Poverty to be UN human rights focus
Rich countries urged to help the poor by cutting farm subsidies and military spending.
Last Modified: 11 Dec 2006 01:31 GMT

Arbour took over as OHCHR chief from Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in Baghdad in August 2003

Indifference and narrow-mindedness from rich countries has hindered efforts to fight global poverty, according to the UN.


Louise Arbour, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said developed countries need to do more for poor people in the developing world by cutting back on billions spent on government handouts to farmers and the military.

The UN set out at the beginning of the decade a millennium development goal to cut poverty in half by 2015. It may, however, fail to reach that goal.


Under the guidelines, rich countries are supposed to increase their development aid to 0.7 per cent of their gross domestic product.

"Many rich countries have yet to meet development assistance targets they have accepted, yet they continue to spend 10 times more on military budgets," Arbour said.
Rich countries spend almost four times more on agricultural subsidies than on development assistance to poorer countries.


Arbour said: Farm handouts combined to "an amount almost equal to the total gross national product of African countries."


"Empowering poor people is a matter of human rights."

Ziad Abdel Samad, ANND

"Poverty must be treated as a matter of justice and human rights, that every country has a duty to address, regardless of its resources."


Ziad Abdel Samad, the executive director of the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) and spokesperson for the UN Millennium Campaign, emphasised Arbour’s point that developing human rights begins with tackling poverty.


"The holistic approach of development should be a human rights-based approach," he said.


"The starting point should be access to work, access to education, and access to services. These are basic living conditions, the basic rights of the human being. 'Human rights' is not something that we are adding to that individual’s life, it is a basic requirement."


Controversial statement


Arbour's statement for this year's Human Rights Day was less controversial than in 2005. Arbour warned that the global ban on torture was becoming a casualty of the "war on terror", singling out reported US practices of sending terrorist suspects to other countries and holding prisoners in secret detention.


Her comments provoked a rebuke from John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN, who said it was "illegitimate for an international civil servant to second-guess the conduct ... in the war on terror, with nothing more as evidence than what she reads in the newspapers".


Human Rights Day


Human Rights Day is observed by the international community every year on 10 December.


It commemorates the day in 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) helps to protect and promote all human rights around the world.


OHCHR, headquartered in Geneva, works to enforce universal principles on human rights, through the promotion of both the universal ratification and implementation of human rights treaties and respect for the rule of law.

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