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Human rights: Food for a fabricated thought


Human Rights Reader 395


What is history, but a fable agreed upon? (Peter Hoeg)


Until the lions write their story, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter (Rene Loewenson)


Take Africa: history was written and falsified by colonial ideology.


  1. As a consequence, for the present, we live with no real sense of the true before, with conventional history replacing causality with simultaneity, history with news, memory with silence about human rights (HR). That is how in conventional history atrocities end up being blamed on the victims, while aggressors are decorated for bravery in the struggle against supposed emancipation. Why are thieves portrayed as judges and major political decision makers (without a single moral bone in their bodies) get away in history with disastrous decisions resulting in the most appalling HR consequences? Excesses are made to coexist with unreported dire need and want; destruction is always justified with the imperative of building –no mention of what. Economic interests are the fundament of everything. Public opinion is treated as indistinguishable from the private opinion of those with the power to chronicle and publicize it. Historians have changed the names of things so that these things can eventually skip what they really were. Inequality has been renamed merit; destitution renamed austerity; hypocrisy renamed HR; all-out civil war, humanitarian intervention; mitigated civil war, democracy. War itself has come to be called peace, so that it could go on forever. Praise of someone’s virtues or moral qualities simply ceased to rest on criteria of personal worth rather being achieved at the expense of somebody else’s vilification and degradation or by negating their qualities and virtues. (Santos)


  1. Capitalism, based as it is on an unequal exchange between supposedly equal human beings, is disguised painting an idealized reality so that its very name has fallen into disrepute. Colonialism, which was based on discrimination against human beings who were nothing but equal in a true way, ended up being accepted as something natural. The purported victims of racism and xenophobia have been invariably labeled trouble-makers before they were victims. As to patriarchy, which has been based on the domination of women and the stigmatization of non-heterosexual orientations, it has been accepted as something as natural as some moral preference endorsed by almost everyone. Limits have thus been imposed on women, homosexuals and transsexuals in case they did not know how to stay within their limits. General laws have been so selectively reported-on that have allowed them to violate impunity, under such pretenses as protecting law-abidingness. (Santos)


  1. Considering all this, the affected, the non-reported-on and those whose HR have been violated, settled mostly for resignation. Those who would not give up emigrated. Too often in history, things seemed about to explode, but they never really exploded because, when they did, they were not chronicled or were reported-on in a drawn-out and piecemeal fashion. But the result was that those who suffered from the explosions were either dead or poor and were picked up by history as underdeveloped or old or backward or ignorant or lazy or useless or mad –in any event, expendable. But they were the vast majority (!) even if an insidious optical illusion made them invisible. People were ‘socio-degraded’ to become expendable populations, such as immigrants or young people from peripheral areas. (Santos)


  1. It was generally accepted that the common good had to be based on the opulent wellbeing of a few and the destitute ill-being of the many. But there were those who would not accept such normalcy and therefore rebelled. The non-conformists were divided though. Their myopia caused them to be divided in that which was supposed to unite them and united in that which was supposed to divide them. That is why events were chronicled the way they did. (Boaventura de Sousa Santos)



Conventional history is made up of fallacies, sophisms (apparently clever but flawed arguments) and forgetfulness (not so innocent omissions) (Ernesto Sábato)


In a way, history portrays the lives of human beings who suffer the consequences precisely of the inaccuracies of a history that is actually imposed on them. (Albino Gomez)


  1. Only some historians tell us that changes in the world have been always caused by greed or by fear. Yet it is evident that we have gone through (too) long periods of greed. It is greed that has been a factor in forgetting values like solidarity, justice and HR. Now, for instance and for the first time in a long time, it is security not the economy that is at the center of conventional historians’ debates. Does that mean that we are going from a cycle of greed to a cycle of fear? Is that progress? History should want to give us a different reading: civilization has advanced not by confrontation, but by cooperation; not by war, but by peace; not by aggression but by tolerance; not by selfishness but by solidarity … and not by military security, but by human security and human rights. (Roberto Savio)


  1. Has the trajectory of conventional history –one claiming to chronicle for us a professional yet Western view of fairness and justice— been truly denouncing multi-dimensional crimes against humanity exposing the succession of competing imperial perpetrators? Too many historians ‘medicate’ us and manage to maintain a clear conscience amidst the crime scene that past (and present) history have been.* Is there such an awareness in them, a hidden culpability? …perhaps one that ebbs and flows depending on the ceaseless convenient forgetfulness of such historians. It is clear from history that empires have risen and fallen –and we remain confident that those who work for true global cooperation, HR and peace will outlast the empire with all its contradictions and denials. (J. Luchte)

*: Fast forward to modern history. I ask: Are silicon-based IT technologies fast-tracking socioeconomic gaps that conventional historians may fail to point out? (S. Harrison)


  1. As regards Northamerican history, its global role and mission to spread American values around the world, was divinely sanctified and historically preordained, thanks to the genius of its founding fathers. Jefferson’s ‘empire of liberty’, Roosevelt’s ‘arsenal of democracy’, and Reagan’s ‘shining city upon a hill’ are variants on the same theme of American pre-eminence, a country that sought to colonize the planet with its ideas. The problem, globally, is that American exceptionalism has increasingly come to have negative connotations. (N. Bryant)


  1. The truth is that, normally, we learn about history’s storylines in isolation. We might have a strong sense of the history of scientific breakthroughs or the progression of Western philosophical thought or the succession of French rulers, but we are not as clear on how each of these storylines relate to each other, to the have-nots, to the wretched of the earth and to HR. (T. Urban)


I hope social movements will be the ones to offer political responses to change the course and the contents of history


Their challenge is to be with one foot rooted in an accurate account of history (the real true before) and both eyes looking to the future.


  1. History is not a science; it is the art of showing a clean face and hiding the dirty and smelly behind of things. (Leopoldo Marechal) So, bottom line about history, we need to awaken the ‘investigative reporter’ in us all to constantly go after the human story behind conventional history. After all, journalism is the rough draft of history –and we want to be counted in shaping it. Those whose interests we claim to serve also expect it from us.


