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Food for a cleverly hidden thought


Human Rights Reader 370

 1. The fact that the corporate sector is expressing satisfaction over the SDGs and the emerging Post-2015 Development Agenda should be enough to raise alarm bells for public interest civil society critical of the corporate-led, ‘free’ market-centered paradigm that has dominated development policy over the last four decades. Indeed human rights are just one more form of currency used by TNCs when deceivingly calling for the goal of “Good Governance and the Realization of Human Rights”.


  1. In Issue Paper 10 of the UN Global Compact we read: “The UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights sets out a clear framework for this approach which is, not only a social responsibility, but also a means for strengthening brand credentials, building customer loyalty and attracting investment.” (Author’s emphasis) (p. 2)


  1. Instead of exercising the political will* to redistribute a significant portion of the surplus wealth of global oligarchs through:

-progressive tax reforms,

-taxing financial speculation,

-reversing illicit capital flows,

-eliminating tax havens,

-arresting tax competition among countries,

-amending unfair trade and investment agreements,

-cancelling illegitimate debt, and a myriad of other systemic reforms,


governments, especially from the OECD, are instead putting an emphasis on enticing the private sector to ‘invest in sustainable development’.

*: Political will is usually understood as a greater resolve on the part of states. But political will is not due to the benevolence of politicians –they usually act only in response to consistent and compelling pressures. Therefore, it is not a lack of political will, but rather the accumulation of a political will by the powerful to oppose or stall the implementation of progressive policies that tackle human rights abuses.


  1. And what a better setup to achieve this than Public-Private-Partnerships (PPPs) that can also take the form of ‘agreements’ that shift the risks associated with private investments to the public sector. Clever, no? PPPs can take the form of:

-guaranteed subsidies or generous credit such as state-guaranteed loans to farmers buying new commercial miracle seed varieties, or

-payment guarantees such as in power-purchasing agreements between a private coal-fired power plant and a state-owned utility, or

-revenue guarantees, such as an agreement that ensures a minimum income stream to a private toll road operator regardless of actual road usage.

The essential feature of these PPPs is that they provide private companies with contract-based rights to flows of public money or to monopoly income streams from services on which the public relies such as roads, schools, hospitals and health services.


  1. The above means that if, for some unforeseen reason, investors are not able to recoup their costs, for instance from user fees, the government has to put up the money that investors had projected, but failed to realize.


  1. In short, the proliferation of PPPs is one of the factors behind the rising contingent liabilities of quite a few middle-income countries today.


  1. There are then the so-called Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships (M-SPs) which bring together donor agencies, non-governmental organizations, private philanthropy, private sector and other actors to address specific challenges –from vaccinations, to agricultural research, to child health, to provision of education, or even hand-washing.


  1. There is little evidence to show that either PPPs or M-SPs benefit the most marginalized and impoverished. The World Bank Group’s own internal evaluation of PPPs it has supported from 2002-2012 revealed that the main measure of success for PPPs is “business performance.”


  1. The multi-stakeholder approach to governance relies on the voluntary commitment of coalitions-of-the-willing and (for some) serves as a welcome alternative to the private sector to instead have a legally binding framework with clear obligations on the part of states including the obligation to regulate private sector participants. So, while PPPs and the multi-stakeholder approach increase the influence of corporations over public policies and government spending priorities, they also weaken the accountability** of both big business and the state towards the people.

**: Accountability, what does it entail?: Do away with conditionalities? Name and shame? Fire or replace somebody for inefficiency or corruption? Tax culprits? Kick out a TNC? Regulate, legislate? Bring in users (claim holders) to the decision-making process? Demanding participatory budgets? Preempting free trade agreements (FTAs) on human rights issues? Public interest CSOs taking an active role as watch dogs? All of the above? Pick your choice.


  1. Simply put, there is no real accountability where there are no repercussions for states or companies failing to achieve their avowed social and environmental commitments.


  1. PPPs further:

-co-opt NGOs, the state and UN agencies;

-weaken efforts to hold transnational corporations accountable for their actions;

-obscure the ultimate obligation of governments in providing public goods and services and fulfilling people’s human rights.


  1. As a consequence, the provision of public goods becomes unreliable as it increasingly becomes dependent on voluntary and ultimately unpredictable sources of financing. This adds pressure to fully privatize this provisioning, thereby flouting the human rights-based understanding of people as claim holders and governments as duty bearers compelled to account for their human rights obligations under international and national laws.


  1. And there is more: PPPs allow corporations new ways of enhancing their public relations and making themselves appear environmentally and socially responsible, but without real accountability.***

***: Anything less than full and meaningful accountability risks rendering the SDGs a set of lofty, but empty, promises rather than the transformative agenda that public interest civil society, social movements, the Secretary-General and many of UN state delegates envision. It is not only about targets and indicators, but also about financing and lining up the means of implementation. (CESR, Human Rights Caucus, Amnesty International) And then there is the problem of accountability fatigue when accountability mechanisms are not binding on responsibilities and duties of the state. If not binding, these mechanisms only bring promises and promises are broken. Therefore, not rhetorically: How can we ask for accountability when the SDGs are not binding?


Where does this put us?


  1. If nothing else, for all the above reasons, we need to ask the following questions regarding the emerging post-2015 agenda:

-is it a people’s agenda? or

-is it too much a vehicle for expanding and strengthening transnational corporate power?

-is it an agenda that is simply about expanding and building on the MDGs? or

-is it a strategy that re-legitimizes the global capitalist model and neoliberal globalization?


  1. If the agenda that finally emerges in September 2015 turns out to be a rehashed version or even an expansion of the MDGs, but lacks substantive action to overhaul the dominant neoliberal development framework (which it seems to be), then it is an agenda that will definitely perpetuate and deepen the impoverishment, inequality, environmental degradation, and the climate crisis.


We need to examine the post-2015 process, not in isolation, but in relation to wider trends and the broader context of development policies


  1. We need to be organized. Many groups are doing their own bit in terms of promoting people’s agendas and alternatives, but what we are facing is a systemic problem concerning the entire development model. So, it requires organizational linking up of civil society across issues, across sectors, and at different levels –from local to national, national to regional, regional to international.


  1. It is not just enough to come up with development goals unless one challenges the roots of the problem of underdevelopment, of poverty, of the violation of human rights, and of the ecological crisis.
  2. Development and human rights justice is a term coined by public interest civil society and social movements for their vision of a new development model to counter the neoliberal assault.


  1. Broadly, development and human rights justice comprises five transformative shifts, namely:

-Redistributive Justice,

-Economic Justice,

-Social and Gender Justice,

-Environmental Justice, and

-Accountability to the People.

(all mostly taken from P. Quintos)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City


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Slide Shows on Public Health and Social Justice Website Updated for Fall, 2015

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phsj website photo 1

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 750 slides (yes, seven hundred fifty, 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 or .

Topic areas  are listed below. Some have much more content than others, so submissions are always welcome and can be sent to

Below the topic areas are direct links to some of the most popular slide shows and videos.

You can also order a copy of the Public Health and Social Justice Reader (2013, Jossey Bass/Wiley) through the website at 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…..the site is a labor of love and my goal is to just to get the word out and hopefully help educate and motivate others.

TOPIC AREAS (with direct links):

External Links –

Direct links to some of the most popular slide shows (short versions are also available for most of these, continue to scroll down for most popular videos):

Activism 101 – Public Health and Social Justice Slide show on activism and public health & social justice, with literature, history, and photography

Environmental Degradation and Social Injustice Slide show covering causes and consequences of environmental degradation and social injustice – the most comprehensive slide show on the phsj website

Corporate Control of Public Health – Case Studies and Call to Action Slide show covering the effects of corporations on various aspects of public health

Luxury Primary Care & Academic Medicine Comprehensive version of slide show covering the links between luxury care clinics and academic medical centers, along with a general overview of concierge care, medical tourism, retail clinics, relevant ethical and legal issues, etc.

Obstacles to Abortion and Comprehensive Reproductive Health Care Comprehensive version of slide show covering obstacles to abortion and reproductive health care

GMOs and Biopharming Comprehensive slide show covering health and environmental risks of genetically-modified organisms, biopharming, genetic modification of trees and vertebrates, and synthetic biology

Ideals of Beauty and Methods of Body Modification Slide show on historical and contemporary ideals of beauty and body modification

Symbols of Love – Flowers, Diamonds, and Gold Comprehensive slide show on the environmental, health, human rights, and economic consequences of flowers, diamonds, and gold

Incarceration Nation Comprehensive slide show covering the US criminal justice system, including jails/prisons, racism, the war on drugs, prison health care, the prison-industrial complex, and the death penalty

Causes, Costs, and Consequences of War & Militarism Slide show on health, economic, and environmental consequences of war and militarism; also covers historical epidemiology of warfare, WMDs, current wars, and U.S. military and foreign policy

Human Subject Experimentation – Nazis – Present Slide show on human subject experimentation in the 20th Century, covering WW II Germany and Japan, Willowbrook, Tuskeegee, contemporary research issues, government-sponsored torture, doctors as murderers/torturers/terrorists, etc.

