Easterly on Amnesty's Poverty and Human Rights Campaign

Just a word of introduction as this is my first post here. My name’s Sameer Dossani and I’m the campaign director for the Demand Dignity Campaign, our campaign to address issues relating to Human Rights and poverty. Prior to working with Amensty, I’ve been in the development world critiquing the policies and projects of the IMF and World Bank on human rights grounds. If you’d like to find out more about the campaign please get in touch through the contact us section of this site.

This post was written as a response to a critique of our annual report from the Aid Watch blog.

Bill Easterly takes on Amnesty International’s 2009 Annual Report. I know and respect Easterly’s work; I’ve even been on a few panels with him over the years on aid effectiveness and the World Bank, but I have to say he’s pretty off base here.

The basic premise of his post is this:

The only useful definition of human rights is one where a human rights crusader could identify WHOSE rights are being violated and WHO is the violator. That is what historically has led to progress on human rights. The government officers of the slave-owning antebellum US and the slave-owners were violating the rights of slaves – leading to activism against such violators that eventually yielded the Emancipation Proclamation. The local southern government officers were violating the civil rights of southern blacks under Jim Crow, leading to activism against these violators that yielded the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. The apartheid government officers in South Africa violated the rights of black South Africans, and activism against these violators brought the end of apartheid.

Easterly then claims that poverty does not fit this definition of rights because “who is depriving the poor of their right to an adequate income?”

It’s true that lack of income, in and of itself, isn’t a human rights violation. But poverty is about a lot more than just income. As Easterly knows, those who live on less than a dollar a day are poor not just because they lack income; the lack of income implies lack of access to services, clean drinking water, adequate education, housing, employment and so on. All of these are violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights. To give just one of many possible examples, estimates indicate that as many as 8,000 children die daily in Africa alone from preventable diseases such as cholera and dysentery. It’s certainly true to say that these are diseases of poverty – the rich can ensure that their water is not contaminated and can seek treatment at private hospitals as opposed to understaffed government clinics – but they are more than that. They are violations of the right to health and the right to clean water.

And people living in poverty are vulnerable to violations of their civil and political rights as well. In the Favelas (shanty towns) of Sao Paolo in Brazil, police and gangs are in daily conflict. There are allegations of human rights abuse on all sides, and the government feels little pressure to respect due process in large part because this violence is taking place in an extremely poor part of the city. Ordinary people are in danger from gangs on the one hand and from a state takes their rights less seriously because they live in a poor community.

These are all human rights violations, and it is ultimately the responsibility of governments to end them. In some cases those actually committing the abuse may not be governments; such as when Dow Chemical refuses to clean up the toxic mess that is still poisoning impoverished communities in Bhopal, India from a disaster that killed thousands in 1984. But in all cases it is ultimately the responsibility of governments to ensure that human rights – including the right to live a life of dignity – are respected.

Human rights abuses cause poverty and keep people poor – and living in poverty makes you more likely to suffer violations of your human rights. So human rights must be part of any solution to poverty.

AIUSA welcomes a lively and courteous discussion that follow our Community Guidelines. Comments are not pre-screened before they post but AIUSA reserves the right to remove any comments violating our guidelines.

13 thoughts on “Easterly on Amnesty's Poverty and Human Rights Campaign

  1. Thanks, Sameer, for your clarifications in the above commentary; as well, for your recent visit to Seattle (WA), May 29th 09, to talk about health and human rights concerns.

    Turns out, Sen. Murray is on Senate committee that directly influences U.S. health care services and policy. I just sent her a summary of AIUSA's human rights perspectives for health care access (Senator Murray spoke at the May30 Mobilization in Seattle, for health care access – )

    I assume all of you in DC Amnesty, will be gathering the petitions (for health care access as a human right) and finding ways use these petitions in Congress. Do share how this goes (of course).

