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The Unheard Truth: Poverty and Human Rights Paperback – October 15, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Important, potentially transformative ideas are nearly lost in this noble but botched treatise by Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International. Describing poverty as the world's worst human rights crisis, the author refutes the view that economic growth alone can address the problem, arguing that corruption, disenfranchisement and other ills perpetuate poverty even as a country's GDP rises. Shifting her focus to the United Nations, she reveals how the organization's antiquated human rights and antipoverty approaches—still heavily influenced by cold war ideological battles—impede the causes they are intended to assist. Unfortunately, readers must wade through the book's tedious first half to reach these insights; Khan squanders space and her audience's patience reporting truisms like poor people often have inadequate shelter, that they lack food and often go to bed hungry and that war and genocide impoverish their victims. Not only do these unnecessary sections obscure Khan's very valuable messages, but they read more like a textbook than the work of a leading expert in her field. Photos. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“Khan’s inquiry into poverty and human rights issues is scrupulously sourced with copious endnotes and statistics to back up every assertion, but it truly excels when Khan provides personal stories that hit harder than numbers.... In concise, well-ordered chapters, Khan brings massive social problems down to a manageable size. A significant and unflinching analysis of a terribly (and tragically) important area of study.” — Colleen Mondor (Booklist)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Original edition (October 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393337006
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393337006
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.7 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #581,392 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By M. Himed on November 15, 2009
Format: Paperback
The statistics on poverty are staggering. People know that others are starving somewhere on this planet but have power to do nothing except shake their heads. People starve on one side of the world while the majority of people on the other side are full with some being obese and requiring surgery to remove the excess fat. The author of this book, Irene Khan, together with Amnesty International believes that poverty is a denial of human rights. How are the two connected? Every man, woman, and child on Earth has the right to shelter and food and if they are not getting those two and a few other things, then they are being denied their human rights.

The author gives many examples of countries denying their people human rights. We go from South America to the Sub Saharan Africa and we read terrible stories of people suffering. On page 178, we read about the story of the country Chad where 80% of the people live below the poverty line. They were given millions of dollars to build an oil pipeline and the money was supposed to go the poor people of Chad. Instead, 30 million dollars was used to buy weapons and the rest was embezzled by the President Idriss Deby-whom Forbes magazine called a pig- and his government. This led to the people- who are called rebels and terrorists by the government- rising up in anger and it has led to fighting and destruction that has left tens of thousands of people homeless, refugees, or dead.

Earlier in the book, we read about another nation- this one a liberal democracy- Israel, which has placed 500 military checkpoints on using roads in the occupied territory. The previous sentence sounds strange and it should because their should not be a democracy that is unjust to those whom it considers minorities.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By William Podmore on November 19, 2010
Format: Paperback
Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International, has written a fine book on what she rightly calls `poverty, the world's worst human rights crisis'.

She points out that the inequities in the world today are greater than those in apartheid South Africa, and they are growing. The number of those suffering hunger has risen steadily since 2000. In 2008, rising food prices pushed 100 million people back down into poverty, and the economic crisis has forced another 50 million into poverty. One billion people go to bed hungry every night.

China now spends less than 1 per cent of its GDP on health care, ranking it 156th of 196 UN member states. 30 million more Chinese people were illiterate in 2005 than in 2000. The richest 10 per cent of China's people get 30 times the income of the poorest 10 per cent. In India, 42 per cent of females over the age of 6 have never attended school.

Ms Khan shows how countries need the universal provision of essential services, including, for example, abortion: South Africa's deaths from abortion complications fell by 90 per cent after it was legalised in 1994.

In a brilliant chapter on the need for housing, she points out, "the market on its own has failed to provide affordable and accessible homes to all sectors of society ... Global housing debates tend to accept that only market-based solutions to the global housing crisis will prevail (despite such approaches arguably being the cause of the crisis in the first place!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Wade T. Wheelock on March 11, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book by Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International, is both disturbing and inspiring as she offers a thorough examination of the scandal of global poverty seen through the lens of human rights. She draws on her vast experience as a human rights activist around the world to demonstrate what it means to be poor. In developing this richly textured portrait, Khan makes an absolutely compelling case why working to increase average incomes in developing countries by such means as raising aid levels or expanding free trade, as has been the predominant focus of global anti-poverty efforts, by itself does not address the complete range of suffering and injustice experienced by the poor. In developing and developed nations alike the poor confront restrictions and abuses of their full humanity that range from discrimination based on race, caste, and ethnicity to legal and political powerlessness in the face of government and corporate elites, from greater exposure to violence by criminals as well as by police to the grave inequalities still endured by impoverished women in areas such as health care, education, and economic self-determination. Securing basic rights for the poor, on the other hand, is essential if economic development is to succeed and be sustained.

Khan goes on to point out ways to move forward that involve actors at all levels, beginning with the poor themselves organizing at the local level, and going all the way up to national governments, multinational corporations and international agencies imbedding human rights requirements, especially with regard to the poor, in all their activities. This is a challenging but exciting course that Khan charts for tackling poverty. But she gives reasons why it is so important and why it can -- and must -- succeed.
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