Poverty is not a human rights violation

The title of this blog will make many think I am callous, and yet I definitely agree that poverty is an EXTREMELY BAD THING. Perhaps some use the words “human rights violation” to be equivalent to “extremely bad thing,” but why? There are many different “extremely bad things,” and it helps if everybody discriminates between them.The only useful definition of human rights is one where a human rights crusader could identify WHOSE rights are being violated and WHO is the violator. That is what historically has led to progress on human rights. The government officers of the slave-owning antebellum US and the slave-owners were violating the rights of slaves – leading to activism against such violators that eventually yielded the Emancipation Proclamation. The local southern government officers were violating the civil rights of southern blacks under Jim Crow, leading to activism against these violators that yielded the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. The apartheid government officers in South Africa violated the rights of black South Africans, and activism against these violators brought the end of apartheid.

Poverty does not fit this definition of rights. Who is depriving the poor of their right to an adequate income? There are many theories of poverty, but few of them lead to a clear identification of the Violator of this right. Moreover, human rights are a clear dichotomy – someone violates your rights or they do not. But the line between poor and not-poor is arbitrary – it is different in different countries, and on a global scale, many still argue what is the right dividing line that constitutes poverty. So calling poverty a “human rights violation” does not point to any concrete actions that the “violator” must stop in order to restore rights to the “violated.”

So it’s disappointing that the 2009 report of Amnesty International is blurring its previous clear focus on human rights to a fuzzy vision that now includes poverty:

So many people are living in utter destitution…As the global economic outlook appears more and more gloomy,hope lies in the … determination of human rights defenders willing to challenge entrenched interests despite the risks they face. (p. 9)

Social and political progress arguably happens the same way as progress in science or as progress in business: somebody precisely defines a problem and somebody (possibly somebody else?) hits upon a way to solve that well-defined problem. To confuse poverty and human rights violations is to slow down the solutions to both.

PS also see the excellent 2009 book by Chauffour


Originally published at Aid Watch and reproduced here with the author’s permission.

4 Responses to "Poverty is not a human rights violation"

  1. Guest   June 6, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    No, you’re wrong. Human rights are important facts. Important facts are facts of human experience which, history has shown, do not change regardless of attempts to change them. That is the definition used in every western country; in the U.S. too (see West Virginia v. Barnette). It is what led to the removal of exercises of religion from the political system, in consequence giving power over them, to individuals. An exercise of religion is an important fact.The issue with regard to human rights is always: is the fact, claimed to be a right, an important fact? Didn’t know that, did you, clown?Your grasp of history is so bad that you don’t even realize the argument on the basis of which slavery was eliminated: freedom from involuntary servitude is an important fact. Indeed, the argument Lincoln used against it was historically based: it didn’t work, it was constantly subverted, and it destroyed government, which he also considered an important fact. (His evidence that slavery destroyed government was the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the response it provoked.)The Court uses “maintenance” explicitly in both West Coast Hotel v. Parrish (1937) and a case which is used to stand for the proposition that the political system has unlimited power over all facts, Berman v. Parker.We are in the process of elevating maintenance to an important fact,getting rid of the scrutiny regime–which comes from a corrupt misreading of West Coast–and establishing the maintenance regime, which stands for the proposition that the law maintains important facts. The old scrutiny regime, under which we “live” now, stands for the proposition that the law has a rational relation to a legitimate government purpose. That has led to the deterioration of the society, because it is simply a police state formulation.Whether making “maintenance” an individually enforceable right, eliminates “poverty” I don’t know, but I do know that your analysis is so ignorant that it hardly deserves the term “analysis.” From under which rock did you crawl? You’re scum. Witness your inability to describe what, in fact, is poverty: “adequate income,” please! That lame definition shows that you have not researched the facts AT ALL. Adequate to what? But that would lead a churl like you much further into FACTS than you are intellectually capable of going. Goombah.We’re also in the process of elevating other facts to important facts, which means that there will be vastly expanded individually enforceable rights in them: housing, liberty, education and medical care.Just see my book, you scum.John Ryskamp, The Eminent Domain Revolt.

  2. John Goatse Ryskamp   June 12, 2009 at 8:17 am

    Who opened the gates of the nuthouse?

  3. Sacrifice   June 12, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    I concur with the author.A ‘right’ infers an obligation.If absence of poverty is to be assessed a right, it implies that someone is under obligation to provide wealth to everyone who is poor.Who might that someone be? Certainly, the first obligation must fall upon the government of the citizen, failing that – who? Everyone else.Likewise, when progressives are always expanding the concept of ‘human rights’ to include among other things:Healthcare; Childcare; Welfare; Peace; Education; Leisure; limited work hours, etc.All of this implies that it is the obligation of someone, usually the government to provide it.

  4. Dr. Fred in PA   June 12, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    Who is this Ryskamp twit? What a load of pseudointellectual horsecrap. Relief from poverty is NOT a right. The freedom from confiscatory government policies that prevent one from lifting ones self from poverty is a right. Health care is NOT a right. My labor is not your right. If you try it, you will encounter a serious case of oppositional/defiant disorder. Education is NOT a right. If you’re disruptive, stupid or lazy you get your butt removed from class. Get a clue.