The question of extreme poverty in the 1990 Turk Report

United Nations COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities Forty-second session - 6-31 August 1990


Realization of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Progress report prepared by Mr. Danilo Türk, Special Rapporteur


1. In its resolution 1989/20, the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities welcomed the preliminary report entitled "Realization of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights" (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1989/19) and endorsed the preliminary conclusions of the Special Rapporteur in that preliminary report (para. 94).

2. The Special Rapporteur established contacts with the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and discussed with the members of the Committee, during the Committee’s fourth session, questions considered in the preliminary report.

3. The Commission on Human Rights, in its resolution 1990/16, welcomed the dialogue thus established between the Committee and the Special Rapporteur. Furthermore, the Commission welcomed the preliminary report on the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, invited the Special Rapporteur to take into account comments made by the Commission on Human Rights and requested that in the report priority be given to identifying practical strategies to promote for everyone the economic, social and cultural rights contained in the Covenant, paying particular attention to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. By resolution 1990/24, the Commission expressed its appreciation of the preliminary report; invited the Sub-Commission to submit the second report of the Special Rapporteur to the Commission at its forty-seventh session; and invited Governments which so desire to provide the Special Rapporteur with their comments and the information at their disposal about their experience concerning the impact of economic adjustment policies arising from foreign debt on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.

4. The Special Rapporteur has proceeded with the preparation of the present progress report from the basis laid down in the preliminary report, taking into account comments made by the members of the Sub-Commission at its forty-first session, the comments made by the members of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and by the Commission on Human Rights.

5. The work of the Special Rapporteur thus undertaken relates to all major areas identified in the preliminary report. The present progress report contains information concerning those areas in which the results achieved so far can be processed in this form and require comments by the members of the Sub-Commission and other interested United Nations organs. Thus the present progress report contains three chapters and preliminary recommendations regarding future work. Chapter one provides information on social and economic indicators and their role in the realization of economic, social and cultural rights; chapter two is devoted to further standard setting in the area of economic, social and cultural rights, and in chapter three the question of extreme poverty is discussed.

6. The Special Rapporteur also started analysis of other areas identified in the preliminary report. Thus a bibliography of main texts relating to the realization of economic, social and cultural rights in the context of structural adjustment was prepared and can be made available to the members of the Sub-Commission for consultation and comments. The Special Rapporteur initiated the necessary action to establish direct contacts with international financial institutions, notably the World Bank. The documents which were so far made available to the Special Rapporteur suggest that there is a number of areas of work of the World Bank, including those relating to the questions of poverty, popular participation and the role of non-governmental organizations, where questions concerning the realization of economic, social and cultural rights arise and where further analysis and consultation with the World Bank appears to be useful. However, since direct contacts with the World Bank and with other institutions in this field had not been established until the preparation of the present progress report, the consideration of such questions will take place at a later stage and will be presented to the Sub-Commission at its next session. The same suggestion is made regarding questions of co-ordination of the United Nations bodies and agencies relevant to the realization of economic, social and cultural rights.

7. Given the complexity and diversity of questions to be considered in the framework of the study on the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, it seems necessary that a second progress report be prepared for consideration by the Sub-Commission. Recommendation to this effect is made among other recommendations in this progress report.



A. Right to adequate housingEdit

B. Land rightsEdit


139. In the preceding parts of this progress report we discussed questions relating to assessment of actual progress in the realization of economic, social and cultural rights. We have seen that social and economic indicators can be useful in that context, particularly as they help to evaluate the material aspects of the realization of these rights over a period of time. We have also seen that the question of usefulness of indicators in the context of the problem of violations of economic, social and cultural rights is more difficult and requires further consideration. Further development of more precise international standards regarding the economic, social and cultural rights seems to be necessary, particularly in the area of social rights. The experience of ILO in regard to standard-setting is of particular importance in this connection. One is led to believe that development of an appropriate methodology in the field of indicators and further standard-setting represents two parts of a task which will have to be pursued in parallel in future activities in the field of realization of economic, social and cultural rights.