  1. Making history was never easy, and the current challenge is but one opportunity to make a tectonic shift in what is actually an unfathomable distortion.


  1. I am of the opinion we shall overcome, because we have truth on our side. Truth, for too long trampled by history, will prevail. (W.L. Cullen)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City





-How a Nearly Successful Slave Revolt Was Intentionally Lost to History.

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/its-anniversary-1811-louisiana-slave-revolt-180957760/#S4QGAWV4s5QmtIzu.99   or


-History teaches us that the evil of some is only possible due to the indifference of others. (K. Theidon)

-It is a truism that we must remember the past or else be condemned to repeat it. But there are times when some things (but only some things!) are best forgotten. (David Rieff, The Guardian)


March and Rally to Close Riker’s Island September 24, 2016

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Rikers Island has been a cauldron of despair for decades. The brutality is endemic, and today violence is up even as the detainee population is down. Every day thousands of people are held in pre-trial detention simply because they cannot afford bail, leading to a litany of tragedies, such as the terrible death of Kalief Browder. Racial disparities are a hallmark of both Rikers Island and the broken criminal justice system it represents.

Horrific media stories and damning government investigations have become commonplace. There is no dispute that the Rikers Island Correctional Facility jails are dangerous, isolated, and woefully inappropriate for human beings. With all that we know about the human suffering on Rikers, the biggest scandal is that Rikers continues to exist at all.

As our nation finally confronts the error of mass incarceration and the failures of the war on drugs, communities across the country — including New York City — are rethinking policies to ensure public safety and health. A growing number of New Yorkers have come to a simple conclusion:

Rikers cannot be reformed; it must be closed. That is why two previous mayoral administrations have tried to close it. Those previous efforts stalled. Today, however, with growing momentum in New York City and around the country to fix our shameful, broken criminal justice system, the time is now for real solutions –it is time to finally


Closing Rikers will not be easy, but we know that it is possible and necessary, and that New Yorkers are up to the task. During his inauguration, Mayor de Blasio declared, “Our city is no stranger to big struggles — and no stranger to overcoming them.” As New Yorkers we must tackle this big struggle and re-imagine what a modern criminal justice system should look like, where justice and fairness is attainable to all, and where we heal the harms caused by a broken system by supporting the communities most impacted by its years of abuse.

Local Contact in the Bronx

There will be buses to the Rally coming from and returning to the Bronx. For more information please contact Joyce Wong at: mingjoy@aol.com and cell 917.331.0575.


Doctors Gone Bad – Slide Show and Television Program from Public Health and Social Justice

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A recently-updated, open access slide show and one hour television interview are now available on the Human Subject Experimentation/Torture/Hunger Strikes page of the Public Health and Social Justice website at https://phsj.org/human-subject-experimentation/. These cover the history of human subject experimentation from World War II to the present (including the Nazi and Japanese medical “experiments;” the Tuskegee syphilis study; the Guatemalan STD study; the Willowbrook hepatitis experiments; Beecher’s seminal paper on unethical U.S. experiments; Pentagon studies involving chemical and biological agents, radioactivity, and illicit drugs; and contemporary controversies — e.g., unethical placebo-controlled trials in the developing world, the use of prisoners and the uninsured as research subjects, etc.). Also covered are doctors who murder and/or torture and doctors as terrorists and despots (e.g., Ikuo Hayashi [sarin gas on Tokyo subway], Ayman al-Zawahiri [leader of Al-Qaeda], Radovan Karadjic [war criminal, former leader of Bosnian Serbs], and Bashir Al-Assad [Syrian president]). Learn about how medical education and training inadequately cover the Geneva Conventions, military medical ethics, physician participation in torture and executions, and human rights) and what can be done to improve such training. Also on this page are presentations from Dr Steve Miles on physicians who torture and caring for torture victims. While you are browsing this page, be sure to check out all the open-access slide shows covering myriad other topics on the public health and social justice website at http://www.publichealthandsocialjustice.org or http://www.phsj.org (e.g the Incarceration Nation slide show on the Criminal Justice System page includes a discussion of the history of the death penalty in the U.S., including the involvement of physicians and drug companies – see https://phsj.org/the-criminal-justice-system/.

Martin Donohoe


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Human rights: Food for a detrimental thought


Human Rights Reader 394


Human rights are not just the prerogative of prosperous nations; (neither are social protection institutions). (M. Loewe).


  1. A widespread lack of understanding-of and misperceptions-about human rights (HR) is one of the mother-of-all-problems we have in our work. Therefore, in our HR work, we absolutely need to vernacularize, to give meaning and to frame HR so people can understand and then take ownership of their rights. The information most needed in this is the one to be used for myth busting in the realm of HR.


By now, we ought to know this


  1. Human rights particularly apply to those who are disadvantaged, excluded, ignored or demeaned. Consequently, HR do address the distributional, structural and other wrongs experienced by these out-groups. This actually means addressing five main purposes or dimensions of HR work, namely,
  • the redressing of disadvantages;
  • the addressing of stigma, of stereotyping, of prejudice and of violence;
  • the embracing of difference;
  • the pursuit and achievement of structural changes; and for the latter,
  • enhancing the voice and influence of claim holders leading to their staking of concrete claims.


  1. These five dimensions embrace the more dynamic conception of HR particularly as regards achieving equality. Using this disaggregation, HR are better able to respond to the real and concrete wrongs as experienced by women, children, minorities and other out-groups.


The aim of human rights work is not necessarily to eliminate difference, but to prohibit the detriment attached to such difference


  1. Coming as no surprise, eradicating this detriment will require structural changes, i.e., wide-scale transformations. In this sense, HR work aims at enabling claim holder participation in society (as per above) not only socially, but also politically. Tackling disadvantage is primarily aimed at socio-economic disadvantages, yes, but also at the right to equality addressing, among other, these groups’ under-representation in jobs, their under-payment for work of equal value, and/or their limited access to credit, property, or other vital resources. Therefore, tackling disadvantage encompasses more than addressing the maldistribution of resources; it also takes on board and aims to resolve the constraints that power structures impose on individuals, because of their dependent or oppressed status.


