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Food for a mushy thought


Human Rights Reader 387


SDGs: “We must avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences.” (Pope Francis)


  1. Unfortunately, the Sustainable Development Goal targets shied away from explicitly mentioning the need to address extreme wealth and the need to implement redistributive policies, the latter an essential tool to achieve meaningful widespread human rights (HR) enjoyment the world over.* (CESR)

*: Most of the SDGs are a monument to mushiness and wishful thinking. They give the impression that humanity has only to make a push, and the Goals will be ours. Do the statesmen and bureaucrats behind them live in an international fairyland? Think of all the resources that have gone into producing the SDGs –resources that have come out of official aid and NGO program budgets– and you may rightfully wonder if they could not have been better invested. The impression these fanfares create is that a vast effort to agree an international –sorry, global– agenda means that we are half way there. No wonder people are getting on boats and walking through barbed wire towards a better life. (Maggie Black)


  1. Pushing these Goals as an agenda for providing social safety nets as a response to an economic model that was and still is increasing inequalities is pure madness. The onus now falls squarely on public interest civil society groups to use the SDGs to make decisive course corrections. (S. Fukuda-Parr) No global agreement is going to save the day.** Our powers lie elsewhere, in our communities especially, and this is where we must take the battle.

**: When the former General Assembly President Razali Ismail of Malaysia cautioned in 1996 about the “creeping irrelevance” of big international gatherings, he was almost branded a rebel.


  1. The SDGs-pursued aim of setting up more and more ‘multi-stakeholder platforms’ is clearly ideologically loaded; in them, the private sector is given an equal space and that ends up skewing political decisions to the right. Multi-stakeholder platforms essentially risk making some UN fundamentals voluntary (!). This process is not by chance. It is part of a neoliberal plan to reduce the UN’s capacity to hinder transnational corporations in achieving their plans. The institutions involved expect to be treated as development partners and not as, in the best of cases, donors. The UN can no longer play its critical normative part in development, because it is has to chase funds and align its priorities with those of the donors –almost whoever they are. (Ted Greiner)


In short, in the SDGs, it is as if power does not exist


-The chapter on inequalities nowhere mentions that the problem of poverty is inseparable from the problem of super-wealth; that exploitation and the monopolization of resources by the few is the cause of poverty. (N. Dearden)

All the language in the SDGs frames poverty as a disease: Eradicable, no match for the ingenuity of mankind, but fundamentally nobody’s fault. It is a landscape where everyone is a hero and nobody is a villain; one in which unfair trade agreements, land grabs, structural debt relations, privatization of publicly owned utilities and tax evasion never happened. (M. Kirk)


  1. Mind you, statistical-poverty-reduction is a good deal easier than achieving the needed substantive power-related-disparity-reduction… Consider this: Being multi-dimensionally poor ridicules the (now) $1.9 USD income/capita/day set by the World Bank as a pathetically convenient catchall figure. [So we achieve $2/cap/day and then we have solved the world’s disparity/poverty problem…??].


  1. Yes, in the SDGs there are many calls to pay special attention to the most disadvantaged in society and to adequately meet the needs of mothers and their children, especially the most disadvantaged. But these calls reflect the philosophical position known as ‘prioritarianism’which is favored by all those critical of any type of egalitarianism –the core basis of HR. Prioritarianism is based on a misguided humanitarian concern, i,e., to help to improve the situation of people living in extreme poverty –but without any reference to the need to reduce the appalling disparities underlying it. According to prioritarianism, it is morally most important to help people who are worse off –but not addressing the degree of inequality in the society they live in. What is important from the moral and HR point of view is not that everyone should have the same, but that each should have enough. If everyone had enough, it would be of less moral consequence whether some had more than others.


  1. Unless you understand that the-poverty-of-some flows from the-wealth-and-power-of-others, efforts to fight poverty will not truly work. As relates to the SDG on poverty, the real problem is that its wish-list comes with no historical background of how we got here, and no political strategy for how we get out of it. Furthermore, there is no acknowledgment of colonial history, of slavery, of racism, of desperately unfair terms of trade, of structural adjustment policies that flushed dozens of countries’ economies down the drain only 20 years ago. Transnational corporations are not really mentioned in the SDGs. But, face it, it is impossible to achieve the targets of the SDGs without tackling corporate power and corporate control of knowledge. Of course this lack of analysis is not accidental. The answer to world poverty cannot be found among the development professionals and celebrities in New York or Geneva. Rather, it will be found among the many thousands of activists, community organizations and social movements who are really confronting power and HR issues in the world –from below. Let us join them. (N. Dearden)


  1. No problem can be solved while political institutions do not recognize that poverty has a disparity-in-wealth-and-power cause (!).


So should we just have poverty eradication goals?


  1. The answer is a categorical No. It is extreme wealth we should be targeting. Imagine: How would attitudes look if we had spent the past 30 years asking questions about the rich: their exploitative (and often tricky) enrichment strategies, their characters, their honesty, their industriousness, their contribution to society? Poverty is not a naturally occurring germ or virus; it is anthropogenically created through wealth extraction. Any goal in the SDGs that fails to recognize this is not only unlikely to succeed, but can only be understood as a deliberate act of diversion, drawing attention away from what might work. (Z. Williams)


Economic and fiscal policies are usually not openly discussed or reported-on in human rights fora.


  1. Despite the economic growth had in the last decade, in many countries this growth has not resulted in better public services or in better access to social and economic rights or better access to the judicial system for the majorities. Fiscal policy ought to play a transformative role in improving HR and the social and economic life of all citizens. Nevertheless, tax systems continue to be mainly regressive the world over.


  1. Moreover, the criteria used to allocate public funds are anything but transparent. The way and the purposes the state provides waivers, amnisties and tax breaks negatively impacts the state’s revenue collection so that it ends up neglecting funding activities with a potential positive impact on the social and economic rights of citizens thus perpetuating inequality and poverty.


  1. Fiscal policies are public policies and are thus to be accounted for publicly –this having an immense importance in relation to the state’s HR obligations. Therefore, fiscal policies must, from their design and implementation-on, include directives derived from HR principles emanating from HR treaties and from HR jurisprudence.


  1. In his report about the relationship between extreme poverty and HR, the Special Rapporteur for Poverty and HR, Philip Alston, unequivocally called for redistributive measures to be implemented by reforming tax systems to make them decisively more progressive. These reforms are to be considered part and parcel of a new social contract that will respect all HR for society as a whole. He further emphasized that one of the most important necessary steps that the international system of HR must take is to respond in a significant way to the threat of growing extreme inequalities so that disparity reduction becomes part of the HR equation. (CESR)


  1. Finally, to make things contemporary: More than terrorism, extreme poverty causes thousands of deaths every day and leads many human beings, helpless, to abandon their places of origin. Actually, terrorism, extreme poverty …and a falling-apart environment fuel migration. (F. Mayor)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



-We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. (Albert Einstein)

-Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. (Rita Mae Brown)

-We need to stop inventing and reinventing wheels and to start putting wheels on the wagons we have. (Alan Berg)



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Food for discovering a thought


Human Rights Reader 386

The important thing about Human Rights Learning is that its key is learning by discovery. (posthumously, Urban Jonsson)


  1. Human Rights Learning (HRL) is badly needed for more and more people to start recognizing the roots of their vulnerability and for them to recognize how these are related to why and how their rights are being violated. In other words, people need to learn about the social and political determination of their multiple vulnerabilities.


  1. The ultimate aim for the badly needed HRL is to promote social mobilization based on exposing participants to for-them-new-information and to expose people to awareness raising activities. These activities will eventually lead participants to become human rights defenders and get involved in campaigns that challenge discrimination and harmful social norms and that create legal awareness and human rights (HR) literacy among peers, among service provider personnel and among groups of claim holders with a focus on women, children, and adolescents, including vulnerable and marginalized groups within these populations.


  1. We are talking here about building the capacity of claim holders to participate and to claim their rights so as to ensure that transparent and accessible mechanisms for engaging their participation are created. HRL also makes sure regular communications between claim holder groups and service provider personnel are established and/or strengthened at community, sub-national, and national levels.


  1. An example of such claim holders participation is the setting up of participatory budget processes with a view to ensuring transparency and promoting the involvement of women, children, and adolescents in monitoring the allocation and utilization of resources for their wellbeing and dignity. (Human Rights Subwork Stream of the Global Strategy on Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health)


  1. Universities are certainly teaching our students the obvious touchstones of, among other, international health, international law, security studies, development and human security, the environment, information technology, and global economics. Yet, increasingly, many of us believe our students and young professionals are missing something crucial in their education that is needed to reshape the political economy of this turbulent 21st century: the coming age of human rights.


