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Food for an unfortunately powerless thought


Human Rights Reader 359



  1. Yes, as one of the SDGs says, the problem the world faces is not a problem of food production, but one of underconsumption by those rendered poor. But beware: We do not need to bring in the private sector to build up demand! The SDGs should thus here be asking: Is collaboration with the food industry necessary? Which industry? In the interest of whom? Just remember: ‘Money is not made with potatoes but with potato chips’. (G. Cannon)


  1. We all claim to know that the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the public is an important element in the nutrition problems we face. Those who manipulate this less-obviously-seen-mechanism in society de-facto constitute an invisible government. In almost every act of our daily lives, eating and drinking included, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons who understand the mental processes and social behavioral patterns of consumers. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind. (Edward Bernays, 1928) So why are the SDGs so weak on tackling this?


  1. I wonder (and object to) why successive drafts of the SDGs keep focusing on long and short, too often vertically integrated ‘value chains’ in the hegemonic agro-industrial-global-nutrition-system. Should the SDGs not focus more on the causes of the chains of poverty that, for instance, lead us to those who receive 15% of the public sales price for their products? The SDGs need to address food systems as systems that work for us rather than exploit us, something that encourages health rather than undermines it. But do they?


  1. Moreover, are the SDGs proposing strong enough concrete actions to counter the ecological tyranny of the agro-industrial agriculture model that is nothing short of a disaster in the making?


  1. We, right to nutrition activists, are on the whole a clan happiest when breathing our views gently (or not so gently) into official ears. Mainstream public health nutritionists are professionally largely dominated by consultants, advisors and official committee members used to acting in the ‘acceptable shadows’. (J. Rivers). But this is not what we ought to be doing just months before the SDGs fate is sealed! We may not like to admit that we also are among those who are manipulated. But we are.


The food sovereignty can of worms


  1. Food sovereignty is understood as a precondition to food security. In spite of this, the SDGs act as if food sovereignty did not exist. Food sovereignty specifically rejects food systems in which decisions are made overwhelmingly by corporate/private entities and others removed from the very real and varied local food systems. Food sovereignty includes the right to nutrition, i.e., the right of people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through socially-just and ecologically-sensitive methods. It entails peoples’ right to participate in decision making of what to grow and defines their own food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries systems. So why would the SDGs be deaf and blind to this?


  1. Having the freedom to produce, as well as having access-to and consume a nutritious diet is key to food sovereignty. Hunger, malnutrition, food insecurity and their associated health consequences are not equally distributed across social groups or indeed nations suggesting that not all people have such freedoms. (Amartya Sen) This relates food sovereignty to the empowerment of individuals and communities so they achieve control over their lives, get voice and influence and participate in decision-making processes –very much in line with human rights (HR) principles. Improving food sovereignty means dealing with matters of governance, of national economic priorities, of trade arrangements, of market deregulation and foreign direct investment, of fiscal policy, of climate change mitigation and related adaptation policies. A critical area of policy for food security and healthy diets is traditional local agriculture. While a return to full subsistence farming is unrealistic, policy makers have identified a need to support local production as the core of a food system that improves the capacity of farmers and fishermen to develop sustainable farming and fishing methods. In practice, governments have found this challenging due to international pressure to develop export crops. Export-oriented agriculture does not raise national incomes; it has been demonstrated as not effective in reducing income inequalities. (People’s Health Movement)


  1. The ‘primary raison d’eˆtre of peasant farming is livelihood and labor, not only food; yields are more closely dependent on social relationships. Here, sovereignty means not only the right to produce, but also to control production. Food sovereignty is a principle and an ethical lifestyle that does not correlate with an academic definition, but arises from a collective, participatory process. (P. McMichael)


  1. Four key areas can be pointed out to SDG drafters for investments to improve food sovereignty and diet-related health:
  • Investment in domestic/traditional agriculture aimed at strengthening infrastructure and markets including now negotiated investments by international aid development agencies.
  • Investment in processing and preservation technologies for traditional foods to improve access and convenience of healthy, safe and yearlong food options.
  • Community education (including HR learning) and support of programs for traditional food cultures.
  • Technical support for policy makers involved in trade negotiations to help ensure social, HR, nutrition and health goals are integrated adequately into trade agreements; includes support for staff from local public interest civil society groups that represent consumers and food producers.


To live a life without malnutrition is a fundamental human right…Nutrition improvements anywhere in the world are not a charity but an individual, household and social right. (R. Uauy)


  1. There is a continuous risk in the ‘international community’ of reducing the right to food to the right to be free from hunger. Powerful nations and international agencies under their influence promote programs such as food assistance and cash transfers that deal with human rights as minima. These powers get away with bypassing the HR commitments they do not like to recognize that they have made. They want to limit rights to minima thus leaving aside all obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the right to food. (F. Valente)


  1. The International Convention on Economic and Social and Cultural Rights only mentions access-to-food as the fulfillment of the right to food, whereas the-right-to-produce-food is much more fundamental to fulfilling the right to food. That is, rather than having a market-access-right-to-food, the more fundamental right to produce food requires stabilizing the world’s small-producer population, responsible for 50% of the world’s food at the same time as it constitutes about 50% of the world’s hungry. To reframe the question of rights in this way invariably relates hunger to land grabbing, to the denial of small-producer rights to their land and livelihoods, and links the challenges to be overcome to producer rights and productive capacities (including infrastructural needs). This normative shift is what some activists term ‘new generation’ rights.* (La Via Campesina)

*: New generation rights are significant in political and moral terms, but they lack formal status so far. Local movements have to keep pressuring states with direct action and legal means to slow or regulate land grabbing, because political elites have reason (kickbacks, debt relief and brokerage deals) to resist such pressure. Now, under the cover of foreign aid, and of food security concerns, they cooperate with donors to license large-scale land grabs.


  1. The current terms of our opposition, therefore, centrally include defending peasants ‘ways of life’ on the land against intruding market forces that have precipitated so many crises (e.g., food surplus dumping).