    Just an update. Thanks.
    Larry Ebersole (area coordinator guy/Seattle, WA)

  2. Thanks, Sameer, for your clarifications in the above commentary; as well, for your recent visit to Seattle (WA), May 29th 09, to talk about health and human rights concerns.

    Turns out, Sen. Murray is on Senate committee that directly influences U.S. health care services and policy. I just sent her a summary of AIUSA’s human rights perspectives for health care access (Senator Murray spoke at the May30 Mobilization in Seattle, for health care access – )

    I assume all of you in DC Amnesty, will be gathering the petitions (for health care access as a human right) and finding ways use these petitions in Congress. Do share how this goes (of course).

    Just an update. Thanks.
    Larry Ebersole (area coordinator guy/Seattle, WA)

  3. Hi Sameer,

    This is my first post here in the AI Blog….and what an interesting subject to post about.

    Can you give us some idea how AI is planning on answering Easterly on this issue & of how we can be of support to AI in doing this?

    If you know Easterly then you know that he doesn't give up easily & that to put his fire out you have to turn up your hoses otherwise he won't stop until he's been able to burn down your entire village.

    Please let us know what AI is going to do about this & how we can help you.

    All the Best, debbie :)

  4. Thanks for the feedback. The petition Larry mentions is online at http://www.amnestyusa.org/healthcare . Watch this space for more updates on our Health Care is a Human Right campaign.

    As for answering Easterly, I think it's actually a much bigger problem. People, even very educated people, in the United States seem to think that only half of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies. Europeans don't seem to share this preconception, in my experience, and certainly in the Africa, Asia and Latin America, those who campaign against government repression in Burma, for example, are exactly the same people who are fighting to ensure that poor communities can have access to clean water, a decent education and so on.

    Easterly and other development folks should be natural allies in all this. I think one other way to approach the discussion is to talk about the limits of the traditional definitions of poverty.

    And all this may be new ground for us at Amnesty International, but there are others who have paved the way. The UN office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has this very useful guide to rights-based development approaches… http://www.unhchr.ch/development/approaches.html

  5. Thanks for the feedback. The petition Larry mentions is online at http://www.amnestyusa.org/healthcare . Watch this space for more updates on our Health Care is a Human Right campaign.

    As for answering Easterly, I think it's actually a much bigger problem. People, even very educated people, in the United States seem to think that only half of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies. Europeans don't seem to share this preconception, in my experience, and certainly in the Africa, Asia and Latin America, those who campaign against government repression in Burma, for example, are exactly the same people who are fighting to ensure that poor communities can have access to clean water, a decent education and so on.

    Easterly and other development folks should be natural allies in all this. I think one other way to approach the discussion is to talk about the limits of the traditional definitions of poverty.

    And all this may be new ground for us at Amnesty International, but there are others who have paved the way. The UN office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has this very useful guide to rights-based development approaches… http://www.unhchr.ch/development/approaches.html

  6. Thanks for the feedback. The petition Larry mentions is online at http://www.amnestyusa.org/healthcare . Watch this space for more updates on our Health Care is a Human Right campaign.

    As for answering Easterly, I think it's actually a much bigger problem. People, even very educated people, in the United States seem to think that only half of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies. Europeans don't seem to share this preconception, in my experience, and certainly in the Africa, Asia and Latin America, those who campaign against government repression in Burma, for example, are exactly the same people who are fighting to ensure that poor communities can have access to clean water, a decent education and so on.

    Easterly and other development folks should be natural allies in all this. I think one other way to approach the discussion is to talk about the limits of the traditional definitions of poverty.

    And all this may be new ground for us at Amnesty International, but there are others who have paved the way. The UN office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has this very useful guide to rights-based development approaches… http://www.unhchr.ch/development/approaches.html

  7. Hi Sameer,

    This is my first post here in the AI Blog….and what an interesting subject to post about.

    Can you give us some idea how AI is planning on answering Easterly on this issue & of how we can be of support to AI in doing this?