Drug Testing and Privacy – Scientific, Legal, Ethical, and Policy Issues Slide show covering scientific, legal, ethical, and policy issues relevant to drug testing (including physician drug testing), genetic testing, and privacy

Economic, health and human rights issues of racial and ethnic minorities Overview of economic, health, and human rights issues of racial and ethnic minorities

Health Care – US and Worldwide Overview of health care in the US and the world, including what constitutes health, major health problems, and how health care is financed

Scans, Scams, and Unnecessary Testing in Medicine Slide show covering direct-to-consumer marketing of unnecessary (and potentially harmful) screening tests. Slide show also reviews benefits and risks of CT scans (including coronary calcium CTs and lung cancer screening) and examines health care fraud

General Electric – New York-Presbyterian Alliance – A Critique Slide show re troubling agreement between corporate polluter and human rights-abusing company and large hospital system, with an historical and contemporary overview of General Electric’s activities antithetical to human and environmental health and human rights

Women’s Health & Human Rights Comprehensive slide show covering myriad issues relevant to women’s health and human rights (including individual and societal violence against women)

Coal Exports Through the Pacific Northwest Environmental and health consequences of planned shipments of Powder River Basin coal through the Pacific Northwest

Minamata Disease, the Minamata Treaty, and the Photography of W Eugene Smith Slide show on Minamata Disease, mercury toxicity, the Minamata Convention, W Eugene Smith’s photography, and famous photographs relevant to public health and social justice

Confronting Pseudoscience and Threats from a Corporate Front Group – The American Council on Science and Health Exposé of the American Council on Science and Health – based in part on articles on “Science and Pseudoscience” page of phsj website

Agricultural antibiotics, factory farms, bayer, cipro, and anthrax – putting profits before people Slide show covering the relationship between Bayer, overuse of agricultural antibiotics, and the anthrax scare

rBGH, hormones in meat and milk, breast cancer, and pink ribbons Slide show with brief overview of health effects of rBGH and hormone use in milk and meat production, breast cancer, and “pinkwashing”

Obesity and Public Health Slide show on epidemiology, causes, consequences, treatments, and public health approaches to obesity

Tobacco – Health Effects, Costs, WHO Treaty, Academia, and Control Measures Slide show covering US attempts to scuttle Global Tobacco Treaty, with comments on the links between medical schools, the insurance industry, and the tobacco industry; discusses health effects and costs of tobacco use and current tobacco regulation

Death and Dying in Literature Slide show on literature relevant to death and dying, uses of such literature in health care education

Violence Against Women in the Military Slide show covering violence against women in the military, covering both active duty military and veterans

War and Peace in Literature and Photography Slide show with famous quotes, some poems, and photos relevant to war and peace

War, Rape and Genocide Slide show on war, rape, and genocide, with historical perspectives and an overview of Darfur, Sudan

Cosmetic surgery – past, present, future Slide presentation on cosmetic surgery

Ethical & Policy Questions re beauty, cosmetic surgery, & obesity Slide show on ethical issues relevant to ideals of beauty, cosmetic surgery, and obesity

female genital cutting Slide show on female genital cutting

Direct links to some of the most (hopefully) interesting videos:

*The kind of world we want for our children, Conversations with Dr. Don (cable television program, May, 2015). Available at

*Social Justice. Conversations with Dr. Don (cable television program, February, 2013). Available at

*Does today’s U.S. government serve corporations or the people? (topics include the appropriate role of government in society and the U.S. health care system) Debate with Howard Ellberger, “Conversations with Dr Don” (cable television program), Portland, OR, May, 2011. Available at and’s+U.S.+Government+Serve+Corporations+or+The+People+.

*War and peace, Conversations with Dr. Don (cable television program), September, 2013. Available at

*Corporations and Health, “Conversations with Dr Don” (cable television program, March, 2011). Available at (note: download Veoh web player, as per website, to watch full video).

*Everything you Wanted to Know About GMOs. Conversations with Dr. Don (cable television program), Portland, OR, September, 2014. Available at (first 26 mins general discussion of social justice, 27 mins through end focuses on GMOs).

*The corporate assault on human health and the environment (topics include General Electric, the American Council on Science and Health, and corporate infiltration of public education). Conversations with Dr Don (cable television program), Portland, OR, July, 2011. Available at

*Food Justice (show also includes discussion of activism and medical/public health education and training). Conversations with Dr Don (cable television program), Portland, OR, July, 2011. Available at

*Obesity epidemic: causes, consequences, and solutions. Conversations with Dr. Don (cable television program), Portland, OR, August, 2012. Available at

*The Costs of the Symbols of Love: Floriculture, Diamonds, and Gold, Conversations with Dr. Don, Portland Community Television, February, 2014. Available at (first half of program is general conversation; second half of program covers topic).

Best wishes,

Martin Donohoe



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Food for an under-appreciated thought


Human Rights Reader 369


  1. More than 30 organizations comprise the UN Development System (UNDS). Virtually all are members of the UN Development Group (UNDG), but comprise a ‘system’ in name only since each operates autonomously. Many, therefore, set aside the word ‘system’ in favor of ‘family’, because the UN is, in that sense, a bit dysfunctional. Each organization guards its independence fiercely, even though most report to the General Assembly and many are under the authority of the Secretary General. Funding patterns are the prime cause of atomization. As core resources have stagnated, all UN organizations have pursued ‘extra-budgetary’ funding for operational activities, often from the same donors, in reality thus chasing what, in reality, are earmarked (specifically assigned) monies.*

*: With 80% of resources being non-core (not contributed by member states), it is not unfair to characterize the members of the UNDS as sub-contractors. Has the UN come to resemble a consultancy firm –essentially an adjunct to bilateral (country-to-country) and other multilateral assistance? The more UN organizations serve as the agents of funding sources, the more rapidly will they be marginalized by those sources of funds. Bottom line is that UN agencies should not be distracted by indiscriminately following donor money.


  1. Importantly, on the other hand, the United Nations is an under-appreciated source of development wisdom. It is no exaggeration that many UN ideas have ‘changed the world’ –human rights (HR) not the least of them. The UN has attracted some of the most creative minds laboring in the development vineyards.


  1. Therefore, discussions of reforming the UN should rather be about ‘how’ and not ‘whether’, more and more, aiming at greater synergy around HR principles. Why? Because competition among UN organizations works against them coming together under the key HR paradigm. They wrongly perceive they have had more to gain in visibility, resources and reputation by going it alone.


  1. But by going it alone, the UN agenda continues to reflect the outmoded North–South theater that began with the rapid decolonization process of 50 years ago, for sure aided by the dubious wisdom of sectoral summitry in the last 25 years.


  1. The top-down approach of the above theater has divided the complex development process into sectoral silos: fix the economy, boost the social sector, and manage the environment. Any effort at integration within the existing disparate and disputed system is to be welcomed, but the proliferation of integrated approaches often involves additional transaction costs, as organizations establish cumbersome coordination arrangements with little benefit, either to themselves or to recipient countries. The sectoral approach inevitably creates orphans, importantly such as democratic governance and HR. Moreover, this leads to situations where responsibilities are expressed in terms of fulfilling human needs, or ‘developmental requirements’, but not in terms of society’s obligation to respond to the inalienable rights of individuals. Demanding such rights, we know, empowers people to demand justice as a right, not as charity, and gives communities a moral basis from which to claim international assistance where and as needed. (Kofi Annan, 1998)


  1. Both democratic governance and HR are left out when focusing on sectors. Why? Because they are considered politically ‘toxic’ in consensus-seeking-UN-gatherings. But the United Nations better, once and for all, focuses on assisting countries to comply with global HR norms and conventions that UN member states, have agreed-to (and ratified), but for which compliance remains more than elusive.


  1. When the UN convenes key working groups to work on important development problems, these bodies unfortunately too often comprise mainly non-specialist diplomats. In by-now-classical-UN-tradition, these working groups will favor continuity over originality and innovation; and they will endorse a set of goals within which all existing UN organizations can find their place and defend acquired turf and mandates. All organizations will thus find a way to fashion their future programs within this framework, leading us to expect a replication of development assistance as delivered since the 1960s. But is ‘more of the same’ what the world needs? A UN system that continues to be ineffectively development-assistance-driven? …when traditional forms of aid are not working?** The focus should rather be on the quality of domestic governance, on institutions and ultimately on respecting HR, no?

**: “When the conditions for development are present, aid is not required. When local conditions are hostile to development, aid is not useful, and it will do harm if it perpetuates these conditions”. (Angus Deaton)


  1. No use to continue following myriad technical assistance avenues with limited impact; the UN should pursue its comparative advantages, i.e., keeping its role in peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance, in building inclusive institutions of justice, HR and sound governance, in short, ‘promoting the values, principles, norms and standards of the United Nations Charter…and…supporting member states to integrate these international norms into national policies’ (Ban Ki Moon) [I would add ensuring compliance with the same; always raising the issue of compliance!].


  1. The UN must return to being the custodian of universal norms and standards, primarily human rights and then technical standards. Above all, it is to be foremost people-centered and driven by its founders’ vision to promote freedom from want and freedom from fear.***

***: In 2012, the UN launched a global electronic platform called ‘The World We Want’. Based on over a million responses, the main message received was ‘a call for a new agenda built on human rights, and universal values of equality, justice and security”. Calls for better governance underpinned many of the calls made. Intriguingly, there was a strong call to not only capture the momentum generated by the MDGs, but also to bring in additional areas and principles from the Millennium Declaration from which the MDGs were simplistically excerpted. [It is now clear the UN has not used the results of this poll in the now completed intergovernmental process formulating the new post 2015 development agenda!]. But the call from the public the world over for a people-centered approach is unmistakable. (All the above adapted from S. Browne and T.G. Weiss)


So, is the UN we want right for the world we want?


  1. This issue is often discussed and debated at far too high a level of abstraction, and just about always, using complicated jargon. The discussion generally does not unequivocally relate to the realities on the ground. But the question of focus might not be a matter of either-or, but of both. What is clear is that the UN will not go away in the foreseeable future; it will be a key actor and it will have potential influence over the states and state agents who will continue to have a lot of influence over the lives of people where they live. But we just said that the UN has, up to this point, been on the road to continuing acting following its old manners –having much less beneficial impact than what it might have on development matters. Bottom-up, top-supported has not worked. There is still a shocking lack of well-demonstrated and well-communicated models of living well together, adaptable to different circumstances and contingencies. We all, hopefully, retain the hope that the UN has something to offer to this effort into the future. It is time to put much more attention on the myriad bottom-up processes. (D. Parker)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



The United Nations has lost its significance in the area of convergence and creating legitimacy. The two engines of globalization, trade and banking, are outside the realm of the UN that was left with solving the issues of development, peace, human rights, the environment, education, and so forth. Although these are crucial for a viable world they are not seen as such by those who hold power. The UN risks slipping into irrelevance. Would it be possible today to approve the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, voted unanimously by the assembly in 1948? Today it is generally forgotten that in 1974 the world came very close to signing a global plan for a New International Economic Order based on International Social Justice, Solidarity and International Law. Reagan regarded the UN as an inconvenient straitjacket, as far as American interests were concerned, and multi-polarity as an anti-American policy. [The United States governments actually decide when to use the UN or not…].

