9 March 2001
Original:  Spanish







          A.          INTRODUCTION


          1.          The American Convention states in its preamble that “the ideal of free men enjoying freedom from fear and want can be achieved only if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social, and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights.” In this respect, the Commission noted recently: “Certainly the requirements of the human right to a dignified life go beyond the equally fundamental contents of the right to life (understood in its strictest sense), the right to humane treatment, the right to personal liberty, the rights related to the system of representative democracy, and all other civil and political rights.”[1]


          2.          The Commission also emphasized that the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “Protocol of San Salvador,” expressly recognizes “the close relationship that exists between economic, social and cultural rights, and civil and political rights, in that the different categories of rights constitute an indivisible whole based on the recognition of the dignity of the human person, for which reason both require permanent protection and promotion if they are to be fully realized, and the violation of some rights in favor of the realization of others can never be justified.”  Furthermore, the IACHR cited the current President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Professor Antonio A. Cançado Trindade, who has noted that:


The denial or violation of economic, social, and cultural rights, materialized, for example, in extreme poverty, affects human beings in all aspects of their lives (including civil and political), clearly revealing the interrelation or indivisibility of human rights.  Extreme poverty constitutes, ultimately, the denial of all human rights.  How can one speak of freedom of expression without the right to education?  How can one conceive of the right to enter and leave the country (freedom of circulation) without the right to housing?  How can one consider the right to free participation in public life, without the right to adequate food? How can one speak of the right to legal assistance without also taking into account the right to health?  And the examples multiply.  Clearly, we all experience the indivisibility of human rights in our everyday experience, and that is a reality that cannot be left aside.  There is no place for compartmentalization, an integrated vision is needed of all human rights.[2]


          3.          On this occasion the Commission expands on the foregoing considerations, as well as others by the Commission on this subject, mindful in particular of Paraguay’s grave economic situation, and the repercussions of that economic situation for the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.


          4.          Over time, there has been ever greater recognition of the indivisibility and interdependence of economic, social, and cultural rights, and civil and political rights.  Bearing in mind this indivisibility of human rights, the Commission would like to point out that the violation of economic, social, and cultural rights is generally accompanied by the violation of civil and  political rights. In effect, an individual who does not have adequate access to education may find his or her possibilities of political participation or his or her right to freedom of expression diminished.  A person with limited or deficient access to the health system will have a diminished right to life, or that right may be entirely violated.  This situation may occur in different degrees, depending on the extent of the violation of economic, social, and cultural rights; it can be argued generally that the less one can enjoy economic, social, and cultural rights, the less they will be able to enjoy civil and political rights.  In this context, in a situation where there is maximum violation of economic, social, and cultural rights, civil and political rights will be violated to the hilt. This is what happens in the case of extreme poverty.


          5.          In effect, one of the most worrisome general human rights situations in the hemisphere has to do with extreme poverty, which affects an ever larger number of persons.  The extensive and complex nature of the problem, as well as the need to seek solutions, has been recognized not only by some States and by civil society, but also by international organizations, such as the United Nations, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank.  In the context of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, it has been noted that


extreme poverty is a denial of all human rights.  Extreme poverty thus establishes an indissoluble link between each of the rights accorded to the individual.  States bear the primary responsibility for giving effect to all the rights of the extremely poor.



Extreme poverty thwarts the exercise of the right to an adequate standard of living (art. 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), and because all aspects of life are interdependent the extremely poor are deprived of all their rights.  Most of the time they have no civil existence, are excluded from economic and social life, and cannot exercise their rights, especially the ones relating to their most vital needs.  Extreme poverty therefore constitutes the most vivid example of the indissoluble link which binds the various human rights to each other.[3]


          6.          In a joint report prepared by the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank for the meeting of the Group of 8, held in Okinawa, Japan, in July 2000, these institutions noted:


Poverty goes beyond lack of income. It encompasses economic, social, and governance dimensions. Economically, the poor are not only deprived of income and resources, but of opportunities. Markets and jobs are often difficult to access, because of low capabilities and geographical and social exclusion. Limited access to education affects the ability of the poor to get jobs and to obtain information that could improve the quality of their lives. Poor health due to inadequate nutrition, hygiene and health services further limits their prospects for work and from realizing their mental and physical potential. This fragile position is exacerbated by insecurity. Living in marginal conditions with no resources to fall back on, shocks become hard or impossible to offset. The situation is made worse by the structure of societies and institutions that tends to exclude the poor from participating decision‑making over the direction of social and economic development.[4]


          7.          In relation to international human rights law, poverty, especially extreme poverty, has a major impact on the enjoyment of human rights.   It has been said in this respect that “poverty is broader than lack of income--that it is deprivation across many dimensions.  If income is not the sum total of human lives, a lack of income cannot be the sum total of human deprivation.... [Poverty can be defined] as deprivation in the valuable things that a person can do or be,”  and that “[h]uman rights express the bold idea that all people have claims to social arrangements that protect them from the worst abuses and deprivations--and that secure the freedom for a life of dignity.”[5]


          8.          The problems related to poverty are certainly not solved merely by ratifying international treaties or promulgating domestic laws. The Human Development Report 2000, cited above, is on the mark when it states: “Laws alone cannot guarantee human rights. Institutions to support the legal process are also needed--as is a culture of social norms and ethics to reinforce the legal structures, not threaten them.  An enabling economic environment is essential, too.  But with a base of extreme poverty and very low income it is difficult to constitute a structure that suffices for ensuring all human rights to all inhabitants.”[6] 


          9.          It has been noted as follows: “Human poverty is pervasive, affecting a quarter of the people in the developing world. Worse, inequalities are increasing in many instances--not only in income and wealth, but also in social services and productive resources. These growing inequalities threaten to erode hard-won gains in civil and political liberties, especially in Latin America .... Poverty and inequality disempower people and open them to discrimination in many aspects of life and to additional violations of their rights.”[7]


          10.          A fundamental first step is to accord the grave problem of poverty the importance it deserves.  “The torture of a single individual rightly raises public outrage. Yet the deaths of more than 30,000 children every day from mainly preventable causes go unnoticed. Why? Because these children are invisible in poverty.”[8]


          11.          A recent judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights notes as follows:


In the last years, the conditions of life of large segments of the population of the States Parties to the American Convention have deteriorated notoriously, and an interpretation of the right to life cannot make abstraction of this reality.




the project of life is consubstantial of the right to existence, and requires, for its development, conditions of life with dignity, of security and integrity of the human person.




A person who in his childhood lives, as in so many countries of Latin America, in the humiliation of misery, without even the minimum condition of creating his project of life, experiences a state of suffering which amounts to a spiritual death; the physical death which follows to this latter, in such circumstances, is the culmination of the total destruction of the human being. These offences render victims not only those who suffered them directly, in their spirit and in their body; they project themselves painfully into the persons dear to them, in particular into their mothers, who usually also endure the state of abandonment.




The right to life implies not only the negative obligation not to deprive anyone of life arbitrarily, but also the positive obligation to take all necessary measures to secure that that basic right is not violated.




We believe that there are distinct ways to deprive a person arbitrarily of life: when his death is provoked directly by the unlawful act of homicide, as well as when circumstances are not avoided which likewise lead to the death of persons.




The arbitrary deprivation of life is not limited, thus, to the illicit act of homicide; it extends itself likewise to the deprivation of the right to live with dignity. This outlook conceptualizes the right to life as belonging, at the same time, to the domain of civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights, thus illustrating the interrelation and indivisibility of all human rights.[9]


          12.          Often it is argued that limited public resources are an impediment to the full realization of economic and social rights.  In this respect, one should consider that resources earmarked by the state to such areas are insufficient, but moreover, it should be taken into account that it is not just a question of how much is earmarked to social expenditure, but also how the monies are used.