  1. Add to this the failings of bureaucracies the world over, the mechanization of life, consumerism, education received without questioning, our ailing health systems, the absence of community work, the unresponsiveness of political parties in the wide sense of the word, the lack of attention paid to HR….these are all key themes: Where are we educating for them? (Luis Weinstein)


Is the view that human rights principles do not yet move enough people the explanation of why we have so few case studies to show for?


  1. If the above is true, when will the HR movement unite claim holders in our societies to create that irresistible force of unanimity, of passionate work/cooperation with willing duty bearers to force the minority-groups-that-hold-the-power (and the intellectuals that back them*) into accepting the HR principles and standards? (R. Bourne)

*: It is no real surprise that intellectuals and technocrats are compromised with the prevailing regime. Traditionally, intellectuals have been caught between the demands of truth and of power. By putting their talents at the service of power they can attain prestige if not also wealth. Intellectuals that aspire to play this role can safely use the rhetoric of socialism or of the welfare state as they pursue the views of a meritocracy. They attempt to prescribe a society that can take care of its problems, but without structural changes. They are thus unable to perceive their own ideological compromise that defends the staus-quo. They must, therefore, be woken up so as to contribute to setting up policies that truly benefit the masses –policies that unambiguously counter the strong tendencies of authoritarianism. (The need for HRL is clear here). Intellectuals have it in their hands to create a better future instead of limiting themselves to stand by and just observe the relentless flux of what is happening. (Noam Chomsky)


There is no power in economic poverty: Human rights learning as the response


  1. It is the role of HRL to equip participants with the power of knowing all about uneven power relations since this does not come automatically. Participants cannot really find this power in libraries. Libraries are the depositories of science and experience, but do not help us in fighting malevolent immoral power. Learning about the latter is a point to start-from in HRL, i.e., learning that power exerted coexists with inequality; making it clear to claim holders that they need to understand the realities of power, about how power is the invisible companion in social relations; how it is so often destructive. In the struggle for development, power is scarcely touched upon; at best, it somehow remains a tacit, tangential notion; at worst, it is forgotten or negated. Power disregards equality. It is imposed by force: physical force, the force of money, the force of authority, the force of arms. In all of these, the opposite roles of imposing and complying with what is imposed overrule any chance of a dialogue of equals and of informed and autonomous reflection.


  1. Power, authoritarianism, patriarchy and domination are one and the same thing. In HR work, we analyze the determinants of domination, i.e., the conditions under which the power over others comes about –at present and historically. Illegitimate authority is most often blind, totalitarian, dehumanizing. There are no ready-made prescriptions to address uneven power relations, but all involve confrontation (which does not have to be violent). Claim holders have to understand they have power; the power to question, to have their own answers, to abstain when called for, to struggle…the list is long and never ending. This is where HRL comes in. Power always has a direction. As said, counter-power is, by necessity, mostly oriented towards some kind of confrontation, towards finding the best means to bring about corrective actions that address the HR of majorities. Leaders that engage in organizing humanizing counter-power actions need charisma (a feature that frequently goes with power…); they need to be conscious of the finitude of human limits (but push to stretch those limits); they must be proponents of human rights for all; they must be courageous. (Luis Weinstein)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



It would help HRL tremendously if all UN agencies and national HR Committees would convert the Concluding Comments of UN HR treaty bodies into visual form (with limited text), and provide for a budget for government and public interest civil society to translate both the written and visual version into local languages, and broadcasting on radio and television. (R. K. Murthy)



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Food for a denunciatory thought


Human Rights Reader 385

With a few fast clicks of the mouse on a computer in a beautiful air-conditioned office, in a few seconds, a small number of persons can (and do) deprive several million human beings of the basis of their existence, their livelihood and their human rights. Accepting this as collateral damage is against all ethics; it is criminal. (Jean Claude Junker)


The powerful exploit enormous advantages


For those in power, the money they amass is never enough; with all the notoriety and success it can buy them, it also becomes the cause of their downfall… for having become too rich. (Leonardo Padura)


  1. The powerful can and do skillfully game the system quite systematically skewing the flow of resources towards those who already have much more than their fair share.* Obviously, this art of deception is not linked to a lack of trying, but to a lack of scruples. (F. Manes) In fact, every day, the macroeconomic figures deceptively made public have become the best way to hide social and human rights (HR) realities and are thus becoming less and less realistic. (Roberto Savio) Let us face it: Economic theory is, by far, not the politically most relevant branch of science …and GDP does NOT reflect inequalities in society. As deplorable is the excessive ‘mathematization’ of economics since the 1970s. Assuming the neutrality of ‘rational’ economic mathematical models is not only gratuitous, but a fallacy.

*: Our curse actually comes from Adam Smith who reasoned: “I am inherently self-interested –I am human”.


  1. As widely and uncritically accepted, the discipline of economics is defined as the discipline that handles the allocation of scarce resources. This assumes not only equality in the access to goods, but also assumes a ‘dose of goodness’ –the latter plenty scarce in the capitalist human character.* (Frances M. Lappe) What we are left with then is that, to change course, we have to change the discourse. First, we must banish ‘scarcity’ and ‘shortage’ as descriptors of the global economic situation, never using them without the modifier ‘man-made’.

*: Think about the maxim that says that capital never is patriotic. (Alberto Bryce Echenique)


  1. Furthermore, since there is no such a thing as a ‘free market’, we banish this term as well.** As we can indeed document, markets work equitably only if they are deliberately kept fair, open, and competitive by democratically arrived-at and enforced rules. What is killing such effective markets –take for instance the case of food– is the dogma: markets work on their own. This myth allows wealth-to-accrue-to-wealth, generating a veritable monopoly situation. Never forget: it is monopoly power within markets that kills openness, fairness and competition –the values for which markets have long been wrongly praised for.

**: While free market ideology is premised on limiting state interference in the

workings of an unbridled marketplace, human rights are founded upon the

notion of a capable and robust state with duties to uphold human dignity. (Olivier de Schutter)


  1. Yet another confusing concept we must bar from our lips is ‘market failure’; this, because market failure is the logical consequence of a particular kind of market, one primarily driven to generate the highest returns to already existing wealth. In short, open, fair, competitive markets cannot exist outside true democracy, i.e., being answerable to citizens. Such a democracy must be freed enough from private greed influence so it can keep markets really and truly open.


  1. And then there is the concept of ‘financialization’: it is rightfully used to mean profiting-without-producing. It reflects the rise of financial profit, in part extracted directly from households through financial expropriation mechanisms. Finance exploits us all.*** (C. Lapavitsas)

***: Take, for instance, ‘accumulation by dispossession’ which relates to the mercantilization (grabbing) of land that removes peasants from their land and to the financialization of whole economies. It also relates to the massive private appropriation of our natural resources and to the dispossession of indigenous people. To this, we can add the ecological dimension pertaining to the myriad local environmental disasters already in a state of no return. (E. Gudynas)


  1. Only by shifting the dominant discourse from the private sphere to the HR arena will a whole new world of economic, political and social innovations open up. Unlike what the casino economy pursues, HR are about cooperation, sharing, stewardship, equity, equality, dignity, sustainability, collectiveness, embeddedness and direct democracy from local to global. (adapted from Jose Luis Vivero)


What about international trade?


Fifty years ago, international treaties mostly had mandatory clauses. Right now, they are mostly voluntary …except for trade agreements that are mandatory. (WTO)


  1. The ‘global-value-chains’-trade-narrative is nothing more than a deceptive effort to sell to developing countries (and their people demanding social fairness, equality and HR), the discredited trickle-down theories that enable a US-EU transnational corporate stranglehold over markets of developing countries. (C. Raghavan)


  1. Transnational corporations (TNCs) use free trade agreements to discriminatingly expand their domination and monopolistic aims, as they attempt to ride out and survive the capitalist crisis. All this, they do, not only not showing respect for nature and for human rights, but actually destroying nature and trampling HR in their quest for new lucrative markets. As a consequence, millions of people are affected and have to abandon their homesteads and end up migrating to industrially developed countries. (La Via Campesina)


  1. Without going into further details here, let it be said that the way in which trade transactions are governed means that corporate entities have greater weight in terms of securing their rights, even when these spurious ‘rights’ conflict with universally accepted and ratified human rights: Think Trans Pacific Partnership or TPP. (J. Ghosh)


The future is already here, and it is unevenly distributed (S. Gibson)


  1. In the period after World War II, capitalism was much better regulated, taxes were higher, but people did better and the economy grew faster; even though trade was more restricted, companies thrived; even though Wall Street commissions were fixed and higher than today, the financial sector accounted for a much smaller share of GDP and of profits than it does now –and all this then with unions granted a seat in the table. In short, every group was better off in the US yesterday than today, except the 1%. When capitalism was restrained by tougher rules and regulations, it did better. This not being an endorsement of it, the argument is that capitalism does better when its hands are tied, is more competitive and is less cut-throat. Highly regulated economies are healthier, grow faster and accommodate the needs of people better than more laissez-faire forms of capitalism. (D. Kotz)