The main result has been that Capitalism has ran out of control with insufficient work being done towards solving urgent social problems, with upwards redistribution of wealth, with obliteration of trade unions and with poor recognition that regulation, controls to preserve (or bring back) social justice are not necessary, but a must. (R. Bissio)




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Food for an anti-status-quo thought


Human Rights Reader 368


#: Taken from the People’s Health Movement’s Global Health Watch 4, November 2014.


Say it loudly, say it often


-Public systems must be reclaimed by citizens and reformed in the interest of people so duty bearers are decisively made accountable. (This quote is meant to stimulate you to reflect about what needs to change).

-Yes, there are considerable potential risks and obstacles in the road to achieve the fulfillment of human rights of all. Nevertheless, the status-quo can simply not linger on.


  1. Mind you, we have been through a 40 years-old uncontrolled experiment in neoliberal globalization –its dominance having began in the early 70s. It was rolled out in three phases: structural adjustment, financialization* and austerity. Neoliberalism was never about eliminating the state; instead, it was about occupying it, reconfiguring both the state and the market so that they became thoroughly enmeshed. The experiment reduced social protection, increased user payments for social services, it privatized state assets, increased public private partnerships (PPPs), eliminated food and fuel subsidies; additionally there were wage bill cuts, a reduction of safety nets expenditures, pension reform to delay eligibility for retirement, reformed public health systems and a broadening of consumer taxes to include items disproportionately consumed by poor households. Among other, this increased homelessness, dependence and reliance on low cost, highly processed obesogenic food, increased stress levels, as well as suicide rates. Add to this increased unemployment, increased people working in short term jobs with no benefits and the harmful health effects of austerity with a fall in median wages disproportionately affecting women workers: all HR violations!

*: Financialization refers to periods where financial markets dominate over the traditional industrial economy and agricultural economics.


  1. But there is more: Take transnational corporations (TNCs). They rarely invest their profits and dubious tax savings in new economic productive activities. The net effect of tax cuts granted to corporations in this period has been a redistribution of capital from the public to the private sector.** This is nothing short of Capital-Accumulation-Through-Dispossession. Never forget that a small redistributive tax on the richest quintile of the world would have a far more dramatic impact on poverty and inequality reductions than conventional trickle down growth.

**: Taxes are the price we pay for civilization. (O.W. Holmes) They are also the price we pay for decent and equitable health and other social services: that is the activists’ take home message. (Note that, over this period, the WB has consistently pushed for ‘basic’ rather than for truly comprehensive public services).


Freeing governments from their neoliberal prison is one of the most important political tasks of human rights activists.


Those opposed to the welfare state never waste a good crisis to impose more austerity. Public health and other development professionals must not remain silent at a time of financial crisis; they need to develop and get involved in strategies of activism; they must act against economic deprivation and political suffocation. (D. Stuckler)


  1. Many people mobilize in anger for-a-time, but it takes a more inclusive vision to figure out how we ought to organize and support people mobilizing so that a true process can sustainably take us forward. What we ultimately need to aim-for is an economy that is not driven by maximum profit for the few, but by the fulfillment of the human rights (HR) of the many.


  1. But we must not be fooled. After the onset of neoliberal reforms, aggregate economic indicators may improve, however at the expense of equity and equality. In fact, liberalization and structural adjustment policies have severely undermined what was before a well-developed social protection system. Under neoliberalism, old social classes with ties to all political branches find themselves standing upright regardless of who takes power. And although we may have ‘new regimes’ these follow older policies, sweeten them for political consumption thus ensuring that there are unchanging elements that maintain power regardless of who is now in charge.


The neoliberal prison in health


  1. Much is being said these days about Universal Health Coverage (UHC). But also, much of what is said, does not propose a unified, all-encompassing system of public provision.*** (Coverage rates are usually presented as averages thus hiding often enormous inequalities!). The UHC model talked-about-most provides ‘choices’; yes, but within a particular political and economic environment that is not neutral. The dominant neoliberal environment can and does exploit the ambiguities of the UHC model and pushes a model that is market driven –an anathema to what the human right to health stands for. We understand efficiency in health care not in the way used in a market environment, but in terms of the returns achieved through investment in a public good!

***: Nothing would challenge the power of private service providers as much as quality, accessible public sector health services. (Jean P. Unger…)


  1. Historically, health care systems worldwide have been shaped by labor’s fight for better living conditions through the extraction of better terms from the ruling classes.


  1. Therefore, the loss of national public health services signals a profound failure of organized labor exerting sufficient pressure. Simply put, public interest and common sense are defeated by neoliberal ideology when there is a failure of people (workers) to resist. But when activist leaders speak up they hardly receive people’s organizational support. As a result, simple patronizing by leaders is dismissed by the powers-that-be as something they can live with. Regrettably, often, unions pay much more attention to aspects of pay and working conditions thus becoming increasingly inward looking; this shows that market ideology has reached deep into the labor movement.


The prison of current global governance regimes:


-In the face of increasingly undemocratic governance, health professionals, alongside public interest civil society, need to be prepared to confront power.

-A purely institutional view of global health governance is a race to the bottom; it does not help confront the global health crisis rooted in the global neoliberal economic system.


  1. The aim is to turn growing public dissatisfaction to a movement that challenges the Establishment. History is replete with examples of the failure of professionals to challenge or resist egregious policies to the detriment of all concerned and of their HR.****

****: Note that the right to health, as well as the notions of equality, universalism and solidarity have different meanings according to who uses them. We are then left playing a role in a battle over true meaning in a sort of ideological warfare. Written protests over the misuse of these terms by those who favor the status-quo have been mostly relegated to the grey literature.


  1. A final note here: The WHO we need to firmly take up global governance in health as per its constitutional mandate will not emerge from the current reform process under way. But it would be a serious mistake to write WHO off as an institutional failure.


The prison of official development assistance (ODA)


  1. To begin with, addressing development as something that refers only to underdeveloped countries, invariably presents development as a process to be mediated by charitable-giving-as-development-assistance.


  1. ODA legitimizes the global and national governance structures, because it is not accompanied by structural changes in global finance, trade and investment.


  1. The dependency that ODA creates redirects accountability away from being accountable to grassroots constituencies towards being accountable to funders and corporations.

[Much has been said in these Readers about foreign aid so no more details will be brought up here. See Human Rights Readers 120, 202 and 358].


The prison of the neoliberal welfare state


  1. Social protection systems in the welfare state exemplify several features of the neoliberal approach to development, one that individualizes problems and their solutions and frees governments from promoting the collective welfare of their citizens.


  1. As set, ‘social protection floors’ suffer from serious flaws. They do not strive for universalism or a shift away from neoliberalism. They do not seek redistribution of wealth; they propose no changes in the prevailing economic paradigm; they do not shift away from productivism and perpetuate a growth orientation model despite well-known grave environmental constraints. Little surprise then that social protection schemes do not automatically bring about political, economic and social change.


  1. Let’s face it, poverty reduction policies have never been really meant to implement fair social protection floors, but have been an alternative to it. In a nutshell, these policies have nothing to do with disparity reduction, i.e., a correction of the negative processes and outcomes of neoliberal policies.


A couple ways of breaking out of the prison


The indispensable role of community health workers


  1. Health is created before and beyond the health system. It is nested in the social conditions in which we grow up, live, learn, work and play.


  1. This is the reason why community health workers (CHWs) must have a dual role as providers of basic services and as agents of social mobilization. They are much more than ‘task shifting agents’ (in a shift away from formally trained health professionals*****) and do work well given adequate support supervision. CHWs have a dual accountability: to health sector authorities and to their communities. They cannot be deployed as single-purpose-workers, but rather as ‘community care givers’. They should thus not be seen as health providers, but as community representatives. Activism and leadership should be part of their training so they can tackle the social determination of health, as well as tackle urgent environmental issues. Their role is to contribute to a fair distribution of health resources and ultimately of power. In short, they are not in the business of treating diseases, but rather in the business of promoting community health.

*****: Much of it as a result of the ongoing brain drain: It is time to repoliticize the discussion to address the brain drain/brain robbery issue!


  1. The (not so) new thinking about CHWs is them being providers of first contact care including treatment and referrals, plus addressing the broader social and environmental issues including advocacy and social mobilization, plus engaging communities in action concerning their health situation by addressing its causes, including structural causes.


NGOs versus pubic interest civil society


  1. These days, traditional NGOs (especially international) are drawing local partner social groups and their activism into the safe professionalized and often depoliticized world of development practice. This often means their evolving into mere service providers or single-issue lobbyists. It also means their shifting from providing more critical to increasingly providing technical, apolitical skills over activism and proactive community engagement. In short here, this marks a departure from their traditional previous watchdog role.


  1. On the other hand, more and more, public interest civil society groups are not so much about the particular actors in them but, more and more, about opening new spaces, spaces where their points of view are directed towards influencing the political discourse. Yes, so far, they often do this in isolation. But it is becoming clearer an clearer to these organizations that there are strengths joining together in a loose network of organizations and individuals to come together on one-issue-at-a-time to increasingly engage the state on structural issues.


