Freedom from Poverty and Extreme Poverty

Implementing Human Rights
Homeless in Paris. The number of people living on less than $ 2 a day in Central and Eastern Euorpe and the CIS rose from 23 million in 1990 to 93 million in 2001, or from 5% to 20%. (Image: Eric Pouhier)
Homeless in Paris. The number of people living on less than $ 2 a day in Central and Eastern Euorpe and the CIS rose from 23 million in 1990 to 93 million in 2001, or from 5% to 20%. (Image: Eric Pouhier)

Project at a glance

Dates and Place

30 March 2004, Geneva, Switzerland
Room XVIII ? Palais des Nations


ATD Forth World

Project details

What can be learnt from those working with families living in extreme poverty around the world? This panel brought together an expert working group on the need to develop guiding principles on the implementation of existing human rights norms and standards in the context of the fight against extreme poverty.


  • Jacques Tronchon and Emilio Gavarrete, Franciscans International, who work respectively in Madagascar and Guatemala
  • François Guillot, International Movement ATD Fourth World, Lyon, France
  • Anne-Marie Lizin, Independent expert on human rights and extreme poverty

This panel served as a basis for initial discussion elements for a possible draft declaration or guiding principles on human rights, poverty and extreme poverty.

Poverty, human dignity and human rights

Poverty and, in particular, extreme poverty and exclusion from society constitute a violation of human dignity and a denial of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Poverty, from a human rights perspective, can be seen as "the non-fulfillment of a person's rights to a range of basic capabilities to do and to be the things that the person may value",   or "the failure of basic capabilities to reach certain minimally acceptable levels." 

In the light of the International Bill of Human Rights, poverty has been defined by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as "a human condition characterized by sustained or chronic deprivation of resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights."  

Extreme poverty has been recognized as a more serious, often hidden form of poverty, with more permanent consequences extending to a wide range of human rights and which requires special efforts to reach and eliminate. Extreme poverty can be seen as "...a lack of basic security which ... simultaneously affects several aspects of people's lives, when it is prolonged and when it severely compromises people's chances of regaining their rights and of reassuming their responsibilities in the foreseeable future."

Poverty, extreme poverty and consequent human rights violations are to be found in countries throughout the world. Most acutely in developing countries and countries in transition, but people in all states are affected in varying degrees. 

Certain groups are more vulnerable to poverty than others because of discrimination or their weak position in society; minorities and indigenous peoples. Women and girls bear a disproportionate burden of poverty and children growing up in poverty are often permanently disadvantaged. 

The extent and seriousness of poverty and extreme poverty and their impact on human rights is universally recognized.  Nelson Mandela, in his statement to the World Summit for Social Development, described poverty is the new face of apartheid, and the new face of slavery.

Reality of life in poverty

In extreme poverty, human rights violations are linked in a concatenation of misfortunes, one violation leading to another in "vicious circles of poverty".  There is the "horizontal circle of poverty" in which one misfortune leads to or reinforces another and the "vertical vicious circle" as poverty passes from one generation to another.  Extreme poverty is a situation of deep and mutually reinforcing insecurity across a whole range of essential rights.

  • Without shelter, drinking water, electricity, adequate food, work, a minimum income or other resources, one simply cannot conceive of living a life in good health, having one's children go to school, participating in local activities, including annual festivities or even birthday parties, participating in any political process as citizens, or even having one's family life respected.
  • When one lives in extreme poverty, without education, it is difficult to get work. Without resources, it is impossible to get decent housing or pay bills. Our family has no electricity, or even water. It is difficult for us to eat properly. My children find it difficult to learn in these conditions.
  • We always have to be thinking about our accommodation, the food we have to find for our children and for ourselves. We keep wondering what we are going to do to ensure that our children can grow up properly. All this is like a cloak of worry which covers us and prevents us from exercising any responsibilities.
  • This all has repercussions for social life: we lose our freedom of movement; sometimes we have to hide; we dare not attend local celebrations or even exercise our rights as citizens.

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