          13.          In this regard, it is noted in general terms that worldwide, “public spending on economic and social rights is inadequate and badly distributed....  The global shortfall for achieving universal provision of basic services in developing countries amounts to $70-80 billion a year.  The 20:20 compact calls for 20% of national budgets and 20% of aid budgets to be allocated to universal provision of basic needs.  But spending is often much lower--12-14% on average for 30 countries in a recent study.... Bilateral donors on average allocate only 8.3%.”[10]  Even so, one must consider that “[t]here is no automatic link between resources and rights. High incomes do not guarantee that rich countries are free of serious human rights violations any more than low income prevent poor countries from making impressive progress....  There is a broad correlation between income and achievements in economic and social rights. But the range is enormous, and countries with similar incomes can have sharply different achievements in eliminating such basic deprivations as illiteracy and avoidable infant mortality.”[11]


          14.          The Human Development Report 2000 states further:  “Many democracies nevertheless fail to protect or promote human rights. Although the global transition to democratic regimes is undoubtedly progress, problems of human rights are not resolved simply because an electoral system has replaced an authoritarian regime. The transition to a new order involves complex issues of human rights. In extreme cases of illiberal majoritarian democracy, the human rights of several groups have worsened.  In other cases the world community has been too intolerant of human rights abuses under democracies,” and


Poor countries need faster growth to generate the resources to finance the eradication of poverty and the realization of human rights.  But economic growth alone is not enough.  It needs to be accompanied by policy reforms that channel funds into poverty eradication and human development -- and into building institutions, shaping norms and reforming laws to promote human rights.




[A] decent standard of living, adequate nutrition, health care and other social and economic achievements are not just development goals.  They are human rights inherent in human freedom and dignity.




The state, as a primary duty bearer, has the responsibility to do its utmost to eliminate poverty by adopting and implementing appropriate policies.  And the accountability of the state needs to be defined in terms of implementation of policies.[12]


          15.          The Inter-American Commission is aware that not all the variables related to the struggle against poverty are under the control of the state, which does not diminish its responsibility to do the most it can to eliminate poverty through appropriate political and economic measures.  As has been noted keenly


The state can never relinquish its responsibility for adopting policies to eradicate poverty. But it is not the sole duty bearer. In a market economy and open society, socio-economic progress that leads to poverty eradication depends on actions of private agents in business and civil society -- communities, families, trade unions, employers, the media, NGOs, religious groups and others.



And as global economic integration proceeds, the autonomy of the state in policy-making dwindles, constrained by multilateral agreements, by the need to maintain competitive economies in the global marketplace and, for many poor countries dependent on external financing, by agreements with creditors. Global actors -- and states acting collectively in global institutions -- have greater responsibilities today to help realize economic and social rights of poor people in both rich and poor countries.[13]


          16.          Economic policies should be mindful that economic growth should benefit the entire population, both rich and poor.  As has been noted: “Growth alone is not enough. It can be ruthless, leaving losers to abject poverty.  Jobless, creating little employment.  Voiceless, failing to ensure participation of people.  Futureless, destroying the environment for future generations.  And rootless, destroying cultural traditions and history.”[14]


          17.          The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights considers extreme poverty to constitute a generalized violation of all human rights, civil and political, as well as social, economic, and cultural.  The requirements of the human right to a dignified life transcend the equally fundamental contents of the right not to be subject to arbitrary execution, the right to personal integrity, the right to personal liberty, the rights related to the system of representative democracy, and the other civil and political rights.  In addition to earmarking public resources in sufficient quantity for social and economic rights, the States should see to the appropriate use of those resources. Experiences shows that extreme poverty has the potential to seriously erode the democratic institutional framework, as it tends to thwart democracy and render illusory citizen participation, access to justice, and the effective enjoyment of human rights.


          B.          LEGAL FRAMEWORK


          18.          The American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, an inter-American human rights instruments that has full legal effect and is binding for the member States of the OAS,[15] sets forth economic, social, and cultural rights at Articles VII, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, and XXII, some of them progressive, and others self-executing, such as the right to protection for mothers and children at Article VII.