  1. Then, there is the criticism that such an engagement can eventually serve only to legitimize a fundamentally anti-poor state that gets away with yielding a-little-bit-at-a-time. So the strategic question is how to most effectively negotiate with ‘the system’ for changes-beyond-small-changes in a way that joint actions take us towards the long-term goal rather than diluting the end vision itself. In this context, PHM asks: Must civil society restrict itself to engaging in a slowly progressive dialogue when such becomes an option or must it combine it with a more confrontational approach?******

******: The principles of democracy and the dialogue that ought to go with it are poorly realized in the modern nation state; there is only a rhetorical commitment to democracy an dialoguing –and this is dangerous… and perhaps the reason for the need of a dose of confrontation…


Shifting the paradigm to a human rights paradigm


  1. To take just one example, there is a dearth of mechanisms for patients, especially women and children, to demand their right to health and to nutrition (i.e., access-to and results). Much of what we see is victim blaming: “It is their fault, because of…bla bla bla”. But be warned: the basic underlying health issue here is a total lack of a state-supported equality response in the spirit of HR –a commitment UN member states undertook when solemnly ratifying the respective UN covenants.


  1. There must thus be constant pressure and mobilization to demand the fulfillment of these rights. Initially, we have to start by fighting for what is legitimately due to the people given their inalienable rights –even if it provides only temporary reprieve.


  1. Campaigns in this area must develop resource materials for grassroots organizations in the form of pamphlets, primers, booklets; all generating evidence, from the field, on the status of violations of HR in general, and the right to health and to nutrition more specifically. This ought to lead to public action in the form of protest demonstrations, rallies, public hearings, sit-ins, as well as advocating with the media, with academics, with politicians and with parliamentarians on existing and needed policies and legislation.


  1. And, to end, a not-so-facetious caveat: With a predominantly corporate-controlled media and an apathetic middle class, it has been demonstrated that a large number of people on the streets protesting against HR violations do make headlines –but only for the traffic jams they cause…sad, no?


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



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Food for a change of language thought


Human Rights Reader 367


Underdevelopment is not a phase on the road towards development. Underdevelopment is the historical result of somebody else’s development. (Eduardo Galeano)


Why does the ‘development industry’ need a total overhaul of strategy and not just a change of language?


  1. The crisis of applied development approaches so far has become so patent that development practitioners are scrambling for alternative responses (unfortunately not all along the human rights pathway…). The dominant development narrative has simply not yet come to see poverty as a matter of injustice; it sticks with business as usual, endlessly wrapping it with fresh new language that is way passé.


  1. The best strategy we see these days goes about peddling the following mantra: Talk about the poor as ‘equals’ who share our values and aspirations; emphasize that development is a ‘partnership’; stop casting rich people and celebrities as saviors of ‘the poor’; and, above all, play up the idea of ‘self-reliance’ and ‘independence’ with special attention to empowering women and girls. ‘Progressive’ Northerners love this stuff. But this new framing amounts to little more than a propaganda strategy. ‘The poor’ are still treated as an impersonal entity and there is no mention about partnerships understood as a coming together of equals, for once, leveling the playing field…


  1. Instead of changing their actual approach to development, philanthropies, foundations and international NGOs just want to make people think they’re changing it. In the end, the existing aid paradigm remains intact, and the real problems remain unaddressed –unfortunately, I fear, also post-2015 despite the SDGs… Piecemeal gains are not tantamount to long-term success! Poverty is not a natural phenomenon, disconnected from the rich world, and people and countries rendered poor need much more than piecemeal bits of charity to allow them to help themselves out of it. All of this makes it clear that poverty really continues to be a state of plunder. It is thus delusional to believe that charity and foreign aid are meaningful solutions to this kind of a problem.* (J. Hickel)

*: It would seem then that the time is overdue to denounce safety nets and targeting as only being forms of risk management –since the only risk they really mitigate is the risk of subversion. (Can we thus say that they represent a form of common, but differentiated irresponsibility…?).


  1. For instance, just consider: As part of the jargon en vogue, donors offer and/or demand ‘transformative policy packages’. But the problem is that these typically pay too little attention, if any, to the inherent political obstacles to transformation. Naiveté? Hardly…! (D. Messner)


  1. With this said, it is not an exaggeration, then, to also denounce that the current inter-governmental system is not being able to act in the true interest of humankind (and of human rights). Look at the post-2015 agenda, the climate and the human rights (HR) talks so far: The pacts arrived-at were or are adopted by every country, simply because they carry no obligations! They are a kind of global gentlemen’s agreement, where it is assumed that the world is inhabited only by gentlemen …including those in transnational corporations (!). Carrying on business this way, is an act of colossal irresponsibility where, for the sake of international consensus agreements, not one realistic set of more radical solutions has been agreed-on and approved. It is all like in a hospital where the key surgeon announces that the good news is that the patient will remain paralyzed. The paramount issue sought is to say that the inter-governmental system can unanimously declare to the world its unity and its ‘common engagement’ –no matter how non-specific, non-binding and vague the latter is. Needless to say: The interests of humankind and of HR are not part of the equation in such a consensus.** (R. Savio)

**: Ought not each individual in the South then virtually be an enemy of the Northern Development Model, given that the above ‘consensus’ is ultimately imposed by a minority?


  1. At this point, it is fitting to raise the issue regarding the use of the term Development. Any word has to mean one thing; it cannot represent two opposite meanings. Lately, development has come to mean increases in infrastructure, industrial growth, capitalization of agriculture, free global flow of financial capital and of technology; also, privatization, liberalization of laws regarding labor, environment and direct taxes, etc. All this has led to an alarming worldwide rise in inequality, pauperization of workers and farmers, destruction of the commons and its resources*** with pollution reaching alarming proportion: In short, a threat to peace and to life on earth itself. Therefore, no surprise that HR have all but been forgotten in this biased kind of development!

***: Claims that we live in an era of limited resources fail to mention that these resources happen to be made more available now than ever before in human history. (P. Farmer)


  1. A few years ago, I was comfortable in using the concept of Sustainable Development. But now, I feel that the corporate world has appropriated even this qualified development concept.**** As you must see, I do not see HR being a criterion either when the mainstream media (‘the Fourth Estate’) talks of development. Then, why should a HR activist like me use the word development to represent what I do not wish for? (Dileep Kamat)

****: Activist public interest civil society organizations and social movements do understand the subterfuge the corporate world uses under its HR discourse to, in fact, promote its own (development) agenda.


In human rights work, what is now necessary is to go a step further and move from an aspirational to an operational mode


  1. It is not an exaggeration to say that, so far, the HR contents of the Post 2015 Agenda remain at normative (window dressing) level at best. For instance, the ‘Six Essential Elements for Delivering on the SDGs’ proposed by the UN Secretary General, namely Dignity, Prosperity, Justice, Partnership, Planet and People are OK. But they detract from the Three Core Dimensions of Sustainable Development, i.e., the Environmental, Economic and Social dimensions –as well as detracting from the HR Framework! Inequality cannot be considered to automatically fall within the realm of the Dignity element above; doing so makes inequality caused by the non-fulfillment of HR emerge with its place diminished in the hierarchy of post 2015 development priorities; we must trumpet its importance more forcefully since equality is and will continue to be built on the bedrock of HR principles. (K. Donald, CESR)


  1. We cannot thus miss the opportunity to denounce and illustrate how previously close-to-universally-agreed and well-defined HR obligations are not being carried over into development planning and practice. (Even the all-important post 2015 SDGs have failed us). Aiming for a ‘Shared Prosperity’ through development is a typically vague and not adequate marker of success if not coupled with gauging the realization of HR as a way to assess progress on sustainable development goals.


  1. The way forward must thus be marked by seriously addressing the current dominant macroeconomic and fiscal policies that undermine not only HR, but also economic, gender, environmental and other aspects of justice in this, our ailing world.


  1. Truly people-centered and participatory accountability mechanisms used at the local, national and global level require a new approach and, at the very least, a significant meaningful reform, as well as the democratization of existing institutions. This is part of what it means going into an operational mode in our work. Emphasizing the need for regulation, safeguards and mandatory reporting for private investments in sustainable development is another step in the right direction. But quite a bit more will be needed to ensure HR are respected in all development processes.


  1. At all levels, the post-2015 accountability mechanisms must be made robust and comprehensive enough to cover private sector actors, public private partnerships and international financial institutions (IFIs), as well as states and UN agencies, demanding transparency in the name of the right to information –not forgetting to demand the application of extra-territorial obligations and demanding that tax evasion and illicit financial flows are tackled. (Post-2015 Human Rights Caucus)

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Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



-‘Ethical policies’ invariably end up being lax if and when money or perks are offered.

– As a reminder, there are 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) being considered, namely in the areas of ending poverty; ending hunger, improving nutrition, achieving food security and sustainable agriculture as well as healthy lives, education for all, gender equality, water and sanitation, energy for all, sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work, industrialization, reducing inequalities, inclusive cities, sustainable consumption and production, climate, marine resources, terrestrial ecosystems, forests, desertification and land degradation, peace and justice, and revitalizing global partnerships for sustainable development. BUT to transform the global development paradigm, more is needed than goals…

-The post 2015 development agenda discussions are actually geometric: they have angular problems that are discussed in round tables by a bunch of square-headed bureaucrats that, due to their skewed appreciation of reality on the ground, come up with obtuse solutions. (quoted by Albino Gomez) In the debates of the last two years, there simply have been persons who have extreme elliptical convictions with whom we should not loose our time any more. (R. Ampuero)



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Food for a possible historic (re)thought


Human Rights Reader 366


“It is impossible that it is impossible to change our history” (Graffiti in the Darío Salas Highschool, Santiago, Chile).


  1. All my life I have been an impertinent person; is this why history interests me? I have for long maintained that traditional historiography, i.e., mainstream history, has not paid attention to human rights (HR) thus generating the wrong impression that, with counted exceptions, common people have overwhelmingly been incapable to ‘make’ history. Such a deficit has distorted people’s image and is an unacceptable interpretation.


To me, the silence of the defeated and the downtrodden is like ‘the holes in the cheese of history’, but the holes are not enough for cheese to stop being cheese* (Roberto Ampuero)


*: I will not here mention the holes in the cheese of history regarding the history of Asia and Africa, holes that most of you readers never got to study at school, i.e., the ethnocentric aspects of history which would make for a whole new Reader.


