Location: Conference Room 6, United Nations Headquarters, New York, NY
Speakers: Professor Curtis F.J. Doebbler, Professor Thomas Pogge, Ms. Sara Flounders
Attendees: State delegates, summer interns, NGO members, members of the press
(note: there were last minute meetings called that conflicted with the time of this meeting which inevitably decreased the number of states attending)
Summary of Discussion:
Professor Doebbler opened with remarks emphasizing that the meeting topic ‘is perhaps the most important topic to the most people in the world today: that is the denial of human rights because of poverty.’ He noted that more than half the people in the world live off less than 1000 USD per year...and that in a country like Sudan where some of these people live, a bottle of clean drinking water often costs more than it does here in New York City. They do without clean water, adequate health care, work, education, social security, things that are fundamental human rights that most government represented in the UN building have solemnly agreed to ensure by undertaking legally binding obligations to their people and to the international community.
Dr. Doebbler expressed concern that despite UN mandates to consider the effects of extreme poverty on human rights (including social and economic rights), as well as several mechanisms that were established to contribute to securing these rights, many Western countries, including the one in which the UN is headquartered feel uncomfortable raising these issues. He noted that a rare exception to this general code of silence has been Miguel D'Escoto, ‘the most senior official in the UN and…the President of the General Assembly who has raised these issues and has insisted that they be raised in the Economic Summit that he is trying to ensure takes places on 24 to 26 June, just a few weeks away’. He mentioned documents that reiterate obligations of cooperation, for example, the Millennium Declaration in its partnership for development, and the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world, the Convention on the Rights of the Child. and also the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights' 'Draft Guidelines on a Human Rights Approach to Poverty Reduction Strategies' which has been available since 2002. More recently, the Northern-based NGO Amnesty International has launched a campaign the need for which it describes as the fact that "Poverty is not inevitable. The billions of people who live in poverty are shut out, ignored and denied security by the actions and failures of the powerful.”
Professor Doebbler then introduced Professor Pogge as another of the voices that has broken this silence and confronted the history of inequality, denying the status quo whereby, in his words, “the 955 million citizens of the affluent countries are morally entitled to their 81 per-cent of the global product in the face of three times as many people mired in severe poverty”, calling for the North to recognize its debt to the South, and publicly recognizing the man-made disaster of poverty that plagues so many and denies so many their human rights.
Dr. Doebbler expressed hope that the discussion would encourage us to consider our economic relations in light of the value they bring to individuals in terms of ensuring respect for their basic human rights. He observed that such varied individuals as Karl Marx and Adam Smith agreed that economic relations have no intrinsic value; they are only valuable in so far as they contribute to the well-being, the value, of human beings, adding that Professor Pogge conveys a similar message with a striking reminder of the responsibility that it creates.
Professor Pogge then presented a comprehensive talk entitled 'The Crisis as an Opportunity for Structural Change: Where should reform energies be focused?” This was composed of four parts:
Part 1: Competitive/Adversarial Systems
-systems are framed by rules must be administered in an impartial and transparent way
-rules lose their effectiveness when efforts to corrupt are lucrative
-moral attitude toward rules must be ingrained in the culture and internalized by the players, especially those formulating or modifying the rules
-money is becoming the pre-eminent reward
-richest players influence the rules to their own advantage
-growing incoherence of the whole scheme of rules (diverse players, interests)
-hypothesis: even the rich and mighty, if they think long-term, have an interest in the reduction of economic inequality; they must expect more damage from manipulation efforts of other strong players than gain from their own such efforts
Part 2: The Inequality Spiral
-in 2002-2006, per capita income in the U.S. Grew 12%
-top 1% gained 51%, remainder of population gained 4%
-in US, top one hundredth (30,000 people) hold nearly half as much income as bottom 150 million
-in China, income declining at bottom level, increasing at top level
-growth in international inequality has stalled except in the poorest countries (the bottom billion)
-growth in global inequality has increased due to what is happening within countries; many more trapped in sever poverty than the 'bottom billion'
-at current global exchange rates, the poorest half of the world population (3,400 million) have less than 2% of the world income, while the most affluent (300,000) in the US have 3%
-among ca. 6800 million human beings, 963 million are undernourished, 2000 million lack access to essential drugs, 884 million lack safe drinking water, 924 million lack adequate water, 1600 million have no electricity, 2500 million lack adequate sanitation, 774 million adults are illiterate, 218 million children (age 5-17) do wage work outside their homes often under slavery-like and hazardous conditions
-worldwide poverty deaths during 1990-2008 amounted to 300 million, more than double the deaths suffered in several major wars including WWI and WWII
Part 3: More Cosmetics
-the 1996 World food Summit pledged yo reduce the number of undernourished people by half by the year 2015
-the 2000 Millenium Development Goal I pledged to halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day, and the proportion of the world's population who suffer from hunger...subsequently interpreted by the UN as halving the proportion of extremely poor in developing countries
-required annual rate of reduction keeps bring diluted due to changing interpretations and denominators
-there are four 'International Poverty Lines'
-definition of what constitutes poverty, and manipulation of figures, grossly underestimates the true scope of world pverty
Part 4: A Way Forward?
-Dr. Pogge described his project, the Health Impact Fund as one way to start to address the problem of world poverty and its impact on human rights. The fund would retain a balance of $6billion to be subsidized by governments. The fund would reward developers of medicines that would be efficacious against widespread diseases suffered in poorer countries, e.g. malaria. The medicines would be made available at the lowest possible cost and licences to manufacture the drug would be granted.
-Under the TRIPS agreement, part of the World Trade Organization agreement, inventors or new medicines must be granted 20 year patents enforcible in all WTO member states. TRIPS:
-keeps prices high limiting access by the poor
-reinforces neglect by pharmaceutical companies in developing medicines for diseases suffered by the poor
-bias toward maintenance drugs
-patenting, litigation and deadweight losses
-Health Impact would be assessed annually
-Financing requires long-term commitment by funders (governments)
-Access to medicines by the poor is consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Sara Flounders reinforced the message that the overwhelming proportion of poverty in the world is unacceptable and that the concentration of wealth seems to be getting more pronounced. She offered the analogy of a few huge dinosaurs stomping over millions of ants. She posited that the most effective approach to dealing with all of this is at the grass roots level – citizens must group together and proclaim their intolerance of this inequality. She gave several examples of successful protests at the local and national level. In commenting on Professor Pogge's presentation, she commented that his description of the manipulation of the numbers was quite enlightening, which only intensifies the need for protest.
Ms. Flounders did question the Health Impact Fund proposal in that it rewards big Pharma and proliferates their power.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The Global Financial Crisis and Human Rights
Location: Conference Room 6, United Nations Headquarters, New York, NY