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The subject of human rights is one that cuts across many aspects of our universal reality. The
Declaration of Rights to Development, endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 1986 and in
Article 1(1) reiterates the fact that every human being has the right and deserves access to
economic, social, cultural and political development, both in terms to participation and
Article 1(2) went further to state that “The human right to development also implies the full
realization of the right of peoples to self-determination, which includes, subject to the relevant
provisions of both International Covenants on Human Rights, the exercise of their inalienable right
to full sovereignty over all their natural wealth and resources.”
Poverty and the alleviation thereof are human rights issues. Poverty was described by Mary
Robinson (former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2004), as “the worst
human rights problem the world faces today.” The presence and existence of poverty brings about
the denial of access to very basic opportunities and amenities, including education, quality
healthcare, satisfactory housing, access to potable water and the privilege of enjoying decent living
conditions. According to the People’s Movement for Human Rights Education “Poverty is a
human rights violation. Every woman, man, youth and child has the human right to a standard of
living adequate for health and well-being, to food, clothing, housing, medical care and social
services.” In this regard, poverty has to be viewed as the deprivation of “basic capabilities” and
not just an issue related to meagre earnings which is commonly considered as the major index used
to identify poverty, even though it is understandable that inadequacy of income is a reason for
poverty which cannot be ignored. (Sen, 2000)
Capability deprivation, as Sen (2000) termed it, is an indication that there is a severe violation of
human rights and the resolution will require a synergy of political, economic and legal approaches.
According to Vizard (2006) poverty alleviation must focus on “the freedom to be adequately
nourished (unaffected by endemic hunger and starvation), the freedom to enjoy adequate living
conditions (with access to adequate shelter, housing, and sanitation), the freedom to lead normal
spans of life (unaffected by premature mortality or ‘excess’ morbidity), and the freedom to read
and write (unconstrained by illiteracy and inadequate educational provision).” The absence of
these freedoms is a violation of human rights and considering the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), party-states must do all that is necessary to
ensure that its citizens and non-nationals living within their territories enjoy these rights,
irrespective of their colour, ethnicity, sex, creed or orientation. Article 2 (1), (2) and (3) of the
ICESCR clearly project that in the preservation of economic, social and cultural rights (and in this
case, the eradication or alleviation of poverty) the governments of the state have got a very
important role to play. The Government of the Republic of Ghana for example, since 2017 began
the implementation of the Free Senior High School Policy, which made access to education at the
secondary school level free for all Ghanaian citizens and even non-nationals living within Ghana.
This increased the number of students admitted into the secondary school system in Ghana from
2017 to date and has also formed a very important instrument for the fight against poverty in the
country. (Abdul-Rahaman et al, 2018)
It must be noted that the fight against poverty from a Human Rights perspective, according to
Banik (2007) will face the major challenge of how international normative standards can be
converted into national practices; the challenge of accountability of donors and multinational
organisations in the fight against poverty, especially in the area of unfair transnational practices;
and the challenge of implementation of international human rights standards on a national level.
This reflects that states and non-state-actors are very important in the human rights approach to
the fight against poverty and the absence of the political, economic and legal will to pursue this
path, would mean that poverty will continue to be the worst human rights problem that the world
faces today. (Robinson, 2004)
In the past, many people held human rights and development to be different. However, the
unfolding trends show that development and human rights have become “separate strands of the
same fabric” to the extent that human rights is one of items that is currently being used to measure
or assess the development level of a society. (Uvin 2004).
Poverty, described from the perspective of capabilities deprivation is an indication that there is
also a development dimension to the situation, thereby making development a human rights issue
as well. The United Nations recognizes that access to good health, quality education and
satisfactory living conditions are measures used in determining the development level of a society.
To this extent, we see again the nexus among Human Rights, Poverty and Development.
The course of development must be enshrined in the pursuit to improve the freedom that people
enjoy and to achieve this, all kinds of deprivation (including capabilities deprivation) must be
eradicated. It does not matter whether or not a person has need for this freedom at a material time,
as the important issue is the fact that the person has the right to choose to participate or contribute
to the exercise of that freedom. Freedom is very important to development as it is one of the items
that helps to create a conducive atmosphere for development to thrive. Furthermore, the presence
of poverty is a deprivation of freedom (Sen, 2000)
The first item on the list of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is the pursuit towards the
reduction of poverty. This goes to buttress that poverty is a major focus on the development agenda
and at the same time is a human rights issue. The reduction or eradication of poverty is a pursuit
that thus plays a dual role, namely, the fostering of human rights and the achievement of
development. (Kaltenborn et al, 2020). When infrastructure is improved, people will have better
access to healthcare and live longer, they will also have access to education and become more
empowered. This is definitely a way to achieve the reduction of poverty.
There is clearly a link existing among the three subjects that make up this discussion, namely:
Human Rights, Development and Poverty. A dedicated pursuit towards the achievement of
development and the improvement of human rights, especially with regards to fostering economic,
social, political and cultural rights, will bring about the reduction of poverty.
A. Sen (2000). Development as Freedom (New York, Knopf Inc.)
D. Banik (2007) Implementing Human Rights-Based Development: Some preliminary
evidence from Malawi. Retrieved from:
Declaration of Human Rights to Development 1986
Human Development Reports (2019). United Nations Development Programme.
Retrieved from: http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/human-development-index-hdi
International Covenant On Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1967
M. Kaltenborn, M. Krajewski, H. Kuhn (2020). Sustainable Development Goals and
Human Rights. (Springer Open)
N. Abdul-Rahaman1, A. B. A, Rahaman, W. Ming, A. Ahmed, A. S. Salma. (2018) The
Free Senior High Policy: An Appropriate Replacement to The Progressive Free Senior
High Policy. International Journal of Education & Literacy Studies. Retrieved from:
P. Uvin (2004) Human Rights and Development. (Kumarian Press, Inc, USA)
P. Vizard (2006) Poverty and Human Rights: Sen’s ‘Capability Perspective’ Explored.
The People's Movement for Human Rights Education. The Human Right to Freedom
from Poverty. Retrieved from:
Ogochukwu Chidiebere Nweke is a Legal Practitioner and a Mediator. He is currently the Vice
President of Synergies Institute–Ghana. You can reach him on bravellb@yahoo.co.uk