I'm just back from the United Nations in Geneva where over 100 representatives from Members States, United Nations' bodies 2011 discuss ways in which to take forward the work on Draft Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. The basis for the meeting's discussion was the progress report produced by the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. The meeting represented an opportunity for stakeholders to take part in a formal consultation exercise to feed into the drafting process of the Guiding Principles.
The Draft Guiding Principles, set to be adopted by the United Nations in 2012, is the first attempt to bring together accepted human rights norms in one text and offers action-orientated steps for practitioners and policy-makers to follow in order to ensure people in extreme poverty can claim and enjoy equal enjoyment of rights, thus furthering the fight against poverty and exclusion.
I was there re representing ATD Fourth World, alongside Florence Tissières, an activist experiencing poverty herself, who is involved in supporting families in the Geneva area who struggle to have their rights respected. She had been invited by the organisers to take the floor and explained that what was needed from the point of view of people in poverty was to look than only the financial aspects. "All the consequences that emanate from surviving against poverty should be taken into account – illness and poor health, debt, exclusion etc. A comprehensive approach is necessary if we want to fight poverty effectively." In conclusion she stated that, "The global fight against poverty never moves fast enough. We expect States to take this report seriously as its content represents a potential step forward for those who are furthest from claiming their rights."
During the two days discussion, participants discussed what needed to be improved in a final text of the Draft Guiding Principles and what was missing that should be incorporated into a final version. Topics addressed ranged from the right of each country to have the means and resources to develop, the effects of corruption on people in extreme poverty and the conditions to be considered in order for the poorest in society to participate meaningfully in anti-poverty strategies.
These kinds of discussion often risk becoming highly technical and forget who the intended beneficiaries of their work. I was fortunate enough to be able to take the floor and recall the participants present of the words of doña Silvia Velasco from a very poor community in Peru, who after the consultation in Geneva in 2009 stated that, "We have sown a seed in the ground so that in the future, our children no longer live in the same poverty as us and so we can reap the fruits of this seed, because they represent the world's future."
The results of this experts' consultation seminar, as well as the written contributions that have been received, will be submitted for revision to the Human Rights Council in March 2012 and will inform the Special Rapporteur in her submission of a final version of Draft Guiding Principles to the Council for adoption in September 2012. In her closing remarks, the Special Rapporteur recalled that, "The timeline must be looked at from the perspective of people in extreme poverty - we must avoid further delay."
In his closing statement, the Ambassador of Morocco said that, "Wherever there is extreme poverty, dignity is swept aside: it's a black zone, without rights. We have lost enough time – 20 years ago ATD Fourth World introduced this idea, and I thank them for it. It's taken 10 years for us to elaborate these Guiding Principles. The essential has been done, we have to finalise them and put them into practice."
It's up to us as civil society organisations to not let States off the hook and see that his words come to fruition.