  1. Sixty years later, under full-blown neoliberalism, political institutions have lost their gloss. No political party has any longer a youth movement. They are perceived more and more as self-referent, considering citizens just as an electorate; they are seen as more part of the system in power than spokesmen of their citizens. Electorates are voting on the basis of political nostalgia and lack of security. Facing an uncertain future, the dream to go back to a better past is strong. In the last decade, the cost of electoral campaigns in Europe has increased by 47%. In other words, more and more of us consider that we live now in a democracy that is turning (or has turned) into a plutocracy. The regional organizations, like the African Union, ASEAN or the Organization of American States, are notoriously toothless. (Roberto Savio)


One of the most worrisome aspects of neoliberalism fostering privatization in a hurry is the dominance of capital (profits) over labor (wages)


The neoliberal economy considers precarious jobs as natural, social inequality as a legitimate reality, the market as the sole basis for societal development, and the state as inefficient and a brake to the private sector. (Roberto Savio)


  1. Scorecards need to be kept on how fast different countries are privatizing. Privatization is really easy –all one has to do is give away the assets to one’s friends, expecting a kickback in return. But all too often no scorecard is kept on the number of people who are/were pushed into poverty, or the number of jobs destroyed versus those created, or on the increase in the sense of insecurity or the feeling of powerlessness of many. The disjunction between the HR values of society and the ideology of the self-regulated market is clear today. Last but not least, the freedom to move capital in and out of a country at will is a freedom that some exercise, at enormous cost to others. (Joseph Stiglitz)


Corporate capture represents a veritable ‘life grab’ (Flavio Valente)


Power is something that some people grab and then too often maintain by the way of force (think about many a long lasting head of state that has done whatever he wanted and who took power through a coup or a putsch). (Alfredo Bryce Echenique)


  1. The power and the impunity of TNCs through their use of a ‘democracy of bribery’ continuously represses the voices of the people in all kinds of policies and legislative processes at multiple levels. Democracy shrinks while the governing classes together with TNCs seek further private profits. (La Via Campesina)


  1. And then there is corporate social responsibility: CSR is not something benign that helps companies end harmful practices. Corporate Social responsibility is a carefully developed strategy that deliberately diverts public attention from the need to regulate corporations effectively and ensure accountability for HR abuses. (Nathalie Beghin) We have to deconstruct and counter corporate social responsibility arguments especially when they claim corporations are backers of HR.


  1. For many people, it is easier, safer and more comfortable to live in a world of delusion, particularly when this delusion requires no effort to seek out and understand truths about corporate behavior that may prove unpalatable. The delusion is reinforced: there is a persistent beaming of elite/corporate propaganda. Questioning the delusion is the challenge. The rhetoric of the modern empire describes the global system as ‘consisting of liberal-democratic nation-states, connected by more or less free markets and ruled by international law’. This, of course, masks the reality that the United States imperial elite considers itself the vanguard of the global order with the right to violate state sovereignty and to control markets (including via corporate-written ‘free trade’ agreements), as well as to be above international law. In short, territorial control is less important than the control of markets, capital, labor, and resources. It thus seems logical to critique and resist the US imperial world order and this cannot happen if we listen to those cowardly and servile individuals who work in the corporate media on behalf of the empire. Caveat: Choosing where you get your news from is important. (R. Burrowes)


  1. Bottom line here, so-called sovereign consumers do not exist. We are all easily manipulated by, among other, the Big Agri-Food Industry and all sorts of public relations specialists. (Jose Luis Vivero)


One more time


More than two millennia ago, in The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote that most battles are won or lost by the choice of battlefield, long before they are fought.


  1. How can a collection of separate local efforts build anything close to the kind of large-scale, international change required to confront the many global crises the world is facing? The answer is that, in isolation, they cannot. Our challenge continues to be to build a global movement of connected local movements, so that their impact becomes vastly more than the sum of their separate parts. Regional and local governments across the world are already building those collaborations and linkages, through a set of formal agreements. The pace is just too slow.


  1. Activist and empowered communities must also find similar ways to join forces. Working together means many things. It means sharing strategies and learning from one another about what it takes to win public support and succeed in political action. It means joining together to take-on common strategic adversaries, including corporations: they do their damage not just in one community or one country, but in many at the same time. It also means taking inspiration from one another. HR activism is hard, and in the face of a deepening crisis it would be easy for an entire movement to collapse under the weight of pessimism. Our passions, victories, and commitment must be shared in new and powerful ways to keep the movement’s hope solid and alive.


  1. And a departing word: Global summits (think SDGs), so far removed from regular citizens, are never going to be the place for us to win solid HR action, so we should not be surprised by the inadequacies coming out of them. Our powers lie elsewhere, especially in grassroots communities with their not-yet-claiming claim holders; so this is where we must take the struggle. Our future will rely not on a single global accord, but on a wide constellation of diverse and creative advances across the world, that we win together, arm in arm, and community by community. (J. Shultz)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



-We have to see the world as full of humans, not full of ‘econs’. (R. Thaler)

-We are caught in a vicious circle of wanting and acquiring more and more crap. (anonymous)

-Money makes people grow in front of other people, and it does so in direct proportion to the envy it causes in the latter. (Alfredo Brice Echenique)



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Food for a sharper thought


Human Rights Reader 384



Democracy is in recession (Thomas Friedman)


-Our current ‘democracies’ are nothing more than the government of a minority throwing overboard the human rights of a majority. (adapted from Thomas Jefferson)

-Have you ever stopped to think why so many of those struggling merely to survive still do vote against their own interests?


  1. In the last 20 years, representative democracy has been losing its appeal. Shortsighted pragmatism has led to a loss of long-term vision and politics has become merely administrative, i.e., a democracy where only a few bureaucrats take decisions. Political leaders work increasingly to solve local administrative and economic difficulties and, less and less, to solve global problems. All this indicates that politics at a national level is no longer able to carry out its fundamental role of regulating society for the greater good of its citizens, for a harmonious, just and fair society. We are before a fundamental problem of increasingly diminishing democracy as it was understood up till now. (Roberto Bissio)


  1. Some of us live in a ‘formal democracy’, others not. In either situation, more and more citizens want changes. In that pursuit, human rights (HR) are tacitly or explicitly the desired aim, the aspiration to pursue, the ambition to conquer. (L. Fries) But truly expliciting the aim of such a pursuit in deeds is where the current challenge lies. Take, for example, the fact that democracy continues to deprive women of gender equality and, as a consequence, in practice, renders them second-class citizens. (M. Matamala) It is not a matter of evolving here, but a matter of re-directing. Evolution maintains the ambiguity of where the process is going; only re-directing democracy will contribute to a fresh reflection on what the entire enterprise is about. (George Kent, David Parker)


And then come the paradoxes


  1. Rich countries tell developing countries about the importance of democracy, but when it comes to the issues they are most concerned with (issues that affect their livelihoods), i.e., the economy, poor countries are told: “The iron laws of economics give you little or no choice so you must cede key economic decisions to an independent central bank”. But, almost always, these banks are dominated by representatives of the financial establishment. Then, to ensure these banks act in the interests of the financial community, developing countries are told to focus exclusively on inflation –never mind jobs or growth…..or HR. As neocolonialism seemingly ‘empowers’ people in the former colonies with ‘democracy’ with one hand, it takes it away with the other. (Joseph Stiglitz)


  1. Bottom line here: A nation that surrenders to moral conformism and to a way-too-outdated political system is, in fact, selling its sovereignty for a mere plate of lentils. (Maria Duenias)


We live in a non-democratic world that will veto our attempts to change anything of substance.


-Democracy is far more than just putting a cross on a piece of paper once every four or five years.