    If you know Easterly then you know that he doesn’t give up easily & that to put his fire out you have to turn up your hoses otherwise he won’t stop until he’s been able to burn down your entire village.

    Please let us know what AI is going to do about this & how we can help you.

    All the Best, debbie :)

  8. Thanks for the feedback. The petition Larry mentions is online at http://www.amnestyusa.org/healthcare . Watch this space for more updates on our Health Care is a Human Right campaign.

    As for answering Easterly, I think it’s actually a much bigger problem. People, even very educated people, in the United States seem to think that only half of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies. Europeans don’t seem to share this preconception, in my experience, and certainly in the Africa, Asia and Latin America, those who campaign against government repression in Burma, for example, are exactly the same people who are fighting to ensure that poor communities can have access to clean water, a decent education and so on.

    Easterly and other development folks should be natural allies in all this. I think one other way to approach the discussion is to talk about the limits of the traditional definitions of poverty.

    And all this may be new ground for us at Amnesty International, but there are others who have paved the way. The UN office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has this very useful guide to rights-based development approaches… http://www.unhchr.ch/development/approaches.html

  9. Pingback: SCOUT BANANA» Blog Archive » Global Health is Everyone’s Responsibility and Human Right

  10. Sameer-

    Good afternoon,

    Why did you remove my post to your other blog titled “Human Rights Missing from Health Care Debate”?

    And now it appears you have blocked anyone from replying to that particular blog?

    The truth hurts, but don’t ignore it.
    ______________
    The Bloody Shirt

    Have you heard the name Deamonte Driver? Well you should, for he is about to become the bloody shirt waved in 2008 by the advocates of more goverment-provided and controlled healthcare.

    Here is his story:

    For Want of a Dentist
    Pr. George’s Boy Dies After Bacteria From Tooth Spread to Brain
    By Mary Otto
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, February 28, 2007; B01

    Twelve-year-old Deamonte Driver died of a toothache Sunday.

    A routine, $80 tooth extraction might have saved him.

    If his mother had been insured.

    If his family had not lost its Medicaid.

    If Medicaid dentists weren’t so hard to find.

    If his mother hadn’t been focused on getting a dentist for his brother, who had six rotted teeth.

    By the time Deamonte’s own aching tooth got any attention, the bacteria from the abscess had spread to his brain, doctors said. After two operations and more than six weeks of hospital care, the Prince George’s County boy died.

    Deamonte’s death and the ultimate cost of his care, which could total more than $250,000, underscore an often-overlooked concern in the debate over universal health coverage: dental care.

    It’s a very sad story about the horrors of poverty, American-style. But you have to do some hard reading between the lines to perceive those horrors as they really are. In conformity to the most ancient canons of liberal advocacy journalism, reporter Mary Otto has ignored the real story – a shocking account of parental incompetence and neglect – to advance an agenda.

    You have to scroll more than halfway down into the story to arrive at these details:

    The Driver children have never received routine dental attention, said their mother, Alyce Driver.

    But doesn’t Medicaid cover dental care?

    The children’s Medicaid coverage had temporarily lapsed at the time Deamonte was hospitalized.

    Wait a minute: how does Medicaid “lapse”? Maryland’s Medicaid program covers children under 19 whose parents earn up to 200% of the federal poverty level : $33,000 for a family of 3. If Driver earned more than $33,000 from her “bakery, construction, and home healthcare jobs,” you would think she might be able to afford a visit to the dentist for an ailing child. Or did her coverage “lapse” for some other reason? What was it?

    To find that answer, you have to wait till the very end of the story. Driver ends up in a homeless shelter.

    She suspects that the paperwork to confirm their [Medicaid] eligibility was mailed to the shelter in Adelphi, where they no longer live.

    In which case, would it not have been truer to add one more “if” clause to the opening above: “If only his mother had not been so utterly neglectful as not to take one single solitary personal step to ensure that her Medicaid coverage continued when she changed addresses?”

