Human Rights and Poverty July 01

Mr President, does a peasant suffering from AIDS have the right to access medicine and treatment that he cannot afford? Does a child born in poverty have the human right to receive basic education and appropriate vaccines to protect him from killer diseases? Does a peasant farmer devastated by natural disasters such as drought, pests and soil erosion have the right to our assistance? Do millions of people living in misery for political reasons in isolated countries like Palestine and Iraq have any rights? What do we mean when we talk about human rights?

I urge every colleague concerned with human rights to visit, unannounced and informally, any peasant in any poor country and ask him about our views on human rights, political freedom, economic freedom, religious freedom, free access to education and health services. That peasant will look at you in bewilderment and plead: "All I need is a supply of fresh water to my house. All I need is a source of energy so that I can light my house and cook the next meal".

Internal conflict and civil war resulting in violation of human rights will continue to impoverish the poor until we help them to do the following. Firstly, to have a stake in their rural economies. They need to own their own land, their home and their farm. And secondly, to acquire the technology to break the cycle of dependency on us and seize the opportunity to be self-sufficient, self-reliant through their own local enterprise. When the poor have an economic stake, then civil society and democracy will take root. These people will see the need for law and order and political representation. Then you will see the courts replacing the bullet - and that is when we will see human rights.