140. An additional task in this framework relates to better understanding of the problem of extreme poverty and to possible action in that regard. In our preliminary report (paras. 38-51) some of the basic problems were mentioned. It remains the opinion of the Special Rapporteur that the question of extreme poverty should not be seen only as a social phenomenon requiring further study and analysis, but also as a problem which requires strong moral and political commitment aiming at eradication of poverty. Human rights norms provide a normative basis for such commitment and, indeed, it could be argued that human freedom calls for such a commitment. As said in the preliminary report (para. 46), the words "poverty" and "poor" should not be understood as suggesting passivity of the poor. The poor should be seen as subjects and partners of change rather than "objects" of anti-poverty action.
141. For these reasons, in the process of preparation of the present progress report, the Special Rapporteur has engaged in extensive consultations with ATD-Fourth World, the organization which has gained important experience in anti-poverty activities based on active involvement of the poor. The following paragraphs of the present progress report represent the outcome of these consultations and the contribution of ATD-Fourth World to this report.

A. IntroductionEdit

142. As an introduction to the question of extreme poverty, it is necessary to go back to the concept of human dignity. Discussion of the indivisibility of human rights involves consideration of the indivisibility of the individual and his dignity; recent discussions on human rights and the right to development have stressed the fact that the individual and his dignity must be at the centre of all development efforts. [1]

143. Knowledge of the daily experience of persons in a situation of extreme poverty is important for an understanding of the notion of human dignity.

144. For a person who cannot assume any external signs in order to assert his dignity, who cannot conceal his dependence on others with social, economic or cultural achievements, who has nothing but his human nature and that of his family to show the world, the assertion of dignity can be summed up in the question: "In your eyes, who am I?

145. To convince a person of his inherent dignity, another person is needed. For dignity to continue to be asserted in the community of mankind, everyone would therefore appear to need a partner to confirm or even reveal his dignity to him. For human dignity to be able to fulfil its role as the spring of human rights, it is not enough for the individual to carry within himself the deep-rooted conviction that he is endowed with dignity, that he is "not a dog"; this feeling must be confirmed by someone else.

146. In your eyes, who am I? ask the world’s poorest. Indifference to this question stifles human rights before they take shape and prevents the source of human rights - human dignity - from flowing. The mutual recognition of human dignity has in our opinion two main consequences for the realization of all human rights:

(a) Human dignity is "untamable": the fact that it has its roots in the very essence of the human condition makes its codification difficult. One might be tempted to say that, by definition, it cannot be reduced to norms. It goes beyond human rights, once these have been defined, demarcated and contained in texts regulating human relations. The promotion of human rights can therefore take place in the international community only if awareness of them and their observance are nourished by a constantly-renewed identification of the demands of dignity, as the human environment evolves. Within this evolution, the experience of the weakest, and their question "In your eyes, who am I?" may be the guiding experience in the endeavours to bring about renewal.

(b) Human dignity appeals to fraternity: Those concerned about human rights when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drawn up had comprehended that human dignity can prevail only in a spirit of fraternity; the concepts of the human family and the duty to behave towards others in a spirit of fraternity are inherent in human rights thinking.

147. But have the world community and the nations of the world always drawn the lesson from this? Are human rights always observed in the light of the question asked by the most impoverished: In your eyes, who am I? Do our instruments for the protection of economic, social and cultural rights in particular, but also of civil and political rights, always reflect a fraternal purpose?

148. When it is a question of putting fundamental rights into practice, the question "In your eyes, who am I?" becomes more relevant; are you ready to put this fraternity into practice, and have my hopes become your hopes?

149. Father Wresinski and the International Movement ATD-Fourth World have emphasized to the international community that putting human rights into practice in a fragmentary fashion (to be distinguished from putting them into practice by stages) is a betrayal of the spirit of human rights, which requires that every right granted should express a desire to foster the overall development of the individual, that it be the initiating factor for a set of rights necessary for that indivisible whole: the human person.

B. Enabling persons and groups living in a situation of extreme
poverty to make known their experience of impoverishment and
poverty: a fundamental act of democracy

150. When the Commission on Human Rights adopted the resolutions on human rights and extreme poverty[2] at its forty-fifth and forty-sixth sessions, it stressed the need for better knowledge of the phenomena of extreme poverty and of its causes. In this first section, we should like to make some comments on the type of knowledge that will enable these issues to be tackled.

151. During the discussions on the need for a more thorough knowledge of extreme poverty, many obstacles were identified: the heterogeneous nature of very poor populations, the lack of statistical data and the uncertainty as to the best methods of obtaining them, and the complexity of the causes of impoverishment. The aim of the present contribution is not so much to find answers to these questions or to consider means of gaining knowledge[3], as to identify the spirit in which the search for knowledge may be carried out.