13. Better late than never, now, peasants must recognize the false claims of the neoliberal ‘food security’ approach. (H. Saragih, La Vıa Campesina)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



PS: Note that I have not even mentioned the genetically-modified-foods-can-of-worms which the IMF magazine Finanace&Development called Frankenstein foods. (F+D 50:4, December 2013)


Ebola in Liberia

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 Volunteers of International Medical Corps (IMC) suiting up in personal protective equipment (photo by J.M. Souers)

Volunteers of International Medical Corps (IMC) suiting up in personal protective equipment (photo by J.M. Souers)

MONROVIA, Liberia — Though the Ebola epidemic that put the world on edge may be waning in parts of West Africa, there is much more work to do be done to ensure this underserved region of the world does not continue to suffer from a potentially endemic and devastating disease.

From the start of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa there have been almost 10,000 reported deaths and 14,269 confirmed cases in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was here in Liberia during the initial outbreak but pulled out in May thinking everything was under control. In August, months after the CDC left, the real Ebola crisis struck Liberia.

In January, I applied to Adventist Health International (AHI) to work as a volunteer physician at SDA Cooper Hospital in Liberia. The hospital is run as a general hospital that has been providing health services during the epidemic to patients that are not suspected of Ebola while screening and referring patients with signs of the illness to Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs).

On February 9, 2015, I arrived at the hospital in the capital city of Liberia. Upon arrival I learned of a confirmed case at our hospital that had been transferred to an Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) just a few days earlier. The hospital now had to shut down the inpatient services for decontamination and everyone who had contact with the case agreed to be quarantined for 21 days as a precautionary measure. Since I did not have contact with the Ebola patient, I continued working at the hospital in the out-patient department and continuous infection control and prevention training.

The hospital was soon overwhelmed by representatives of the WHO, CDC, Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), International Medical Corps and the Ministry of Liberia. In a semi-coordinated effort, representatives of the different organizations came to our hospital to offer their advice and services.  We were pleased to see that these organizations were finally giving our hospital assistance and aid, but staff was frustrated that the offer had not come earlier during the actual crisis.

The situation in Liberia is now finally starting to stabilize. There was a period of more than 25 days with no confirmed cases, according to sources at the CDC in Monrovia. Though, on March 19th a patient presented to Redemption Hospital in Monrovia and was confirmed positive on March 20th. It is rumored that the patient contracted the illness from Sierra Leone, not unlikely due to the very porous border between the two countries. Another theory is that the patient contracted the disease through sexual transmission from her partner over three months after he had been released from an ETU. This reality does not heed well for the already pronounced stigma towards survivors.

It is concerning that many organizations are already talking about decommissioning the ETUs to redeploy aid and services to Guinea and Sierra Leone, where the situation is much worse. There is no doubt that the epidemic must be further addressed in these countries to ensure the safety of Liberians and all of West Africa, but it is important to continue to support efforts in Liberia to eradicate the illness. The health system still needs major improvement to reduce the risk of an uncontrolled and devastating outbreak in the future.

Community leadership seems to have had the most impact on curbing this disease in Liberia. Recognition of the disease, plus changing traditional practices and customs was more widely accepted and accomplished in Liberia than in Sierra Leone or Guinea. This shows how important it is for healthcare organizations to work directly with community leaders at the local level, educating the general population to cooperate in changing habits and customs (i.e. burial customs, consumption of bush meat, hand washing and sanitation) that propagate such an infectious illness.

Education is critical, which is most apparent when working with hospital staff that has very little basic knowledge of infectious disease prevention and control. This is in part because we are in a country with extremely limited health infrastructure including hospitals without running water, dependable energy sources or proper waste management.  What does exist is hardly adequate to provide even some of the most basic health care needs of the population. It is a shame that an epidemic like Ebola was necessary to bring this to international attention.  It is even worse that the short-term solutions are almost exhausted and very few long-term solutions have been established.

Volunteer of International Medical Corps (IMC) working in hospital triage at SDA Cooper Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia (photo by J.M. Souers)

Volunteer of International Medical Corps (IMC) working in hospital triage at SDA Cooper Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia (photo by J.M. Souers)

Focus has turned towards effectively training health care workers in the hospital setting with the proper equipment and precautions for infection control and prevention. Transitioning care from the ETU setting back to the hospital setting has been aided by the “Keep Safe, Keep Serving” curriculum provided by the Liberian Ministry of Health.  Still, there are too few properly established hospital protocols to protect staff and patients from another outbreak. This creates insecurity for the hospital staff.  Proper onsite training, triage staff, laboratory testing, contact tracing teams, supply chain availability, international support and local community education are still needed to continue to address this transition.

The international community can help by not allowing this epidemic to be just another news flash.  Instead, they should make it their long-term mission to help developing countries create sustainable healthcare reforms and infrastructure for long-term outcomes.  Their incentive should be to limit the spread of communicable diseases like Ebola that are no longer confined to remote areas of the world given our new global economy.  Unless these diseases are recognized quickly and controlled effectively at their source, they can and may spread rapidly and become an international pandemic that threatens everyone.

Joanna Mae Souers is a medical doctor, native of upstate New York, and graduate of the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana, Cuba.


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Food for a dubious humanitarian thought

Human Rights Reader 358


Foreign aid does not address the frequently adverse effects of powerful global nations using their muscle and force, as well as them too often looking the other way on the violations of human rights.


  1. We cannot be content with the badly needed social changes and human rights (HR) issues remaining unaddressed when foreign aid interventions are made under the ‘humanitarian’ guise, i.e., those that the dominant powers so often offer in place of structural changes, of solidarity and of support of the liberation struggles of people in recipient countries. If we insist on this structural dimension of the struggles being waged, it is because that is the condition without which no convergence is possible between the struggles waged in the North and those waged in the South in our increasingly interdependent world.*

*: The almost absence of a Northern anti-imperialist consciousness has been the main reason for the limited advances that the people in poor countries have hitherto been able to realize –not withstanding their retrogression. (Samir Amin)


  1. Never underestimate the double-standard morals applied by nations (and individuals) that say one thing yet do another; nowhere more patent than in the realm of HR. Take foreign aid: It tends to strengthen the free market concept when what is needed is strengthening the solidarity and complementarity of local markets that are not governed by capitalist cut-throat competition. (Evo Morales)


  1. In foreign aid, there is no such a thing as moral immunity. So it is fitting to ask: Why is it that being in a position of power makes donor countries donating feel very ethical?