  1. What people can ultimately achieve is thus influenced by their economic opportunities, their political liberties, their exerting de-facto social power and their success in enabling conditions of good health, good education and freedom from hunger. In short, one of the functions of the right to substantive equality is to redress disadvantage by removing obstacles to genuine choice. Mind you that the right to equality not only applies to socio-economic disadvantage, but also applies to disadvantages associated with stigma and/or exclusion. (Note that disadvantage creates a veritable ‘cycle of disadvantage’, that is, disadvantage breeds disadvantage).


  1. A caveat here: Redressing disadvantage may not be sufficient if structural changes are not implemented at the same time! Because measures aimed at redressing socio-economic disadvantage can themselves cause stigma: ‘Accommodation’ to fit disadvantage in an unfair system is an assimilationist measure to be opposed on HR grounds.* (Sandra Fredman)

*: Accommodation’s goal is nothing but trying to make ‘different’ people fit into existing systems.


But there is no explicitly stated right to substantive equality, as such, under international human rights law… (Philip Alston)


  1. Treating people who are unequal the same way as the rest does not necessarily achieve equality; it can replicate disadvantage. We must, therefore, always identify the barriers people face –understanding that these barriers are created by others! Barriers may be legal, physical, institutional, administrative, economic, linguistic, cultural… We emphasize that not only wealth and income, but also many other factors determine inequalities. Note that the law does not require disadvantaged groups to conform to current practices and norms**, but puts the burden on the State to (again) ‘accommodate and embrace difference’. Therein lies the danger.

**: When we ask claim holders to think critically we are not asking them to think about how to accommodate and conform.


  1. Individuals and groups that have historically been disadvantaged need to adopt targeted positive measures that ultimately pursue redressing existing discrimination, ensuring the equal participation of all and, in no uncertain terms, demanding the redistribution of power and resources. Affirmative action is an example of this.


  1. Keep in mind that the State is mandated by international HR law to dismantle discriminatory practices and to target the disadvantaged as part of their obligation to prioritize individuals and groups who are excluded and discriminated against. But experience tells us that, when specific measures are taken to ensure greater inclusiveness, participation tends to be disproportionately for/from men, majority ethnic groups, wealthier, more educated households and people with a higher social status. This is why, to ensure inclusive participatory processes, inclusion must be deliberate. The first step for this is to identify those who are marginalized, as well as identifying the barriers they face. How? Asking them! Addressing all this is to uncover the underlying power dynamics. Subsequently, not only the legal framework will need reform, but also a revision transforming institutional structures will be called-for to ensure transparency and access to relevant information. This calls for a paradigm shift from addressing income inequalities to addressing inequalities in the realization of HR. (Inga Winkler)


COROLLARY: Applying the HR-based framework is one legitimate appropriate method to be used when confronting the destructive capitalist system; it fosters clearly alternative paths of action applicable all over the world


  1. Yes, but in too many countries the judiciary, supposedly responsible for defending people’s rights, is ignorant of international HR law despite the latter’s demonstrated role in social judicial jurisprudence coming from public interest litigation the world over.***

***: Furthermore, most judges are not socially and HR conscious; they are also political animals living in a neoliberal world; they are accountable for many a regressive HR ruling. So, when we talk about fairness of the rule of law, we have to specify fair to whom?


  1. Talking about legitimacy, it has always called my attention that we see overwhelmingly more studies on the violation of HR and far too few on the sustained licit or illicit privileges of the haves.****

****: Susan George has reminded us of the same as regards studies on poverty in proportion to those carried out on or about the wealthy, i.e., on wealth licitly or illicitly acquired…


  1. Hope: The resurgence in the last decade of a number of people’s movements and social struggles in the South –through campaigns on forest, water and land rights, on indigenous and dalit rights, on agricultural workers rights, on labor rights, on the rights of women, etc– provide us for guarded optimism. They represent the social basis to emulate for fundamental HR advances. (Sandeep Chachra) But beware: Some success is not the same as having decisively embarked in a process where the progressive realization of HR is being achieved.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City




-We have to make the new HR paradigm a reality for the sake of our own peace, our peace towards others, and our peace with nature and mother earth. Few people getting involved in small projects in small places the world over can indeed change the world. (Anwar Fazal)

-Human rights do not need wings, they need to deepen their roots. (adapted from Octavio Paz)

-Facetiously, someone said: “Are we watching human rights or human wrongs?”


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Human rights: Food for a thought to be conquered


Human Rights Reader 393


-Are human rights a shared charade or are they to be seen as a sign of moral and political progress?

-As a matter of priority, the struggle for substantive equality must, first and foremost, counter exclusion –particularly political exclusion, but also social exclusion. (Sandra Fredman)


Human rights: From indivisibility to invisibility? (Stefano Prato)


  1. Government policy makers are too often reluctant to (or, more so, indifferent about) giving their rights to the people –making human rights (HR) de-facto invisible. Take for example the fact that they ‘do not see’ hunger around them, simply because they have never experienced it. Calls for ‘intersectoral policy convergence’ is the best they (have) come up with. But how can they foster such convergence when there is no HR policy, e.g., not even a credible national assessment of hunger and malnutrition as HR problems? Intesectoral policy coherence is different from policies being coherent with HR standards and principles! Intersectoral coordination/ collaboration can hardly set limits to the sways and injustices of the market; HR do address the latter and, more, brings them center stage —ergo out of invisibility.


Are people in a healthy society mindful of the human rights of all human beings?


