Members of groups that are particularly vulnerable to arbitrary deprivation of their human rights and fundamental freedoms because of characteristics for which they are not responsible and which they are not in a position to change, such as children, mentally retarded persons, disable persons, persons belonging to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities, persons born out of wedlock, non-citizens, and members of indigenous populations, are usually considered to be entitled to special measures to ensure their enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms and to protect their welfare and, yet, these rights are frequently denied.
The so-called vulnerable groups, which include children, women, migrant workers, the old and the poor, are undeniably the most exposed to and the most seriously affected by massive human rights violations.
In a document entitled Overall Socio-economic Perspective of the World Economy to the Year 2000, the United Nations comments that, as the overall economic prospects for Africa and Asia are unfavourable, with very slow or nil income growth, the incomes of the poor would not rise enough to eliminate poverty and undernutrition. The World Bank adds that 0.7 per cent of GDP, which would be equivalent to a 20 per cent income tax on the richest fifth of the world's population, would be sufficient to raise the income of all the poor in Africa to just above the poverty threshold. Of course, the advanced economies are also suffering from the current world economic crisis. They have been forced as a result to adopt drastic measures which have led to mass unemployment, inflation and real insecurity.
In some developed countries, particularly in Europe, restructuring and economic policies should be expressly aimed at improving the fate of deprived fringe groups such as invalids, migrants and the members of ethnic minorities, while ensuring a full participation by these groups in the economic, political and social life of the nation. It should be emphasized that the steps taken by the international financial institutions in the framework of their policies and programmes of action have had the major consequence of aggravating poverty and widening the gap between rich and poor.
The problems are still more severe in rural areas, where the failures of political and economic policies are more acutely felt. Thus, millions of people living in rural areas cross the threshold of absolute poverty every day. Poverty also affects the developed countries with liberal economies, where all the sectors of the population which are unable to compete are pushed aside. All the economic, social and cultural rights of the poor are thus violated or simply disregarded without any effort being made to interrupt the process. In this case, the economic base is a constituent part of the individual's right. The same applies to women, old people and workers. It should be recalled that the United Nations and its specialized agencies have, with the participation of the Member States, prepared a series of international instruments aimed at combating and eliminating the ills suffered by these groups. Drafting a legal instrument is one thing, however, and applying it is another. The economic protection of vulnerable groups is an essential prerequisite for the realization of their economic rights. This obligation, for which the States and the international community are responsible, has often been and may long continue to be ignored in view of the lack of will on all sides.