United Nations Draft Guiding Principles - "Extreme Poverty and Human Rights: The Rights of the Poor"

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In August 2006 the UN Sub-Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, one of the main expert bodies on human rights at the world level, adopted Draft Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. In September 2010, a new outline of the Draft Guiding Principles was presented to the Human Rights Council.


This long process started in 1987 when Joseph Wresinski addressed the United Nations Commission for Human Rights (now the UN Human Rights Council) in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1996 Leandro Despouy, Special Rapporteur, produced a report which was a major step forward in the comprehension of the links between human rights and extreme poverty.

A group of five international experts were named by the Human Rights Commission expert body in 2001 to look into the issue of extreme poverty and human rights.

In 2006 this group of experts, after consultations with people living in extreme poverty across the world, produced a document entitled Draft Guiding Principles “Extreme poverty and human rights : The rights of the poor”.

On November 27th 2006, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution requesting it’s secretariat, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to widely distribute this text and to start a consultation process with all relevant people, including states, national human rights institutes and non-governmental organisations, especially those in which people in situations of extreme poverty express their views.

The draft guiding principles are founded on the indivisibility and effectiveness of human rights and on the participation of the poorest and most excluded. They are the fruit of several year’s work during which people living in extreme poverty and others who are committed closely alongside them participated through various means (meetings, seminars, working papers, etc..).

In 2007 the International Movement ATD Fourth World continued to organize consultations with people living in poverty themselves in order to ensure that their knowledge and opinions directly inform the draft guiding principles. Consultations (often in partnership with other civil society organizations) were held in Peru, France, Thailand, Senegal and Poland.

On October 17th 2007 the International Movement ATD Fourth World presented an interim report of these consultations to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). You can download the report "Dignity in the Face of Extreme Poverty" here.

A meeting was held in Geneva with the OHCHR on October 19th 2007 with representatives with first hand experience of poverty from the countries in which consultations were held. They presented the consultations, their opinions and concrete examples of human rights violations resulting from extreme poverty to government representatives and NGOs present in the debate.

For more information please contact us.

Possible next steps

  • In 2008 States will have to make a decision on how to proceed with these draft guiding principles and may wish to establish a working group.
  • The text is already considered as "soft law" in international law, and it can be quoted and referred to.

Contribute to the Consultation

The Human Rights Council launched a wide consultation on the draft guiding principles (deadline 31 October 2007) - for more information click here

The United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) held an online consultation, the results of which can be found here.

Further Information

You can download the draft guiding principles in English, French, and Spanish.

Discussion Tool by the NGO Subcommittee for the Eradication of Poverty, New York.

What are the aims of the draft guiding principles ?

  • provide all actors (states, institutions, citizens) with a comprehensive human rights based framework for eradicating extreme poverty
  • identify human rights violations as a root cause of poverty and an obstacle to the eradication of poverty.
  • confirm the indivisibility of human rights, and that all rights must be seen as interdependent and equally important.
  • highlight the capacity and right of people in extreme poverty to participation in all aspects of society, in particular poverty eradication initiatives.

What can others NGOs and organisations do?

  • Disseminate the text and invite others to comment.
  • Lobby your government, UN agencies, Special Rapporteurs, etc to read the text and send comments to the OHCHR before October 31st 2007.
  • Translate the draft guiding principles into languages in which it does not currently exist.
  • Put articles and pages on extreme poverty on your website
  • NGOs have a special responsibility to ensure that people living in extreme poverty and those committed to them are informed of the process and have the opportunity to comment.

Highlights from the Draft Guiding Principles

  • Calls for the “ effective realization of all human rights for all human beings, including those suffering from the greatest poverty and the greatest exclusion, on the basis of close cooperation with the latter”
  • “Extreme poverty persists in all countries of the world regardless of their economic, social and cultural situation”
  • Those living in poverty … are the first to act to change their situation and that of their families, and … their efforts should be identified and supported as a matter of priority.
  • "The inherent dignity of all the members of the human family and their equal and inalienable rights demand that priority attention should be given to those suffering most from poverty and exclusion,"
  • "States … have an obligation to take effective action to eliminate extreme poverty … they must act in a structured and accountable manner, in partnership with persons living in extreme poverty, and must periodically report on their actions.
  • "Persons living in extreme poverty have the right to participate in all activities which concern them them… The implementation of such policies and programmes without the participation of the persons concerned …constitute a violation of the right to participate in public affairs.."
  • "Discrimination affecting persons living in extreme poverty must be punished as a violation of human rights. The stigmatization of the poor and their associations, groups, neighbourhoods or places of residence, and their representation as persons without rights who are dangerous, violent and display other negative characteristics, must be regarded as forms of discrimination. Discrimination against the poor based on their image, their dress, their physical appearance or any other grounds related to their situation of extreme poverty constitutes a human rights violation. The State, international agencies and other parties concerned have an obligation to criticize and combat stigmatization of the poor and to promote a balanced and fair image of persons who are in a situation of extreme poverty."
  • "The international community must … back … voluntary work in support of the poor, especially efforts to combat poverty and establish, … a climate of solidarity ; it must encourage poor people’s organizations and social movements seeking to eradicate poverty with a view to the attainment of human rights.
  • "States and the international community should celebrate on 17 October the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty … which affords an opportunity to give due recognition and lend weight to this campaign."


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Discussion Tool

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Wherever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, human rights are violated.
To come together to ensure that these rights be respected is our solemn duty.

Joseph Wresinski

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