Vatican City, 17 December 2015 (VIS) – This morning in the Holy See Press Office, a press conference was held to present the manual “Making human rights work for people living in extreme poverty: a handbook for implementing the UN Guiding Principles on extreme poverty and human rights”. The panel was composed of Bishop Bernardo Johannes Bahlmann, O.F.M., of Obidos, north-east Brazil; Michel Roy, secretary general of Caritas Internationalis; Fr. Michael A. Perry, O.F.M., minister general of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor; Francesca Restifo, Franciscans International (FI) International Advocacy Director; and Jean Tonglet, ATD Fourth World delegate for Italy and Relations with the Holy See.
Bishop Bahlmann began by speaking about deforestation in the Amazon and the catastrophic consequences for the populations who live there and for the planet as a whole; Fr. Perry then commented on how Franciscans live in close contact with the communities affected by poverty in various parts of the world, and seek to establish a strong bond between the protection of the rights of the poor and the protection of the environment. Francesca Restifo then explained the content and aims of the Manual.
“The elimination of extreme poverty is not only a moral duty, but also a legal obligation, by virtue of the provisions of international law on human rights. Extreme poverty is not merely an economic question: it is a multidimensional phenomenon that includes both the lack of income and the basic capacities for being able to live in a dignified fashion, and it is something that seriously compromises the possibility for people to exercise or obtain their rights in the foreseeable future. The guiding principles are the first instrument that the United Nations dedicated to people in poverty. We understood the potential of this document and immediately felt the need to translate it into a language accessible to all. As is enshrined in them: 'Extreme poverty is not inevitable. It is, at least in part, created, enabled and perpetuated by acts and omissions of States and other economic actors'. But 'the tools for ending it are within reach'”.
These tools are “a basis in human rights, providing a framework for the long-term eradication of extreme poverty, starting from the acknowledgement that those who live in poverty are holders of rights and agents of their own change; empowerment, or rather making people autonomous and active in their community in reclaiming their rights; and participation and consultation with these people in the policies that affect them directly”.
“The aim of the manual that we present today was and remains that of helping local workers to understand better the consequences in terms of human rights for people who live in conditions of extreme poverty, and to propose to them a series of concrete actions to reclaim their rights, thus becoming agents of change. Our objective was to translate their individual challenges into collective actions. To do this, it was first necessary to listen to the needs of those who work with people directly involved in situations of poverty. … This took two years of constant consultation and collaboration at a capillary level with local communities and a continual exchange of ideas and information. We consulted with activists working in urban slums and in rural areas with limited access to basic services, with indigenous local populations who were losing their land and their means of subsistence due to the actions of large multinationals, and with those who work directly in the field to protect women, children, migrants and refugees”.
With regard to the content of the manual, Restifo explained that following the introductory chapter, the second part establishes various fundamental principles such as the importance of winning the trust of those who live in extreme poverty, the evaluation of the risks that they may run in claiming their rights, and their active participation in all phases of the process. The third part offers suggestions for concrete actions which can be undertaken to help the authorities respect their obligations in terms of human rights – valid proposals both for developing countries and those that are already industrialised. This is also the part that focuses on groups of rights, recognising their indivisibility, mutual relationship and interdependence. It is a practical guide to acting according to the situation and the specific questions relating to those involved. Finally, the fourth part is dedicated to the importance of monitoring the actions undertaken”.
Finally, Restifo emphasised that there is not a clear division between poverty and extreme poverty, but the latter is characterised by multiple and interrelated violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. “Extreme poverty affects various areas of human existence and often creates a vicious circle of impotence, stigmatisation, discrimination, exclusion and material deprivation … elements that feed on each other. Some people can be poor but at the same time are part of a social fabric in which they are in any case integrated. Others do not have the same possibility”.