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AGM '09: David Petrasek - poverty & human rights (#11)

David Petrasek is the special advisor to AI Secretary General Irene Khan and co-author, with Irene, of the book Unheard Truths – human rights and poverty (to be published later in 2009).

11:35am  Petrasek delivers a thoughtful speech setting out the thinking which will underpin Amnesty's next big global campaign, Demand Dignity, on human rights and poverty. He directs us to the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, if we want to find out more about these issues. He is sceptical that there is any one solution to the problem of poverty, but that taking a human rights-based approach to the problem is crucial.

I'll give a flavour of the Q&A session, rather than focus on his address itself.

Q. 'Where do labour rights and workers rights fit within your framework?'
A. 'They are fundamental,' declares Petrasek, and points up the plight of the millions caught in the black economy, the casual workers who are left with the lowest of incomes and the worst access to rights.

Q. 'What's the role of corporate accountability?'
A. Extractive industries often don't make wealthy those countries which actually own the resources. Oil hasn't made Nigeria rich. We think there needs to be international rules which demand accountability of these companies.

Q. 'You referred to the power of veto of China and the US at the UN and the power of the big countries over the likes of the IMF and the World Bank; how do we challenge and change this?'
A. Amnesty's strength as a global organisation is to bring pressure to bear on the UN and on governments. We can work alongside others to give them space for their campaigns. As this campaign progresses, we will be coming out with recommendations on how these organisations might change to deliver on rights more effectively. The G20 decisions this week have been very interesting; developing countries must have their say, but that does not end the debate on democratisation of those institutions.

Q. 'With a prisoner of conscience case, we know what our objective is – to free that prisoner. What are the specific, achievable objectives of this campaign?'
A. With the Deep Sea community, it is a pretty specific demand for those people not to be thrown out of their homes. We will seek to frame similar aims or demands in each campaign area and ensure that, crucially, they are grounded in international human rights law. Yes, we may be more accustomed to working for individuals, but these communities are made up of individuals.

Q. 'What role is there for education in this campaign?'
A. Education helps create the demand for rights. We can help groups on the ground, who are already doing this work, to do more of it. But we therefore also need to focus on the supply-side, getting governments to supply the rights demanded by their people.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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