          19.          The American Convention, for its part, ratified by Paraguay August 24, 1989, refers at Article 26 to the obligation of the States “to adopt measures, both internally and through international cooperation, especially those of an economic and technical nature, with a view to achieving progressively, by legislation or other appropriate means, the full realization of the rights....”  In this connection, the IACHR reiterates that:


While Article 26 does not enumerate specific measures of implementation, leaving the State to determine the most appropriate administrative, social, legislative or other steps to pursue, it expresses a legal obligation on the part of the State to engage in such a process of determination and to adopt progressive measures in this sphere. The principle of progressive development establishes that such measures are to be undertaken in a manner which constantly and consistently advances toward the full realization of these rights.[16]


          20.          On this same subject, the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Protocol of San Salvador, sets forth the right to work, to social security, to health, to food, to education, and to a series of other rights which, as the Protocol points out in its Preamble, “are not derived from one’s being a national of a certain State, but are based upon attributes of the human person.”  This Protocol, ratified by Paraguay in 1997, entered into force November 16, 1999, and is currently a binding international instrument in Paraguay. 


          21.          Paraguay is also party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, adopted in the United Nations system in 1966.  The Covenant provides, at Article 11, that:


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 States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international co‑operation based on free consent.


          22.          In relation to the aforementioned international treaties, it should be noted that pursuant to Article 137 of the Paraguayan Constitution: “The Constitution, the international treaties, conventions, and agreements that have been approved and ratified by Congress, the laws dictated by Congress, and other related legal provisions of lesser rank make up the national positive law, in descending order of preeminence, as listed.”


          23.          Accordingly, the aforementioned international instruments are important sources in relation to economic, social, and cultural rights in Paraguay.




          24.          Although the enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights is more closely linked to political will than to the amount of financial resources available, this does not mean that this latter aspect does not have a major impact on the situation.   The Paraguayan economy is going through a recession, with a negative impact on the enjoyment of those rights.  One Paraguayan economist explained in this respect that the country’s economy “is based mainly on agriculture, the electric power industry, and the re-export trade to Brazil and Argentina, supplemented by strong commerce and services in the domestic market.  Agriculture accounts for 26% of GDP and over 90% of exports on record.”[17]


          25.          The Commission was also informed that in 1996 and 1997, for example, the Paraguayan economy grew, respectively, 1.3% and 2.6% of gross domestic product (GDP), while in 1998 and 1999 (estimated), it saw -0.5% growth in the context of a trade deficit with major drops in both imports and exports. In addition,


government tax revenues fell notably in 1999, as a result of the lower level of economic activity and tax evasion, which according to the IMF is estimated at 63%.  Of the taxes, the value-added tax (VAT) is the largest source of tax revenues for the Treasury, which suggests that the Paraguayan tax system is highly regressive.  In other words, those who earn the least pay the most.




Nonetheless, one can observe that the Government’s social spending increased in the 1990s....  However, this growth did not translate into expanded coverage of basic social services (basic education, primary health care, drinking water), because the lion’s share of this growth was in salary increases.[18]


          26.          This economic situation in Paraguay has a major impact on unemployment, and, consequently, on the primary source par excellence for persons to provide for themselves with respect to their economic and social rights.  Unemployment has been estimated at 14.3% of the economically active population, and underemployment at 19.1%.[19]


          27.          As regards poverty, it has been noted that Paraguay “is among the countries with the worst distribution of wealth, where the wealthiest 20% of the population accounts for 62.4% of incomes, and the 10% poorest just 0.7%....  It is estimated that from 1995 to 1998, total poverty increased nationwide from 30% to 32%, and extreme poverty from 14% to 17%....  The problem of absolute rural poverty among the peasants who are not owners and those who are precarious property owners is critical for Paraguayan society--from 600,000 to 700,000 people--and because it is a factor sending the population out of rural zones to marginal urban areas, where there is a wave of immigrants, all in search of work, unable to find anything other than in the informal economy.”[20]


          28.          Some of the parameters that can be taken into account to measure the results obtained by Paraguay with respect to economic, social, and cultural rights in recent years are the Human Development Index (HDI)[21] of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)[22] and the development indices published annually by the World Bank in its World Development Report.[23] Based on those parameters, it can be argued in general terms that in recent years there have not been significant advances in Paraguay in the area of economic, social, and cultural rights.