152. The dignity of the individual can reach fulfilment only if it is revealed or confirmed by a partner. The endeavour to understand extreme poverty derives from the same relationship of partnership and fraternity. It reflects the desire of the non-poor to know and their refusal to be indifferent. We must therefore seek to understand the thinking of those who are afflicted by extreme poverty and to create the conditions in which they may freely express their thoughts.

153. This search for knowledge, a dynamic confrontation resulting from a refusal to be indifferent, is an expression of the joint desire of the non-poor and the poor to combat extreme poverty together.

154. Consequently, the efficacy of familiarity with extreme poverty would seem to depend less on the precision of the technical instruments (statistics, surveys) available than on agreement (through shared familiarity) on the goals to be achieved and the means to be used in combating extreme poverty.

155. The creation of familiarity, viewed as a dynamic interaction between the non-poor and the poor, then emerges as a democracy-creating process. Recognition is followed by acquaintance when human dignity is given room to develop.

C. "Where people are condemned to live in poverty,: human rights are violated" - how and why?[4]Edit

The extremely poor, defenders of human rightsEdit

156. The manner in which persons in a situation of extreme poverty refer to their condition itself reveals how poverty is a violation of human rights. The experiences to which they refer compare with those mentioned by other victims of human rights violations: "I always look behind me when walking in the street"; "I felt that I was being watched"; "They persuaded me that it would be better to give my child up. I changed my mind very quickly but I couldn’t have my way because I was under too much pressure"; "They came to get me to put me in a psychiatric hospital".

157. The very poor are repeatedly told: "You’re a useless parasite and a nuisance to the community in which you live". Such remarks, when endlessly repeated, finally sow doubt in the minds of those to whom they are addressed and sap their strength.

158. The common experience shared by victims of human rights violations and men and women living in extreme poverty should make us appreciate how the poorest of the poor, in their situation of extreme dependence and weakness, strive to resist the destruction of their dignity and to be upholders of human rights, in their own situation and by their own means.

159. All those who have been offended in their dignity have experienced the effects of man’s temptation to gain power over his brother, and learned the limits to fraternity that are set by our communities. Beyond those limits, the fate of some is internment of all kinds; others are abandoned outside time and space - two facets of the same denial of fraternity and dignity.

160. Is it then possible to identify human rights violations in the ensnaring web of poverty?

The poverty trap and human rightsEdit

161. We should remember that the very poor are involved in a daily struggle. Poverty is not a static state but is made up of daily accumulations of privations, dependence and resistance to destruction and to self-destruction.

162. In order to show the need for a closer study of this complicated situation in the light of human rights, it is perhaps useful at this point to try to understand what Father Wresinski described as the "violence done to the poor", the "torture of poverty" and the "violation of human rights".

163. He meant by this the torture of the daily concern not to dissatisfy those who have power over you; the torture of slum housing which destroys all family harmony; the torture of silence which forces the poor to let their minds wander in circles and to destroy themselves; the torture of contempt.

164. Poverty is violence done on the bodies of the poorest whose only capital, as poor children, young people, women and men, is the physical strength they are obliged to live off from their earliest years (child labour, prostitution), when they must use up their bodies, extract from them more strength than they possess (conditions of work and enforced idleness of the poorest men and women) in order to produce the necessary means of providing shelter and food and bringing up their families.

165. Can this violence done to the poor be identified as a violation of fundamental rights for which remedy can be obtained through the courts? Different answers must be given here.

166. The road down to the depths of poverty is paved with human rights violations that are recognized and protected by international and national instruments. The paving of this road is constituted by discrimination against persons in a situation of inferiority, and particularly economic inferiority, in the exercise of human rights or lack of access to means of monitoring the implementation of guaranteed fundamental rights

167. One might wish to describe impoverishment - i.e., the road from relative poverty to extreme poverty, and thus towards extreme dependence on the goodwill of others in economic, social, political and cultural matters - as a succession of passive discriminations, or discriminatory omissions in respect of recognized fundamental rights, and the impossibility of securing justice.

168. At the end of the road, however, the discrimination becomes more active. A person in a situation of extreme poverty is liable to lose his rights and become an "outlaw". The collective memory of the very poor is familiar with this phenomenon. "I don’t have such rights" is their first reaction to texts such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The right to protection of family life, to freedom of opinion and association and to adequate social services has been "lost".