Historians not only record the past, but also record that which worries them about the present.


  1. History has been a discipline largely indifferent to suffering, injustice and appalling HR violations; it is told primarily by the victors. Is history, therefore, reliable? Does it convey reality? If not, what then is history if it can-be and not-be a true reflection of reality? Does this mean that, in this realm, we have to talk about anti-history when the tale is recounted from the perspective of the defeated and downtrodden? (If so, this new anti-history is not to be considered a subversive version of history!). The past belongs to humanity as a whole: Yes, but have we been made accomplices, victims and/or survivors of how it has been and is being recorded? Are we loosing important collective memory –and thus suffer from selective amnesia– as a result? We can indeed accuse mainstream historians of not recounting history as it really was. In each era, history may have been received as novel and revealing –until somebody unveils its imposture.


  1. Which conquerors in the history of the world did not burn the history of the conquered to impose their own version of happenings? They aimed-at becoming, and de-facto became, the medium (artifice) of the actual frequent rewriting of history. Take the evangelization process: Was it only an ideological thrust aimed at hiding the real interests that seduced and inspired the conquistadores and colonists? At the heart of evangelization was the silencing of the historic past of those conquered. It has particularly been wars of conquest that silence those who want a new narrative to prevail over the recounting of facts by mainstream historians.


It is more; there are holes in the conscious part of our collective memory (Johan Galtung)


  1. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist said (and the Chinese before him) that the shadows of history are long and dark; that trying to jump over them does not help; they follow us. We cannot get away with the misdeeds of the past hoping people will forget. At their worst, these misdeeds have been nothing short of HR calamities –not only for the victims, but also for the perpetrators now standing accused. Slavery, for example, was forced labor with chains and whips; genocide is often only whispered by mainstream historians, as is ethnic cleansing. One day, these shadows do to us what we did to them, making our worse fears self-fulfilling… The darkest shadows never really leave the inside of our collective subconscious. The feeling of being on the wrong side of history, not only losing wars or an empire, is now more-and-more coming to many. It is a feeling of having been led to slide downhill; indeed an uneasy feeling. Leaders try to find somebody ‘outside’ to blame, but the shadow follows the victors and the oppressors faithfully. Yes, people are reacting. How? (How does one process dark shadows with dire negative HR impacts in history?) By confronting them! Submitting them to International Truth Commissions (on slavery; on White against Red and White against Black, on Brahmins against Dalits and on Haves against the Have-been-deprived).**

**: The refusal to accept setting up such international commissions/tribunals is itself self-incriminating, isn’t it?


  1. Explanations must be found, because a strategy without understanding the whys is liable to bring about violence and is empty (like one-time street protests). Make no mistake, there is no way the world forgets the past; it stays in the deep culture, brooding collective nightmares; more so if people are barely surviving and are being politically repressed. In confronting the truth, the 3Cs, Confession-Contrition-Compensation, would help; it would help to heal the tortured, those whose rights have been trampled for generations… It would do well to both sides, all sides, and the cost is little. No! to distancing ourselves from the misdeeds of the past. Bring them to the open. The track record of the past is too dark to simply gloss over it. People’s movements must take the initiative; bring the ball to their court and play it. Many groups have already started, many more must follow.


Mainstream historians are actually collectors of big-events’-memories (are they therefore ‘memorialists’?)


  1. We have said these historians have too often failed to reflect the history of the downtrodden, namely failed to chronicle the fate of the ‘anonymous-or-no-names in history’. Somehow, they vanish in the fog of history as officially recounted. (E. Galeano) Actually, at best, they recount what prompted the bravery of an exceptional hero who rebelled against power and against abject HR violations and launched the building of a better society… and this is often only found in the small print of mainstream history.*** (J.R. Ribeyro)

***: The Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap who defeated the French frowned at the many glorified headlines glistening under the pens of Western writers such as “The Victor or Mastermind of Dien Bien Phu” or “The most feared enemy of the French and the Americans”. He was not speaking from false modesty. He was convinced that mighty upheavals in world history are born from the interplay between various objective factors in the relations between haves and have-nots; it is the capacity of great leaders of the people to exploit this, given the right circumstances. (A. Ruscio)


  1. Until the middle of the 20th century what we had was a positivist history. It was not based on the downtrodden. It was based on kings, generals and important politicians –and that is not what history now ought to be. Now, history is to be more social, for instance, including oral history complemented with other social sources. (V. Navarro-Rosenblatt)


  1. Yes, chronicling about the fates and fortunes of the poor sectors in society is too often missed. For instance, the history of the influences of various happenings on food shortages is familiar, but the consequent impacts on the health and survival of the oppressed are much less well told, as are the historical ravages of infectious disease outbreaks and interconnections between food crises, epidemics, social disorder, wars and conflict. The structural causal processes affecting health outcomes seldom reflect the historical facts behind appalling social conditions, the violation of HR, despotic governance, militarism the resulting demographic stresses. Up to three millennia of evidence of impacts on food shortages, famines, starvation and deaths can be found in textbooks, but little is found about their social and political causes. The truth is that historians of the time provided assessment clues of poor quality. Generic words such as ‘plagues’ and ‘poxes’ are evitably obscure. In summary, the broad health-risk categories of under-nutrition and starvation, infectious disease outbreaks, and conflict and their relation to, for instance, warfare, are insufficiently accessible for historical study. One simply has to question the quality of the evidence reported in historical accounts. Bottom line, during much of the 20th century, and before, there was an energetic debate over the inclusion of socio-political consequences on the marginalized in historical analysis: you can only guess which position mainstream historians took. (T. Mc Michael)


  1. There is an unexplained mystery in the history of ideas: an idea may be right and true….sometimes for centuries…without impinging on the public debate or collective consciousness. The idea remains unacceptable until that mysterious moment the Greeks call kairos (‘the right time’) comes. I ask: Has kairos arrived?


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



-“History is a memory that people use for their needs. As life needs change, they revisit history; what they choose to remember thus changes too”. (Rudolph Dreikurs the Adlerian psychiatrist as cited by Shula Koenig)  Bishop Tutu, actually went further in his famous: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor: If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

-Mainstream history is a walking paradox. It is contradictions that power its legs. Maybe this is why its silences tell us more than what the narrative tells us because, frequently, by lying, the narrative reveals to the inquisitive person the real truth. In short, what it is is that mainstream history’s snapshots do not tell us about the real human adventure in this world from the perspective of those-that-did-not-make-it-into-the-picture. (Eduardo Galeano)



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Food for a non-divine thought


Human Rights Reader 365


-Late capitalism has been brilliant at righting itself. Communism was poor at this. The problem is that capitalism usually only does so after mega crises or wars. (T. Lang)

-It was painstaking research into the life cycle of the HIV virus that revealed how it functioned and thus how it must be attacked; many lives have been saved as a result. Capitalism is a far more complex pathogen; it cannot be tamed without a commensurate effort. (M. Anderson)


  1. We are skilled at that combination of complacency and despair that assumes things cannot change and that we, the people, do not have the power to change them. Yet you have to be abysmally ignorant of history, as well as of current events, not to see that our world has always been changing; the world is actually in the midst of great and worrisome changes –not least in the human rights (HR) sphere. Occasionally, changes have been and are made through the power of the popular will with claim holders (although they may not know they are such) organized in social movements. It is hard to see how we will get to more of such bottom-up changes from here on, but more and more we see HR activists –together with citizens with higher political consciousness– claiming and exercising their rights and demanding changes from duty bearers. If we look at the prospects of this, the future seems tremendously exciting. Many people do not understand what HR activists are up against, because they do not grasp that it is the lack of credible counterbalances that keeps the still resilient, unfair capitalist system going. For most people, none of this is real or vivid or visceral or even visible. The question then is: Is everything coming together while everything is falling apart? (J. Henn)


  1. Of course, those wielding the power will not yield it without a fight –the very fight HR activists are already engaged-in on many fronts. If everyone who is passionate about HR –who gets it that we are living in a moment in which the fate of the planet and of humanity is actually being decided– found their place in organized social movements, amazing things could happen. What is happening now is already remarkable enough, just not yet commensurate with the magnitude of the current crises. The intransigence or inertia of bureaucracies is still a remarkable force to beat. The HR framework has become a more frequent public and hotly debated issue, as well as the subject of demonstrations in dozens of locations. The HR movement has proved to be bigger and more effective than it looks, because most people do not see it as a single movement. If they look hard, what they usually see is a wildly diverse mix of groups facing global issues on the one hand and a host of local ones on the other.


  1. “If these are the values of our society, then I want to be an outlaw in that society”, an activist recently said. The movement has grown in size, in power, and in sophistication, but it is still nowhere near where it needs to be. The coming year –with the launch of the not-really HR-based SDGs– will very likely be decisive. So this is the time to find your place in the growing HR movement –if you have not yet. This is the big picture, so there is a role for everyone, and it should be everyone’s most important work right now, even though so many other important matters press on all of us. Human rights are at the core of world and planetary issues.


  1. Many people believe that personal acts in their private life are what matters to eventually address these global crises. These acts may be good deeds, but not the key thing(s) to do. Such personal gestures can and do offer a false sense that you are not part of the problem. Joining organized groups to mobilize actions is what is called for. You are not just a consumer; you are a citizen, a claim holder, and your responsibility is not private, but public; not individual, but social. The race is on. The real pressure for global change comes more from within nations than from nations pressuring one another. We have a particular responsibility to push hard.


