Martha F. Davis

Document Type



This article employs a human rights lens to examine the extreme economic inequality targeted by Occupy Wall Street (OWS). First, I look at the fundamental question of whether such economic inequality constitutes a human rights violation. To analyze that question, I begin by examining the extent to which poverty has been deemed to raise international human rights concerns, finding that international human rights institutions have generally addressed poverty by focusing on the ways in which poverty frustrates the exercise of substantive and procedural human rights. I then use a similar lens to examine the issue of economic inequality, concluding that there is only scant support for the claim that extreme economic inequality in a highly developed nation like the U.S. directly violates human rights norms. Next, I review the ways in which poor people's movements in the U.S. have utilized human rights framing to further their social change efforts, particularly in the last decade. Finally, I examine the extent to which human rights-based frames might be available to OWS given its attention to economic inequality in the midst of the relative prosperity of a developed nation. I propose two frames drawing on international human rights norms that might serve the OWS Movement well in both domestic and international forums, and could also push further development of international law in this area.

Date of Authorship for this Version



Occupy Wall Street, human rights, Human Rights Law, International Law

Original Citation

This article was originally published in the Fordham Urban Law Journal as Martha Davis, Occupy Wall Street and International Human Rights, 39 FORDHAM URB. L.J. 931 (2012).