Explanation of Vote on a Resolution on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty

Jason Mack
Counselor for Economic and Social Affairs
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
November 16, 2020


The United States maintains its long-standing commitment to international development and therefore joins consensus again on the resolution “Extreme Poverty and Human Rights,” which highlights the important issue of extreme poverty in all countries of the world, regardless of their economic, social, or cultural situation.

The United States commends Peru for its leadership in strengthening the text this year to acknowledge the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on sustainable development and humanitarian needs and integrating references to persons with disabilities to promote a more inclusive approach to development. This is particularly important as persons with disabilities are more likely to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes which impact their access to health care, education, and employment. We also appreciate support for the integration of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, or the UNGPs as they are commonly called, in Preambular Paragraph 22 and Operative Paragraph 4. The UNGPs were endorsed by consensus and serve as the key framework articulating the state and private sector’s roles in respecting human rights. Recalling the UNGPs in this resolution helps draw attention to another set of relevant guiding principles that relate to human rights and extreme poverty.

We disagree with the assertion in PP22 that extreme poverty may amount to a threat to the right to life. Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibits the arbitrary deprivation of life by state actors. We do not believe that a State’s duty to protect the right to life by law would extend to addressing general conditions in society or nature that may eventually threaten life or prevent individuals from enjoying an adequate standard of living.

As we noted when we joined consensus on previous resolutions on extreme poverty at the UN General Assembly, we believe the Guiding Principles on extreme poverty and human rights, as referenced in this current resolution, articulate useful guidelines for consideration by States in the formulation and implementation of poverty reduction and eradication programs. However, the United States would like to recall that the Principles were adopted “as a useful tool for States” to consider in the formulation of poverty reduction and eradication strategies as appropriate. Therefore, not all aspects of the Principles may be appropriate for implementation in all circumstances under the domestic laws of States. We also emphasize that the Guiding Principles include interpretations of human rights law with which we disagree.

We reiterate our views regarding implications of this resolution on States which are not a party to certain international instruments as stated in our statement on November 13, and also understand the resolution’s reaffirmation of prior documents to apply to those who affirmed them initially and, in the case of international treaties or conventions, to those States who are party.

We again underscore that this resolution, and many of the outcome documents referenced therein, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, are non-binding documents that do not create rights or obligations under international law. We have outlined our specific concerns about the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development separately.

We take this opportunity again to make important points of clarification regarding the reaffirmation of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. Specifically, we note that much of the trade-related language in the Addis outcome document has been overtaken by events since July 2015; therefore, it is immaterial, and our reaffirmation of the outcome document has no standing for ongoing work and negotiations that involve trade.

Finally, we recognize the significant link between human rights and development. In the words of the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action, “development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms” are “mutually reinforcing.” However, the United States maintains its long-standing concerns over the existence of a “right to development”. We note that the “right to development” discussed in this resolution is not recognized in any of the core UN human rights conventions, does not have an agreed international meaning, and, unlike with human rights, is not recognized as a universal right held and enjoyed by individuals and which every individual may demand from his or her own government. Indeed, we continue to be concerned that the “right to development” identified within the text protects states instead of individuals.

The United States looks forward to continuing to work with our fellow Member States in the global efforts toward the elimination of poverty.