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Is poverty a human rights violation?

Is poverty a human rights violation?

NYU economist, FP contributor and aid critic extraordinaire William Easterly says no:

The only useful definition of human rights is one where a human rights crusader could identify WHOSE rights are being violated and WHO is the violator. That is what historically has led to progress on human rights…Poverty does not fit this definition of rights. Who is depriving the poor of their right to an adequate income? There are many theories of poverty, but few of them lead to a clear identification of the Violator of this right.

He writes in part to criticize Amnesty International’s 2009 report (pictured at right) for its inclusion of poverty as a rights violation. In a following post he then publishes a response from Sameer Dossani of Amnesty:

It’s true that lack of income, in and of itself, isn’t a human rights violation. But poverty is about a lot more than just income. As Easterly knows, those who live on less than a dollar a day are poor not just because they lack income; the lack of income implies lack of access to services, clean drinking water, adequate education, housing, employment and so on. All of these are violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights. To give just one of many possible examples, estimates indicate that as many as 8,000 children die daily in Africa alone from preventable diseases such as cholera and dysentery. It’s certainly true to say that these are diseases of poverty – the rich can ensure that their water is not contaminated and can seek treatment at private hospitals as opposed to understaffed government clinics – but they are more than that. They are violations of the right to health and the right to clean water.

Is this more than a semantic debate? Both agree poverty ought to be alleviated and that poverty is connected to actual human rights violations. Easterly calls it “disappointing” that Amnesty is “blurring its previous clear focus on human rights.” Is it? 

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