  1. Given the prevailing diplomacy of war and of death, of free market excesses and of privatization, of foreign debt**, of the plundering of natural resources by transnationals, we must impose a diplomacy of the peoples of the South so as to strengthen ourselves from within the South. We in the South are not and cannot be an obedient servant pawn of the Northern powers. We in the South are emerging because of the newly acquired power of the people and of the progressive and sovereign governments. We are thus slowly configuring a New South that implements projects of regional integration. There will be no strong South if there is no sovereignty, patriotism, and nationalism in the good sense and, above all, a will of its people and states to break the chains of colonial and neoliberal servitude. (Evo Morales)

**: Who is fooling whom on the foreign debt issue? Donor institutions that give debt relief simply reduce their overall aid envelope by an equivalent amount. If donors want to really help recipient countries they must do what is deemed needed by the recipient country’s people as opposed to making the donor and its constituency feel good; that is charity. (J. Bhagwati)


  1. UN agencies are unfortunately prone to the same collective-action problems that bedevil bilateral donors. They are often tempted to adopt bland, lowest-common-denominator positions or to try to free ride on the contributions of others. (S. Patrick) Edicts rather than ‘guidance’ are needed when dealing with any MDG-related issue, for instance when dealing with modern forms of slavery such as child labor or with gender disparity in wages and in opportunities. Paternalistic pronouncement or acts, or flown-in-‘helicopter-aid’ are simply not enough; we know their shortfalls. (A. Arora)


Aid is often given on an unrequired basis and frequently imposes stiff conditionalities


-“If I want to join a golf club it is to play golf; I should not be required to go to church with other club members”. (J. Bhagwati)

-We have to see foreign aid for what it is and slough off all the hype, as a snake discards old skin. (G. Cannon)


  1. It would actually be a revolutionary step forward if recipient countries would challenge donors when being offered aid that goes against their conscience or violates the HR of their people. (E. Galeano)


  1. Therefore, enforcing foreign aid accountability requires taking steps beyond government monitoring and governments ‘building evidence’. Much of social accountability work in this field focuses on generating evidence through engaging communities in monitoring. But citizens’ strengthened demands and their feedback are oftentimes only a small factor among many other that attempt to influence the foreign and national powerful decision-makers’ related policies and actions. In this sense, more evidence alone does not, by itself, lead to greater accountability! Equally important is bridging the distance created by administrative and political processes between those who seek accountability, in this case people’s representatives, and those from whom it is sought. Against the conventional definitions of accountability used by international development practitioners, there are indeed local understandings of what makes leaders accountable. There are informal, alternative sources of legitimacy…and of power. Service-providers and local state officials are themselves members of the community –and people’s representatives will have to confront them first. But beware, problems that manifest themselves at the local level cannot always be solved or attributed to local government. The national and international political context very often better explains the workings of local accountability. HR practitioners and advocates who seek to promote responsive accountability need to be able to discern and navigate the respective political context. A priority on the policy setting agenda is thus to retain concrete implementation strategies and structures that have a relevant leverage and political clout. Further, governance processes need to be adapted to allow for participation and representation of men, women and children and due consideration must be given to their respective rights issues. Not to forget: Accountability mechanisms need to both involve children and be fully responsive to children’s rights. (L. T. Phuong Nguyen, UNICEF)


  1. The foreign aid worldwide theater has many sobering lessons to teach us. To me, it is a major case study in the debate between interveners and empowerers:

Empowerment means increasing one’s capacity to define, analyze, and act on one’s own problems. An empowering program is one that steadily reduces the claim holders’ need for it. It builds the capacity of individuals and communities to take their own good decisions relating to their rights.

Interveners use programs designed by outside experts to be delivered to ‘needy people’.

In contrast, empowerers call for supporting people in addressing their own concerns on their own terms and with their own resources.

Interveners want to control what will be done while empowerers want to guide people in what they choose.


  1. Currently, foreign aid produces probably little that would directly benefit the supposed recipients ‘on the ground’. It is quite clear that the voices of families that are supposed to benefit from all this activity have not been heard. This is because the constituency for most donors, the people from whom they get their validation, is either scientists, development ‘experts’ or other funding agencies. But there are ways in which local people can participate with a binding character. If they are to benefit, they should be helped to see and assess the proclaimed benefits. Maybe the local people can help the experts see benefits and harms they had not considered. One way to empower local communities thus is to turn some of the aid funds over to them and let them decide what sort of experts and other services they will hire. Done right, this would help to ensure that the communities’ interests are served, and also help to empower the experts by making them more effective in their work. (adapted from G. Kent)


  1. Bottom line, just tinkering with foreign aid will do no more good than a band-aid on gangrene –if we want to make it really HR-compliant. (G. Cannon)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City




-Every 1000 dollars of extra aid reduces taxes collected by recipient governments by an important percentage. (F+D 50:4, December 2013)

-The only free cheese is in the mousetrap.

-A country should never ruin its present based on a past that has no future. (Albino Gomez)

-Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) recommended pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will.

-Believe it or not, human rights work will eventually teach donors to be human. (adapted from A. Gomez)



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Food for a godlike thought?