-Are cultures that are Western Educated, Industrialized and Rich really Democratic? (i.e., WEIRD?) (J. Henrich)


  1. Democracy means we all take responsibility and do not leave it to others, not to parliamentarians or parties, not to self-seeking politicians –whose first priority is to vote themselves next year’s pay increase. There is thus no quick fix through electoral reform. As HR activists, we aim to change people’s minds, to change the ideology of the working class and to recruit more workers to the unions and citizens to social movements. (Will Podmore)


  1. We are talking here about a participatory democracy in which citizens have power in meeting life’s essentials, a democracy lived as an ongoing process of realizing human dignity, justice (more so social justice*) and HR. Reasonably so, these values are to be understood as intrinsic to democracy but, as we all know, many consider ‘democracy’ as merely a means for domination. Democracy today is reduced to anti-democratic forms of privately held government that hides or represses today’s courageous uprisings worldwide. It is money that heavily drives political decision-making. This is why participatory democracy needs to be recognized and fostered; an apt shorthand for its aim is ‘dignity for all’. New protocols are needed for bringing the people affected by public top-down choices into direct participation wherever and whenever public policies are decided. (Frances M. Lappe)

*: The key question of whether the redistribution of resources beyond the poverty line is or is not an issue of justice is not a scientific question. One single true answer cannot be found. It is an ideological and political question that has to be discussed and agreed upon in a democracy. (posthumously, Urban Jonsson)


  1. What about direct democracy then?: Would we have to have the people vote on every question? Does not that empower everyone equally? The answer is: No –it can actually disempower people, because simple voting isolates individuals**, treating them as consumers-of-political-advertising or as followers-of-elite-backed-political-candidates and their electoral machines***, rather than empowering groups of people to develop viewpoints and solutions and to select candidates collectively. (D. Rogers)

**: Our societies are only allegedly permeated by a ‘what-can-I-do?’ attitude. For example, people passively and permissively accept corruption and do nothing to stop it. (Z. Bauman)

***: When you look at the cost of the presidential campaign of the United States, which will be close to four billion dollars, and you learn that a small pool of rich donors dominates election giving (130 families and their businesses have provided more than half of the money raised through June 2015 by Republican candidates) you would rightfully think that legitimacy is questionable. In the United States, the majority does not rule. (Roberto Bissio)


  1. And what about the role of street protests in system change?: Did not the Occupy Movement kick the discussion of inequality and HR into high gear in the US, just as the earlier anti-WTO/IMF protests put the critique of globalization on the map? Yes, there is no question that loud and media-genic protests can bring issues to the forefront. But in order to have lasting impact, street protests do need to be coupled with democratic political leadership that can clearly articulate the central arguments and can come up with compelling alternatives capable of bringing an inclusive group of interests together into an effective power base. Beyond all the shouting of slogans, what ultimately counts is real accomplishments that make a difference to people on the ground. Only then will we see system change. Nothing short of building up a people’s movement for systemic change and HR, i.e., reclaiming the decision-making process, replacing the system, and overturning the operating worldview will rid us of the grip of plutocracies in so many countries. (D. Rogers) The smiles of victory have to change sides!


A specter is haunting Europe: the specter of democracy –we are told****


****: I would paraphrase: A specter is haunting the world –the specter of HR.


  1. As we have seen, democracy can be crushed, not using tanks, but using banks. Banks are not really interested in getting their money back; they could not care less. They instead insist on democracy’s and sovereignty’s surrender. As they did in Greece, they purport that elections cannot be allowed to change anything; that democracy ends where debt insolvency begins. They try to do something that cannot be done, namely to de-politicize money. But when politics and money are de-politicised, democracy dies. And when democracy dies, prosperity is confined to the very few. The current dominant global political and economic dogma, in which money is used and abused as a commodity, is, in short, a catastrophe. To counter this dystopia the people must believe again that democracy and HR are not a luxury afforded to creditors and declined to debtors. (Yannis Varoufakis)


  1. Democracy is way too often perceived as synonymous with economic and social growth. But is it? And if yes, for whom? In fact, there is now a growing school of thought about the shortcomings and inefficiency of such a democracy. Is it also a fact that the legitimacy of the political system behind growth is more and more under question? (Roberto Bissio)


  1. What is indeed new is that in the last years, very conservative institutions, like the International Monetary Fund have been warning that the growth of a social gap actually constitutes a brake on economic growth. This is accompanied by a polarization in politics, and the constant growth of extremist and xenophobe parties, which now gather votes from workers and the less fortunate who once voted to the left. And this is completely changing the political landscape. The democratic system took its legitimacy from its ability to support values like justice, solidarity, HR and the general development of society. There are no historical precedents to tell us what will happen when citizens go into a social and economic decline over decades, and when youth do not see a clear future. But there are historical precedents to tell us that a society in crisis easily slips into populist and authoritarian regimes, especially if the rich elites support that road. It should by now be clear to all of us that the system is broken, and clearly needs fixing. But will this declining democracy, with so few true statesmen and so many ambitious politicians, be able to provide the fix? This the question that we need to address…
(Roberto Bissio)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



-Democracy starts with dialoguing with those who think differently. (Jose Domingo Peron)

-How difficult it is for us is to bring together theory with practice, criticism and self criticism with protagonism, endless talking with attentive listening, separation with integration of what is happening around us. (Julio Monsalvo)

-The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant; it is just that they know so much that is not so. (Ronald Reagan)

-As a true affirmation of independence, a wo/man must be free not only to think, but also to act –not letting the-desire-to-engage prevail over de-facto-engaging, now, to make meaningful changes. We cannot live in an eternal present, accepting things as they appear (i.e., unmovable) and not as they really are (changeable). (Pablo Simonetti)



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Food for a willful thought


Human Rights Reader 383


-I have been impressed with the urgency of doing; knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough. (Leonardo da Vinci)

-Big minds have a will; small ones only have wishes. (Albino Gomez)


Tomorrow must be more than just another today


  1. In development work, it is actually the result of a willful effort by our leaders –those with the right ideals– to effect change by combining youthful conviction with a desire to test out their ideas in the real world.*

*: Reality is itself in perpetual movement though. I am what I am, but I am also what I do to change what I am. (Eduardo Galeano)


  1. Let’s face it: Some development workers go through their work as taking a nice walk, constantly distracted by this and that, or as being immersed in a fictional world. They tend to avoid or refuse to think in depth about what is utterly wrong in our world (or in what they do…). They live as if only the small window of reality they view is valid. They negate other dimensions of reality.** (Luis Weinstein)

**: Have we become prisoners of ‘the culture of impotence’? I suffer with special intensity the divorce between words and facts. When you say yes, you do no. When you say more or less, you do less. Somehow, too often facts and words never encounter each other. We are trained to lie to ourselves. We are trained to accept such lies as a way of life. (Eduardo Galeano)


  1. So, are such colleagues just going to be a caricature of a development professional in country X where there are no activists and no respect for human rights (HR)? This is a bad metaphor of a strange reality, because then they have to admit they are living a small life in a country full of people forced to live insignificant existences and progressively with truncated dreams. Like that, they/you never arrive at the truth –and that does not even get to bother them/you… (Leonardo Padura) Passivity in the face of unequal forces is anything but impartial. (The Guardian)


Rightful decisive confrontation does not determine who is right — only who is left


  1. Being an activist does not mean being a danger to your country; activists are actually a warning to those whose narrow-minded view of the role of HR in development is a danger to their country. The kind of development-for-the-sake-of-development philosophy must thus be criticized. Intellectual honesty and openly questioning injustice is indispensible. Maligning those who question and challenge injustice is a sign of intolerance on the part of governments that have a difficulty in separating what-is-good-for-all from what-is-good-just-for a-few. In short, the value of HR activists exerting opposition must never diminish. (T.J.S. George)


  1. The above highlights some further attributes of being a good HR activist:
  • HR activists must be able to distinguish the intentional from the circumstantial, the permanent from the passing, the important from the trivial, the objective from the subjective. (Pablo Simonetti)
  • HR activists are not to be alpha fe/males; they must place themselves under the orders of the majority. They cannot get/achieve everything they want, but if they start out hard-faced and independently tough, the results are usually bad. (P. Iglesias)
  • HR activists do not only think of reverting specific HR violations; they also reflect on the ability of HR instruments to target the structural causes of those problems. (Eduardo Arenas)
  • The last thing HR activists want to do is to humiliate those that oppose HR –but it is not totally out of their list if absolutely needed. Typically, a HR activist would say: “I didn’t say I was blaming you, I said it was your fault”.
  • Today’s HR activists are agents of profound transformations at the front line of emancipatory politics. (A. Badiou) (Big words, but true…).
  • When activists envision solutions in bleak times, these may sometimes seem like dreams. But dreams mark beginnings so that there is movement forward inserting a sense of hope in the air. (D. Parra) Ergo, in dreams begins responsibility. (W.B. Yeats). and
  • Not facetiously, if HR activists would agree with those that oppose HR, they would both be wrong.


  1. Therefore, defiance is a way of life for HR activists and good communications are key to successfully protest. If they try to do it through the press, what they want to communicate will be blacked out, censored, filtered or plainly ignored. When the system is so closed and self-replicating that it renders claim holders powerless, the first step in gaining power is not to appear like they have no power, i.e. not concede their powerlessness. So, in comes the internet: It tells all of us there are urgent issues; it brings us worrisome information, at the speed of light. But does this motivate you? With very few exceptions the internet does not propel you from virtual reality to reality. It will motivate some people to connect and act, but not enough people connect. (Ralph Nader)


The challenge we face is to set up a community of practice, i.e., to create a whole network of interested, motivated and committed activists working on human rights.


