While poverty might be an influential factor in the absence of human rights, it is due more to a result of lack of democracy, especially in the Middle East, Egyptian human rights activists have said.
The United Nations decided that this year’s observance of Human Rights Day on Dec. 10 would be dedicated to the fight against poverty. The UN believes that the issue of poverty has been marginalized in the Human Rights debate and aims to bring it to the fore.
But Egyptian political activists believe that the inherent lack of democracy is a more vital cause for the absence of Human Rights in the region, even if they do recognize poverty as a major concern.
“The UN is talking about poverty affecting Human Rights and that is true from an economic perspective, but the problem in the Arab World is the lack of democracy, Mohammed Zarei, head of the Human Rights Organization for the Assistance of Prisoners told The Daily Star Egypt.
Program Director of the National Organization for Human Rights Dr Ameera Abdel-Hakim concurs.
She told The Daily Star Egypt: “Poverty might be a cause for Human Rights violations but a more important cause is the absence of democracy. How then can society call for a more equitable distribution of wealth and rights if basic freedoms are prohibited?
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour had written in commemoration of Human Rights Day where she stated: “Poverty is frequently both a cause and a consequence of human rights violations. And yet the linkage between extreme deprivation and abuse remains at the margin of policy debates and development strategies. Arbour added: “All human rights – the right to speak, to vote, but also the rights to food, to work, to health care and housing – matter to the poor because destitution and exclusion are intertwined with discrimination, unequal access to resources and opportunities, and social and cultural stigmatization.
“In many societies, they are prevented from enjoying their rights to education, health and housing simply because they cannot afford to do so. This, in turn, hampers their participation in public life, their ability to influence policies affecting them and to seek redress against injustice.
Egyptian activists however believe the emphasis lies elsewhere.
“Human Rights are not divisible, that is true, Abdel-Hakim said, “but for a more equitable society we need change. And an improvement in Human Rights will come from political change specifically.
Zarei echoed those thoughts and added that it is this lack of democracy that often leads to poverty. “We don’t have an effective method of affecting political change and more pertinently a peaceful method of the handing over of power. And those in power align themselves with certain segments of society and deny us our rights in the interests of theirs. It is a cabal of government members and economists and this is what leads to poverty, he said.
Arbour did allude to this in her piece. “Poverty is also about power: who wields it, and who does not, in public life and in the family. Getting to the heart of complex webs of power relations in the political, economic and social spheres is key to understanding and grappling more effectively with entrenched patterns of discrimination, inequality and exclusion that condemn individuals, communities and peoples to generations of poverty.
Zarei believes changes in a different arena is what is needed, such as the peaceful transition of power, expansion of public freedoms and eliminating emergency law and the subjection of civilians to military tribunals.
The international community’s observance of Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, runs parallel with the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.