169. Careless or blind discrimination against those in a weak position leads to cessation of fraternity, crossing the boundary of the poverty areas of the world, beyond which people are "sunk", "trapped", as if they did not exist.

170. The process of impoverishment may thus be seen as a series of violations of fundamental rights at the conclusion of which those living in poverty are more liable to find themselves subject to the "restrictive clauses" that our international and national instruments allow, than to be recognized as defenders of human rights. It is clearly for that reason that so many different answers must be given to the question as to what forms the basis of the assertion that "poverty violates human rights".

171. Of course, no one wished to infringe the freedom of the family, but, because he did not have a recognized place of abode, Mr. R. did not get his voter’s card. The police did not come at 5 o’clock in the morning to arrest him but Mr. R. and his wife have been hiding their youngest child for some months because they are afraid that he will be taken away from them on account of the conditions in which they live[5].

172. In 1984, George Orwell describes a torture session during which a man is forced to admit that he has only four fingers when he actually has five.

173. A woman whose third child was taken away at birth says publicly: "I have two children". Privately she says of her third pregnancy: "I tried to pretend that nothing had ever happened; the doctor told me to put on mourning as if my baby had died."

174. Is this not also a way of truncating the essence of an individual, his awareness of body and mind, in order to assert power over him? In this case it is not political power, but the power of those who decide what is good for the poor, often without taking their opinion into account.

175. Poverty is a flagrant violation of human dignity and yet so difficult for legislation to cover. Learning from the poorest what these violations may entail in order constantly to improve on necessarily inadequate legislation - this is the object of becoming acquainted with extreme poverty in order to protect human rights.

D. Every conquest of a corner of freedom, achieved through the courage of the very poor in defending human dignity, opens up society as a whole to a renovation of its human rights practiceEdit

176.Another vital challenge is to learn how human rights can be restored through experience of action taken by the very poor within their community.

177.It is essential, in order to learn what are the links between human rights and extreme poverty, to try to understand not only the sequence of events leading to loss of rights but also what contributes to their restoration. This will provide us with a wealth of examples for safeguarding and promoting human rights.

178.As was mentioned in the introduction, human rights can be understood only in relation to the idea of fraternity. Poverty, exclusion from society, or the denial of human rights to an individual or a group means that the chain of fraternity has been broken.

179.In a southern Sahara shanty town where everyone lives in privation, they say "those over there are the poor", referring to those who no longer have social relations and who also live apart. To be "poor" is to have no one to fall back on as a last resort when the risks of life have used up all one’s resources.

180.The R. family, mentioned earlier[6], has been living for four years in the basement of a ruined house on the outskirts of the capital of an industrialized country. In order to hasten their departure, the cemetery where the R. family obtained its water supply has been closed. Their application to be rehoused in a neighbouring complex was denied on grounds of fear that they would not know how to behave like good neighbours.

181.It is necessary to understand how any conquest of freedom based on the courage of the very poor in defending human dignity aims at restoring fraternity, and opens up society as a whole to a resumption of the observance of human rights.

182.This means identifying and retracing the paths which, for example, led a group of women banished from their communities to secure not only the lifting of the invisible and tacit ban against them, through restoration of freedom of opinion and association and then of the right to work, but also through a new awareness in the community and local associations of the respect due to the weakest and of their potential.

183.It would be desirabe to study how groups of young people who are street-dwellers or in prison can progress towards the realization by themselves and by the surrounding community that their life may have a meaning and that the community would betray its own values by abandoning them.

184.Poverty weighs on such young people in that they are convinced that they have sullied the family name. Slowly, through assertion, here too, of their right to express themselves, to obtain an education and to work, joint achievement proves possible and this, for an entire milieu, including these families, breaks the spell of the fatality of poverty, experienced or tolerated.

185.It would also be necessary to investigate achievement of the right to education in a slum, or for a totally isolated small family group camping out in a prohibited area of some metropolis. The manner in which recognition of the fact that the most forsaken children have this right makes an entire community shake off its enforced immobility should also be studied.

186.Finally, emphasis should be placed on the dynamism essential to the promotion of human rights that lies hidden in the hopes, experiences and dreams of the world’s most destitute men, women and children, and on the fact that, to reveal it, others must bear witness to human dignity. To enable individuals and groups living in extreme poverty to convey their experience is a fundamental act of democracy.

