Monday, April 21, 2008

Poverty-- violation of human rights

We, 'armchair spectators', talk a lot about human rights, how they are identified, limited, enforced. One thing, however, strikes me. We focus a lot on violence-- armed conflict, wars, etc. Of course, we should be greatly concerned with the degree of violence generated by humanity. But much too often we forget another important condition, as important as the level of violence in the world-- that is poverty. We view poverty as a product of unequal distribution of wealth and unfortunate consequence of market failure. We view the degree of poverty with less negativity and less condemnation than the oppression of civil liberties and violence. But in my opinion poverty is a violation of human rights as much as a genocide. Extreme poverty results in slow deterioration, degradation of human life, a real torture. While not specifically inflicted by another human being, starvation and hunger bring about slow death of a human being. Extreme levels of poverty, those we see in Africa, China, India and Indonesia are prime examples of human rights violations.

Reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we can gather that a human being has a right to life in dignity, to enjoy basic needs of life, such as food, shelter, health. Those are the most basic human rights. After those we have other more secondary rights. But basic human existence dictates some level of livelihood. While violence does negate that, so does extreme poverty, so does hunger. Under international law states are responsible to enforce human rights. Therefore a state that is not capable of eliminating extreme poverty is violating most basic human rights. We focus a lot on states, for example in the Middle East, that have militaristic tendencies. But we do not focus enough on states, those in Africa, that are completely incompetent in providing for their people. While violence and poverty are interconnected, the causal link is not always clear or projected. Does violence breed poverty, or the opposite is true?

Coining certain acts as violations of human rights as opposed to others is also a very political process. Africa will never be in the center of attention nearly as much as the Middle East. Iraq and Iran have received hundred times more attention in recent years than Sudan or Somalia. Of course, nobody even bothered to intervene in Rwanda in 1994 while Yugoslavia received bonuses of accelerated action.

I think, it is time for spectators to take account of certain pronounced disparities in the world arena and start a new identification system for human rights violations.

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