In other words, the challenge of HR activists is to bring together the demands of different groups of claim holders and focusing on how they can be used to oppose the common enemy. (D. Howarth)


  1. In order to build our movement towards equality and dignity, young leaders defending HR (HR activists in-the-making) need to be watching both for challenges and opportunities. They must follow and analyze ongoing contradictory trends in their countries’ policies, i.e., those that negatively affect claim holders. Interpreting these trends is not necessarily based on rigorous research, but rather on applying their political understanding of the situation.***

***: Take for instance the movements of people who want to deny women’s inalienable right to sexual and reproductive health and undermine evidence-based arguments with impunity. Activists must debunk the claims of these anti-choice activists who want to send us back in time when it comes to women’s choices. (E. Palomino)


Getting there


  1. It is impossible to transform yourself into a HR activist until you join a larger movement for economic and social justice led by the oppressed and exploited. What is not often enough talked-about are things we can collectively do, together, to support positive change for our communities. Take, for instance, fighting for our collective rights against exploitation and for building social networks of resistance against alienation and for unity: There can be no neutrality here. How can we support each other to take a stand for social justice in a conservative environment? We need to outline our strategy to build the actual massive organization that brings together the people’s counter-power necessary to achieve the needed structural transformation(s). Until we have successfully organized claim holders and historically-marginalized communities to build counter-power and claim greater control, it will be impossible to do away with the current ineffective and unfair development practices.**** Being persistent not only means that we learn, we adapt, and we make changes where we need-to based on our practical experience, but it also means that we do not give up on our long-term vision. (Marta Roberts)

****: The Masaai people of Kenya say that a man alone is worth nothing: If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.


  1. The essence of the problem is that still most people and organizations representing yet-to-be-mobilized claim holders are asking elites to take action on their behalf rather than taking action themselves. Not only is this a fearful and powerless approach, it reinforces the widespread delusions that elites have the power in this regard and that they are responsive to claim holders’ pleas. Neither of these is true. Claim holders can and must exert the needed counter-power since elites only respond when claim holders create the circumstances that compel them to do so –and not otherwise. Hence, it is the actions that claim holders take, as individuals, as communities and as organized groups that generates the outcomes we want in HR work. (R. Burrowes)


  1. As nonviolent HR activists, we do not ask elites (or their governments and corporations) to change their behavior. Instead, we ‘invite’ them to respond decisively to circumstances that we create in order to compel change. If we invite yet others to participate in the actions we are taking, elites have no choice but to act as claim holders demand. So, activists have the choice to either spend their time lobbying elites to legislate, or they can systematically invite/inspire those around them to do the same and force changes in behavior and deeds. (R. Burrowes)
  2. Equally, TNCs are not yet feeling anywhere near enough ‘claim holders pressure’ to change their behavior. (This, irrespective of the rhetoric some of these corporations use in various international fora claiming corporate progress is being made). ***** Corporations are actually resisting any change that does not reflect an advantage in the markets in which they operate. In essence, those who are scared and powerless will either do nothing or they will waste their time lobbying elites and their governments and corporations to change without applying the pressure that compels either to respond with deeds. Claim holders and their leaders must understand the principles of non-violent action and how to use it to leverage power effectively. (R. Burrowes)

*****: Elites keep cooking up the statistics to make us believe we are steadily progressing.


  1. Bottom line and to keep in mind: In organizational work, sharing and communicating a vision instills an ambition, not a true understanding of the process(es) by which it can be achieved. This is done through a narrative. Visions are static, narratives are stories by which people understand a process of change. Good HR activists can capture tough messages in stories. Narratives have to be disseminated. Stories spread through networks. Success in spreading a narrative depends on reaching a small group of influential people. Building a critical mass of citizens understanding is not achieved through press statements, but by crafting narratives, by devising smart presentations of the basic facts and by understanding networks. Otherwise, people are overly inclined to accept arguments that best serve their narrower interests. (P. Collier)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



-Beware: Success hides behind each failure (and failure behind each success). (A. Gomez) If I am not failing, you should fire me. Take risks. Activists must be willing to increase their risk threshold.

-There are those who fight for one day, and they are good. There are those who fight for one year, and they are better. There are those who fight for many years, and they are very good. But there are those who fight their entire lives: they are the irreplaceable ones. (Bertolt Brecht)

-“Do you know something, son? We move slowly; like in the processions. But processions always move forward; they never go backwards. And the most important: We all go together and we leave nobody along the road”. (A retired woman in Córdoba, Argentina)

Reimagining Social Medicine Conference – April 2016

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We would like to invite you to participate in the highly-anticipated upcoming conference, “Reimagining Social Medicine: Transformative Education and Social Action for Health Equity,” that will take place April 30th, 2016 on the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota.  The conference will provide a forum for engaged, global conversation on understanding and responding to the social determinants of health, which heavily shape societal health outcomes throughout the world.  Social medicine, a discipline with a rich and storied history of efforts to address the social determinants of health, promotes health equity by integrating the voice and vote of patients, families and communities, taking a multidisciplinary approach that involves social science, ensuring an equity agenda, and using deep understanding of local context to inform global policy.  In the spirit of global dialogue, we will be joined by international guests from Uganda, Rwanda, Lebanon, Haiti, and Zimbabwe, who will share their vision and insights on pursuing health equity.

The program will include participation from world-renowned:

  • Dr. Paul Farmer (Founder of Partners in Health),
  • Dr. Joia Mukherjee (Medical Director of Partners of Health and University of Minnesota Medical School alumnus),
  • Dr. Sande Ojara (SocMed/St. Mary’s Hospital Lacor in Gulu, Uganda),
  • Dr. Paul Pierre (Deputy Chief Medical Officer Partners in Health),
  • Dr. Grace Akello (Lecturer at Gulu University),
  • Dr. Ed Ehlinger (Minnesota Commissioner of Health),
  • Dr. Heidi Behforouz (Director of Innovation at Martin Luther King Outpatient Center),
  • Dr. Fitzhugh Mullan (Murdock Head Professor of Medicine and Health Policy, Professor of Pediatrics, and Co-Director of the George Washington University Health Workforce Institute),
  • Dr. George Thibault (President of the Macy Foundation and Federman Professor, Emeritus at Harvard Medical School)
  • Ms. Angella Namwase (SocMed Alum and Intern Nurse)

Amongst other international leaders and practitioners from Uganda, Rwanda, Haiti, and Zimbabwe.

In addition, smaller breakout sessions on topics such as “Social Medicine in the Clinic: Narrative Medicine and the Social History,” “Transformative Models of Social Medicine Education,” and “Bridging Clinic and Community: Action to Address the Social Determinants of Health” will be offered.

SocMed ( and EqualHealth (, two non-profit organizations with extensive experience training health professionals on the social determinants of health, are leading this effort in partnership with the University of Minnesota Global Health Pathway.  The Macy Foundation (, dedicated to improving the health of the public through health professional training, is providing significant financial support for this event.

Registration is now open at Additionally, more information about the conference may be found at




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Food for a staying thought (2)


Human Rights Reader 382


Ultimately, success will depend on how we contribute to foster the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) in a human rights-compliant manner. (H.R. Schillinger) So, in order to add significant leverage to our work in the coming years, working towards the realization of any given SDG will mean we must anchor development in the internationally sanctioned human rights covenants. True, but are we ready to decisively commit to this?


Obligations to ensure fair access to adequate food, housing, health care, water, sanitation and other necessities of life, as well as to dignity and to security derive from the right to life itself


Is dignity equivalent to human rights? A very good question. The issue actually is ‘the right to dignity’, a very important civil, political, economic, social and cultural right. Dignity is the single most important aspect, content and implication of human rights. (posthumously, Urban Jonsson)


  1. Actually, homelessness and denial of access to water, sanitation and health care all also refer to violations of Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Let it be noted that obligations under Article 6 frequently overlap with obligations to realize the rights to food, to clothing, to housing, to health, to water and sanitation and to other Economic, Social and Cultural rights (ESCR). In this context, let us not forget: The final arbiter for the interpretation of the human rights (HR) covenants is the respective UN HR Committee, not individual Member States. Take another example: Access-to and control-over land directly affects the enjoyment of a wide range of human rights. Conflicts over land are frequently at the heart of HR violations, both of civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights — and we know that HR workers on land and environment issues are among the most at risk of all HR defenders. (Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights)


Now for the controversial stuff


  1. Can violence be used to protect groups of people from human rights violations arising from human rights being violated with impunity? We live in an era where (particularly civil and political) proto-human-rights-actions are frequently used by the state, and by conservative and even by liberal human rights organizations, to ‘civilize’ explosive situations. If violence is traditionally associated with domination and human rights with emancipation, then the connection between the two seems odd. If the response to the question above is yes, would HR unavoidably be accused of opposing domination with domination? This may sound uncomfortable if the matter is ultimately to defend HR. For violence to be ‘legitimate’ in such an endeavor, one has to embrace a very specific ethics of violence. HR professionals have been working together to continuously develop additional treaties and ethical codes to regulate and refine the methods and means of the struggle for HR, and, purportedly, to protect civilians, as well as civil populations in armed conflict. The convergence between the protection and violence discourses would be justified by ‘the imperative to protect civilians’. The argument would then go: “Violent responses can be carried out within the framework of human rights (i.e., it is morally permissible) when they satisfy two forms of protection: the protection of the citizens and the protection of the state itself”. In this brave new rights-based world, the extent of this dilemma makes it difficult to understand if human rights and humanitarianism can call for violence or whether violence can determine the parameters of human rights. (N. Perugini and N. Gordon)


From delusion and deception to new hopes for the future (Society for International Development, SID)

  1. Hannah Arendt coined the term ‘the-right-to-have-rights’. But Arendt knew well that this right-to-have-rights can only be an articulation of the problem, not the statement of a solution (which requires going from political thinking to action). That we still have not found the commensurate global political actions to address the huge HR gap is clear. As a start, we need to more openly expose our inability to address the HR of those who ‘are-nothing-but-human’. (O. Boehm) This is what these Readers have been attempting for almost ten years.