  1. In modern times, the HR framework has, more and more, allowed us to jump-start work that directly aims at solving the problems of discrimination and of marginalization. This, as a result of the fact that, in this endeavor, the justice system is not mindful of HR (to say the least) and has left us in the cold since it finds guilty people where there actually, way too often, are victims (often too of HR violations). And, as we all know, there is no harsh punishment for the rich and powerful when guilty.*

*: Beware of impunity! He who does not punish bad people, negatively affects good people. (Cicero, 106BC- 43BC)


  1. Also, not really mindful is the fallacious idea that, when it comes to HR protection, those suffering political and civil violence should enjoy privileged moral status compared with those who are victims of economic, social and cultural rights violations. Furthermore, the idea that the economic rights violations millions of people suffer from is not a global issue, but only the responsibility of the respective national government is equally fallacious. (Ndongo Samba Sylla)


  1. Additionally not mindful (or worse), is the fact that IMF and World Bank lending has repeatedly been embroiled in the violation of HR. Prioritizing country standards over universal principles actually ends up violating HR. This is precisely what happens in the context of this lending. After all, major client governments view HR considerations as an intrusion into their internal affairs. In their eyes, environmental and social standards are little more than impediments to fast growth. When these loans reinforce such country standards it invariably puts communities of claim holders and the environment at risk. Nobody doubts this any more. (Korinna Horta) [See the postscript for more on this].


Let’s not be discouraged, but rather provoked into action (David Zakus)


  1. Real breakthroughs in HR work are possible and are happening. To multiply this potential, further action is needed to overcome the forces of political inertia that have doomed past global initiatives on HR. Implemented initiatives tend to end with an echo or ring of earlier initiatives or interventions only to become more micro-level, more short-term project-oriented and more fractured –with donor support for HR initiatives ever harder to find. Seen in perspective, current efforts not only seem, but are less ‘unique’ or ‘new’ and do carry the worrisome risk of failure. The issue here is that these interventions we so often see, by themselves, do not overcome the political impediments and inertia that already overwhelmed past efforts to achieve impact. Overcoming these impediments has less to do with the availability of knowledge and evidence and much more to do with entrenched global governance issues –or to put it another way, with the deplorable political economy of current development policies and actions.


  1. Today, the main hurdles and sources of friction remain the same ones that repeatedly undermined efforts in the past 40 years. Depressing, no? Discouraging? No! Rather a call to action given that, in the battle for high-level policy attention, the forces of political inertia work constantly to push HR to a low priority repetitive cycle. As said, the perennially ‘intersectoral coordination’ proposed instead will, alone, simply not cut it: Calling for complementary actions across sectors does not, by itself, automatically give rise to fairer HR policies!


  1. Moreover, when it comes to HR actions, issues of conflict of interest among development actors are a source of further deep concern and division.** These concerns are not without warrant. There is significant evidence of how the engagement with the private sector has distorted and/or undermined public policy especially towards HR. There is a need for strong and credible protections against conflicts of interest, but only counted public-private partnerships (PPPs) take this responsibility as a key issue to seriously address —this, nothing but a reflection of the extreme asymmetries of power.

**: Note that having conflicting interests is different from having conflicts of interest; we all have the former…


  1. Large corporations –often part of now-fashionable multistakeholder platforms and PPPs– use several strategies to deflect public attention about their (negative) influence, namely
  • blocking or diverting efforts to put in place public regulations,
  • coopting policy makers,
  • intensely using cash for lobbying against such regulations,
  • directly attacking UN agencies’ positions,
  • financing social campaigns designed to shape public opinion (often maliciously reframing issues of HR as ‘issues of personal choice’).


  1. These corporations thus pursue private ends that undermine public policy and trust in public institutions and, way too often, they offer pledges that are seldom followed-through –with no mechanisms put in place to follow-up, track and report on the same. (The preceding is clearly evident in relation to the right to health and the right to nutrition).


If all the above does not provoke us into action, then what?


Moral suasion is clearly not enough.


  1. The conclusion here is that strong firewalls against private sector engagement in public policy and regulatory issues must be implemented and enforced and UN agencies are to play a crucial normative role in this providing needed guidance. Public interest civil society organizations and social movements must continue championing this cause!


  1. It is further not realistic for UN organizations to seek private donor funds claiming a neutral status as ‘trusted facilitators of independent action’. An effective system of governance of HR action must be deeply rooted in the norms, member state solemn agreements and the institutional architecture of the UN system. Publicly watchdogging the UN’s accountability on this is crucial.*** (Michael Clark, FAO)

***: Consider also: It has been a colossal mistake to weaken the UN system replacing it by plutocratic, economic, social and cultural rights-skeptical groups such as the G8, the G7 and the G20 –not to speak of the ‘Davos clan’ of plutocrats. (Francisco Mayor)


  1. In an interesting twist, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has likened HR violations to seismic signals that come before an earthquake, and has further provoked leaders to take actions now. He is of the opinion that disaster will strike unless these seismic signals are released gradually and soon through wiser people-centered policy making, i.e., where the interests of all humans override the growing pursuit of the narrowest, purely economic, national and ideologically-limited agendas.  Otherwise –as the reading of human history informs us– a more sudden release, when it comes, will be a colossus of violence and death.****

****: The Chinese character for crisis combines the characters for ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’. Our ability to improve HR depends critically on our ability to recognize and address dangers, but also to seize opportunities made possible by recognizing that crises offer rare opportunities to pursue extraordinary options not normally available. (Jomo K. Sundaram)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City




The meaning of justice and the IMF.

Plato insisted on defining justice as ‘the preference of the stronger’.