    But wait, it’s not Ms Driver’s fault!

    And even with Medicaid’s promise of dental care, the problem, she said, was finding it.

    It took me three clicks at 1800Dentist.com to find a dentist office in north Washington, convenient to Prince George’s county, that had an appointment available for a Medicaid patient this very morning.

    This next passage speaks for itself I think:

    When Deamonte got sick, his mother had not realized that his tooth had been bothering him. Instead, she was focusing on his younger brother, 10-year-old DaShawn, who “complains about his teeth all the time,” she said.

    DaShawn saw a dentist a couple of years ago, but the dentist discontinued the treatments, she said, after the boy squirmed too much in the chair.

    Now this:

    By September, several of DaShawn’s teeth had become abscessed. Driver began making calls about the boy’s coverage but grew frustrated.

    Did this frustration impel her to more frantic efforts to help her sons? Not at all. She turned the whole problem over to

    Laurie Norris, a lawyer for the Baltimore-based Public Justice Center who tried to help the Driver family

    - and who also emerges as the principal source for Mary Otto’s wave-the-bloody-shirt story.

    Norris secured the Drivers some help, but seems not to have brought much urgency to Deamonte’s care.

    Norris and her staff also ran into barriers: They said they made more than two dozen calls before reaching an official at the Driver family’s Medicaid provider and a state supervising nurse who helped them find a dentist.
    Why couldn’t they find a dentist on their own?

    On Oct. 5, DaShawn saw Arthur Fridley, who cleaned the boy’s teeth, took an X-ray and referred him to an oral surgeon. But the surgeon could not see him until Nov. 21, and that would be only for a consultation.
    Driver said she learned that DaShawn would need six teeth extracted and made an appointment for the earliest date available: Jan. 16.
    But she had to cancel after learning Jan. 8 that the children had lost their Medicaid coverage a month earlier.
    In other words, the lawyer who is supposedly urgently seeking care for an ill boy has likewise made no effort over the four months between September 2006 and January 2007 to determine whether the family had in fact sustained their Medicaid coverage – or to get it reinstated. Instead, Ms Driver cancelled her appointment and then … did nothing.

    It was on Jan. 11 that Deamonte came home from school complaining of a headache. At Southern Maryland Hospital Center, his mother said, he got medicine for a headache, sinusitis and a dental abscess. But the next day, he was much sicker.

    Eventually, he was rushed to Children’s Hospital, where he underwent emergency brain surgery. He began to have seizures and had a second operation. The problem tooth was extracted.

    Now look: I’m not going to deny that there may well be much wrong with health coverage for America’ poor. Obviously there is. And some of the steps mentioned at the end of the article, including expansion of dental service at state health clinics, may well be useful and cost-effective measures. Maryland could pay for a lot of routine care with the quarter-million dollars it spent at the end to save Deamonte Driver’s life.

    But no government program on earth can protect children’s health from a custodial parent who refuses to bestir herself in any way to help them, no matter how obviously sick they are. And no responsible journalist should allow herself to be manipulated by welfare-industry advocates into minimizing or excusing this truth in her reporting.

    Deamonte Driver was a victim of parental neglect, not the hard-heartedness of the Medicaid program. And the really tough question for the guardians of the poor is: How on earth do we insure against that?

    **

    Update: A reader suggests another question Mary Otto should have asked Alyce Driver. “How often did Deamonte brush his teeth?” Teaching your children to brush and floss will eliminate almost all cavities even in the absence of any visits to the dentist at all. And if the answer is that Driver neglected even this basic, basic level of hygiene, you have to wonder whether there was any conceivable government health program that could have saved her son’s life – short, that is, of actually removing her children from her care. But that’s a very different debate, isn’t it?

  11. Sameer-

    Good afternoon,

    Why did you remove my post to your other blog titled “Human Rights Missing from Health Care Debate”?

