Hunger Action Network of NYS is proud to be working in collaboration with The Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Partnership and Senator Gillibrand on a campaign to bring awareness to both the public and our elected officials to the depth of the hunger problem facing our fellow New Yorkers. More than 2.6 million New Yorkers go hungry everyday, almost a million of whom are children . Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares everyone has the right to a standard of living that includes the right to food

The United States is only one of three countries that signed the United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights but has yet to ratify. The other two are Cambodia and Liberia. Signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1977, it has yet to be ratified by our US Senate. Meanwhile , in the forty years since the United States government declared a ” War on Poverty”, the gap between the rich and poor in this country has grown exponentially. We will be working to grow a coalition to get the US Senate to ratify and start to truly address the homelessness and hunger pervasive in our country.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a declaration adopted by the United Nations General assembly on December 10, 1948. The Declaration arose directly from the experience of the Second World War. It represents the first global expression the rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled.

During World War II, the Allies adopted the Four Freedoms- freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from fear, and freedom from want.

The United Nations Charter “reaffirmed faith in fundamental human rights, and dignity and worth of the human purpose” and committed all member states to promote ‘universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”

The Declaration of Human Rights was adopted as a Declaration (document stating agreed upon Standards but is not legally binding). While not a Treaty (formal agreement between states that defines and modifies their mutual duties and obligations) the Declaration was specifically adopted for the purpose of defining the meaning of the words “fundamental freedoms” and “human rights” appearing in the United Nations Charter, which is binding on all member states. However, many international lawyers believe the Declaration forms part of customary international law and is a powerful tool in applying diplomatic and moral pressure to governments that violate any of its articles.

The Declaration was the foundation of two binding UN human rights treaties or covenants.   The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which articulates the specific, liberty oriented rights that a state may not take from its citizens, such as freedom of expression and freedom of movement and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which addresses those articles that define an individual’s rights to basic necessities, such as food, housing, and health care, which states should provide for its citizens, in so far as it is able. Both covenants were adopted by the UN in 1966.

What are Human Rights?

Human Rights are the rights a person has simply because she or he is a human being. Human Rights are held by all persons equally, universally, and forever.

You cannot lose these rights and any more than you can cease being a human being.

Another definition of human rights is those basic standards without which people cannot live in dignity. Human Rights violations occur every day in this country when a parent abuses a child, when a family is homeless, when school provides inadequate education, when women are paid less than men, when a family goes without food or a senior needs to decide between buying food or medicine.

Steps in the Adoption of Conventions

Before becoming codified into binding law, human rights concepts must pass through a lengthy process that involves consensus building and practical politics at the international and national levels.

  • Drafted by working groups. The UN General Assembly commissions working groups of representative of UN member states as well as intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations.
  • Adoption by vote of the UN General Assembly
  • Signed by member states. When a member state signs the convention, they are indicating they have begun the process required by their government for ratification. In signing they agree to refrain from acts that would be contrary to the objectives of the convention.
  • Ratified by member state. When a member state ratifies a convention, it signifies its intention to comply with the specific provisions and obligations of the document. It takes on the responsibility to see its national laws are in agreement with the convention.
  • Entered into force. A convention goes into effect when a certain number of member states have ratified it. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, were adopted in 1966 but did not enter into force until 1976 when the specified number of 35 member states had ratified them.


The U.S. Ratification Process

In the United States the process of ratification begins when the president endorses the document by signing it. It is then submitted to the senate, along with any administrative recommendations. The Senate Foreign Relations committee first considers the convention, conducting hearings to monitor public reaction. The Foreign Relations Committee may then recommend the convention to the Senate.

Next the full Senate considers the convention. Finally, if the Senate approves the convention, the president formally notifies the U.N that the United States has ratified and thus becomes a state’s party to the convention.


United States and the Declaration of Human Rights

The U.S. Constitution calls for strong protections for civil and political rights. However it fails to recognize the economic, social, and cultural rights guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The right to an adequate standard of living including food, shelter, and medical care, have not been recognized as rights.

Unfortunately, the U.S. government rarely recognizes the right to food, health care, housing environmental pollution and other social and economic concerns as human rights issues in our country. Because economic, social, and cultural issues are not viewed in America as rights to be enjoyed by all, public policies can exclude people from eligibility as long as they do not discriminate on prohibited grounds such as race. As a country we fail to guarantee all people in the United States deserve an adequate standard of living and other rights necessary to live in dignity.