Human Rights Reader 357


Food for thought for those who doubt


-Where do the Gods hide as our world devours itself while they look aside? What have Gods done wrong that our world is falling apart? What have Gods done right? (J. Koenig)

-Exurge Domine et judica causam tuam (Raise, oh God, to defend your cause). (R. Ampuero)


  1. Does God’s absence have ever more presence every day that passes?

Is God an old, old illusion of man or is man a permanent disillusion of God? If so, what does it imply to be agnostic, then? Simply believing that one cannot demonstrate the existence or inexistence of God? (But it is clear that it also implies that agnostics do not enjoy the sense of protection and security that believers in God enjoy). (Albino Gomez)

  1. Faith-based action for those who believe


How many people try to place their hopes in the beyond where they seem to find what the here-and-now has denied them?


  • Yes, the big religions have been the axes of cultural development. But, no, they have not brought about the hoped-for long-term harmony among humans and among them and nature, as well as not having brought about universal social justice and personal development. (L. Weinstein)
  • Yes, religions do flexibly share the belief in what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls “the inherent dignity of all members of the human family.” But, on the other hand, religions impose many un-appealable obligations on their devotees (simply too many desires and ideas are controlled in people’s lives).
  • Yes, human rights (HR) and religions share the claim that dignity is present from birth for each and every one of us.
  • Yes, in principle, religions preach for action when human dignity is violated. But has this always been true?
  • Yes, faith-based action has more than occasionally been important in undermining repressive political systems many times in many places. But has this always been true?*

*: Talking about truth, Hegel’s rigorous and sorry truth was that Christianity had a shattering vitality on social issues until it consolidated its Church.


  1. [It is interesting to note here that science-based action did emerge from the shadows of religion. But later on, no small part of the pain came from discarding faith and dogma from the emerging sciences. (Note that the subsequent compartmentalization of science became itself an impediment: it is futile to study the parts of the whole in isolation –much more so to decipher all sorts of whats and the hows, but not the whys).


  1. So, do (HR) and religion need each other? The universality of human rights does require a secular presentation, but how much of its power comes from its past religious dimensions? (L. Cox, Kairos Center)


Human Rights: A rift or schism between faith and denial or disbelief?
Even given the relationships (or affinities) between religion and human rights, in all truth, these are often problematic.


  1. Many believe that human rights are a form of ‘secular religion’, but are really uncomfortable with the word religion in such a statement.**

**: The late Louis Henkin (chairman of the Center for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University) put it like this: “The human rights ideology is a fully secular and rational ideology whose very promise of success as a universal ideology depends on its secularity and rationality”.


  1. The religious dimensions that may be found in HR thus do not depend on any particular religious beliefs or views on the nature and existence of a God.


  1. Not surprisingly true


  • True, secular human rights workers can work together in movements that draw on the best of human rights and of religions.
  • True, by passing laws based on human rights, the state actually helps different religious communities –and members of the same community who have different interpretations– to live together in a fair and shared political space.
  • True, the people who fight for human rights feel a sense of connection. This personal, individual, and powerful experience gives human rights their full meaning and social power. It is equally true that this experience is also felt by many religious activists.
  • The fact notwithstanding that many of the people who fought for civil and political rights in the Americas came from religious movements, in the US, it is true that religious activism these days is often associated with, among other, attacks on the rights of women and of LGBT people (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) and with any criticisms of the excesses of unregulated capitalism. As a result, most HR activists (and the media) rightly often ignore religions’ claim to ‘progressive’ positions.


  1. Sadly true


  • Despite the true fact that believers have in the past been active in movements for HR and social justice, many HR activists view religion as a problem, rather than as an ally.
  • Throughout history, religious figures have too often been boldface contributors to abuse and atrocious HR violations.
  • More often than not, HR leaders distance themselves from the religious dimensions of their ideas.
  • Defenders of unjust regimes with oppressive behaviors often use religion to suppress courageous voices for change, create divisions, justify oppression, and violate the rights of vulnerable people.
  • Moral outrage alone is rarely linked to any attempt at social mobilization for HR, including among faith communities.



  1. To improve HR, massive involvement of the public is a must –primarily the involvement of those whose rights are (most) violated. And yet, even victims of the worst abuses have not been importantly engaged with the concept and with the organizations of HR that are unrelated to the religious organizations that have traditionally given them mostly comfort, strength, meaning, and some practical assistance. (The need for HR learning keeps coming up from many different angles in this Reader).***

***: The question is: Will the integration of learning human rights as a way of life eventually enrich every religion and culture? (S. Koenig)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City




-Atheism is a non-prophet organization.

-It is a clear oxymoron to say that, thank God, one is an atheist. (A. Gomez)

-The Italian communist Enrico Berlinger, a non-believer, went to wait for his believer wife and kids in front of the church every Sunday. He used to say: “If we, the Communists, had a million women and men like the nuns, priests and monks who have a taken a vote of obedience and are ready for any sacrifice, we would bring about a veritable social revolution in no time”.

-We have sacrificed the old immaterial Gods and we occupy the temple with the Market God. He now organizes our economy, our politics, our habits, our life and even our finances in installments and credit cards in what is the appearance of total happiness. The Market God organizes and delivers happiness in installments. It makes us look like we have been born only to consume and consume. (J. Mujica, President of Uruguay)

-Confusion is a relative term; we either understand or we don’t –take for instance HR. Failing to understand and to adopt HR is not due to your confusion; it depends on you alone. (Julio Cortazar)



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Food for a borderless thought


Human Rights Reader 356

Despite the universality of human rights, many states still disregard their extra-territorial obligations and apply human rights only within their own borders.


  1. Human rights specialists have only relatively recently begun to give serious attention to the issue of extra-territorial obligations (ETOs), so the terminology relating to it has not yet sufficiently sunk-in. In the past, we have mostly referred to the external obligations of states. But the key point now is that states have responsibility for actions taken by themselves and also for actions taken by others –e.g., corporations– outside their borders, especially but not only, when they have actual or potential control over them. (G. Kent)


  1. We already know states have a broad variety of moral and international legal responsibilities. Some of them are enshrined in international human rights law and have thus become legal obligations. References to the extra-territorial or external human right obligations of states inherently emphasize the roles they have neglected pertaining certain other actors. Why? Because human rights law is state-centric, since it is only states that sign and ratify international human rights agreements. But corporations or other agencies sometimes are complicit in states’ violations of human rights (HR) meaning that, so far, such non-state actors have not been made de-facto direct abusers (violators) of HR.