  1. We need a ‘movement of movements’ and we need to build coalitions across traditional divisions of single-issue constituencies (environment, climate, women’s issues, etc). This means coming out of our silos and start to imagine a holistic (in good part anti-neoliberal) solution. Now is not the time for small steps. Now is the time for boldness. Now is the time to leap. The path is thus clear. It is also exciting. But it is difficult as hell. We must always remember this: difficult is not the same as impossible. Huge social movements have changed the world before through a magical combination of culture, theory, spirituality, policy and law. We can do it again. We will be told it is impractical, unrealistic, unserious and making the perfect the enemy of the good –as if perfect did not ‘leave the station’ more than 20 years ago. (Naomi Klein)


  1. No, there is no such a thing as ‘maximum values’. But can one be oblivious and indifferent towards injustice and HR violations? As never before in the history of humanity social and ecological injustices have converged. More than ever before do we have to continue to be day-by-day revolutionaries for the continuity of life, justice and peace. (J. Monsalvo)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



I have been, am and will be a staunch defender of HR. But there are humans that are not right… (Albino Gomez)

So much ‘UN talk’ is watered down these days that we have gone from ‘mandatory’ to ‘if applicable’ or ‘where feasible’. (T. Krinninger, D+C) Or have we gone from the indivisibility of HR to their invisibility? (Stefano Prato) That these days UN guidelines are voluntary is a substantive reason for criticism. It is repeatedly and wrongly argued that “it would have been impossible to agree a binding convention on the X matter in the UN context in the short or middle term”…? [Is this a valid argument from the HR perspective…? No!] Voluntary guidelines thus only matter in a narrow sense. This emphasizes the fact that the enforcement of HR always and everywhere (!) depends on succeeding in a continued political struggle. (Michel Windfuhr)

Our world needs less world organizations gatherings (that help more big hotel chains) and more humanity. In the best of cases, nobody picks up on their resolutions and acts in accordance with these grandiose international proclamations. The world clamors for global rules and rulers that respect the achievements of people on the ground and clamors for that what scientific knowledge has for long had to offer. It is a must to reach a planetary consensus on the needed solidarity towards the oppressed, to mobilize the big economies to create useful goods without frivolousness, goods that will uplift the poorest in the world. Will our struggle have to continue until nature makes the call on us, because we are making our civilization non-viable? The ecological crisis of our planet is the consequence of the overwhelming victory of human ambition and greed. (Humanity has already surpassed its environmental footprint). We are now living on borrowed time. From an ecological perspective, since we are all connected, we are all implicated. We will thus either be capable of better governing ourselves or we will succumb. I must point out that the globalized economy we live under has no other purpose than to serve the private interest of a very few. And we fail to tame globalization, because our thinking is not really global but rather self-centered. Greed that has so much been behind the world’s material, technical and scientific ‘progress’, paradoxically pushes us into a cloudy abyss, towards an era without history. But it is intelligence and not raw interests that must control the rudder of spaceship earth. We still face many hopeless sacrifices. Governments must both represent and seek the common good, justice and equality. Too often, they distort or confuse these priorities though, so that the needs of common people fall into oblivion. I am not naif, these things I propose (or similar) will hardly happen. These dreams of mine imply struggling for an agenda of worldwide accords and pacts that start to govern our history out of where it is: in free-fall. Human beings will have to govern themselves as a species or we will all succumb. (Jose Mujica, president of Uruguay, UN General Assembly, September 2013)

We can only hope that one day, hopefully not many years hence, today’s political leaders will be able to look back on the recent world’s crises and echo Robert Frost’s (1916) words: “I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –I took the one less traveled-by, and that has made all the difference”.


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Food for a staying thought


Human Rights Reader 381


Ultimately, success will depend on how we contribute to foster the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) in a human rights-compliant manner. (H.R. Schillinger) So, in order to add significant leverage to our work in the coming years, working towards the realization of any given SDG will mean we must anchor development in the internationally sanctioned human rights covenants. True, but are we ready to decisively commit to this?


Given the prevailing unfair state of affairs, it is incorrect to exclusively identify human rights with combatting duty bearers’ laissez faire and impunity


  1. This Reader purports that it is chiefly capitalism that erodes economic, social and cultural rights. Capitalism has changed our understanding of what human rights (HR) are and of how to guarantee them. What is thus needed is to upscale HR from just-a-friendly-non-really-meaning-reminder, to an-irritating-stone-in-the-shoes-of-capitalism. Is this a naif thought? No. The idea that ‘the minority is no longer synonymous with the oppressor’ is wrong. Therefore, advancing the HR cause will have to come to mean advancing with a majority supporting counter-power measures. (E. Arenas)


  1. Furthermore, and crucially, HR have also to do with the very content of the struggles of those attempting to build alternatives to capitalism –majority or not yet majority. Why? Because the big issues of social and economic justice cannot be solved through the HR paradigm if they do not confront the prevailing economic power. (F. Johansson) What should thus really concern us about our current HR work is how ill-equipped it has been in its attempt to ‘domesticate’ the very capitalism that violates people’s rights. Today, global capitalism challenges all HR dimensions including the very conditions of life on our planet. (E. Arenas)


It is further incorrect to say that all it takes for the realization of human rights is to improve access to justice and to rights protection in courts of law


  1. As a pre-requisite to the reassessment of its role, the HR movement must become aware of the limited efficacy of HR litigation mechanisms. Seeing the overall larger picture, HR litigation is only one of the HR instruments –and, at that, one that does not address the structural causes of inequality that impinge on the fulfillment of HR. Only seeing this can the HR movement attain its full emancipatory dimension. (E. Arenas)


  1. Moreover, too many courts continue to avoid economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) as a matter of principle, and many of those who do address them fail to do so in a systematic, doctrinally defensible, or sustainable fashion. (Philip Alston) So, as long as social rights claims are seen as outliers in the dominant paradigm, judicial systems will offer no true equality for those living in poverty and deprivation.* To use the HR framework to challenge the unjust power relationships that perpetuate socio-economic inequalities, considerable work remains to be done in developing and strengthening judicial, quasi-judicial and non-judicial accountability mechanisms. (B. Porter)

*: The unfair lottery of birth violates every child’s right to an equal start in life. (Save the Children)


  1. Well-inspired-left-wing-legal-scholars have overestimated the counter-hegemonic potential of judicializing what are political issues around HR. Even good court rulings can be counterproductive if their effect is to persuade us of the idea that HR are the stuff of expert lawyers and that ordinary citizens should not have much of a say in that process. All this notwithstanding, applying the HR-based framework comprehensively does not mean leaving legal rights behind. Moving beyond judicialization truly entails having HR actually influencing the global economy. (E. Arenas)


Being faithful to human rights principles is being counter-hegemonic in nature and requires a ‘Plan C’


  1. For the moment, a Plan C for HR cannot be based on the hope of a political party carrying it out. Instead, Plan C must be based around bottom-centered-claim-holders-self-organization and around the (re)building of social and political forces that truly believe in a HR alternative.** (M. Bauwens)

**: In Arundhati Roy’s words: “There is no such thing as ‘the-voiceless’. There are only the deliberately-silenced or the preferably-unheard”. Here, she is clearly referring to claim holders.

  1. Three other features haunt a Plan-C-HR-based approach: trivialization, technocratization and elitism (given their Northern origin and being a source of well paid jobs). This normally leads to the bureaucratization of HR and then leads to a dismissive attitude towards the voice of the marginalized, among other, indigenous communities, women and student organizations, workers unions, grassroots movements of farmers, LGBT, and human rights activists. In this bureaucratic context, the counter-hegemonic nature of HR unsurprisingly fades away. Therefore, the emancipatory goal of HR mentioned above must be pursued with nothing less than deliberate intent. This does not mean getting rid of a distorted HR-based approach, but means moving towards its appropriation by counter-hegemonic HR movements all over the world.


