The day after the United Nations World Food Day which we observed on Tuesday, October 16, the world body on Wednesday marked the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty with the significant theme being “Coming together with those furthest behind to build an inclusive world of universal respect for human rights and dignity.”
In a statement, the UN’s Economic and Social Affairs Department said 2018 marked the 70th anniversary of the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and it was important to recall the fundamental connection between extreme poverty and human rights, and that people living in poverty were disproportionately affected by many human rights violations.
World poverty fighter and French Catholic priest, Fr. Joseph Wresinski was the first to highlight this direct link between human rights and extreme poverty. In February 1987, he appealed to the Human Rights Commission to examine the question of extreme poverty and human rights and eloquently captured the nexus between human rights and extreme poverty with his profound observation: “Wherever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, human rights are violated. To come together to ensure that these rights be respected is our solemn duty.”
According to the UN, government policies alone cannot create the social inclusion that is fundamental to reaching those left furthest behind and overcoming poverty in all its dimensions. The commemoration of October 17 each year, when people living in poverty take the floor and share their experiences, demonstrates how we can achieve greater social inclusion by enabling people from all walks of life to come together to respect the human rights and dignity of people living in poverty.
It underscores the importance of reaching out to people living in poverty and building an alliance around their priorities with citizens from all backgrounds to end extreme poverty. It recognizes the important mutual roles and relationships we have with each other based on our common and equal dignity. The persistence of poverty, including extreme poverty, is a major concern for the UN and at its 72nd session, the General Assembly launched the Third United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (2018–2027), under the theme “Accelerating global actions for a world without poverty.” It is important that the Third Decade’s inter-agency, system-wide plan of action to coordinate the poverty eradication efforts of the UN system includes an effective partnership with people living in poverty.
The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty can strongly complement such initiatives because it aims to ensure that the active participation of people living in extreme poverty and those furthest behind is a driving force in all efforts made to overcome poverty, including in the design and implementation of programmes and policies which affect them. Only by creating and nurturing a genuine partnership with people living in poverty will it be possible to build an inclusive world where all people can enjoy their full human rights and lead lives with dignity, the UN says. “Let us remember that ending poverty is not a matter of charity but a question of justice,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says in a message to mark the occasion.
In Sri Lanka, the shaky Coalition Government as often stresses that its’ mission is to build a just, peaceful and all inclusive society, much in line with the UN theme for poverty eradication this year. Although there was a delay of about a three and a half years, the government appears to be going all out to implement major eco-friendly and sustainable development projects such as Gamperaliya, Grama Shakthiya, Enterprise Sri Lanka and several hundred schemes to build houses with basic facilities and a small piece of land for homeless people. As the UN says, just giving some charity like Janasaviya or Samurdhi is not the answer for those trapped in poverty. Instead what need to be done is to give them houses and properties of their own, with provision being made to provide well-paid, productive jobs for one or two members of each family. That will restore their human dignity and their human rights to be responsible citizens who play a role in development and whose voices are heard in decision-making.