          29.          This is clear when looking at the hard data. Analyzing the Human Development Index from 1990 to 1998, the level of human development in Paraguay increased by only 0.024%.[24] These indices indicate that in 1990 Paraguay was in 84th place, with an HDI of 0.706, whereas in 1998 it was 81st, with an HDI of 0.736.  This reflects a minimal advance, bearing in mind the number of years elapsed.


          30.          An analysis of the development indices prepared annually by the World Bank in its World Development Report shows figures that represent positive situations in some respects, and negative situations in others.  One positive result is the increase in average life span from 1970-1975 to 1995-2000, from 65 years to 69 years.[25] In addition, there are negative aspects, indicating backward movement, such as the figures showing an increase in infant mortality: whereas from 1980 to 1996, this figure was 59 per 1,000 live births, for the 1992-1997 period it increased to 61 per 1,000 live births.



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[1] IACHR, Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Peru, 2000, Ch. VI, paras. 1 and 2.

[2] Id., paras. 2 and 3, citing Cançado Trindade, Antonio A., “La Justiciabilidad de los derechos económicos, sociales y culturales en el plano internacional,” published in Revista Lecciones y Ensayos, 1997-98, Universidad de Buenos Aires, School of Law and Social Sciences, Abeledo-Perrot, Buenos Aires, 1998, p. 80.

[3] UN, Commission on Human Rights, Human Rights and Extreme Poverty, Report submitted by Mrs. A.-M. Lizin, independent expert, Document E/CN.4/2000/52, February 25, 2000, paras. 6 and 14.

[4] Global Poverty Report, July 2000, Executive Summary.

[5] Human Development Report 2000, op. cit, pp. 73 and 2.

[6] Id., p. 6.

[7] Id., p. 42.

[8] Id., p. 8.

[9] I/A Court H.R., Case of Villagrán Morales et al.( The “Street Children” Case), Judgment of November 19, 1999, joint concurring opinion of Antonio Augusto Cançado Trindade and Alirio Abreu Burelli, paras. 6, 8, 9, 2, 3, and 4.

[10] Human Development Report 2000, op. cit., p. 9.

[11] Id., pp. 9 and 81.

[12] Id., pp. 59, 73, and 77.

[13] Id., pp. 79 and 81.

[14] Id., p. 81.

[15] See I/A Court H.R., Interpretation of the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man within the Framework of Article 64 of the American Convention on Human Rights, Advisory Opinion OC-10/89 of July 14, 1989, Series A, No. 10.

[16] IACHR, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Ecuador, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.96, Doc. 10 rev. 1, p. 25.

[17] Benegas, Gladys, Análisis de la Coyuntura Económica, study published in Derechos Humanos en Paraguay 1999, published by CODEHUPY, Asunción, 1999, p. 273.

[18] Id., pp. 273 ff.

[19] Monte Domecq, Raúl, Derecho al Empleo, study published in Derechos Humanos en Paraguay 1999, published by CODEHUPY, Asunción, 1999, p. 297.

[20] Benegas, Gladys, op. cit., pp. 278-279.

[21] The HDI is the index used by the United Nations that covers the analysis of more than 174 countries and measures more precisely the real development of countries, taking three aspects into account: healthy life and longevity, level of knowledge, and the standard for having a dignified life. The HDI is an average of three indices that measure life expectancy, educational coverage, and income levels.

[22] For more information on the publication of these indices, see: <www.undp.org> and <www.worldbank.org/poverty/mission/up2.htm>.

[23] The development indices reported annually by the World Bank in its World Development Report cover a study of 180 member countries of the World Bank and gauge diverse sectors of the economy and social situation, such as population, price indices, economic variables, public services, indices for poverty, education, health, and the environment.

[24] Human Development Index (HDI), published in the Human Development Report 2000 of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

[25] Accordingly, it can be said that the Paraguayan State has made efforts in recent years in its commitment to development, and this can be observed in the variables that lead to consequences such as a four-year increase in life expectancy.