  1. These social movements have to understand that the structural sources of exclusion, indignity and environmental damage –part of today’s hegemony– are connected to one phenomenon: the rise of global capitalism. Hence, the question of whether HR are tools at the service of human emancipation requires asking ourselves if HR are meaningfully engaging in the enterprise of ‘domesticating’ or ‘civilizing’ the global capitalist economy, as well as restructuring the interplay between HR and democracy, so that people (re)appropriate their inalienable rights. What is needed for this is for social movements to articulate a whole spectrum of alternatives capable of opposing the capitalist practices that violate HR. (E. Arenas)


  1. Among these practices, we recognize that fiscal policy, including taxation policy, is indeed a human rights issue. Fair taxation is a key component of states’ treaty obligations to use their ‘maximum available resources’ to progressively realize HR. Progressive taxation plays a fundamental role in redistributing resources in ways that can prevent and redress inequalities and can protect national and global common goods.***  Furthermore, states are supposed to ensure that their work with the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank embraces HR and that they build policy coherence between the economic and HR spheres which so often work in silos and do not speak a common language.

***: Not to forget: It is consequently in national budgets where HR or non-HR state priorities are to be found.


Caveat: Human rights –generally conceived as a counter-hegemonic instrument for righting historical injustices– are being deceivingly used to further subjugate the weak and to legitimize domination (N. Perugini and N. Gordon)

-In this era of universal deception, telling the truth is a revolutionary action. (George Orwell)

In a world with such profound injustices, human rights must be subversive to be meaningful. (C. Jochnick)

-The challenge is to create a counter-power that governments cannot suppress. (H. Zinn)


  1. Is creating counter-power revolutionary? In a peaceful sense, yes, it is. Changing society by shifting power towards claim holders is what HR movements are about. The revolution proposed is a silent and gradual one –and it is already happening all around us. Alternative systems to-those-which-we-have-been-burdened-with-for-far-too-long are already being proposed. (O. de Schutter)


  1. And then there are social protection initiatives; some of them deceiving. Believing that social protection as a HR is something that only prosperous countries can afford is a fallacy; it is basically from the development perspective that such a message is fundamentally wrong. Yes, the private sector can and must play a role in social protection. However, market dynamics in itself does not lead to satisfactory social protection results; markets simply do not respond to need (and, much less to rights); they respond to purchasing power.**** (H. Dembowski)

****: Here is the deception: We risk transforming rights into needs and needs into markets hence advancing a commodification of every aspect of life. (S. Prato)


  1. Social protection schemes must encompass public interventions that help households manage the risks they face in life, i.e., illness, old age or unemployment, but also hail storms, volcanic eruptions or civil war, ergo all minimum standards of life for from the richest to the poorest of the poor. Social protection must thus not only be risk-based, but also rights-based (and needs-based); it is an insurance provisioning services and relief for all –much like human rights. (M. Loewe)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



When I refer to authority and power in the Readers, this refers to the legitimacy of an action; when an individual or group feels or knows that they may take action; that it is permissible to take action. Laws, formal and informal norms and rules, tradition, and culture largely determine what is and what is not permissible. The structure of authority in a society reflects existing power relations. It is only when a person accepts that he or she should act, may act and can act, that the person can be held accountable for not acting. People must agree that there is a problem, agree on its major causes and then pull their resources together to decisively address these causes. (U. Jonsson)


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Food for many missed thoughts


Human Rights Reader 380

So much is offered to us through indicators-stuffed networks that we live in constant awe for not being able to absorb it all –and much more so, not having the time for reflection (so as to use the same for effective human rights accountability purposes). (Albino Gomez)


  1. The sayings
  • ‘What gets measured, gets done’.
  • ‘What is counted is the only thing that counts’.
  • ‘Today’s investments in country health information systems will lead to a better tomorrow for billions of people’.
  • ‘Accurate and timely health data are the foundation to improving public health’. (Y. Kim, M. Moellmann)

are terribly misleading and flawed.


  1. More plausible would be statements like:
  • ‘Without reliable information to set priorities and measure results, countries and their development partners are working in the dark’. (Margaret Chan)
  • ‘Medical statistics shall be our standard of measurement: we will weigh life for life and see where the dead lie thicker, among the workers or among the privileged’. (Rudolf Virchow already in 1848)


  1. Every piece of information to be collected presumes justifying its relevance on the basis of a value judgment and, not least, on the basis of its significance and potential actual use…but is this presumption true? Or are we rather building a big monument on shaky foundations (B. Elliot) in the name of an epidemic of ‘quantititis’? (L. Weinstein)


Are we fixated with an exclusive focus on measurable targets?


  1. Measuring everything has become the norm. Even academic work would seem to be appreciated as more relevant if it presents measurements. ‘The quantitative’ has great prestige. The dominant system ultimately measures things with a utilitarian purpose so as to determine the performance and efficiency in the production of goods and services. For our work in the social, environmental and human rights (HR) realm, measuring fulfills more important functions, namely to make visible inequalities and injustice. It is thus not healthy to consider measurements in an exclusionary way –no matter how useful they may be– basically because they tell us nothing about the singularities of countless individuals, families and communities whose rights are being violated; they tell us nothing about their faces, their names, their feelings and nothing about the dynamics of local ecosystems. Measurements give us a static image of a reality frozen in a photograph –a typical example being surveys or censuses; they can give us an idea of what is happening where and to whom, but they do not give us elements to understand the facts behind what is being reported-on. It is thus necessary to dare to dive into a more personalized contact with people aiming at understanding the dynamics of the life of those being reported-on. Recognizing, registering and interpreting qualitative data gives us a more cinematographic perception of reality. It is doing the latter that we can know and understand the how and the why of the facts that worry us as HR activists. (J. Monsalvo)


  1. The main worry here is that national statistics are self-described as a conservative-change-resistant bunch of tables and graphs moving from the margins to the center of national and international discourses –and not necessarily to rational (and fair) decision-making. (A. Atkisson)


  1. The underlying question that lingers in my mind is: Should we not instead be setting annual benchmarks for processes that need to be set in motion and achieved –year in, year out– on the road to the progressive realization of each HR?


Ours is a cut-it-out or quick-fix-it society


  1. Being really honest, as any global HR activist will tell you, data is susceptible to ‘data torture’ which, crudely put, is the idea that if you torture your numbers long enough, they will tell you whatever you want to hear.* (L. McGoey)

*: National statistical agencies are pushed to come up with something and often manipulate data in their quest to sell a vision for others to provide aid (T. Buchholz) –no wonder many of us do not believe social and economic data too much, more so because they quite consistently leave out HR considerations.


  1. It is actually not different with the technologies of public opinion manipulation and of repressive social controls that drown citizens’ autonomy and their HR. In this context, also, public relations are a euphemism for what actually is part of the propaganda machine. We are shamelessly influenced, our thinking shaped, our tastes prescribed, our ideas implanted, in great measure by invisible men or entities we have never even heard talk about. This is why we need to denounce and transform this ubiquitous social manipulation. Instead, social communication is to become a veritable tool of emancipation –thus the important role of the internet. (E. Bernays)


Yes, Yes


  1. Yes, information is a currency of power. This is why new flows of the right information can indeed change the configuration of forces within a political system by giving new direction to disenfranchised constituencies. How important this is for HR! (PHM)


  1. Yes, this is why we need to ensure the indicators selected are tied to the most transformative elements leading to the fulfillment of HR principles and standards, rather than falling back on existing, less ambitious indicators.** Here, we are thinking of the damaging tendency to ‘treasure what we can measure’ rather than the other way around. Now, more than ever, when choosing indicators, we must insist on their being relevant plus having a transformative and a HR potential impact rather than just focusing on their ease of application. (CESR, K. Donald)

**: The indicators we are talking about are not just about any new data and measurements; they are to be indicators useful as tools for accountability purposes by society at large. Yes, so far, these are inexistent or weak for HR purposes, but activists are working on them; they will allow society to start by demanding their being widely collected and reported-on as a base for HR accountability. Resources allocation for their collection must be made available making sure the information gathered will be disaggregated to highlight the most urgent HR issues. (P. Okumu)


The weakness of the data we regularly collect is in what they miss


A culture of denial that suppresses our awareness when things go awry, especially in human rights matters, dooms a society.