I found this interesting. It made me think of the IMF’s description (in terms of representation) as ‘an organization that operates according to the preference of the stronger’. Neoliberalism, you know, is not a new thing, but merely a rebranding of what capitalism has always been (as with Neo-conservatism) and, in good part, an institutionalization of anti-communism. Otherwise, neoliberalism is the drive for absolute and unconditional power of access and control of every country in the world by the US and its preferred Northern allies. The IMF, created as an instrument of the UN, was perverted from the principles established at Bretton Woods, i.e., from being a cooperative system of global governance to one that is only international within the self-interested scope of the US and its allies. The IMF has simply become mostly an instrument of US (and EU) foreign financial policy (together with its other, military instrument of power projection, NATO). The US orients its hegemony upon the global topography of states and alliances and operates via the IMF and other ‘international’ organizations to infringe upon national sovereignty through conditionality, sanctions –a situation similar to recipient countries having to sell themselves into slavery due to debt. After all, nearly every economy is dominated by US-controlled or US-orchestrated institutions. Neoliberal ideology is identified with science, but a Machiavellian science that cynically benefits the exceptional, the saved. Lex Americana (the ever accelerating Americanization of the world –a variant of imperial ideology) is the law of conquest, of slavery and of land annexation –despite the mask of its rational and ‘scientific’ systematization. It represents an ideological justice that (platonically) suits the preference of the stronger. The IMF acts as a purportedly benevolent global loan shark of last resort; it has managed to ensnare in its global web nearly two thirds of the countries of the world. This lender of last resort imposes conditions that pretend to be scientific and professionally modern –and, most of all, non-political; but we know it only reads neoclassical economics. Yet, this pretending is only a public relations and ideological mask which plunges the borrower country into financial troubles. The IMF represents the weaponization of global finance for the interests of the rich countries of the North. The IMF often condones corruption given that there is lots of money, but due to the aforementioned ideological restrictions, the money is filtered back into the commercial economy through expenditures not relating to the needs of the vast majority of people. The population continues to struggle economically and is disempowered politically. Conditionality, in this sense, is an economic stratagem of political control, a network of decisions, a series of surveillance actions of each country pertaining to political economic activity. The sovereignty of the borrower nation, its capacity for autonomy and self-governance, is severely restricted. These policies are ultimately counter-productive, tying the government’s hands, and causing massive dislocation amongst working people, job losses, cuts in benefits and services and higher taxes. In other words, these policies do not work, and are not meant to work, but are imposed merely to benefit the US and its ideological allies. The IMF, as a bank, is simply interested in cost recovery, stripping assets and expanding the web of private, household debt. It is neither interested in facilitating social and economic progress nor is it interested in HR. If one were not convinced that the IMF cares not for the borrower nations, consider that the IMF has never erased $18 billion Apartheid era debt, which according to the ‘Doctrine of Odious Debt,’ is clearly problematic. Debt cancellation organizations are seeking to highlight the debt slavery being promulgated by the IMF and the World Bank. So now you know: The IMF, the power projection of full spectrum dominance, have been unmasked and must now be resisted for the sake of global equality, human rights, peace and freedom. It is time for an end to political masochism and cowardice, a decision requiring a cultural revolution. (J. Luchte)




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Human rights: Food for a people’s thought


Human Rights Reader 392


Allow me to start this Reader with an homage to the late Urban Jonsson with whom I worked for many years on many human rights issues –not always agreeing, it has to be said. I have quoted him dozens of times in the Readers given his, better-to-none, clear thinking on these issues. Here are a few more of his thoughts:

  • In human rights (HR), it is not necessarily about ‘blaming and shaming’; it is about bringing the parties to agree on what is required for the progressive realization of specific HR. (Urban Jonsson)
  • I am no longer worried about the fact that all HR are the prerogative of individuals, reflecting the liberal origin of the idea about HR. I thus always refer to the emerging collective rights as having the same prerogative as individual rights. (Urban Jonsson)
  • The common denominator in the use of ‘stakeholder’, ‘entitlement’ and ‘basic needs’ approaches in development parlance is crucially that, in each of them, there is no duty-bearer with correlative duties! (Urban Jonsson)
  • Another common denominator, this one for the non-realization or violation of a HR, is the lack of capacity of claim-holders to claim their rights and/or the lack of capacity of the duty-bearers to meet their duties (let alone the fact that most claim-holders are not even aware that they have inalienable rights). As for duty-bearers, if they do not have the capacity (or are objectively limited) to meet a duty, they cannot be held accountable (they may themselves be claim holders to a higher level of duty bearers). But, mind you, the State is the ultimate duty-bearer and, yes, there are also many important non-state-duty-bearers with obligations that are increasingly recognized in everyday HR work. (Urban Jonsson)
  • By paying central attention to exclusion, disparity and injustice, the HR framework directly addresses the basic or structural causes of development problems, at the same time giving preferential attention to the needed legal and institutional reforms, as well as to the needed systematic review of existing national policies. (Urban Jonsson)
  • Human rights principles inform the content of good governance efforts. The HR framework addresses all key dimensions of governance, including public participation, access to information, and accountability. A critical aspect of good governance is the government’s capacity to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights. Ultimately, it is the simultaneous realization of all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that contributes most to good governance. (Urban Jonsson)


Now, for the topic of this Reader:


Where and how ‘the mandate given by the people’ does/has not work/ed

It is true that the academic discipline of human rights uses certain words that (have) become stereotypes and clichés that rather ‘complexify’ simple people’s clear human rights demands.


  1. The Paris Climate Agreement teaches us something I purport illustrates how states ignore the people’s mandate. Delegates in Paris said: “It is true the agreement is not sufficient to meet climate’s long term goals, but we were able to put-in a so-called ‘ambition mechanism’. Starting in 2020, countries have to update their climate pledges every five years and make new pledges that are more ambitious”. We can switch ‘climate change’ for ‘HR’ and this is precisely what we find in the SDGs in relation to HR, namely ambitions, aspirational language. A real shame —ambition mechanisms simply push boundaries to avoid binding commitments.
  2. Whereas the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ phrasing is similar to the one found in declarations about HR enacted after the liberal revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries (i.e., stating that Everyone Has The Right To…), its twin International Covenant, the one on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights affirms the States’ acknowledgement of specific rights (i.e., stating that States Parties Recognize The Right Of Everyone To…). This is an important difference! Moreover, while the UN’s Civil and Political Rights (CPR) Committee has a long catalogue of decisions taken on individual complaints, the first equivalent decision taken by the UN’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) Committee happened only in September 2015, regarding a case in Spain. There are enough elements to clearly assert that ESCR instruments do impose people-mandated-binding-obligations as-enforceable-as those from CPR instruments. There is the wrong assumption that the difference in language used by CPR and ESCR statutes is explained by a hierarchical relation of the first over the second. Shattering this false assumption requires broad efforts to move beyond the ideological dispute that caused the political and legal discourses on the CPR and the ESCR covenants to grow apart for several decades. Part of the effort should be made in the United States where, let us not forget, social welfare and freedom were once, not so long ago, rightly considered to share the very same importance. (D. Cerqueira)


What loosely using the concept of ‘mainstreaming human rights’ does not do to respect the mandate given by the people


When it comes to mainstreaming human rights, vaguely grand-visioning them is not enough; mainstreaming human rights must mean actively incorporating them into concrete political processes!