  1. Pressure works. How will we get to where we need to be, you may ask? I am not sure, but I do know that we must keep moving in the direction of making HR the linchpin of the Post 205 Development Agenda, of transforming the economy, of escaping from the tyranny of HR violators. This is the key vision of a world in which everything is connected. The story of the coming years is ours to write and it could be a story of the HR revolution when popular resistance changed the fundamentals –as much as the people of France changed their world (and ours) more than 200 years ago. “Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings,” Ursula K. Le Guin tells us. And she is right, even if it is the hardest challenge we have to embark on. Now, everything depends on it. (R. Solnit)


  1. About 150 years ago, Marx indicated that capitalism was the most efficient economic system humanity had ever invented to produce goods and services. But Marx also pointed out the price being paid by adherence to this system: The destructiveness of the very bases of its wealth-generating principles, the destruction of nature and the unrelenting exploitation of the labor force (HR did not exist as such then…). But today, we have no other reality of the development of the productive forces than the capitalist vision that claims short-term efficiency and lineal progress in a planet assumed to have non-exhaustible natural resources. Certainly, the ‘fight against poverty’ has been adopted by most governments in the world, as well as by the UN –be it using a humanitarian justification (social democratic regimes) or a market-expansion/trickle down justification (neoliberal regimes). (F. Houtart) The contrast of these justifications with what the HR framework is all about should, by now, be clear and stark for you the reader.


  1. As an aside, what Latin-Americans call ‘asitencialismo’ is the capitalist plan to give the masses restricted access to personal benefits (bonuses, subsidized credit, handouts, subsidized schooling, health care, other subsidies, etc.). So far, HR activists have been unable to counter this by launching massive HR Learning processes centered on HR with the subsequent political organization and mobilization.  Assistencialism mostly secures popular electoral support and is not linked to actions fostering a true alternate political project as an alternative to capitalism; in this approach, benefits are distributed widely without bringing about new expectations for structural change. As access to consumer goods is promoted, few activists are fostering masses of new social and political actors needed for that change. What is most worrisome is that all this happens without consciousness being raised that ‘consumerism’ values the consumer and not the citizen in us!


  1. The best symbol of this ‘post-neoliberal consumer frenzy’ is the cellphone. This gadget brings with it the false idea of a democratization process being under way by making people believe they are ascending or belong to the middle class. The cellphone makes people feel they are acting as active participants in the market. At the same time, credit cards that give access to benefits and credit are aggressively promoted –with people not realizing the usurary interests they are being charged and how their debts rise.


  1. Therefore, the challenge we face cannot be put on the laps of governments only. The challenge very much concerns social movements and progressive political parties that must urgently embark in politicizing the debate about the advances, penetration, contradictions and dangers of the raw market economy. They must all widen the scope of their actions to literally promote the liberation of the people trapped in the system, as well as to build a truly emancipatory post-capitalist model of society. (F. Betto)


The proponents of the neoliberal model try to convince us that changing our refrigerators, our television sets, our cars and our electrodomestic gear is the way of being patriotic.


Neoliberalism is very good at manipulating the meaning of words, e.g., in calling ‘poverty reduction’ what really should be ‘changing the socioeconomic paradigm’; in calling ‘social protection’ what really is a failed poverty reduction policy; in calling ‘participation in social innovation’ what really reflects the demise of the welfare state. We know it. It is nothing new. But we should act upon it. (F. Mestrum)


  1. Every political message that seeks hegemony –as neoliberalism does– also needs good promises such as poverty reduction, employment creation, social protection, a veneer of respect of HR (?)… so that it is accepted by people. But by the time people find out the promises are not met, it is too late: the hegemony has already taken stronghold. It is, therefore, important to carefully analyze the new discourses being proposed because, indeed, what is being put on the table is not necessarily about social protection, about the fulfillment of HR, about employment creation… but is rather an ‘improved’ version of poverty reduction –at the service of markets!* Discovering what the proposed discourse is ultimately about is what will help us to organize resistance –better late than never. We should not wait. We already know the risks, and we should react to them –now. (F. Mestrum)

*: Poverty reduction is totally compatible with neoliberal policies, which have nothing to do with a ‘correction’ of the overall negative consequences of such policies! A narrow preoccupation with poverty actually works against the broad and long-term efforts required to achieve what is really important, namely disparity reduction. The idea of social protection has been quickly buried with the emergence of the neoliberal poverty discourse. (Global Health Watch 4, People’s Health Movement)


  1. As has become patent in the last few years, austerity policies are part and parcel of the neoliberal program that has aimed, and succeeded, to reform the state and to introduce a social paradigm that has weakened trade unions and the welfare state, instead focusing efforts on poverty-reduction-at the-service-of-the-market. Neoliberalism, we should never forget, is not about directly weakening states, but rather about reforming the state and making it strong within a limited scope that suits neoliberalism’s intentions. And this is happening right now. So yes, the real macroeconomic goals of austerity may be being met (are they really?), but with HR as a victim. Add to this the growing influence of multinational corporations over the state, as well as their lobbying and aggressive promotion of international trade and investment agreements**, and we see the further emergence of ‘captive states’ whose goal is no longer to care for the HR and welfare of their people, but to help and promote their ‘corporate citizens partners’. (F. Mestrum) [Keep in mind that free trade does not imply a free-market and, more often than not, it means poor people go hungry while profits of rich landowners, of financiers and of corporations***, especially in the agro-industrial sector, increase. (V. Shiva)].

**: A pertinent question here is: Are trade agreements, in general and by definition, as well as in practice, to be considered crimes against humanity…? (E. Shaffer)

***: In all fairness, it also should be said that not all corporations (even some of the larger ones) are wedded to the current system. Many of the younger CEOs are fully aware of the challenges ahead and are trying to make their companies genuinely sustainable, moving from the old “take, make, waste” manufacturing paradigm to a circular one which minimizes or eliminates waste and mimics nature. (W.van Marle)


  1. For decades, capitalism and socialism were adversaries. Since 1945, they worked simultaneously in the Western world. But with ‘the threat of communism’ gone, financial capitalism, as part of the neoliberal ideology, stopped being compatible with the democratic values and hopes of the majority of people who are losing faith in democracy as relates to its capacity to improve their living conditions. (Albino Gomez)


  1. Most people do not condone the excesses of neoliberalism. True. But they remain in a state of constant ‘forgetfulness’. Ours seems to be a society of deliberate blindness about these matters. We live in a culture of the perpetual present, one that not only deliberately severs itself from the past that brought us where we are, but also from the future we are shaping with our actions or inactions. (N. Klein)


  1. Yes, neoliberalism is in crisis. It is actually in the intensive care unit; it does not generate growth for all, it only survives creating ever more debt as it makes inequality grow…HR are not in its horizon. (A. Gomez)


  1. Bottom line, we are sick of hearing about and technological triumphalism in a model that is actually characterized by ‘the three exs’, namely exploitation, exclusion and extinction …not forgetting HR violations!


Are Public-Private Partnerships financing development or developing finance?

Originally, public-private partnerships (PPPs) are the result of a contract between government and a private company under which:

  • A private company finances, builds, and operates some element of a public service; and
  • The private company gets paid over a number of years, either through charges paid by users, or by payments from the public authority, or a

combination of both.

But PPPs of another sort are now being promoted worldwide by global institutions and consultants. Development banks, national governments, the EU and donor agencies are providing subsidized public finance specifically for PPPs. Countries subject to IMF regimes, as well as other developing countries, are being subjected to political pressures and marketing campaigns to join. But experience over the last 15 years shows that PPPs are an expensive and inefficient way of financing projects and divert government spending away from other public services. They conceal public borrowing, while providing long-term state guarantees for profits to private companies.


  1. In this context, and as an aside, I have to say more about Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). In PPPs, the profit making motive is never really too much in the background. In them, the private sector literally captures the policy decision-making process.**** The defining feature of PPPs is that they establish legally binding contractual clauses to the public flow of funding. PPPs thus can be and have been transformed to become vehicles for coming-up with multiple novel means of extracting private profit –too often at the expense of HR. In PPPs, the public sector tends to carry all the financial risks by providing cash subsidies or guarantees while PPPs are not about building and/or providing support to public services; they are about building assets for the private partners, therefore eventually yielding them financial and/or other returns. In sum: PPPs are less about financing development than about developing finance. (Corner House)

****: In the policy making of PPPs, agreement is mostly reached on setting technocratic targets, (i.e. targets that are power-neutral, are measurable and mostly rely on capital transfers to developing countries) whereas targets that necessarily imply shifts in the power balance or challenge the influence of developed countries on global issues are quite systematically avoided. PPPs thus dodge the bullet of having to reconsider their social accountability. [Let us not forget: Targets get achieved by processes set in motion. The mistake of PPPs (and of UN agencies) focusing too much on targets has been proven in the MDGs. Given that processes advance at difference speeds, targets need to be set participatorily year by year from the launch-on and then throughout the evolving processes agreed upon after their participatory assessment; this, with the aim to amend them as needed. PPPs could not be further away from this concept].