187.It is necessary to develop both awareness of human rights and knowledge of the conditions for their exercise. Creation of a soil in which human rights can be exercised is in itself a step towards realization of those rights

188.In seeking to understand extreme poverty we must therefore depict the daily courage of the most destitute, as a preface to any project for the promotion of human rights and to any development project, whatever its economic, political or cultural context.

E. The realization of human rights, and particularly of economic, social and cultural rights: some issues considered from the standpoint of persons living in extreme povertyEdit

189. The realization of human rights is not concerned only with economic, social and cultural rights. The experience of those most exposed to discrimination because of their extreme poverty clearly reveals the indivisibility of human rights. Therefore, before considering in greater detail the question of the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, it seems essential to explain how the situation of the most destitute reflects the indivisibility and the interdependence of human rights.

190. It seems essential also to comment briefly on the concept of "partnership", an essential factor in the realization of human rights.

1. The indivisibility of human rights considered from the standpoint of persons living in extreme poverty

191. After we have seen how human rights are violated by poverty, the question of indivisibility seems almost to be self-evident. It is obvious that poverty tortures the individual concerned both physically and spiritually, through the material and non-material conditions of his existence. It inspires him to resist in order to safeguard his dignity by all possible means. The defence of economic, social and cultural rights and of civil and political rights is one and the same.

192. It is important to understand to what extent economic, social and cultural dependence constitutes an impediment to a person’s freedom as a citizen; there is no freedom of thought for the person who must get on well with present or putative creditors ("You have to be on good terms with everyone"); and there is no freedom of expression or association for those who have to "maintain a low profile". Freedom of thought, of choice, of opinion, of commitment, all freedoms in fact disappear vis-à-vis anyone who controls the livelihood and existence of the very poor and their families, whether it be an employer, a local authority or an administration.

193. Conversely, benefits of a purely economic, social or cultural nature (literacy, payment of a minimum wage, work, housing, etc.) if stingily granted to the very poor, cannot liberate their minds. Security of existence "at a reduced rate" or on a "second class" basis, as has been the case in a number of industrialized countries, neither serves to free the mind of material worries nor to "make a new start with one’s head held high". Too often, it only consolidates second-class citizenship in all respects. Human rights can never be reduced to a catalogue of demands. The right to responsibility, commitment and usefulness is a constituent element of dignity and therefore of human rights; any conception or implementation of human rights which fails to take account of the individual and his opportunities of and responsibility for fighting for others in his turn, runs the risk of betraying the expectations of the poor and excise an essential dimension from human rights.

194. Some aspects of the indivisibility of human rights have thus been shown:

(a) Civil and political rights are worthless without economic and social rights and freedoms;

(b) The granting of economic, social and cultural rights is a betrayal of human rights if the former rights are not aimed at giving freedom through security and knowledge;

(c) Human rights become sterile if they do not open on to the prospect of ensuring dignity for all.

2. The partnership of the poorest citizens - a prerequisite for the protection and promotion of human rights for all

195. "The world would be a better place if there was more communication between people", as a person in a situation of extreme poverty said; from her this was no witticism. She had in fact just received a proposal of help in her difficulties, but on condition that her children remained under supervision although she herself wanted to take them back. As she put it, "Is that what working together means, if it is decided from the start that I’m going to be the loser?"

196. Can one talk of guaranteeing basic rights when those rights vanish as soon as a person is at risk of extreme dependence? Communication with the very poor and a determination to associate them with the promotion of human rights, both in their conception and in their implementation and its monitoring is already to put into practice the spirit of human rights, as is, as we have seen, the determination to comprehend the process of impoverishment and extreme poverty

197. The report of the French Economic and Social Council on extreme poverty and economic and social need is an example of putting such partnership into practice, as it was drafted in constant consultation with the populations concerned:

(a) As far as the conception of human rights is concerned, the putting into practice of this partnership means that the current evaluation of the international instruments concerned with economic, social and cultural rights must seek by all possible means to gain an understanding of the experience of the poorest populations. This also means, for example, during the establishment of new economic, social and cultural areas throughout the world, calling on the experience of the poorest. To take a current example: in the Europe of the Single Act what freedom of movement will the poorest citizens have, unless it is understood that foreign languages must be taught as a matter of priority in the poorest districts of Europe? And that those with the lowest incomes cannot be excluded from this freedom?