  1. Over the past 20 years, the attempt to limit obligations territorially has led to gaps in HR protection that have become more severe particularly in the context of globalization. Some of these gaps are:
  • the lack of HR regulation and accountability of transnational corporations (TNCs);
  • the ineffective application of HR law to development, financial investment and trade agreements and policies;
  • the absence of HR accountability of intergovernmental organizations, e.g., the EU (and their respective member states) and the lack of implementation of governments’ duties to respect, protect and fulfill HR abroad in their international cooperation and assistance.


  1. States must thus be reminded that, without extra-territorial obligations, HR cannot assume their proper role as the legal base for regulating a globalization process that ensures the universal protection of HR. States must fully integrate these obligations into their policies and practices and ensure that they are the central terms of reference in international and global policy-making and that remedial/recourse mechanisms are put in place as needed: food for thought for the drafters of the post 2015 development agenda here.


  1. National, regional and international HR mechanisms must equally address extra-territorial obligations in their respective reporting and monitoring systems, including the call for remedial actions; they must further strengthen the application of extra-territorial obligations in jurisprudence and law. In particular, states must ensure that these mechanisms guarantee the right to an effective remedy for breaches of extra-territorial obligations.*

*: The Maastricht Principles on Extra-territorial Obligations of States, adopted in 2011 by international law experts from all regions of the world, including members of international HR treaty bodies, regional HR bodies, as well as former and current Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations Human Rights Council, reflect existing current legal standards and norms. They clarify the extra-territorial obligations of States with a particular focus on economic, social and cultural rights. The Maastricht Principles are applicable to HR in general and inform the HR obligations of intergovernmental organizations. States and HR mechanisms are called to apply the Maastricht Principles and the norms and standards on which they are based when acting unilaterally, multilaterally and through intergovernmental organizations. (M. Gibney and R. Kunnemann, Accountability for violations beyond borders, Chapter 7, pp.54-57, in Right to Food and Nutrition Watch – Claiming Human Rights: The Accountability Challenge, FIAN et al, Heidelberg, October 2011)


The common misconception that human rights are strictly territorial in their application easily leads to results that are the antithesis of human rights


It is only a simple-minded approach to jurisdiction that identifies jurisdiction with territory; this plays into the hands of those politicians and businessmen who still feel they can do abroad what they must not do at home.


  1. It is clear: Only by carrying over HR obligations from state-based treaty law to the activities of intergovernmental organizations and TNCs will open the door to accessing more effective accountability mechanisms to end HR abuses/violations attributable to these actors-made-duty-bearers and thus to potentially receive the reparations due from them.**

**: I note that accountability for breaches to extra-territorial obligations will, of course, not be higher than the existing accountability for breaches of domestic HR obligations. I also note that existing HR mechanisms of the UN are under-applied as refers to ETOs. This fact allows HR abuses and violations by foreign actors (including intergovernmental organizations) to continue even under the current HR treaty laws. [It is not that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) does not emphasize the duty to realize these ETOs in HR in cases of overseas development assistance (foreign aid). ICESCR always meant to overcome territorial limitations].


  1. What flows from the ETOs is that:
  • home states of TNCs will have to allow for legal remedy once companies they headquarter abuse HR abroad;
  • a state violates HR not only when it destroys, for instance, people’s access to food in a foreign country, but also when it condones others (on whom it has influence) doing so. (Take, for example, the case of land grabbing by corporations operating from outside a territory, or the example of the European Union being responsible for violating the subsistence rights of sugar farmers in poor countries);
  • the obligation of governments of the North are unfulfilled, because they do not take up their responsibility to regulate and monitor the work of their respective TNCs overseas;
  • the focus on economic, social and cultural rights abroad, now provides us with additional tools to (re)gain democratic control over policies that are violating HR.


  1. Important to keep in mind here is the fact that ETOs also vie not to interfere with states’ efforts to implement their own territorial obligations, but in fact facilitate such policies. But states also have to use their influence in international political decision-making processes they participate in.


  1. Bottom line: Being international, ETOs are not yet being global! They stand not only for morals, but are grounded in law. (R. Kuennemann)

A lot more for us to do still.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



Postscript/marginalia: International law has not plainly established the ‘legal personality’ of the entity we describe as the global-community-taken-as-a-whole


As far as I know, most ETO discussions focus on the obligations of single countries, not the global community as a whole. That limited perspective weakens the entire human rights project. (G. Kent)
There are colleagues that have introduced the term global community to highlight that there are some moral responsibilities that rest with the collectivity of all people, and at least some of them should be raised to the level of legal obligations. The codification of these obligations would be based on a broad consensus regarding a host of underlying moral responsibilities. The idea is that the global-community-taken-as-a-whole should be viewed as carrying certain obligations. The UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly acknowledge the responsibility of the global community for the realization of human rights. Under international law, the primary obligations of states are internal, but they have external obligations as well. There are thus global obligations that go beyond –collectively. There is a need for clarity though, not only about what the global community may do, but also about what it must do and to what depth, i.e., what the obligations of rich countries are and what the obligations of international agencies are collectively with regard to human rights in poor countries.* (G. Kent)

*: There have been many global plans, but they propose only to work around the edges of the many HR problems, but not to end their violation. We have had no breakthrough solutions. Moreover, it should be acknowledged that the global community also has an obligation to support the efforts of the people of those states whose governments fail them. (G. Kent)



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Food for an exhausted thought


Human Rights Reader 355


  1. An era can be said to end when its basic aspirations and illusions are exhausted. (Arthur Miller) Take neoliberalism: Disenchantment with neoliberalism as an ideal has grown to a dangerous (or hopeful?) point.*  (J.C. Juncker)

*: I read somewhere that for people these days it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of Capitalism. (Albino Gomez)


