The United Nations is calling on governments to urgently come to grips with poverty and end the discrimination that systematically deprives poor people of their fundamental human rights. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva on this year's theme for Human Rights Day Sunday.

The United Nations chose poverty as this year's theme for Human Rights day because, it says, poverty is both a cause and a product of human rights violations. It says the poor are more likely to have their rights denied, and to be victims of discrimination and persecution.

Mac Darrow, of the U.N. Human Rights Office, says that over the last decade, poverty has come to be seen as a human rights issue, rather than just an economic issue. He says, research shows poor people suffer from a wide-range of civil and political rights violations. "Lack of access to adequate schooling. Lack of personal security. Lack of ability to participate in public affairs or community level decision-making bodies - really, a very integrated and multi-faceted vision of dis-empowerment. And, this and like research has driven international development agencies to understand poverty as precisely that, as about social exclusion, about issues of access to political power, economic power and discrimination," he said.

Darrow, who coordinates the Millennium Development Goals for the Human Rights office, says it is not easy for people to see poverty as a human rights violation equivalent to gross abuses such as torture, forced disappearances or summary executions.

Rather, he says poverty is perceived as tragic, but inevitable. He says poor people often are blamed for their own situation, and are accused of being lazy and undeserving.

The United Nations says poverty is part of a vicious cycle that tends to repeat itself from one generation to another. It says poverty exists everywhere, even in rich countries. It says women suffer most from being poor.

As part of the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals, countries have pledged to eradicate extreme poverty by 2015. The U.N. says time is running out on this pledge, and urges governments to speed up the process. It says eradicating poverty is a human right.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948, in the aftermath of World War II. In 1966, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights came into being. Together, these three rights treaties constitute the International Bill of Rights. International Human Rights Day celebrates this achievement.