    And now it appears you have blocked anyone from replying to that particular blog?

    The truth hurts, but don’t ignore it.
    ______________
    The Bloody Shirt

    Have you heard the name Deamonte Driver? Well you should, for he is about to become the bloody shirt waved in 2008 by the advocates of more goverment-provided and controlled healthcare.

    Here is his story:

    For Want of a Dentist
    Pr. George’s Boy Dies After Bacteria From Tooth Spread to Brain
    By Mary Otto
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, February 28, 2007; B01

    Twelve-year-old Deamonte Driver died of a toothache Sunday.

    A routine, $80 tooth extraction might have saved him.

    If his mother had been insured.

    If his family had not lost its Medicaid.

    If Medicaid dentists weren’t so hard to find.

    If his mother hadn’t been focused on getting a dentist for his brother, who had six rotted teeth.

    By the time Deamonte’s own aching tooth got any attention, the bacteria from the abscess had spread to his brain, doctors said. After two operations and more than six weeks of hospital care, the Prince George’s County boy died.

    Deamonte’s death and the ultimate cost of his care, which could total more than $250,000, underscore an often-overlooked concern in the debate over universal health coverage: dental care.

    It’s a very sad story about the horrors of poverty, American-style. But you have to do some hard reading between the lines to perceive those horrors as they really are. In conformity to the most ancient canons of liberal advocacy journalism, reporter Mary Otto has ignored the real story – a shocking account of parental incompetence and neglect – to advance an agenda.

    You have to scroll more than halfway down into the story to arrive at these details:

    The Driver children have never received routine dental attention, said their mother, Alyce Driver.

    But doesn’t Medicaid cover dental care?

    The children’s Medicaid coverage had temporarily lapsed at the time Deamonte was hospitalized.

    Wait a minute: how does Medicaid “lapse”? Maryland’s Medicaid program covers children under 19 whose parents earn up to 200% of the federal poverty level : $33,000 for a family of 3. If Driver earned more than $33,000 from her “bakery, construction, and home healthcare jobs,” you would think she might be able to afford a visit to the dentist for an ailing child. Or did her coverage “lapse” for some other reason? What was it?

    To find that answer, you have to wait till the very end of the story. Driver ends up in a homeless shelter.

    She suspects that the paperwork to confirm their [Medicaid] eligibility was mailed to the shelter in Adelphi, where they no longer live.

    In which case, would it not have been truer to add one more “if” clause to the opening above: “If only his mother had not been so utterly neglectful as not to take one single solitary personal step to ensure that her Medicaid coverage continued when she changed addresses?”

    But wait, it’s not Ms Driver’s fault!

    And even with Medicaid’s promise of dental care, the problem, she said, was finding it.

    It took me three clicks at 1800Dentist.com to find a dentist office in north Washington, convenient to Prince George’s county, that had an appointment available for a Medicaid patient this very morning.

    This next passage speaks for itself I think:

    When Deamonte got sick, his mother had not realized that his tooth had been bothering him. Instead, she was focusing on his younger brother, 10-year-old DaShawn, who “complains about his teeth all the time,” she said.

    DaShawn saw a dentist a couple of years ago, but the dentist discontinued the treatments, she said, after the boy squirmed too much in the chair.

    Now this:

    By September, several of DaShawn’s teeth had become abscessed. Driver began making calls about the boy’s coverage but grew frustrated.

    Did this frustration impel her to more frantic efforts to help her sons? Not at all. She turned the whole problem over to

    Laurie Norris, a lawyer for the Baltimore-based Public Justice Center who tried to help the Driver family

    - and who also emerges as the principal source for Mary Otto’s wave-the-bloody-shirt story.

    Norris secured the Drivers some help, but seems not to have brought much urgency to Deamonte’s care.