(i) If care is not taken, this means that an entire region of the world is likely to start out on a new phase of development despising poverty and therefore perpetuating it;

(ii) This could be remedied by a partnership which would operate through all the groups of defenders of human rights, provided they pay attention to and allow themselves to be alerted by the most destitute.

(b) Where the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights is concerned, both in the area of laws and regulations and in the area of government, where the department responsible for applying the legislation enjoys some freedom of judgement and action the effort to secure the partnership of the poorest people could be along several lines. For example, the possibility might be envisaged of:

(i) Creating some patient body that would be genuinely representative of the poorest persons and populations;

(ii) Rallying poor and non-poor communities in support of persons and families threatened with exclusion from society;

(iii) Training personnel in situ at all levels, for dialogue with the poorest citizens.

(c) Partnership in monitoring the exercise of economic, social and cultural rights implies access to justice for the poorest, independent legal machinery trained for this partnership situation, and political representation of the poorest populations in the legislative bodies of their local, national or even international community.

198. The development of a partnership of the poor and the non-poor will be a very long-term process, to be constantly renewed and defended, but without it there can be no promotion of economic, social and cultural rights.

199. Bearing in mind the indivisibility of human rights and the need for partnership with the very poor, we can go on to the question of the obligations of States in the matter of economic, social and cultural rights. There can be no question here of considering the justiciable nature of economic, social and cultural rights overall. We shall merely mention the proposals for giving a "minimum content" to economic, social and cultural rights, and certain prospects for improving the monitoring of the implementation of these rights which, moreover, go beyond the framework of national institutions

F. A minimum content for economic, social and cultural rightsEdit

200. In several countries, particularly in Western Europe, the right has been established to a standard of living which will permit people to live in dignity and make efforts to become reintegrated into society. Minimum subsistence thresholds have been established in terms of financial resources.

201. At the present time, going beyond Europe, thought is being given to extending this idea. Would it not be appropriate to establish thresholds for subsistence minima in a number of spheres: entitlement to a free minimum consumption of energy, health care, housing ... and even a minim degree of participation in cultural life? For example: a free seat at the cinema every two months, as is already the practice in certain places?

202. Here we should like to comment on what has already been done. It is important to have clearly in mind the dangers which the idea of a minimum content may have when it leads to the exercise of minimum rights. However, we shall also mention the opportunities of access to human rights which Father Wresinski saw in a "guaranteed security of existence for the family".

1. The dangers: Existence reduced to a minimum

203. The danger of applying such minima is that of the persons concerned being limited to them only. Already, in countries where attempts have been made in this direction, the beneficiaries feel that they are second-class citizens. They feel, for example, that their differently-coloured medical insurance form entitles them only to health on the cheap; that the housing reserved for them under this minimum concept in no way puts an end to spatial social segregation, that the jobs offered to them are work without any prospects or even worse, work which seems like a punishment for being poor. They feel that these "minima" are simply new forms of labelling. Furthermore, their benefits sometimes explicitly include restrictions on freedoms and responsibilities in family and social life.

204. As for minimum wage levels, the form of minimum entitlement most widely applied in Europe, they depend on the budgetary possibilities of the State and always tend rather to follow a logic of keeping to the minimum than of granting the means for future economic independence. As the beneficiaries put it, such wages enable one to survive but not to live. There is also the danger that people will remain tied to their particular status. In these circumstances it is difficult to establish a dynamic in which the rights lead on from one to the other and enable progress to be made

205. In short, the danger of a "minimum content" certainly seems to be that it will rapidly result in a belittling of the aim of development of human dignity to which it should contribute. It should in a sense be the community’s reply to the question asked by its poorest members: "In your eyes who are we? Are our hopes your hopes ... the ambitions which you have for your children and your young people, do we also dare to envisage them for ours?" There might then be an opportunity to enable the poorest to have access to all the human rights.

206. If a minimum content in the areas of economic, social and cultural rights were conceived as a group of fundamental rights simultaneously to be implemented whenever an individual, a family or a population group is threatened with poverty or social exclusion, so that they might be brought back into society with their heads held high, then such a minimum could be an instrument for promoting human rights. Instead of referring to the "minimum content" of human rights, one would rather speak of "spring-board" rights. "Spring-board rights", dynamic rights, driving forces of development, these can form the basis for combating poverty, starting with guaranteed security for the family.