  1. Questions to ask here include: Does mainstreaming HR result-in or bring-about the ‘integration of the core HR values’ and an alignment of core HR values across UN and other development organizations? Does it bring about an enhanced collective effort and increased literacy of staff thereof on HR values and skills in order to incorporate these in their respective strategic planning and daily work? Experience shows that the incorporation of HR needs to be a deliberate and integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programs in all political, economic and social spheres.


  1. Mainstreaming is not about adding a HR component or even an equality component into an existing activity. Mainstreaming needs to go beyond and increase people’s participation and this means bringing the experience, knowledge, and interests of women, men and children as claim holders to bear on the development agenda.


  1. What is ultimately required is: changes must be made in the goals, strategies, and actions of these plans so that claim holders (can) de-facto actively participate-in and influence, as well as benefit from all development processes.


  1. The goal of truly mainstreaming HR thus is equivalent to the transformation of unequal social and institutional structures into equal and fair structures. For this, strong citizens and claim holders engagement are key. Most important is for them to review all existing major policies and measures specifically for the purpose of achieving the fulfillment of HR and of equality. Attention needs to be paid to issues of implementation and sustainability if the journey from-idea-to-reality is to be comprehensive and complete.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City




-Only those who have to struggle daily for their liberty and rights ultimately deserve them. (Goethe)

-The difficulty we face lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones. (John Maynard Keynes)

-Money is always available for war, but scarce for peace. The fact is that there are many more interests in military expenses than there are in poverty, injustice and HR. (Roberto Savio)

-Compassion is not just feeling with someone, but seeking to change the situation. Frequently, people think compassion and love are merely sentimental. No! They are very demanding. If you are going to be compassionate, be prepared for action! (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)



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Human rights: Food for a movement-building thought


Human Rights Reader 391


(Excerpted and adapted from Dr Oscar Lanza, PHM Bolivia)


  1. Growth of a veritable human rights network is needed to succeed in coordinating actions that pointedly pursue achieving a greater degree of social cohesion, of solidarity, of expanded contacts and of partnerships with other non-necessarily human rights (HR) institutions and networks. The latter is important to draw on their experience and thus enable its leaders, activists and volunteers from across the country to jointly encourage greater social commitment in holding authorities accountable to the various interdependent issues of HR. Only this will overcome the current still-far-too-prevalent indifference about HR.


  1. Local organization is to further empower society as a whole, in particular the most excluded and vulnerable groups. This can be achieved in many ways:
  • widely spreading short radio messages in simple language, as well as in native languages to ensure people’s understanding;
  • engaging natural leaders and the press on the most burning HR issues;
  • producing printed materials for community education;
  • organizing lectures in marginalized urban and rural areas for diverse groups;
  • providing up-to-date, independent information based on evidence to, among other, health workers and teachers;
  • sharing and popularizing relevant research reports;
  • proposing alternative and concrete solutions to authorities (duty bearers);
  • demanding greater social participation in the running of social services;
  • effectively mobilizing committed students;
  • visiting communities to coordinate rural work;
  • coordinating activities with trade unions an political parties, and
  • training new, local and regional activists aiming at growing the network.


  1. With these actions, credibility, prestige, respect, social recognition and a gain in credibility is importantly won and the local organization becomes progressively more influential as an active social protagonist and validator of outside knowledge, not just domestically, but also internationally –always committed to the protection of HR.


  1. Mobilizing groups of claim holders, is not free of obstacles and risks, including protests and demonstrations of outrage in the press from those-who-identify-groups-demanding-changes as a risk. This, since the ruling minority perceives community and social empowerment threatens them when HR issues are strongly linked to politics, to power relations and to the unfair distribution of resources. What they will seek first is discrediting the movement’s leaders subjecting them to rigorous scrutiny in their actions, including personal issues. All imaginable ways of intimidation and anonymous threats are used seeking to undermine the commitment of the participants in an attempt to damage the relationships and alliances with other institutions. The same minority will also obstruct and undermine these active groups’ access to support and/or possible financing. Additionally, they will try to poison and corrupt some of the members of the movement at the interior of their own ranks.


  1. Risks and threats may not only come from the outside, but also from the inside. These will seek to undermine the morale of the leaders, of participating volunteers and of academics committed to support claim holders placing concrete HR demands; the aim is to attempt dismantling the movement.


  1. These growing risks can only be countered with a solid commitment to the HR principles and values that progressively continue to inspire and generate growing public self-confidence. Constantly needed are information-that-can-be-trusted and a continued motivation to raise more and more awareness. In this, the support of public universities, professional schools, professional associations, academics, volunteers, trade unions, progressive political parties and social organizations committed to the progress in HR work can and should be elicited. Only thus can the pressures of powerful interests be countered successfully. Not to be forgotten, the conflicts of interest of some self-proclaimed experts, local, regional and international undermining this type of HR initiatives and actions must also be unmasked and denounced.


  1. Human rights activism is inseparable from ongoing HR learning, from daily reflecting and more deeply analyzing the determinants of social injustice, of poverty, of uneven and unfair power relations, of inequalities, of the deliberate and perverse weakening of public social services by forces seeking to keep the dependence on the (unfair) rules of the market. These forces also want to avoid people analyzing the growing conflict of interest around decisions that affect people’s rights.


  1. All the above inevitably leads to demands for changes in the structures of power, in social policies, in unfair existing regulations… Easier said than done since, one has to be aware, this implies yet greater challenges and more risks. Nevertheless, the experience progressively acquired can and does lead to networks joining together to put forward concrete proposals for regulatory, legislative and eventually constitutional changes by emphasizing the crucial role of including articles that explicitly protect HR.* (We note that past experience shows that constitutional changes laboriously won have, to date, failed to be translated into concrete actions favoring people at the operational level).