    Norris and her staff also ran into barriers: They said they made more than two dozen calls before reaching an official at the Driver family’s Medicaid provider and a state supervising nurse who helped them find a dentist.
    Why couldn’t they find a dentist on their own?

    On Oct. 5, DaShawn saw Arthur Fridley, who cleaned the boy’s teeth, took an X-ray and referred him to an oral surgeon. But the surgeon could not see him until Nov. 21, and that would be only for a consultation.
    Driver said she learned that DaShawn would need six teeth extracted and made an appointment for the earliest date available: Jan. 16.
    But she had to cancel after learning Jan. 8 that the children had lost their Medicaid coverage a month earlier.
    In other words, the lawyer who is supposedly urgently seeking care for an ill boy has likewise made no effort over the four months between September 2006 and January 2007 to determine whether the family had in fact sustained their Medicaid coverage – or to get it reinstated. Instead, Ms Driver cancelled her appointment and then … did nothing.

    It was on Jan. 11 that Deamonte came home from school complaining of a headache. At Southern Maryland Hospital Center, his mother said, he got medicine for a headache, sinusitis and a dental abscess. But the next day, he was much sicker.

    Eventually, he was rushed to Children’s Hospital, where he underwent emergency brain surgery. He began to have seizures and had a second operation. The problem tooth was extracted.

    Now look: I’m not going to deny that there may well be much wrong with health coverage for America’ poor. Obviously there is. And some of the steps mentioned at the end of the article, including expansion of dental service at state health clinics, may well be useful and cost-effective measures. Maryland could pay for a lot of routine care with the quarter-million dollars it spent at the end to save Deamonte Driver’s life.

    But no government program on earth can protect children’s health from a custodial parent who refuses to bestir herself in any way to help them, no matter how obviously sick they are. And no responsible journalist should allow herself to be manipulated by welfare-industry advocates into minimizing or excusing this truth in her reporting.

    Deamonte Driver was a victim of parental neglect, not the hard-heartedness of the Medicaid program. And the really tough question for the guardians of the poor is: How on earth do we insure against that?

    **

    Update: A reader suggests another question Mary Otto should have asked Alyce Driver. “How often did Deamonte brush his teeth?” Teaching your children to brush and floss will eliminate almost all cavities even in the absence of any visits to the dentist at all. And if the answer is that Driver neglected even this basic, basic level of hygiene, you have to wonder whether there was any conceivable government health program that could have saved her son’s life – short, that is, of actually removing her children from her care. But that’s a very different debate, isn’t it?

  12. I am from Maryland, and at the age of five had five teeth pulled.

    My mother is one of those German women that actually is so clean, that she did also regularly clean the door knobs. My hygiene was equal to my brothers who never had a cavity. We don't know what causes the immune system of teeth to go catty wampus. These days, with standard good dental care, teeth can be protected with washes of materials that make them practically impervious to caries but you need a dentist and money to pay him. My mother, probably in a state of panic over many problems coming at her, would have forgotten something like the mailing logistics. She is a good mother, but stress diminishes our talents, and we function under par.

    I don't know the mother being castigated, but neither do you. There could be thousands of reasons on both sides of the event. Structural violence is in the system. It is an aspect we can certainly work on. It is our moral duty.

  13. I am from Maryland, and at the age of five had five teeth pulled.

    My mother is one of those German women that actually is so clean, that she did also regularly clean the door knobs. My hygiene was equal to my brothers who never had a cavity. We don’t know what causes the immune system of teeth to go catty wampus. These days, with standard good dental care, teeth can be protected with washes of materials that make them practically impervious to caries but you need a dentist and money to pay him. My mother, probably in a state of panic over many problems coming at her, would have forgotten something like the mailing logistics. She is a good mother, but stress diminishes our talents, and we function under par.

    I don’t know the mother being castigated, but neither do you. There could be thousands of reasons on both sides of the event. Structural violence is in the system. It is an aspect we can certainly work on. It is our moral duty.