2. A piece of good fortune: guaranteed security for the family

207. With the assistance of a group of families directly concerned and of the social and political authorities of a French town, Father Wresinski was able to try out what he felt should be a means of promoting a future of dignity and participation and guaranteed security for the family[7].

208. On the basis of the experience of the families concerned, this expression "guaranteed security" is very similar to the wording of the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which refers to "freedom from fear and want":

(a) Security: This is in fact freedom from fear, a fundamental assurance of having something to fall back on in all the areas essential to the exercise of human dignity. It is the peace of mind which enables one to look towards new horizons and possibly to move towards them; security of existence is a requirement for being able to take part in development while accepting its risks;

(b) Existence: This term is in contrast to survival. It is related to the right to life in dignity, the right to lead a human existence that promises development. Existence is a term which opens on to the future;

(c) Family: For the poorest, success in living as a family determines the success of individual and professional life projects. This is why security of existence must as a matter of priority provide protection for the family unit and the means for its success, so as to prevent the failure in life of its members;

(d) Guarantee: This security of family existence must be ensured by an adequate and regular income, derived preferably from work but guaranteed when work is lacking.

G. Monitoring the national and international implementation of
economic, social and cultural rights

209. There would seem to be considerable scope for improving the monitoring of the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights so that the most destitute know that they really have such rights. The question of legal responsibility for economic, social and cultural rights is touched on here only from the standpoint of monitoring methods, which in our opinion should be developed.

210. We shall mention only two aspects: the question of recourse for the beneficiaries and that of means of monitoring the substance and the reality of the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights. In respect of these points we should like to contribute some thoughts and refer to certain suggestions that have been made.

1. A genuine recourse for the beneficiaries of economic, social and cultural rights

211. Only too often, particularly in industrialized countries whose citizens have substantial recognized economic, social and cultural rights, the poorest beneficiaries do not enjoy the civil rights that are needed for verification of the implementation of these rights. They have few means of recourse to the bodies which put economic, social and cultural rights into operation.

212. The difficulties of the right of recourse cannot be studied in detail here[8]. For the poorest citizens, both direct and indirect obstacles may be identified:

(a) Direct because of the limited legal means available to those who receive welfare;

(b) Indirect because of the circumstances in which they live, the poor education they have received and their state of dependence which does not allow them the status of rightful claimants vis-à-vis others.

213. The conditions for genuine recourse for those benefiting from economic, social and cultural rights need to be created.

2. Monitoring the substantive aspect: experiments, mobilization and evaluation

214. Might not the obligation under the international instruments concerning economic, social and cultural rights to make resources available permit, locally, in significant areas in specific countries, the definition and joint implementation, on an experimental basis, of selected economic, social and cultural rights? The experiments could then be the subject of evaluations in which governments, communities and beneficiaries would be associated. These experiments would have to involve the genuine collaboration of the poorest populations. The role of the international bodies might be to support the communities in their efforts genuinely to reach the poorest people and achieve real participation, so that their association will not be a sham one, and the priority given to the poorest may become the key to success for the community as a whole. Such trial implementation of economic, social and cultural rights would also form a basis for implementation of the right to development.

215. Evaluation action such as is suggested above, possibly carried out under the auspices of an intergovernmental agency, could be supplemented by a partnership arrangement between a national parliament and the poorest beneficiaries of economic, social and cultural rights. The Government could be questioned regularly in that parliament concerning the consistency of the implementation of the country’s legislation with the principles of promotion of human dignity and, more particularly, with the general principles of economic, social and cultural rights, and especially the right of the family to protection.

216. The launching of such an evaluation process and mutual attention to the conformity of the exercise of economic, social and cultural rights with human rights as a whole should result in the experience of the extremely poor helping the national and international community in defining and guaranteeing the economic, social and cultural rights which genuinely contribute to human dignity.

217. In concluding these comments on the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights, it seems useful to emphasize the extent to which respect for the most destitute as subjects of law forms the basis of all the proposals put forward. "If we were respected we would not be left in this situation", say those who live in extreme poverty, thus summing up all that is at stake in the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights.