  1. Neoliberalism has not just been a set of bad attitudes. It has been the unrestrained exercise of corporate power with its human rights (HR) violations, taking advantage of the working class’s lethargy.**

(W. Podmore)

**: Capitalism does not only generate capital; it also creates a working class kept content with an unjust system they are made to believe to be natural. (N. Shepper)


  1. You see? In our world, transnational corporations (TNCs) have rights backed by hard laws (treaties, free trade agreements, bilateral investment treaties…)*** and strong enforcement mechanisms; they can sue states even beyond national jurisdiction. But TNCs obligations are backed only by soft laws, codes of conduct and voluntary guidelines, deprived of any enforcement mechanism; the HR situation is no exception. Above all, it is weak and poor states that suffer most from this situation. Only powerful states are able to regulate and control the activities of TNCs and hold them responsible for the damage they do and the HR violations they perpetrate; but most other states are not able to do so. (M. Khor)

***: For instance, the latest WTO Bali deal is ultimately ‘a battle between food for the poor and trade for the rich’. (R. Sengupta)


  1. So, perhaps more than rhetorically, are we rushing forward to the past, to the times of Queen Victoria, when an obscure German philosopher and economist by the name of Karl Marx was working in the British Library in London on his denunciation of exploitation, and preparing his Communist Manifesto? (R. Savio)


Neoliberalism is but a moment in the history of capitalism


  1. Neoliberalism has done away with many State functions; it has not destroyed the State, but has put it at the service of the neoliberal project, the capitalist project. Capitalism has existed and exists as an economic, political, cultural and military hegemonic power.


  1. How we relate to the essence of capitalism actually also leads to quite serious consequences for our environment. From a theoretical point of view, the reason is that the rate of reproduction of capital is very different from the rate of reproduction of nature and, as the injection of capital imposes its own rhythm, not surprisingly, it is destroying nature.****

****: Who will forgive us if we let the planet die while we just bare witness? (J. Koenig)


  1. For capitalism, nature is a source of ‘natural resources’, i.e., capitalism commoditizes the planet because, if natural resources are not dealt as commodities, they cannot contribute to making a profit and to the accumulation of capital.


  1. This fact calls for a thorough revision of the capitalist model so as to serve particularly urgent ecological and social demands. Instead, the tinkering we have seen is short term, i.e., applying social policies largely of the welfare type, such as subsidies and other. This may (have) allow(ed) poor people to escape from misery, but not become the active social subjects they need to become –perhaps, at best, just the system’s customers. (F. Houtart)


  1. In this, believing in a utopia is very necessary to aim at our human rights (HR) goal –not in the sense of an unreachable illusion, but in the sense of something that we do not have today, but that we could have tomorrow. It is thus worth fighting for this utopia, at the same time being specific and concrete.


  1. The principle is that we should leave a system that concentrates real power in a few hands –a system where it is the individual that prevails over the common good and over the rights of others. There is nothing less democratic than the monopoly capitalism that characterizes the current economy, with its domination over the political organization of nations and of international agencies.


  1. As a matter of principle, also sport, culture, religion and other areas of the human endeavor will have to introduce democratic processes in its respective structures. Developing these democratic processes everywhere is a very important immediate step (for example fostering participatory, direct democracy) and also a longer-term step (e.g., reforming the United Nations). Just be reminded that the Security Council, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are very undemocratic with the right to pass resolutions or to veto vested in only a handful of world powers.


As the Mayan Indians in southern Chiapas say: “Human beings are the consciousness bearers of nature”.


  1. Capitalism tends to impose a single culture, a single lingua franca, a way of consuming, of eating, of dressing …all as a function of submission to the law of value. It is all about imposing a dominant culture that has undoubtedly contributed much to mankind, but that was ultimately absorbed by the very logic of capitalism, i.e., as an instrument for its global dissemination leading to its hegemony.


  1. There already exist in the world thousands of initiatives, both advocating for the respect for nature, as well as for a social/non-individualistic and more solidary economy and for the defense of HR and of fairer democratic mechanisms. These initiatives do indeed exists, but are still very scattered. The problem is how to bring all these forces together to a joint political project aimed at arriving at a stronger correlation of forces in the struggle to transform ingrained practices and economic and political structures.


  1. From the end of the 1970s, capitalism regained momentum launching the era of neoliberalism that further imposed its values and gradually chipped away at the achievements of past social struggles thus resulting also in the weakening of social organizations (trade unions in particular).


  1. History teaches us that capitalism is fierce and vicious when it can, and ‘civilized’ when it must. The economic logic of the system requires it to adapt whenever the accumulation process is affected. This is why, in the second decade of the 2000s, global capitalism is trying to go ‘green’. Before that, ecological aspects were simply considered externalities, i.e., they did not enter in the calculations the market made. Consequently, damage to nature was not paid by capital, but by the people and nations. The same applies to the severe social damage that has been done.


  1. It is not enough to only regulate capitalism; we must impose a new paradigm of collective organization of humanity on this planet. This is neither an easy process, nor is it short term.


  1. HR ethics and politics, in the sense of being social constructs, do not fall from the sky, but must be built from the bottom. It is about establishing rules that allow the construction, production, reproduction and the improvement of life on the planet with dignity, justice and social responsibility.


  1. Introducing the ethical and political dimensions in the organization of the economy is also a requirement of the processes of change needed, starting as early as during the period of transition towards the new paradigm.


  1. Social structures do not change by themselves. It is social actors who build permanent social structures clearly influencing what existed before. It is us humans who build our societies, and this is why we speak of a ‘new wo/man’, of the need to transform human consciousness to be able to build new social relationships firmly anchored in HR.


  1. What is today called ‘the decolonization of our values’ pertains not only to our economic or political, but our mental decolonization. Capitalism has had a huge role in the colonization of our minds, influencing the type of consumption and the desire of large majorities of the population of the world to have a type of consumption as the one the United States has.


