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6 May 2013
Organisation: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Finland

The Human Rights Approach to Social Protection

Extreme poverty is the world’s greatest human rights issue. Finland’s human rights- based development policy, in line with the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, starts from the idea that all human beings are born free and equal in status and rights. The goal of our work is a situation in which the poorest people know their rights and are able to advocate for them. It is equally important that the authorities know their human rights obligations and are capable of implementing them.

Against this background, it gives me a special pleasure to write the Foreword to this publication authored by the UN Human Right Council’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Dr. Magdalena Sepúlveda, together with her assistant, Ms. Carly Nyst. The excellent reports of the Special Rapporteur over the past four years have drawn the attention of the world community to the key role of social protection in the reduction of extreme poverty – and to the critically important role of human rights in the implementation of social protection. We are grateful for the valuable insights shared in the Special Rapporteur’s reports. The purpose of this publication is to make sure that the main messages of her reports are saved and shared with gradually expanding networks of partners in the North and South, so that they may enrich, influence and transform development policies all over the world.

As the authors show in this publication, under international human rights law, States are legally obligated to establish social protection systems. This duty flows directly from the right to social security, which is articulated in Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in Article 9 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Social protection systems should protect individual women, men and children against the risks of impoverishment in situations of sickness, disability, maternity, employment injury, unemployment, old age, death of a family member, high health care or child care costs, and general poverty and social exclusion. Social protection measures can include e.g. cash transfer schemes, public work programmes, school stipends and lunches, social care services, unemployment or disability benefits, social pensions, food vouchers and food transfers, user fee exemptions for health care or education, and subsidised services.

Global political support for the idea of government funded minimum social protection crystallised in 2009, when the heads of the United Nations (UN) agencies launched the One-UN Social Protection Floor Initiative. Finland has been one of the active sponsors of this UN-initiative from the very beginning. Finland also chaired the work in OECD-DAC through which joint DAC-Guidelines were developed for Social Protection as one of the key elements of Pro-Poor Growth.

One clear omission in the global discussion about social protection this far has been the lack of a deeper analysis of the human rights-based foundations implications and outcomes of social protection. This is a significant analytical gap that must be filled. Accordingly, for the past four years the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda, has focussed her work on developing the human rights framework for social protection.

We know that economic and social inequality and exclusion prevent development in all societies. Finland’s development cooperation therefore supports social policies that increase equal opportunities for meaningful social, economic, and political participation, as well as access to basic services and social protection. Particular attention will be paid to the rights and equal participation opportunities of people who are vulnerable, and those who tend to be socially excluded and discriminated.

This is more easily said than done, but I am confident that this publication by Dr. Sepúlveda and Ms. Nyst will provide us with highly useful Elements for Discussion on how to do this.

These Slides are part of our event:

Past event


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