218. This progress report should constitute the basis for further research on the questions relating to the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, as envisaged in the preliminary report (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1989/19). However, given the fact that certain questions require further study before they can be considered in the form of a progress report, it is suggested that a second progress report be prepared for consideration by the Sub-Commission at its forty-third session, in 1991. In that report particular attention should be paid to the questions of realization of economic, social and cultural rights in the context of structural adjustment, the question of the role of international financial institutions in the realization of these rights and the questions concerning co-ordination of activities of United Nations agencies and organs in the efforts relating to the realization of economic, social and cultural rights.

219. The Special Rapporteur should be encouraged to continue his efforts to establish direct contacts with the international financial institutions, notably the World Bank and IMF, and with the relevant departments at United Nations Headquarters in New York, including the Department of International Economic and Social Affairs. In this respect the Secretary-General should be invited to render to the Special Rapporteur all necessary assistance with a view to establishing these contacts.

220. Regarding further action in the areas dealt with in the present progress report, the following recommendations are made to the Sub-Commission:

(a) The Sub-Commission should invite the Commission on Human Rights, at its forty-seventh session, to consider requesting the Secretary-General to organize a seminar under the United Nations programme of human rights activities in 1992-1993 for discussion of appropriate indicators to measure achievements in the progressive realization of economic, social and cultural rights. Such a seminar should provide the opportunity for a broad exchange of views among experts with the relevant expertise in the use of social and economic indicators in different fields and should contribute to the strengthening of co-ordination among United Nations organs and agencies in that regard.

(b) The Sub-Commission is invited to suggest to the Special Rapporteur the areas in which further standard-setting might be considered necessary. In addition to suggestions made in the preliminary report and in this progress report, the Sub-Commission might consider other possible areas so as to enable the Special Rapporteur to concentrate further analysis of standard-setting in those fields where standard-setting appears to be most desirable.

(c) With regard to the question of extreme poverty, the Sub-Commission should bear in mind the request made by the Commission on Human Rights, in its resolution 1990/15 of 23 February 1990, "... to examine the question of extreme poverty and exclusion from society in greater depth and to carry out a specific study of this question". In the opinion of the present Special Rapporteur, such a study should approach the question of extreme poverty in its global dimensions and take into account all the links between this problem and human rights (i.e. economic, social and cultural as well as civil and political rights), as reflected in the experiences of people living in situations of extreme poverty. The Sub-Commission might therefore consider the possibility of appointing one of its members as the special rapporteur to study this question.

  1. Global Consultation on the Right to Development as a Human Right, E/CN.4/1990/9.
  2. Resolution entitled "Human rights and extreme poverty" of 16 February 1989 (E/CN.4/1989/10). Resolution entitled "Human rights and extreme poverty" of 20 February 1990 (E/CN.4/1990/15).
  3. An in-depth study of the methods of obtaining information is contained in the report on extreme poverty and economic and social need, submitted on behalf of the French Economic and Social Council by Mr. Joseph Wresinski, Journal Officiel de la République française, Avis et rapports du Conseil économique et social, annexe 1987 - No. 6, 28 February 1987.
  4. 4/ Message carved in stone on the Parvis des Libertés et des Droits de l'Homme at the Trocadéro in Paris: "Là où des hommes sont condamnés à vivre dans la misère, les droits de l'homme sont violés. S'unir pour les faire respecter est un devoir sacré". (Mr. Joseph Wresinski, 17 October 1987).
  5. E/CN.4/1987/SR.29, paragraphs 62-72.
  6. Ibid.
  7. "Un an sans retourner chiner, expérimentation d'un revenu familial minimum garanti". Jean-Pierre Pinet and James Jaboureck, IRFRH - March 1987 (Evaluation carried out for the Conseil Général d'Ille et Vilaine, the town of Rennes and the Caisse d'Allocations Familiales d'Ille et Vilaine, with financial assistance from the Caisse d'Allocations Familiales).
  8. Some aspects of this may be found in:

    - Grande pauvreté et précarité économique et sociale (Journal Officiel, 1987), report submitted on behalf of the French Economic and Social Council by Mr. Joseph Wresinski.

    - Plancher de ressources: une évaluation avec les familles les plus défavorisées dans la Communauté européenne, contract of 23 December 1986, No. 86,617, between the Commission of the European Communities and the International Movement ATD Fourth World (June 1989).

    - Pour une justice accessible à tous: le regard des familles en grande pauvreté sur les mécanismes d'aide légale et sur certaines initiatives locales, study carried out by the International Movement ATD Fourth World for the Council of Europe (contract No. 126/89 of 29 July 1989).