Although Chile is considered to be an example of progress and development in Latin America, Alston draws attention to the fact that although this may be the case, Chile still has much to improve on in regards to extreme poverty.
“Whilst Chile has in place a wide range of programmes that aim to address poverty, this issue remains under the radar for the majority of policy makers.” This is one of the main worries put forward by Alston, in a period where reform is being addressed in areas that concern the middle class majority of the population, this does not necessarily mean that those in poverty and extreme poverty will inevitably feel the positive effects of such reform; more must be done specifically for those in these conditions.
Levels of social inequality have been found to be unsatisfactory in Chile, despite the progress it has made in comparison to other countries in the region. “The Anti Discrimination Law of 2012 was a big step forward but there is still much to be done before Chile can meet its international obligations in regards to human rights.”
Alston drew attention to a variety of factors that contribute to economic, social and cultural inequality in Chile including labour laws, gender inequality, rights of indigenous peoples and LGBT rights.
The rights of indigenous peoples in particular, referred to as “the Achilles heel of Chiles’ human rights record in the 21st century” have been at the forefront of the issue of poverty and human rights in Chile.
Specific recommendations put forward by Alston will aim to reduce poverty experienced by indigenous peoples, whose importance in this issue is paramount as emphasized by Alston himself, “Simply put, no serious effort to eliminate extreme poverty in Chile will be successful without a concentrated focus on the indigenous populations.”
At this point, Professor Alstons’ preliminary findings have been key in seriously addressing the issue of human rights and extreme poverty in Chile, issues that as aforementioned run the risk of dropping out of mainstream debate.
Gender inequality in the country also remains particularly relevant in regards to the debate around abortion as sexual and reproductive rights must be addressed, despite the difficulty of this due to the sensitive and highly polarizing nature of the abortion debate.
The Special Rapporteur met with President Michelle Bachelet as well as various other government officials, people living in poverty and non governmental organisations amongst others.
The final report will be presented to the Human Rights Council in 2016, its findings hopefully putting into motion governmental responses to the issues highlighted.
SANTIAGO (24 March 2015) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston today warned that “poverty remains under the radar for many policy-makers in Chile, despite the country's impressive array of anti-poverty programs.”
“It remains to be seen whether the current middle class-driven political and social agenda will pay sufficient attention to the tragedy of those living in poverty,” said the independent expert tasked by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on situations of extreme poverty and human rights worldwide.
At the end of his official visit* to Chile, where he met with President Michelle Bachelet, Mr. Alston noted that “Chile is a model for the Latin American region in terms of its commitment to human rights, its high economic growth rates, and it sustained social policy innovations.”
“However,” he stressed, “it continues to tolerate levels of poverty and inequality which are very high for a country belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).”
“Persistent inequalities result in a highly segregated society, in which separate residential areas, separate schools, and separate employment markets operate to entrench privilege and stifle mobility,” he said.
Mr. Alston praised the current government's determination to tackle these issues, but stressed that even more had to be done. “Very high levels of inequality are incompatible with full respect for human rights,” he said.
For the Special Rapporteur, “reducing inequality and overcoming poverty is not solely a matter of fiscal policy, nor of education reform.” In that regard, he noted that the fight against gender and other forms of discrimination must be an integral part of a reform program.
“Labor law reforms are needed to enable trade unions to defend the rights of workers effectively,” he said. “Women's participation in the workforce needs to be facilitated by a range of measures that include better community care facilities, and better economic rewards for currently unpaid female care workers.”
The expert also called for measures to reduce the high rate of adolescent pregnancy, especially among the poorest. “It will be necessary to go well beyond the current debate about access to abortion, as important as that is. A more sustained effort needs to be made to acknowledge and promote sexual and reproductive rights, both as a matter of human rights and as a necessary complement to labor market reform,” Mr. Alston added.
The Special Rapporteur suggested that Chile's record on the rights of indigenous peoples represents the 'Achilles Heel' of its human rights record in the twenty-first century.
“The Chilean State's response to the widely acknowledged problems of exclusion, marginalization, and discrimination has been piecemeal and half-hearted,” according to the UN expert. “Efforts to eliminate extreme poverty in Chile cannot succeed without a concerted focus on the situation of indigenous peoples.”
Mr. Alston called for a specific, integrated plan to tackle both poverty and extreme poverty and for more effective coordination mechanisms. But he noted that this is unlikely to be achieved by relying solely on the efforts of the Ministry for Social Development.
“There is a deep need for an entity with the responsibility, authority, funds and resources to coordinate government-wide human rights policies,” he said, calling for progress towards the creation of the new Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. “The process seems, however, to have stalled and needs to be kickstarted.” The expert added that, once the new Ministerial structure is created, it should ensure that economic, social and cultural rights are an integral part of its mandate.
During his nine-day official visit, the Special Rapporteur also met with the new Senate president, Patricio Walker, and a range of government officials, civil society leaders, academics, international organization representatives, and people living in poverty.
Mr. Alston's full findings and recommendations will be presented in a report to the Human Rights Council in June 2016.
(*) Check the Special Rapporteur's full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15748&LangID=E
Professor Philip Alston (Australia) took office as UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in June 2014, following his appointment by the Human Rights Council. He is John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law at New York University School of Law. Mr. Alston has previously served the UN in several capacities including as Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Special Adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Millennium Development Goals, as well as chairperson of the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/SRExtremePovertyIndex.aspx
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Chile has made "extraordinary progress" in economic growth and poverty reduction, but high rates of inequality persist, the U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said Tuesday.
The Andean country has one of the strongest and most stable economies in Latin America, but it also has the widest gap between rich and poor among the 34 nations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Chile "continues to tolerate levels of poverty and inequality which are very high," U.N. rapporteur Philip Alston said in a press conference in Chile's capital after meeting with President Michelle Bachelet, government officials, lawmakers and people living in poverty.
The world's top copper producer is seen as probably the best-managed economy in Latin America because of its strong growth, prudent fiscal and macroeconomic policies and strong institutions. But critics say policies launched under the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet are still blocking social reform and fostering inequality.
Some of Chile's contradictions are in plain sight. Slum dwellers living in wooden shacks with zinc roofs at Campamento Juan Pablo II have a perfect view of elegant mansions, soaring skyscrapers and luxury car dealerships, just across a wide avenue in Las Condes, one of Santiago's wealthiest neighborhoods.
Alston said that though President Michelle Bachelet's efforts to reform taxes and overhaul education are positive, fiscal reforms alone will not be able enough to dramatically reduce the vast gap between rich and poor.
Schools in Chile were free before Pinochet ended central control and funding of primary and secondary schools. Public education in poorer districts suffered even as a voucher system directed billions of dollars in public funds to privately run high schools.
Bachelet is partly financing education reforms by increasing corporate taxes gradually by 5 percentage points to raise some $8.2 billion. She says she's answering the call of millions of students who have staged protests since 2011 demanding deep changes in an educational system that fails them with poor-quality public schools and expensive private universities.
Labor law reforms are also needed to allow trade unions to defend the rights of workers effectively, and women's participation in the workforce needs to be improved.
The special rapporteur also said that Chile's record on the rights of indigenous peoples remains "the 'Achilles Heel' of its human rights record in the twenty-first century."
The Mapuche indigenous people resisted the Spanish conquest for 300 years and their desire for autonomy remains strong. It wasn't until the late 19th century that they were defeated militarily and forced into the south- central Araucania region. Most live in poverty.
"Efforts to eliminate extreme poverty in Chile cannot succeed without a concerted focus on the situation of indigenous peoples," Alston said.