  1. Using data to seek proof is one thing. Seeking truth –a very much bigger mission– is something else. When faced with facts that discomfort us, we so often cope through denial –we do not see what we purport ‘cannot be seen’. Much of what lies ahead cannot be known for sure –the future is always dark territory, and it should be. To venture towards a better future we need to consider what the right actions and what the wrong ones are. True, what the most important spot-on actions are cannot necessarily be proven; data are of limited use in determining this. Our inquiry must thus include ethical issues and HR principles. In steering any course of action we need to agree where we intend to go, for what purpose(s) and how to get there. Science today is timid and hesitant faced with these larger questions –and businesses want to steer us in the direction of their narrower interests (so, alas, do many of the people we as citizens elect to purportedly serve the public interest –not forgetting the unelected officials who often have other axes to grind in their pursuit of greater power). (H. Einzig)


  1. Bottom line, the HR-based framework recognizes that what we measure reflects what we care about, and recognizes that, if poorly chosen, indicators can and do create perverse incentives to collect data which distracts us from larger HR concerns –…and may even lead to human rights violations.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



-The current system that keeps us ‘informed’ is not able to keep up with the challenges of the new times. It has become overly commercial and increasingly provincial, going after events and ignoring processes. Newspapers have declined in circulation, and active people recur more and more to the Net. A process of concentration and homogenization of unprecedented dimensions is under way. The year 2016 starts with this major handicap, and citizens will not become better or more informed than last year. A badly informed world is a world that moves without a compass. (R. Savio)

-These are dark times in which rogue propaganda touches all our lives. It is like if our political reality has been privatized, sanitized and ‘legitimized’. The ultimate purpose of this not-so-invisible-hand is to literally colonize our political consciousness, our sense of the world, our capacity of independent thinking so as to separate truth from lies. This is why ‘those-that-dissent’ have never been so important. It has never been so necessary to tell the truth and not to accept the lies we are fed day-in-day-out. We simply cannot and will not remain silent. With only honorable exceptions, executives of the media who are well paid to maintain the status-quo are coopted into this propaganda machine which no longer is journalism, but anti-journalism. (J. Pilger)



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Food for a metaphysical thought


Human Rights Reader 379


  1. Could it be that the problem with religion is that it is somehow transformed into law, because it derives from a divine authority? But God talks to man like a lord speaks to his servants; his language is imperative and obedience a matter of life and death. There is thus a difference between theocracy and humanism….and indeed human rights (HR). Marshall McLuhan’s ‘The Medium is the Message’ would seem to apply here and what seems to be just authoritarian language is the symbolic expression of an authoritarian, patriarchal mind that has caused much suffering despite its sublime message and its high aspirations. Let us not forget that women’s rights have been de-valued and their voices are seldom listened to.


1a. God demands more and the people can seldom be at the height of his (her?) demands. Consequently, God punishes the people. But God demands that people serve him with joy. There is thus a bittersweet aspect in his obedience. Therefore, the hegemonic nature of religions has not been innocuous. The political imposition of monotheism has lent support to regimes and doctrines such as the monarchy, the holy inquisition, racial supremacy, slavery, persecution of independent women, homophobia and nationalisms that have had sad HR consequences throughout history. So, one thing is to understand these caveats and another to passively accept religions’ shortcomings.


1b. In this critical time of history, religions could help creating the common good instead of serving as a rationalization and underwriting of the prevailing political and economic power. As pertinent, religions should desist of their political and hegemonic ambitions, as well as get rid of their patriarchy and their dogmatic authoritarianism, their control of spontaneity. Patriarchy has become dangerously obsolete. The patriarchal ‘contamination’ of religions has actually been a fundamental cause of the secularization of the Western world, as well as the model that has inspired its police and repressive apparatus. (Are we not these days witnessing a struggle between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists?) What we are left with is that we have to get back to preaching real altruism and HR* as an antidote to generalized selfishness in the world. (Claudio Naranjo)

*: Keep in mind that no matter whether you are of another religion, are an atheist or are an agnostic, Christianity was founded by an innocent who was condemned to death –a violation of the right to life. (Albino Gomez)


  1. Consider: In the Middle Ages, the call for a crusade to conquer the Holy Land was met with cries of “Deus vult!” –God wills it. But did the crusaders really know what God wanted? Given how the venture turned out, apparently not. Now, that was a long time ago, and, in the areas I write about in the Readers, invocations of God’s presumed will are rare. You do, however, see a lot of policy crusades, and these are often justified with implicit cries of “Mercatus vult!” –the market wills it. But do those invoking the will of the market really know what markets want? Again, apparently not. (Paul Krugman)


The worst definition of religion you will probably ever come across is that of it being ‘the belief in one or many gods’


  1. A religion is a set of beliefs and rituals, discourses and acts. It is associated with solemnity, emotion and solidarity –the latter relating religion to HR. (A. Testart) Furthermore, religions are distinguished by their dogmas and, let’s not forget, by very specialized institutions guardians of the faith.


  1. When reflecting about major religions we, no doubt, underestimate the sub-surface effects of our ethnocentrism especially if we look at the expansion of Western religions with their monotheistic representation of a creator God. Other religions are too often, too quickly classified as supersticions. But there do exist beliefs of the sacred without gods. (Confusionism is a specific product of ancestor worship). Religion can thus only be truly understood within the greater global context of social and cultural representations. The object of religions is to exercise powers intended to produce, reproduce and impose ritual and mental habits –thus the clergy and the institutional organization that transmit a unique representation of the world. Religion covers all cultural areas –and this is proven by all aspects of religious life in history. It visibly influences all aspects of life including power relations and conflicts thus its relationship with HR. (P. Fermi)


  1. Religion is a fundamental freedom. I accept that. It gives joy and pride and can provide protection in a way analogous to that of race; religion is not only an identity marker, but also a genuine and determining characteristic of a fundamental freedom. It further marks the identity of a social group that has a distinct position in the power structures of society –for example, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, or Sunni and Shi’a in Iraq or Bahrain. I’d say HR, as nowadays widely understood, are seldom part of the identity markers of religions…


  1. To continue on the path we are now-on and make no changes will leave concerned religious people just sharing a ‘meeting space’, very much like the purely spiritual exercises and retreats held for centuries by the Catholic Church while conflicts and revolutions were exploding in the outside world.** (R. Savio)

**: Not trying to be facetious here, but attending church services does not make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.


Would humankind on the whole be better off if it renounced religion?


-Was man happier before Middle Eastern monotheist religions came to be than after them?


  1. God’s demise or passing, it is said, will come when wo/men have reached the necessary maturity to dispense of God, i.e., have learned to live without the, in some periods of history, castrating interferences of the religious powers (or the owners of the faith?) and their established morals which, as we said, are not fully congruent with the ethics of HR. (Leonardo Padura)


The other side of the coin


Is atheism a political-religion and more intolerant than other religions? (G. Leopardi)


  1. As countries develop economically, more of their citizens are moving away from religious affiliation, as has been seen in Europe. But there is little evidence of such a phenomenon in Muslim-majority countries. Moreover, in Hindu-majority India, religious affiliation is still nearly universal despite rapid economic and social change. China, with its large population and lack of reliable data on religious switching, is something of a wild card when it comes to the future of world religion. This is especially true for the religiously unaffiliated population; more than half of the world’s people who do not identify with any religion live in China (roughly 700 million). (


  1. We tend to understand atheism as a war between religion and science. Atheism can be seen as an evangelical creed not unlike Christianity. An atheist, we tend to assume, is someone who thinks science should be the basis of our beliefs and tries to convert others to this view of things. An atheist is anybody who doesn’t rely on an idea of God. Of course there are different ideas of God, but in several cultures the deity is understood as a divine mind that is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving. Atheists reject this idea, or simply do not have any need for it.


  1. The questions we are left with here are: Is religion a response to the fact of our mortality? Is religion a primitive theory of how the world works? Is religion ‘the best available illusion’? Can we throw out the more passive religion-based morality in which we have been reared (and replace it with a more tolerant and action-oriented HR ethics)? (J. Gray)

…the surface is everything; what is underneath –too little? (L. Powys)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



– If you are overwhelmed by the above and feel a whole mountain is coming your way, run! It is a landslide.

– To win a debate like this one may give us satisfaction, but not necessarily more knowledge; the latter is gained by the loser of the debate. (A. Gomez)

– Whatever is natural we assume; what is human we have to comprehend. (L. Weinstein)

– I am sorry, but the bible is a book devoid of humor. Actually, if we look at life from a religious perspective, we find the apocalypse; on the other hand, if we look at it from a scientific perspective, we find entropy. This means things are not going to end very well …leaving us how much room to be optimistic? (A. Gomez)


– Human Rights = Morality+Legality.

Moral codes have existed and do exist in all societies on what is right or wrong, permissible or not permissible, legitimate or not legitimate. So let us look at the golden rules of different religions:

Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful”.

Christianity: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

Hinduism: Do naught to others, if done to thee, would cause thee pain: this is the sum of duty”.

Islam: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself”.

Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. That is the entire law; all the rest is commentary”.

Note: Human rights are thus based upon and reflect values that are not always specifically European, but are found in many cultures and religions in the world, including the protection of life, dignity, equality, property, security, happiness…

Most religions urge protection of people who are poor, disabled, sick or powerless.

Most share basic views of a common good.

Most prescribe a good and impartial ruling and condemn arbitrary killing.

Most encourage some form of social and economic justice.

Most offer moral prescriptions for wartime, BUT

Most religions also show or have shown a common disdain towards slaves, women, and homosexuals. (U. Jonsson)