Extreme poverty

11/11/2000
Human Rights Commission

Statement on Special Debate. Joint Oral Statement by 19 NGO's.[i]



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Unofficial translation from the French

We are witnessing this Commission on Human Rights a shift in semantics that may prove to become very harmful. For example, there is more and more talk of “extreme poverty” and less and less about “poverty”, or of “debt of the most indebted countries”, or of countries having “suffered a major natural catastrophe”. The issue of “Third World debt” as such is treated as an intangible element on the world scene.

Certainly the eradication of “extreme poverty” on our planet is highly praiseworthy, just as is the immediate cancellation of the Mozambique’s foreign debt which can only be applauded. But these are emergency measures which should not even have to be discussed. To stop there, to make these acts the objective of concrete and practical steps risks distancing ourselves from dealing with the roots of the problems posed, and from strategies to achieve our fundamental objective: the realization of human rights.

Practically all reports issued and indicators elaborated by the various UN agencies highlight from differing angles one fact: in these past decades, the gulf between the rich and the poor within nations, as that between the rich regions and the poor regions has considerably deepened and with it the resulting deterioration of human rights. Poverty is rooted in this relationship. To change this situation requires by necessity to attack the economic and social mechanisms which are responsible for the majority of the worlds inhabitants to barely cover their most basic needs, while a minority literally does not know what to do with its money.

In other words, the fundamental cause of poverty lies in the current organization and line of production, although always more abundant, and in the unjust distribution of the fruits of labour. To make a distinction, largely arbitrary in fact, between “extreme poverty” and “poverty” does not resolve in any way the problem and prevents the real tackling of the root of this scandal which undermines human rights.

In the same way, to speak of reducing or canceling the debt of this or that country does not resolve the problem of the debt burden of the Third World which continues to grow and to weigh more and more heavily on the future of most of the nations and people on our globe. It is necessary to understand its origin and to deal with the faulty mechanisms. Let us be clear that all the lightening, reduction or cancellation of the debt of the developing countries is not more than an advance on what is due to them in the face of the historic robbery of which their people have been the victims. Because of lack of time, we will not go into its multiple aspects, from the colonial conquests to every kind of plundering, passing by the slave trade and genocide committed against the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

“Poor, heavily indebted countries” will not be eligible for lightening of the tax burden through the new Structural Adjustment Programme, re-baptized “Strategic Framework for the fight against Poverty”, unless the government commits to fight against poverty. Poverty as a new conditionality in international financial assistance, one must be dreaming! For years these countries have suffered the negative effects of the structural adjustment programmes, the growing poverty of their populations being directly related to these measures the IMF and the Bank imposed on them. And today – while they must continue to apply these famous adjustment programmes – they are to find the means to eradicate this poverty. But is this surprising? Has the World Bank not just published a study explaining that poverty is a phenomenon of which the States alone are responsible?

Does one need to recall that numerous studies have shown the devastating effects of these adjustment programmes which increase the fragility of the economies of countries in which they are applied and in which in consequence the phenomena of poverty grows for the majority of the populations ? As an example, the reports on sub-Saharan Africa by UNCTAD prove that African countries have gained no profit whatsoever from more than 10 years of the adjustment regime: a backslide in household consumption, lowering of production by local producers for the internal market, growing food dependence, acceleration of the fall of prices for goods exported by Africa for the international market, to cite only a few of the fatal consequences.

To understand the origin of the debt and change the mechanisms is urgent and imperative if the scandal that makes people have to “adjust” to the demands of “globalization”is to end, and instead have globalization adjusts to the needs of the people, to the needs of the human being. Also, let us note that the more globalization spreads its commercial web over the world and in return concentrates the wealth in ever smaller circles, the wider will poverty spread, increase and intensify. From this point of view, is not one of the faces of savage globalization the democratization of misery, the sharing of the end? Every day, the army of the poor is reinforcing its ranks, incorporating those ejected by the prodigiously advancing high technology. “More than 80 countries have a per capita income lower today than they had ten years ago, warns UNCTAD! If there is one army that merits the name of “grand army of the silent” it is that of the poor. One does not hear them, or only very little. They lack the means of informing themselves and even more of informing others.

In view of the above, should the struggle against poverty in the world be reduced to throwing crumbs into the basket of the poor, or, on the contrary, be to revise the mechanism of globalization and to distribute equitably the riches of the world?

List of Undersigned NGO:

[i] Non governemental Organizations in General Consultative Status

1. Europe-Third World Center
2. World Federation of Democratic Youth

Non governemental Organizations in Special Consultative Status

3. Africa Commission of Health and Human Rights Promoters
4. American Association of Jurists
5. Centro de Estudios Europeos
6. Centro de Estudios sobre la Juventud
7. International Indian Treaty council
8. Federation of Cuban Women
9. International Association of Democratic Lawyers
10. Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees
11. North-South XXI
12. Organization for the Solidarity of the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America
13. Permanent Assembly for Human Rights
14. Union of Arab Jurists
15. United Towns Agency for North South Cooperation
16. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

Non governemental Organizations on the Roster

17. International Educational Development
18. Movement Against Racism and For Friendship Among Peoples
19. International Federation of rural Adult Catholic Movements


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