explored (Oxford University Press, 2006).
  • Useful Websites

    Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights: <>

    International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: <>

    World Bank: <>

    Oxfam International: <>

    United Nations, SDGs-Poverty: <>

    Centre for Economic and Social Rights: <>

    Danish Institute for Human Rights, ‘The Human Rights Guide to the Sustainable Development Goals’: <>

    Questions for Reflection


    To what extent has the problem of poverty been included in the basic human rights instruments (declarations, treaties, and so on) and procedures?


    What are the most significant divergences in perspective regarding poverty between economists and financial planners, on the one hand, and human rights scholars and practitioners, on the other?


    What are the component elements of, and prospects for, a ‘just transition’ in the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic?


    What practical policies and programmes currently exist or could be established to apply a human rights approach to poverty reduction?


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