  1. Bottom line: There are no road problems to get to Rome; there is a need of a different Rome. (All the above quoting the late Andres Carrasco)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho ChiMinh City




-Capitalism is not a dirty word. It is a dirty system. (A. Katz)

-Capitalism systematically brings about violence which it then must combat through repression. Since violence is a constant feature of capitalism, the need for a police apparatus arises to control it. As a result, we end up adding State violence to social violence. (A. Badiou)


SocMed Uganda – Health Worker Campaign

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We’ve just returned to Minneapolis after an invigorating month in Gulu, Uganda together with medical and nursing students from Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Lebanon, and the U.S. As part of our SocMed curriculum, we shared an intensive month together studying the social determinants of health and developing strategies to constructively address these factors. It was a transformational month for all of us.

In a remarkable and hopeful demonstration of the power of a committed group of passionate individuals to effect change in the world, our students rapidly (in 7 days) developed a campaign to address the current health worker shortage in Uganda called ‘Focus 15 For Health.” They wrote an open letter to President Museveni of Uganda, which will be delivered to his office this week by our Ugandan medical students and they put together a video to accompany their letter.

They have requested that we spread the word far and wide to highlight the issues they are addressing. Please see the Facebook link https://www.facebook.com/pages/Focus15ForHealth/585394781605521 for more details (and “like” it if you feel inclined). You can also learn more by visiting: http://focus15forhealth.tumblr.com/

Many thanks,
Mike Westerhaus and Amy Finnegan
Co-Directors, SocMed


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Food for a multiply-by-dividing thought


Human Rights Reader 354


-Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made; it can thus be overcome and eradicated by man-made actions, i.e., by a far greater resolve on the part of states.

-Poor people don’t ask for much; they don’t invade others’ spaces; but given no choices, they will. (J. Koenig)


  1. Most of the current discourse on poverty alleviation I see in development work is just a modern return to charity…  Therefore, poverty persists; its victims remain vulnerable and are endlessly trapped below ‘the line’. (J. Koenig)


  1. As I endlessly repeat, poverty reduction is unachievable without disparity reduction. This means that the structural relationships between the richer people and people living in poverty must be understood, exposed and addressed.* (U. Jonsson)

*: http://werdiscussion.worldeconomicsassociation.org/?post=incrementum-ad-absurdum-global-growth-inequality-and-poverty-eradication-in-a-carbon-constrained-world


  1. Given that the widening gap between the ‘have-lots’ and the ‘have-nots’ is one of the key factors driving poverty and deprivation around the world, it is essential that the human rights framework is adopted universally so as to actively promote the twin principles of equality and non-discrimination in practice, as well as in law. People living in poverty, i.e., those rendered poor, generally view their lack of voice and of power as probably the most stigmatizing elements of their de-privation (or privation since they never were non-poor and never had voice or power). (CESR)


  1. Poverty comes in ever new ways, now including the impoverishment of human, community and ecological values.** (A. Fazal) It therefore is the driving factors behind poverty –the factors that entrench it, bar the exits from it and drag people back down into it– that we need to tackle. The less visible driving forces include, across all societies, various forms of discrimination, unequal treatment by service providers and legal systems, social exclusion and many forms of violence and insecurity. Pro-active and sustained policy, legal and administrative measures are needed to redress this and enable the inclusion and fair treatment of marginalized groups and people. (Note: I am not talking about should or can; I am talking about must; ‘vive la difference’!)

**: Poverty also entails a lack of relationships; not only a lack of resources.


  1. We are only now beginning to look seriously beyond the aggregates and beneath the averages, to try to understand the inequalities and de-privations that large sections of many societies –including those making rapid progress overall– still face. A fair and level playing field is therefore not enough; it is only a beginning. Policies and interventions that aim to improve the lives of disadvantaged people are undermined, because they address chronic poverty as charity, not addressing its structural drivers. The poverties that these drivers address are perpetuated, and they accumulate. (R. Morgan) Our human rights (HR) work goes beyond the aggregates, below the averages.


  1. We can no longer speak of communities ‘suffering’ from extreme poverty. (It is true though that the consequences of poverty are suffered). Why? Because communities are actually rendered poor by the existing economic and political system with its widely uneven and unfair power relations. It is thus critical for us to understand how such power dynamics lead to poverty, to violence and to HR violations and what we must do to do-away with the respective imposed vulnerabilities and choose doing it together with whom.


  1. This leads me to a small set of iron laws in which I believe firmly:

(i) To bring poor people into prosperity, the wealthy will have to be moved out of their excess prosperity.
(ii) What the wealthy often receive without working comes from what another person must work for receiving a pittance.
(iii) The government must ultimately take concrete steps to redistribute to the have-nots what it, in great part, does not take from the wealthy.
(iv) You can multiply wealth by dividing it!
(v) When most of the people work hard to make a meager living, and a minority plays in the casino economy and makes way more than they need, that is the beginning of the end of any nation and of the planet.

(vi) Any policy for the poor (or pro-poor) is by definition a poor policy.**

**: There is something called the Palma Ratio. It stands for the ratio of the top 10% of population’s share of gross national income (GNI), divided by the poorest 40% of the population’s share of GNI. It provides a more policy-relevant indicator of the extent of inequality in each country and can be particularly relevant in shaping disparity reduction policies.


  1. Finally, an old sound piece of advice: Study the rich and powerful, not the poor and powerless…Let the poor study themselves. They already know what is wrong with their lives and if you truly want to help them, the best you can do is to give them a clearer idea of how their oppressors are working now
and can be expected to work in the future. (Susan George, 1974)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho ChiMinh City




-To err is human, but to blame somebody else is even more human.

-Note the common root in dignity and indignation.

-Everyday dramas of dignity: People who work in the grey market or do not work; people who live on welfare that can never hope having a job; people who survive picking on trash bins; children who must choose between studying and going out there to make a living at a very early age; those who graduate but cannot make a living; those who receive a totally insufficient pension; those who cannot buy; those who travel in overcrowded buses and trains; those who wait for months to have a needed surgical operation; small businessmen that cannot pay their taxes; small industrialists that cannot import what they need and cannot fight against transnational corporations’ penetration; battered women who remain defenseless; those who seek justice and cannot find it… (Albino Gomez)




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Food for mobilizing around a thought


Human Rights Reader 353


  1. In this Reader, let me add some key ideas about empowerment, i.e., about people gaining mastery over their lives, community members assuming greater power or expanding their existing power from within so as to forcefully demand and achieve the changes they desire.