  1. The myriad green lights being given these days to PPPs, private sector financing and partnerships ‘for sustainable development’, without any specific language on their needed evaluation, accountability, transparency and overall governance checks, is deeply worrying. It is imperative to re-consider the term PPP in its original meaning and not allow the term to be used for any not-thoroughly-assessed partnership with the private sector.*****

*****: Private sector investors do not necessarily need HR to operate profitably. They depend much more on property rights and mainly want to make sure that contracts and laws that favor them are enforced. (A. Konishi, ADB. D+C Vol 41 Dec.2014)


  1. ‘Multi-stakeholder’ partnerships –that go hand-in hand with PPPs– must also be reviewed using UN-led governance guidelines that incorporate absence of conflicts of interest and accountability checks, ex-ante assessment criteria (such as having demonstrated sustainable development results), transparent reporting, as well as independent monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. (International Council for Adult Education)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



-Among academics, somebody said, we find a lot of ‘deep socialism buried in savage capitalism’. (R. Ampuero)

-The bourgeois class system of justice is like a fishing net that allows the hungry sharks to escape only catching the small sardines. (Rosa Luxemburg)



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Food for a sharp observer’s thought


Human Rights Reader 364


  1. In sink with the title, and with no intention to glorify human rights (HR) activists, I would like to start this Reader with some assorted aphorisms I have picked up here and there:
  • The only struggle HR activists lose is the one they never undertake or the one they abandon.
  • They are constantly challenged; so they must thus pick their battles wisely. (To them, compromise often can and does bare fruits).* (adapted from J. Koenig)
  • They do not abandon themselves (as many of us do) to that false happiness that comes from routine. (J. R. Ribeyro)
  • As opposed to intellectuals who are rather redundant and often dilettanti, activists are passionate about their social and HR ideals and, therefore, delve into the real, unfair world we live-in with their head and feet. (M. Vargas Llosa)
  • Activists cannot become the new protagonists if they are still under the spell of old narratives. (R. Ampuero)
  • They see the difference between what can be foreseen and what is predestined. [Do they turn out to have a better crystal ball than most among us…?].
  • HR activists stay away from ‘romantic illusions’ in the face of messy problems. (J. Mackenbach)
  • They find-what-they-look-for as they know the answers lie in the questions they actually ask and pose to duty bearers.
  • They do not indulge in too many explanations, because their friends do not need them, their enemies do not believe them and the uncritical followers of trends do not understand them. (Albino Gomez)
  • They see their role as making-exceptions-becoming-a-new-normal. (So, as the years press-on, they do not let their motivation wane or weaken).
  • Activists make it a point to understand others, their intentions, their interests, their hopes, their difficulties, their tragedies. (adapted from R. Kapuscinski)
  • They do not ‘hope’. Instead, they work hard to get where the HR movement needs to go to: Today, tomorrow, every day. (Aung San Suu Kyi)
  • They see it as their function to delegitimize what is being deceitfully passed as rightful.
  • For them, activism is not about mechanistic thought and manipulated facts; it is about creativity and seeing key connections. (V. Shiva)
  • Above all, HR activists have to be a good person, because bad persons cannot be good HR activists.** (But in the name of the good, they must not fight so much against evil that they become evil themselves…!).


*: One can be more revolutionary by simply not accepting or complying with certain ‘norms’ than openly challenging them. Perhaps this is the difference between an act of disobedience and a revolutionary act. (A. Gomez)

**: There are wo/men who fight one day and they are good. There are other who fight for a year and are better. There are those who fight for many years, and they are very good. But there are those who struggle their whole life; those are the indispensable ones. (Bertolt Brecht)


One is old when one has more memories than projects in the soul.


-Never forget: There is no worse remorse for our activism than to have had the key to the solution in front of our noses and not have drawn the simplest of conclusions and have acted accordingly. (It is not always about premeditated actions, but about a series of small actions and gestures that add up towards an intimately hoped-for outcome). (P. Simonetti)

-Learning from listening is activism’s birthplace. (J. Koenig)


  1. It is fitting here to start with a caveat. It goes like this: Flesh decomposes faster than intelligence. It is a characteristic of the old age syndrome to think that nobody can do things like one does oneself, that one is irreplaceable and absolutely needed. We must deal with the fact that the world goes on functioning perfectly when we are buried two meters below. We must be aware and fear that, as years go by, we enjoy more deviating from our ideals than carrying-on with the tasks we really stand-for and believe-in. [How many years have you let go by…?]***

***: We all have our fears; they make us screen endless unpalatable information which we eventually forget (an internal conflict technically known as ‘cognitive dissonance’). True? (You may not even notice that you have turned your attention elsewhere and have now forgotten what you just read). Your fear may prevent you from adequately analyzing the evidence and/or responding intelligently to it. So, if you are one of the people still reading this Reader, you are probably less frightened than most people. The others may have given up before they got to this paragraph. The primary problem with such fear is that it distorts not only our mental focus, but also our capacity for analysis and, worse, it distorts the behavior of national elites, i.e., corporate executives and their political, military, media, bureaucratic, academic and judicial acolytes. Fear will drive dysfunctional corporate activity irrespective of its HR, environmental and other costs. And corporate executives will ensure that their political and other acolytes do not get in their way, because the fear that drives profit-maximizing behavior is deep-rooted and far outweighs any fears in relation to HR or the environment. Arguments, no matter how sensible or evidential, do not work (look at the climate negotiations… Rich nations who give climate financing for poor nations do not do so additionally, but put the same as part of their existing foreign aid portfolios –and this does not help…) The question is: Do we have the courage to fight fear? There is no downside in trying. But we need to fight strategically so that we defeat both elite fear and our own fear. (R. Burrowes) [How long will it take for you to overcome your fears and join the HR activists’ fight?].


  1. If we do not act, life as a journey becomes a useless illusion; there is no journey; the world goes nowhere. If we stay put at home or in our offices, the world around us keeps its course in a race to the bottom. (V. Nabokov)


  1. There is an important difference between the cost of action and the cost of inaction: The costs of inaction are primarily borne by those who are the most vulnerable: You know that the worst consequences will be suffered by those who live in poor countries, especially women, children, young people and the elderly. (J. Martens)


The only choice I now see for you is between being a human rights advocate or a human rights activist.


-You may have experienced many disillusions and may want to get away of it all. But do not hide from your ideals. Dare. (P. Simonetti)

-The times do not call for procrastination or despair, but call for action.


  1. There always come times for those concerned with public policy generally or, for instance public health policy, when conscience compels commitment. That time has come for us now. It came quite some while ago, but has not yet been heeded. We must all be responsible citizens now –in our everyday, as well as professional lives.**** In doing so, we need to humbly accept that immiserated and oppressed people and populations whose HR are being systematically and chronically neglected have a better sense of what is going on in their world and what is or is not in store for them than do those of us whose material lives are comfortable. Ultimately, it is aggrieved claim holders who have to stand up for their own rights, to shape what they are fighting for, and to finally work towards a just society. This means that we have to be prepared to put our careers on the line; that mentoring and inspiring young colleagues and natural leaders is for us a sacred duty and that, when our grandchildren listen to our story they can say they are proud of us. (Fabio Gomez)

****: To use a metaphor from Franz Kafka: For many of our colleagues it is not the lack of oxygen, but the lack of capacity of their lungs…


  1. It is thus time that we all stopped being primarily self-centered, making our own generation and ourselves the focus of our thoughts and of our work. Further, it is time that we no longer put humans first, for the sake of our own species, but do so as well for the sake of all other species and for the natural world and the biosphere. Bottom line here is that the overall concern of what-is-seen-as-an-unacceptable-state-of-affairs prompts colleagues to reflect upon overcoming the still prevalent widespread avoidance of uncomfortable truths, staying in a state of mind that perpetuates the assumption that impoverished and disadvantaged populations need aid in the form of money, handouts, goods or interventions of types that, by their nature, are not sustainable or, worse, mystify or deadlock the people they are supposed to help. (World Nutrition editorial, September 2014)


  1. So, to end, here is what a HR activists’ motto could be: Let’s be more than ‘progressive’! Never give up your sense of duty. Duty is the echo of our being. Being more radical is our duty today; this is actually no more than keeping loyal to what our common sense tells us. Therefore, being beyond progressive is to grasp what is humanly fair and just. We cannot assume that what is humanly unfair and unjust is ‘natural’. Let’s be radical, i. e., let’s listen to our common sense. What is natural, we assume; what is humanly right and fair, we need to deeply comprehend. Yes, duty is the echo of our being. (L.Weinstein)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



-Character assassination (of HR activists, for example) has always been a tool used by those who cannot successfully defend their message. Although they think such slander will destroy people’s career, they do not understand that the attacked often gave up a ‘career’ for a life of service. The spirit of service inspired by the truth, conscience and compassion cannot be stopped by threats or media attacks. Applying science has always been about service, not servitude. (V. Shiva)

-Every person shines with her/his very own light. There are no identical inner fires. There are big fire and small fire people; other have fires of all colors. There are people with serene fires and those with wild fires that fill the air with sparks. Some fires are dull; they do neither shine nor burn. But yet other fires burn life with such determination that you cannot look at them without blinking –and whoever comes near them gets her/his light turned on. (Eduardo Galeano)

-The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. (Albert Einstein)

-It is attributed to Winston Churchill to have said that an optimist sees an opportunity even in a calamity as opposed to a pessimist who considers all our opportunities a calamity. [Also consider: Does having just a few options make our decision-making easier…or doesn’t it? (A. Gomez)].



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Food for contesting a thought


Human Rights Reader 363

Human rights principles and standards are to be used by activists in social movements to contest neoliberalism’s myriad violations of human rights. (adapted from P. Clayes)


The challenge to be addressed in contesting human rights violations is to leave the ever-present statistical approach behind and to insist on claim holders de-facto exercising their sovereignty.


  1. La Via Campesina has succeeded in using human rights (HR) thanks to its innovative use of staking demands. The advantages they see in using HR to frame peasants claims are numerous. Human rights are used by their activists to redefine the boundaries between what-is-just-and-fair and what-is-unjust-and-unfair. For them, HR grievances turn claims into universal and legitimate demands, and allow any social movement to frame their claims in a way that de-emphasizes just sectoral solutions. Human rights allow the integration of more than one ideology and help share claims among movements with divergent ideological, political, or cultural references. These advantages help explain why HR have been made center stage in a great number of social struggles and its language having been gaining ground. The shift from demanding-decision-makers-to-make-good-on-their-promises to reminding-decision-makers-of-their-solemn-duties strengthens social solidarity, i.e., HR help claim holders imagine and fight for a different common future.


  1. All these factors combined support the rebellious potential of HR, because the HR framework connects individuals to a collective in a way that reintroduces equality and self-determination as central themes in people’s struggles –and this attracts ever new movements to actively participate.


  1. On the other hand, applying the HR framework injects a new meaning to the very idea of ‘participation’ which activists do not limit to ‘the right to participate in development’, but see the challenge rather being ‘to demand a break in the monopoly of the government’ in defining public interest. When necessary, this means challenging the state as the only legitimate source of law making and of applying laws. Having an internal dimension, i.e., the right of people to choose their own political, economic, and social system, this ultimately emphasizes much greater democratic control. It calls for integrating all participating movements in a far-reaching, wide variety of struggles at the local and national level.


