BY H.E. MSGR. RENATO R. MARTINO
Wednesday, 30 October 2002
"We are gathered here today in the spirit of peace for the good of all human beings and for the care of creation. At this moment in history, at the beginning of the third Millennium, we are saddened to see the daily suffering of a great number of people from violence, starvation, poverty and disease" (Pope John Paul II and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Joint Statement at the Fourth Symposium on Religion, Science and the Environment, Rome-Venice, 10 June 2002).
These were the opening words of the Joint Statement signed on 10 June 2002 by His Holiness Pope John Paul II and by the Ecumenical Patriarch, His Holiness Bartholomew I. Those were also the first lines of the statement of the Holy See at the World Summit on Sustainable Development and so it seems a fitting way to begin the statement of the Holy See in this discussion on the First United Nations Decade for the Elimination of Poverty.
Extreme poverty is a violation of human rights
In his message to the working men and women gathered at the Vatican for the celebration of the great Jubilee, His Holiness Pope John Paul II reminded the world of the long standing position of the Holy See: "Extreme poverty is perhaps the most pervasive and paralyzing form of violation of human rights in our world" (cf. Pope John Paul II, Homily at the Jubilee of Workers, 1 May 2000).
It should be noted that the Pope did not refer to poverty as merely an unfortunate situation, or a state of life into which some people are born or fall. No, His Holiness called extreme poverty a "pervasive and paralyzing form of the violation of human rights"!
This discussion comes on the heels of the four important meetings which have had a direct impact on this issue: the Millennium Summit, the Conference on Least Developed Countries, the International Conference on Financing for Development and the World Summit on Sustainable Development, conferences and summits which had the eradication of poverty and enhancing the well-being of all people as their foundation and core.
Millennium Development Goals
In 2000, world leaders gathered and established the Millennium Development Goals, which included, "to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day". According to the Report of the Secretary General, "some countries and regions are on target to reach this goal by 2015". My Delegation applauds that commitment.
Progress is being made. Unfortunately, for too many, progress is too slow. Too many of the world's people continue to live without access to the basics for life and too many people live without hope.
This lack of access and the effects that it has on physical, emotional and spiritual well-being must be the focus of this and every discussion within the United Nations System, especially in the discussions involving the eradication of poverty.
Questions about "population growth' causing extreme poverty
My Delegation welcomes the Report before us but it can not agree with the statement found in paragraph 22 of the text, where we read: "Social obstacles can also be powerful impediments to economic development and poverty eradication. Among these, some of the most significant are population growth and a lack of access to education and health care".
It is not so much the growth of the population that becomes an obstacle to and a burden upon development. There are many factors that play a role, including natural disasters, armed conflict, or the oppression that causes the movement and displacement of persons, separation from homes and of families and the disruption of lives.
Statement is not just untrue but harmful
In fact, it is the position of the Holy See that the statement found in the Report is not only untrue but harmful to those struggling to overcome the burdens of poverty and the vulnerability that comes with it. If the world would experience a zero population growth over the next thirteen years does the author of this Report actually believe that the goals and targets set at the Millennium Summit would suddenly be met? Can anyone actually believe this?
The elimination of poverty is more than the simple changing of numbers. It takes great effort and political will as the world has already and continues to realize.
The concern of the Holy See is not new. More than one hundred years ago, in 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued his revolutionary Encyclical Letter, Rerum Novarum, "New Things". In it His Holiness described the changes in the world economic situation: "That the spirit of revolutionary change which has long been disturbing the nations of the world, should have passed beyond the sphere of politics and made its influence felt in the related sphere of practical economics is not surprising ... in the enormous fortunes of some few individuals and the utter poverty of the masses.... The momentous gravity of the state of things now obtaining fills every mind with painful apprehension; wise men are discussing it, practical men are proposing schemes; popular meetings, legislatures, and rulers of nations are all busied with it - actually there is no question which has taken deeper hold on the public mind" (His Holiness Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, 1891, paragraph 1).
Justice and the recognition of human dignity
The same message was repeated through the years and the call for justice and the recognition of human dignity that will lead to the eradication of poverty will continue to be the message of the Holy See.
It is the hope of my Delegation that the dialogue will continue and that words will be put into action. The people living in extreme poverty can not wait until 2015 to be told simply, "Sorry, the goals we set in 2000 were not met". Instead, the world community needs to continue to say we will work, we will strive, we will succeed in freeing all people from this "most pervasive and paralyzing form of violation of human rights in our world".
Thank you, Mr Chairman.