Magalena SepulvedaLast month Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, presented her 2011 report. In this account she focused on the growing frequency with which Member States are adopting laws, regulations, and practices that punish those living in poverty. View her complete report at  (English only)

Some highlights of her report:

Persons living in poverty are not to blame for their situation; accordingly, States must not punish or penalize them for it. Rather, States must adopt wide-reaching measures and policies designed to eliminate the conditions that cause, exacerbate or perpetuate poverty, and ensure the realization of all economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights of those living in poverty.

The policies that penalize the poor come from deeply entrenched prejudices and stereotypes that have permeated public policies. Penalization measures respond to discriminatory stereotypes that assume that persons living in poverty are lazy, irresponsible, indifferent to their children’s health and education, dishonest, undeserving and even criminal.

As a consequence of the discrimination and stigma that they suffer, persons living in poverty often develop fear of and even hostility towards public authorities, and have little confidence in the institutions that should assist them. Too often, they are treated with disrespect or condescension by policymakers, civil servants, social workers, law enforcement officials, teachers and health-care providers, who may fail to recognize and support the efforts that persons living in poverty are making to improve their lives.

Invitation to reflection, discussion, and action

  1. Describe any of the discriminatory practices in the Special Rapporteur’s report that you have witnessed or experienced yourself.
  2. How do organizations to which you belong help assure legal rights for all and advocate with local or national authorities to change discriminatory laws and practices?
  3. What are some actions NGOs might take to address these problems on an international level through the UN system?

Send your responses to


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