  1. Activists in these movements are thus called upon to put in place HR practices that represent concrete and feasible alternatives in the here and now. Fewer efforts are sunk into elaborating on the kind of regulatory institutions and measures that would be needed to enable these practices to flourish under the existing system. So, here we have a veritable anti-reformist position where activists rather demand deeper systemic changes and not mere ‘cosmetic reforms’. This notwithstanding, in this emerging struggle, efforts to institutionalize recognized HR are certainly not abandoned.
  2. In all fairness though, the HR struggle has not yet acquired strong mobilizing qualities: HR do not yet constitute a true unifying and mobilizing movement. The HR framework remains perhaps more than somewhat disconnected from natural grassroots leaders. The mobilizing potential of the HR framework will indeed be considerably greater if it manages to reinforce the collective identity of different existing movements. We badly need to search for new ways to build links among diverse memberships. [As can be guessed, a renewed unambiguous call for massive HR learning is pertinent here].


  1. Moreover, consider that rather than directing our HR praxis at the grassroots, it unfortunately tends to be organized around and oriented towards institutionalized structures of power. This can and does seriously endanger the emancipatory thrust of HR.


  1. The level of expertise being used to spread HR arguments is such that, more often than not, the latter have been defended by HR lawyers and not by average citizens. As a result, conflicts framed in HR terms have tended to be solved in specialized arenas and run the risk of undermining social movements’ efforts to organize and mobilize de-facto claim holders around HR issues that affect them. Experience with UN-led processes aiming at creating new and respecting existing HR standards shows that, to be successful in the longer term, those involved in standard setting need to build a broader and more inclusive base and thus reach out not only to governments, but also to public interest civil society organizations, experts, victims and beneficiaries, as well as to other UN agencies. Among other things, this means that, to secure compliance with international HR norms and principles, inevitable adjustments need to be made to many national standards. But, be it as it may, the ultimate aim is to localize HR. i.e., making them meaningful to more and more local constituencies and contexts.


  1. Only by revitalizing the ‘HR project’ with true rebellious dimensions* will we succeed achieving recognition of its global validity and local legitimacy. This also points to the importance of the political mobilization needed for the success of rights-based strategies, at the same time finding an adequate balance between institutional and non-institutional movement building.

*: When injustice becomes the law, rebellion becomes a duty. (Thomas Jefferson)


Is it not true that to talk about duty bearers is to talk about ideology? (adapted from Michel Foucault)


  1. The homogenizing tendencies of the global regime have to be fought. For that, an incontrovertible distinction must be made between the different logics and interests of claim holders and duty bearers**. In the end, what will make the difference for HR movements is building links between the global political space and local realities, that is, ‘bringing home’ the outcomes of global negotiations with, on the other hand, local and national mobilization efforts providing the needed popular energy required for global political work. National accountability backed by political mobilization is thus the indispensible complement for globally negotiated guidance on HR. (N. McKeon and People’s Health Movement)

**: For many HR thinkers, duty bearers are, themselves, not, strictly talking, duty bearers; they often are claim holders to other duty bearers. [I have to confess here that, in the Readers, I talk about claim holders and duty bearers as two categories of people or classes. That is not correct. Claim holders and duty bearers are roles into which individuals, groups of individuals, non-state actors and state actors enter depending on the situation. Most of them enter into the role of both claim holder and duty bearer, but in relation to different specific human rights (ergo claim holder/duty bearer) relationships. We cannot forget that even the individual claim holders who live in poverty have a number of important duties! (reminded to me, as often my mistakes or omissions, by U. Jonsson)].


States must be provided with greater guidance and deadlines to fulfill their duty to progressively realize the different human rights so as to counter the misperception that they have embarked in such progressive realization when they are actually indefinitely delaying taking key actions.


  1. Since 1948, the modern international HR law system has rapidly evolved

producing nine core human rights treaties, many related UN institutions and at least a hundred HR declarations, resolutions, conferences, and programs of action. Regional analogs of the international HR law system have developed in Africa, the Americas, and Europe. The speed of these developments has seen international HR law become the fastest growing field in international law.


  1. The progressive realization of HR requires states to take immediate action towards realizing all rights including immediately guaranteeing the non-discriminatory exercise of all HR***. Governments thus must take deliberate, concrete, and targeted steps (even if long-term) towards full realization. This means that while states can justify some deficiencies in their social services, they cannot justify the failure to work towards rectifying them. The importance of distinguishing between non-compliance arising from unwillingness rather than inability must be emphasized when determining whether particular actions constitute violations of any of the HR.

***: Let us examine discrimination –of which class prejudice is a central element: We have actually moved from simplicity to ambiguity and this makes me angry. Angry, because stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes. I am offended, because of the insulting comments I keep hearing and reading about. I am introspective, because I most often want to take sides on this issue. Let me use an example: The nature of racism has changed. There has been a migration away from prejudice based on genetics to prejudice based on class. ‘Proper’ people have both a disgust and a fascination for those who live in the untouchable realms. Fascination is responsible for a sort of ‘poverty tourism’. Let’s face it, we have a sharp social divide between people who live in the ‘respectable’ meritocracy and those who live beyond it. In one world, people can control their destiny; in the other, no matter how hard they try, they cannot. Widening class distances produces class prejudice, classism on visceral attitudes about competence. People in the ‘respectable’ class have meritocratic virtues –and this view metastasizes into a vicious, intellectually lazy stereotype. Classism combines with latent and historic racism to create a particularly malicious brew. People are assigned a whole range of supposedly underclass traits based on a single glimpse at skin color. The distinction between civil, economic and social rights has now been obliterated. But every civil rights issue is also an economic and social issue! Classism intertwines with racism. We need a common project: a HR project. (D. Brooks)


Remember: General Comments go a long way in clarifying the entitlements and duties under the different human rights and their progressive realization.


  1. General Comments resolve some of the vagueness of formulations and arguments in the respective HR covenants and provide policy-makers and courts with clearer guidance for overseeing the realization of each right. This is not to suggest, however, that General Comments are sufficient to resolve all remaining questions about scope and context, including in particular the content of the HR Minimum Core Obligations, e.g., non-discrimination, non-retrogression.


  1. Furthermore, the application of HR covenants and of General Comments also implies the need for a democratic allocation of the limited resources available. There are indeed important downstream legal consequences for countries that have ratified the different HR treaties, particularly in cases where individuals and social actors can now access independent judiciaries willing to enforce these rights ordering governments to comply.


  1. Despite this, we see growing recognition that General Comments and law alone are insufficient mechanisms to advance transformative HR changes. It is social action that is key to such outcomes!****

****: Social action can involve state reporting and/or individual complaints. Both are primary mechanisms within the international HR Treaty System for monitoring and encouraging state accountability for their compliance with ratified treaties. Each of three regional HR systems offers mechanisms to deal with individual complaints of violations of the different rights. (Note that states agree to submit regular reports that update the respective UN Treaty Monitoring Committee on the state’s progress in complying with its obligations; additionally, individual complaints alleging the violation of treaty rights must be lodged against states at the relevant treaty committee –thus the importance of ‘shadow reports’ submitted by public interest civil society organizations). (L. Forman)


Some people’s idea about human rights is so perverse that it can forever spoil good judgment. (P. Simonetti)


  1. Many colleagues seem to have assumed that there are no real issues in HR, or else, that the issues they may be aware-of as citizens are genuine HR issues, but are not their problem. And this can spread maliciously: We all know colleagues rich in opinions and poor in true dedication… Yes, in tranquil times, HR principles could be implied rather than pursued. But in tumultuous times, such as now, they need to be specified and vigorously pursued (G. Cannon) –hence these Readers. So, if we are going to make any progress, we have got to go all out for it. But, mind you, a technical only focus on progress is counter-productive, because it weakens the drive for a more radical, structural reorganization. (John Waterlow)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



Economic, social and cultural rights can also be framed as ‘Equality Rights’ (email exchange with Paul Hunt former UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Health)


PH: I hesitated a long time before framing economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) as Equality Rights but think that, on balance, it is okay to try to locate them within egalitarian political (not economic!) liberalism (i.e., not only within socialism).

CS: This framing will then eventually make the HR framework more attractive to (some) liberals, right? So it would be more than okay trying to go this way? Is this realistic though? (no harm trying, but…) Does this respond to the question why so many liberals have not yet espoused HR? Isn’t this mainly ideological? (this is why you say: ‘not only within socialism’). I fathom it is also their ignorance about HR, no? As opposed to conservatives, liberals, to me, have an ambiguous agenda (or ideology?) They thus are and are not with us HR activists –depending on from where the wind blows to quickly pay lip service when called for without meaning it: Tough challenge for us. It will thus be interesting to see responses by egalitarian liberals to your proposal on this. But then, liberals, in my experience, do not react much, much less in writing, when challenged…

PH: Frankly, I see ESCR as being integral to democratic socialism. But it occurs to me that it is also integral to egalitarian progressive political liberalism. So, if their ideology is serious about equality, it should be serious about ESCR –and ESCR need all the allies they can muster! It is easier to sell ESCR as part of egalitarian progressive political liberalism than it is to sell ESCR as part of socialism. I think we need to try both; hence my proposed framing.




2015 Left Forum in NYC: The Health Track & Something to celebrate

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Timeline Cover Photo 851 X 315


The 2015 Left Forum will take place on the weekend of May 29-May 31, 2015 at John Jay College in the Bronx.  Readers of the Social Medicine Portal readers may be interested in the Health Track.  (LF 2015 Health Track Flyer). We have a special reason to celebrate as the New York Assembly has just voted in favor of a Single Payer plan for New York State.  This is a small but significant victory.

Please come to our session on Faultlines in the Medical Industrial Complex on Saturday at noon.

Matt Anderson, MD