Human Rights

Human Rights

Old Problems, New Possibilities

Edited by David Kinley, Wojciech Sadurski and Kevin Walton

Reflecting on the various dichotomies through which human rights have traditionally been understood, this book takes account of recent developments in both theories of rights and in international human rights law to present new ways of thinking about some long-standing problems.

Chapter 3: Are We Violating the Human Rights of the World’s Poor?

Thomas Pogge

Subjects: law - academic, human rights, law and society, politics and public policy, human rights


Answering the title question requires explicating its meaning and examining the empirical evidence. The first task is begun in this introduction, which gives a rough account of the two groups whose relation is to be queried: the world’s poor and ‘we’. Section 3.2 then proposes a specific understanding of what it means to violate human rights, arguing that a human rights violation involves a specific causal relation of agents to a human rights deficit. This understanding includes not only interactional violations (perpetrated directly by agents) but also institutional violations (caused through the imposition of institutional arrangements). Based on the explication of the question in Sections 3.1 and 3.2, Section 3.3 provides evidence for the existence of a supranational institutional regime that foreseeably and avoidably produces massive human rights deficits. By collaboratively imposing this institutional scheme, we are indeed violating the human rights of the world’s poor. Following the Universal Declaration, we might define a poor person as one who does not have access ‘to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.’ This is a vague definition, but clearly includes a large percentage of the world’s population. In 2005, when the average weekly income was $66, half the world’s people were living on less than $9 a week. Most of them lacked the income necessary for basic survival and sustenance according to the Universal Declaration’s definition.

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