poverty

Poverty and International Law

"Anti-poverty policies are more likely to be effective, sustainable, inclusive, equitable and meaningful to those living in poverty if they are based upon international human rights." – Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

CWP works on behalf of all people in Canada living in poverty to ensure that their fundamental human rights are upheld. These rights are clearly established under international law and are designed to benefit everyone regardless of circumstance. This is known as the principle of non-discrimination and is one of the most essential aspects of human rights as it relates to poverty.

Poverty is a violation of human rights. People living in poverty are deprived not only of finances, but often of the freedom and ability to live with dignity. CWP firmly believes that every person deserves to live with dignity and supports the right to an “adequate standard of living” – which protects from the manifestations of poverty such as hunger, homelessness, poor health, and a lack of social security – as established in various international legal human rights instruments.

There are a number of international human rights treaties ratified by Canada that specifically relate to poverty, including:

Articles 2, 3, 7, 22 and 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also directly relate to poverty. The UDHR is the basis of all international human rights law; it was adopted by the UN in 1948 as a response to the atrocities of World War II. Since then, the UN has created additional legal instruments to protect human rights.

States (including Canada) that have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights have the legal obligation to take positive steps to protect the rights in the Covenant. Issues such as hunger, homelessness and poor health are still very real problems for people living in poverty. The World Health Organization has declared poverty to be the single largest determinant of health. In Canada alone, an estimated 250,000 people are homeless each year with another 1.5 million people living in insecure housing (either inadequate or too expensive). The UN has declared the housing situation in Canada to be a “national emergency”. An estimated 1 in 8 Canadian households – including 2 out of every 5 Northern households – are food insecure.

These manifestations of poverty are indicative of a real problem; CWP believes that they are disproportionate to the wealth and resources that Canada possesses and that together, they amount to a breach of the protection of the right to life.  The right to life is specifically recognized in human rights documents, from Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to Article 6 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Recently, CWP presented to the UN Human Rights Committee regarding the link between poverty and the right to life. Read the entire submission here.

More Information

Economic and social rights are fundamental to understand poverty in Canada. Want to learn more? CWP offers an online course on Economic and Social rights, which explores the fundamentals of human rights, international law and why economic and social rights matter.