  1. Empowerment entails enhancing the capacity and the ability of communities to identify, to mobilize-around and to address their burning problems; it aims at community members participating actively in their community life gaining leadership skills, setting up tight social networks and, as a result, amassing social and political power.


  1. We are talking here about engaging community members as equals, about developing their leadership skills, about increasing their knowledge of what empowerment strategies work and about how they actually can access the resources needed through their active involvement.


  1. To be relevant, community organizing and empowerment have to start from where the people are, with community members setting their own agenda based on their very felt needs. In such a process, as they move along, they are to achieve greater awareness and power, as well as gain control over the resources accessed.


  1. In their selection of the priority issues to address, they will first (not too ambitiously) identify the more immediate, specific and realizable targets for change that, after some small victories, will further unite them thus adding more and more community strength. All community members will be given the chance to participate in identifying issues and targets will be jointly selected as part of adopting a shared human rights-based strategy.


  1. Slowly, a shared critical consciousness will emerge, particularly an awareness of the social, political and economic forces responsible for the many accumulated social problems they face.* At this point, community members discuss what really are the root causes of their problems and plan commensurate actions to address them.

*: For example, quoting WHO: Advancing health as a human right (HR) means making people conscious of both their challenges and the concrete possibilities for change.


  1. These, then, are the guts of the process of empowerment –empowerment basically to build counter-power to face the powers that be. …And which are these?


Types of power  


Visible power: This level includes the visible and definable aspects of political power –the formal rules, structures, authorities, institutions and procedures of decision-making. (Strategies that target this level usually try to change the ‘who, how and what’ of policymaking so that the policy process is rendered more democratic and accountable so as to serve the needs and the HR of people, as well as the survival of the planet).

Hidden power: Certain powerful people and institutions maintain their influence by controlling who gets to the decision-making table and what gets on the agenda. These dynamics operate on many levels to exclude and devalue the concerns and representation of other less powerful groups. (Empowering strategies that focus on strengthening organizations and movements of those rendered poor can and do build the collective power in terms of numbers and of new leadership that will influence the way the political agenda is shaped, on top of increasing the visibility and legitimacy of their issues, their voice, their influence and their demands).

Invisible power: Probably the most insidious of the three dimensions of power, invisible power shapes the psychological and ideological boundaries of participation. Significant problems and issues are not only kept from the decision-making table, but also from the minds and consciousness of the different players involved, even those directly affected by the problem. By influencing how individuals think about their place in the world, this level of power shapes people’s beliefs and people’s sense of self and of acceptance of the status quo –even of their own sense of superiority or inferiority. Processes of socialization, culture and ideology perpetuate exclusion and inequality by defining what is normal, acceptable and safe. (Change strategies in this area must target the prevailing social and political culture or system, as well as address the individuals’ consciousness so as to transform the way people perceive themselves and those around them, and how they envisage their future possibilities and alternatives. (Veneklasen and Miller).


Empowered people need to progress from individual to collective and from local to global action. (K. Glanz)


It is power differentials between the actors in global governance that have invariably led (and lead) to the imposition of development agendas. I fear that post 2015 will be more of the same.


  1. If we want to unite a block of countries behind a global HR strategy, it is essential to mobilize social movements to build counter-power within each country first.** Therefore, consolidating a strong, independent social movement for HR must be the priority for all of us. Why? Because our objective has to firmly be to apply pressure from the base of each of these social movements. That is and will be decisive in our struggle for HR. For the time being, we cannot see any grouping of countries cohesively and collectively confronting the major HR issues of the reigning neoliberal ideology; we can only find a few countries that, mostly independently, support certain demands emanating from the HR framework. Much is to be done here still. (La Via Campesina)

**: Counter-power does not, by itself, automatically lead to the best solutions. Context and some technical knowhow do play a role. Undisputable progression towards the realization of HR is always to be the horizon to aim-for though.


  1. The accident of birth is the principal source of inequality for most people. While we celebrate equality of opportunity, we live in a society in which birth is most of the times fate. This powerful impact of birth on life chances is bad for individuals born into disadvantage. And it is bad for society. But it does not have to be this way. We cannot ignore failing social institutions that condone and take as a fait accompli poor children’s disadvantage and the violation of their HR. On these issues, outside interventions too often impose rich-country, middle-class norms. We have to denounce these. Ergo, we must empower people to be what they want to be. (J.J. Heckman)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City




-When we see a giant, we have to look carefully at the position of the sun; it could well be that the giant is nothing more than the shadow of a dwarf. (Novalis)

– Slow progress is progress.


Most HR Readers can be found in www.humaninfo.org/aviva under No. 69


Slide shows on Public Health and Social Justice Website Updated for 2015

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The major topical Powerpoint slide shows on the Public Health and Social Justice have all just been updated to include the most recently available research and policy information. They range in length from 50 slides to 700 slides (yes, seven hundred, for the Environmental Degradation and Social Injustice Powerpoint). All slide shows are open access, meaning that anyone can use all or part of one, with appropriate citation. See http://www.publichealthandsocialjustice.org or http://www.phsj.org .
Topic areas are listed below. Submissions are always welcome and can be sent to martindonohoe@phsj.org.

You can also order a copy of the Public Health and Social Justice Reader (2013, Jossey Bass/Wiley) through the website at http://phsj.org/public-health-and-social-justice-reader/. Click phsj book discount flyer pdf for table of contents, endorsements, and discount code to use to receive 20% off.

The website and I have no disclosures, I/it receive(s) no external funds, and I have not made any money off the book…..my goal is to just to get the word out and hopefully help motivate and train people.


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