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The Unheard Truth: Poverty and Human Rights

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A powerful argument by the secretary general of Amnesty International that poverty is not just an economic problem but a global human-rights violation.
In our rapidly globalizing age with economic growth occurring in almost every corner of the world, it is easy to forget that more than one billion people still live on less than one dollar a day. Poverty is the worst human-rights crisis in the world today, denying billions of people their most basic rights. In a bracing argument ...

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A powerful argument by the secretary general of Amnesty International that poverty is not just an economic problem but a global human-rights violation.
In our rapidly globalizing age with economic growth occurring in almost every corner of the world, it is easy to forget that more than one billion people still live on less than one dollar a day. Poverty is the worst human-rights crisis in the world today, denying billions of people their most basic rights. In a bracing argument enriched by compelling photographs from across the world, Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan makes the case that poverty remains a global epidemic because we continue to define it as an economic problem whose only solution is foreign aid and investment. Khan calls for a reevaluation of this longstanding assumption and turns us toward confronting poverty as a human-rights violation. Empowering the poor with basic rights of security is our only chance for eradicating poverty and giving freedom and dignity to those who have never experienced it.

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Editorial Reviews

Colleen Mondor - Booklist
“Khan’s inquiry into poverty and human rights issues is scrupulously sourced with copious endnotes and statistics to back up every assertion, but it truly excels when Khan provides personal stories that hit harder than numbers.... In concise, well-ordered chapters, Khan brings massive social problems down to a manageable size. A significant and unflinching analysis of a terribly (and tragically) important area of study.”
Publishers Weekly
Important, potentially transformative ideas are nearly lost in this noble but botched treatise by Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International. Describing poverty as “the world's worst human rights crisis,” the author refutes the view that economic growth alone can address the problem, arguing that corruption, disenfranchisement and other ills perpetuate poverty even as a country's GDP rises. Shifting her focus to the United Nations, she reveals how the organization's antiquated human rights and antipoverty approaches—still heavily influenced by cold war ideological battles—impede the causes they are intended to assist. Unfortunately, readers must wade through the book's tedious first half to reach these insights; Khan squanders space and her audience's patience reporting truisms like poor people often have “inadequate” shelter, that they “lack food and often go to bed hungry” and that war and genocide impoverish their victims. Not only do these unnecessary sections obscure Khan's very valuable messages, but they read more like a textbook than the work of a leading expert in her field. Photos. (Oct.)
Library Journal
As part of Amnesty International's human rights campaign to end world poverty, Kahn (secretary general, Amnesty International) challenges the notion that economic growth must be a higher priority for emerging economies than human rights. She argues that successful efforts to stem global poverty must have human rights as their centerpiece. Kahn writes clearly and concisely, taking time to define what human rights are and why they matter and frequently illustrating her points with moving stories and vivid examples from around the world. She attempts to be impartial in her analysis and is critical not only of institutions like the World Bank but also of Amnesty International's own work in the past. Issues that Kahn finds central to the problem of global poverty include maternal mortality, the growth of slums, and the poor person's lack of voice in civil society. The second half of her book advocates legal empowerment for poor citizens and governmental accountability for human rights issues as solutions for eradicating extreme poverty. VERDICT Well written and easily accessible, this is recommended for all human rights advocates, especially those interested in reducing poverty globally.—April Younglove, Rochester Regional Lib. Council, NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393337006
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/15/2009
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,413,659
  • Product dimensions: 6.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Irene Khan, as the first woman and first Asian secretary general of Amnesty International, has brought a strong focus to socioeconomic rights and violence against women around the world. She lives with her husband and daughter in London.

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Table of Contents

Foreword Kofi Annan ix

Acknowledgements xi

Abbreviations xi

1 The World's worst Human Rights Crisis 1

2 Freedom and Its Critics-Why 'Voice' Matters 23

3 Freedom From Discrimination-Ending Exclusion 47

4 Living In Fear-Securing Rights 73

5 Poverty Trapprd 101

6 Needless Deaths-The Right to Safe MotherHood 123

7 The Global Slum-Winning the Right to the City 147

8 Commodities Boom, Rights Bust 171

9 Claiming Rights-Legal Empowerment to End Poverty 201

10 From Acknowledgement to Action-A Campaign for the Rights of poor People 223

Endnotes 232

Index 242

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 19, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Fine study of world poverty

    Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International, has written a fine book on what she rightly calls 'poverty, the world's worst human rights crisis'.

    She points out that the inequities in the world today are greater than those in apartheid South Africa, and they are growing. The number of those suffering hunger has risen steadily since 2000. In 2008, rising food prices pushed 100 million people back down into poverty, and the economic crisis has forced another 50 million into poverty. One billion people go to bed hungry every night.

    China now spends less than 1 per cent of its GDP on health care, ranking it 156th of 196 UN member states. 30 million more Chinese people were illiterate in 2005 than in 2000. The richest 10 per cent of China's people get 30 times the income of the poorest 10 per cent. In India, 42 per cent of females over the age of 6 have never attended school.

    Ms Khan shows how countries need the universal provision of essential services, including, for example, abortion: South Africa's deaths from abortion complications fell by 90 per cent after it was legalised in 1994.

    In a brilliant chapter on the need for housing, she points out, "the market on its own has failed to provide affordable and accessible homes to all sectors of society . Global housing debates tend to accept that only market-based solutions to the global housing crisis will prevail (despite such approaches arguably being the cause of the crisis in the first place!)"

    The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states, "The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions." The USA has not ratified this Covenant; China has not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

    Ms Khan argues against the false notion that there are two distinct kinds of freedom - positive (economic, social and cultural) and negative (civil and political), imposing positive and negative obligations on states. As she observes, "Building an effective court system to ensure fair trials is as positive an obligation as building schools to fulfil the right to universal primary education." And, "As regards cost, most human rights require resources. Maintaining a fair and effective judicial system requires significant public investment. Without it many civil and political rights would be impossible to fulfil. Cost should not be a determinant of human rights."

    But, as she notes, "All sides are placing high levels of trust in the market to deliver rights - despite the global economic crisis exposing the fallacy of such an approach" and points out that voluntary codes, like the UN Global Compact, have led to no 'significant change in the behaviour of companies or governments'.

    Yet she finishes by just vaguely advising the richer countries to 'do much more - in their trade and investment policies, in tackling the companies, banks and arms dealers .'

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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