*: For those who do not live this experience, it is difficult to understand the passion that awakens when defending HR. They do not adequately value the efforts and courage of others to build this type of movement.


  1. Usually, once they grow, HR movements attract common citizens who share a vision, a mission, a common utopia, one that requires high social commitment and sensitivity. Ultimately, a HR movement arises only thanks to the perseverance of highly committed people who believe in the values and principles of greater social justice. However, as these movements develop, there is a risk that new and different actors who join do so with a ‘more pragmatic’ approach, not moved by a genuine social commitment, but rather seeking easy social recognition, some benefit or figuration and enhancement of their self-esteem.


  1. Initially, organizational efforts must have very strong roots in rural and urban peripheral communities, not forgetting the risk of a bureaucratization of activities when engagement in lobbying and advocacy actions neglect the links and contact with the original base communities. Staying faithful to the commitment to empower communities, requires not to neglect the continuous contact with the less favoured and vulnerable groups, interacting with them for an ever renewed clearer understanding of the social, political and economic factors that continue to affect their lives. At the same time, their awareness of their own potential to control their lives has to be ever strengthened. Therefore, it is vital to not only adhere to the movement because of a shared general vision among its members, but also based on people adhering to the values and principles they hold dear.


  1. There is then the additional risk of becoming dependent on those who lend these movements financial support and, not in few cases, press to impose their priorities, strategies, and roadmaps for action thus undermining the initial purposes of the movement and its demands. This clearly undercuts the movement pushing certain specific actions that go against a comprehensive holistic HR-based approach and contributing to the fragmentation of the approaches.


  1. Moreover, many apparently well-intentioned donors or funders provide support, but based on increasingly technocratic and bureaucratic demands whose purpose, in some cases, really is to to absorb much of the time and efforts of the local actors who, before, dedicated more time to community empowerment and social actions. These funders then press to invest that time in thorough, technocratic reports to them.**

**: In other circumstances, these movements work or seek to work ‘with’ corporations or their philanthropic branches. But this only makes sure that such movements do not work ‘against’ corporations, nor criticize their philanthropic arms. This thus infiltrates alleged ‘well-intentioned collaborators’ in the activities of these movements rather than genuinely supporting them.


  1. Partnerships established with other networks may be beneficial in joining forces and achieving greater effectiveness. But this also may, in some circumstances, have perverse effects in which the new partner pursues greater visibility towards international donors or attempts to justify inflated budgets that benefit circles of close friends. While local partners are welcome, one has to question their motives discarding them if these are spurious. HR movements have to protect their own survival while they preach solidarity based on principles. 


  1. It is not uncommon for governments, in some countries where there are these movements or activities, to increase their control and require endless reporting, not really to ensure transparency, openness and true social responsibility, but in order to curb these groups’ activities.


  1. And a final point: Leadership must be renewed for the movement to be healthy and to ensure needed continuity so as to provide new leaders, young people, the opportunity to drive the HR initiatives built with so much effort, passion, dedication, and commitment. Entrenched leadership risks loosing a genuine social commitment, loosing the necessary sensitivity based on principles and values and loosing the operating experience of working with grassroots communities that were those that inspired these movements to begin with. The effort that was built over decades risks falling apart quickly. It is always easier to destroy than to build. The situation is more painful, traumatic and unfair for those who, as pioneers, spent the best years of their lives, striving to achieve their dreams.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City




-Human rights were not a present given by generous States. They always had to be eked out in prolonged struggles in factories and in market places. From their start in the early 18th century in clandestine associations, labor movements organized class struggles and, still today, trade unions defend social and workers’ rights and organize resistance against the breakdown of the capitalist social system. But, beware, often these trade unions still follow their sectoral interests and defend the rights of workers in the traditionally organized big industries and scantily (if at all) join the struggle for other HR causes. (Birgit Daiber)

-We have to reach new heights with the wings of enthusiasm. Reasoning things out too much, we may never fly. (Anatole France)

-We can be individuals of disparate nature, but we do share some codes that always make the communication among us fluid. (Maria Duenias)

-Defend your happiness, organize your rage. (Graffiti in Madrid)



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Right to health: Food for a de-commodification thought


Human Rights Reader 390


  1. The reason why global health policy-makers are not implementing the knowledge generated by global health scholars with the right empirical, every-day experience, is not because they use different normative standards; it is because, when selecting priorities, too many policy-makers are politically constrained by the interests and the power structures in their environment. The conflict is not a difference in normative opinion, but rather a political issue. (C. Askheim)


  1. Alex Scott-Samuel speaks of ‘fantasy paradigms leading to health inequalities’ or, as he says, of utopian health thinking’. He argues that in this world fantasy its proponents describe how global policy officials tend to write and speak within a parallel world in which the political economy of the global economic crisis and the brutality of imperial geopolitics do not exist and add that global health policies must simply comprise cost-effective interventions, political promises and philanthropic largesse.


Choices on offer in health care attract consumerist sympathy


  1. Fact: The appropriation of health care by business is being legitimized by policy makers –and, with that, goes the loss of the ideas of citizenship and solidarity implicit and explicit in social rights. So strong has the pressure to extend capitalist appropriation in the profitable domain of health care been that not even ideological consistency has been respected: Actually, neoliberal principles such as efficiency have themselves been ignored. In poor countries, excessive emphasis on cost-effectiveness has brought health care systems not only not to focus on the most vulnerable, but also to be run in an economically unsustainable way. Since the middle and upper classes are more likely to have their voices heard, their more exclusive and expensive health care needs are prioritized to the detriment of the vast majority of the people rendered poor. What social rights primarily demand is the de-commodification of key areas such as the provision of health care, education and other essential social services. (Eduardo Arenas)


  1. As regards the effects of privatization on research, note that influential randomized trials are largely done by and for the benefit of industry. Moreover, fashionable meta-analyses supposedly leading to guidelines have become a factory also often serving vested interests. National and international research funds are funneled almost exclusively to research with little relevance to global health outcomes. Bottom line here, under market pressure, clinical medicine has been transformed to finance-based medicine. (John Ioannidis)


