States must not ignore human rights in efforts to end poverty

Governments risk failing some of the world’s most impoverished and vulnerable groups unless human rights are put at the centre of efforts to eradicate poverty, Amnesty International warned today.

In a new report looking at how to strengthen the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs], the organization highlights how key targets fall short of existing international human rights standards. The report, From Promises to Delivery, outlines crucial steps governments can take to deliver meaningful progress on the MDGs over the next five years.

“The MDGs promised some of the worlds most impoverished and excluded a fairer future but it is now painfully obvious that unless urgent action is taken governments will fail the most vulnerable communities,” said Claudio Cordone, interim Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“The message for world leaders when they come together in September to review progress on the MDGs is clear:  they must act now to put human rights at the centre of efforts to improve the lives of those living in poverty.”

The report calls on governments to ensure all MDG initiatives are consistent with human rights; address discrimination experienced by women; set national targets for delivery; fulfill the right of participation and strengthen mechanisms for accountability.

It was launched today in New York, where representatives from governments, civil society and the UN are gathering at an Amnesty International and Realizing Rights conference to discuss the importance of human rights in achieving the MDGs. 

Three main issues – gender equality, maternal health and slums –are highlighted in the report to illustrate the gulf between the current MDGs framework and international human rights standards.

On gender equality the report shows how the MDGs fail to ensure that governments address women’s human rights across all targets despite it being an essential element in tackling poverty. Where gender equality is listed in the MDGs it is limited to a single target to eliminate disparities in education.

It is estimated that 70 per cent of those living in poverty are women. The report documents how women and girls continue to suffer from gender discrimination, violence and further human rights violations in all societies.

Improving maternal health is an area that has seen far too little progress according to the report. The MDGs fail to take into account a variety of underlying factors that contribute to maternal deaths and injuries.

Human rights issues such as early or forced marriage, violence against women and girls prevents women from making decisions about their own lives.  The MDGs also do not pay sufficient attention to sexual and reproductive rights. From Peru to Serria Leone, the report illustrates the barriers women in poverty face when trying to access maternal healthcare.

The MDG target to improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers is described as ‘grossly inadequate and weak’ given that an estimated 1.4 billion people will live in slums by 2020. The target also falls short of existing obligations on states under international human rights law.

Amnesty International has documented forced evictions of communities living in slums in all regions of the world. The effects of these forced evictions is catastrophic for people who were already living in poverty. The MDGs ignore the crucial obligations of states to prevent and protect people from these violations.

From Burkino Faso to the favelas in Brazil, the report show how an accountability deficit exists which makes it hard for people living in poverty to access justice. Mechanisms to ensure accountability do not exist or are inaccessible to people living in poverty.

“Human rights are central to making the MDGs effective,” said Claudio Cordone. “Governments must be held to account to ensure their efforts to achieve the MDGs are consistent with human rights.”


Notes to editors

This work is part of Amnesty International’s Demand Dignity campaign which aims to end the human rights violations that drive and deepen global poverty. The campaign will mobilise people all over the world to demand that governments, corporations and others who have power listen to the voices of those living in poverty and recognise and protect their rights. For more information visit

The MDGs remain the most prominent global initiative to address poverty and are drawn from the Millennium Declaration adopted 10 years ago.

The MDGs focus on eight areas: (1) eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; (2) providing universal primary education; (3) promoting gender equality and empowering women; (4) reducing child mortality; (5) improving maternal health; (6) combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; (7) ensuring environmental sustainability; and (8) developing a global partnership for development.