  1. We thus need a whole new wave and breed of public interest civil society health activism to address what has been called the “GLP” virus (standing for Globalization, Liberalization and Privatization) that is causing a monumental global health divide that has become shocking if not criminal. (Anwar Fazal)


Our human rights struggle in health focuses on addressing the eminently social function of health and nutrition (Malik Ozden, CETIM)


  1. Let me start with a caveat: It is not an innocent stands when colleagues and whole health systems attempt to reduce the right to health to the-right-to-receive-medical-care.* For the right to health to become a reality, policies of all sectors must fall into place. Further (and much) more, the fulfillment of the right to health requires the social mobilization of claim holders to grow steadfastly –to demand the needed changes. (Julio Monsalvo)

*: This is typical for countries that, despite high levels of economic growth and of consumption, have not implemented the needed institutional reforms that guarantee homogeneous progress by deliberately giving priority to measures in the realm of social and human development. Yes, inequality is unfair and cruel, as well as unacceptable in a society striving to be called ‘developed’. (Foro Salud Peru)


  1. Why the caveat? Because the right to health simply has to guarantee:
  • universal and comprehensive health care that includes claim holders’ active participation;
  • an increase in the public expenditures on health with priority given to address the needs of the neediest;
  • universal access to generic medicines and essential medical equipment including sovereign pharmaceutical policies;
  • a rejection of the signing and ratification of undemocratic and unfair trade agreements;
  • quality health care and dignified treatment;
  • a closing of the gap in essential health personnel and their needs;
  • addressing the social determinants of health and pursuing active health promotion activities and, last but not least,
  • addressing the special needs of women, gender issues and all issues of sexual and reproductive health. (Foro Salud, Peru)

I ask: How can all this possibly be achieved using a top-down approach?


  1. For our colleagues in El Salvador, the right to health tasks at hand further include:
  • The immediate abolition of all payments in the public health system allowing an increase in the access to health according to need all the way to the tertiary level.
    • Passing legislation that regulates the prices of medicines nationwide.
    • Giving a decisive push to citizens’ participation in the planning and monitoring of health policies from the primary to the tertiary level.**
    • Setting up immediate and ongoing evaluation mechanisms of the delivery of patient-friendly, non-discriminatory health services.**
    • Giving No.1 priority to comprehensive primary health care with ad-hoc health care teams assigned to specific geographic areas.
    • Organizing and coordinating the sector’s claim holders to coalesce into public interest civil society pressure groups.

**: But the health indicators currently in use are ambivalent; some advance slowly (…and more for some in society) while other stay put or deteriorate. The time for less-than-useful statistics to yield to right-to-health-sensitive data has come; reality and truth must impose themselves on the data being/to be collected so that social and health policies start addressing real human and citizens’ needs. (Foro Salud Peru)


  1. Given the above, organized claim holders, therefore, must:
  • Urgently organize and mobilize to repeal irresponsible public policies that highlight economic growth, but hide stagnating poverty indexes. [Perpetuating the use of national averages in health statistics is an example of how this hiding operates].
  • Use all their energies to negotiate/demand the needed political changes/compromises based on pragmatic and legally-binding measures that will fulfill the right to health for all. [The dialogues with government and with public opinion leaders (duty bearers), as well as the claimants’ presence in the public debate through the media must be matched by their organizations’ capacity to monitor health policies (their application) and health statistics (their use) in all health services].
  • Work within a political framework that actively pursues the right to health and that deepens all people’s participation making sure they achieve not only voice, but influence as the only way to guarantee needed changes are eventually made. [An effective popular participation is the key element that gives legitimacy to the claim holders’ human rights (HR) protection struggle and gives legitimacy to their fight against the stigma, the discrimination and the exclusion that affects so many in their quest for quality health care].
  • Demand that health interventions apply HR principles and standards respecting all international HR covenants and conventions.
  • Consolidate an active and wide social and political movement that will address the social determinants of health face-on. [The commoditization and the medicalization of health are just two examples of important determinants of people’s health that need to be tackled].
  • Involve the above movement much more with the struggle for a cleaner and cooler environment.
  • Lobby for the curricula of health professionals to be amended so as to revert the current model being taught centered around treating diseases and increasing the productivity of the health work force. [Breaking with the biomedical model is urgent since it leads individuals and society to situations detrimental to health].
  • Become part of the struggle for fairer remuneration of the health workforce, and
  • Denounce, amend and/or revert all the current measures that affect HR and people’s liberties. [An example is all current and in-negotiation free trade agreements]. (Foro Salud, Peru)


In the Universal Health Coverage era: Is health equality a sibling of the right to health?


  1. If and where universal health care (UHC) is implemented in line with the recommendations of WHO, it is said it can come close to being anchored in the right to health. But is it? Let us see:
  • First, UHC anchored in the right to health requires that cost–effectiveness criteria are used with much more care to avoid justifying UHC when it is not complying with the minimum principles and standards demanded by the right to health.
  • Second, identifying and overcoming the multiple barriers stemming from socioeconomic exclusion and/or discrimination is certainly vital to advancing UHC –but it is not sufficient in itself. Efforts are required to identify the specific groups that are vulnerable or marginalized in a given country and region(s) to make sure they are included in all UHC plans so as to ensure that health coverage is truly universal.
  • Third, comparing UHC and right to health norms highlights the difference between a UHC anchored in the right to health and UHC not explicitly anchored in the right to health. (Ooms)


The right to health demands a set of core obligations that apply to all countries, regardless of their wealth


  1. The right to health guarantees a minimum level of health care –anywhere. In that sense, UHC cannot have any kind of ‘floor’. If the economic context of a given country leads to a level of health care that does not even address standard health threats of the most vulnerable, how can UHC, as currently proposed, tolerate that? Beware: Such a UHC does not guarantee a commensurate level of core health care entitlements to vulnerable groups as the right to health does. Furthermore, UHC norms pay little attention to vulnerable and marginalized groups in terms of their active participation in decision-making. (Ooms)


  1. Bottom line, if UHC is not anchored in the right to health it risks not being universal with respect to providing coverage to all people. It is the focusing on coverage percentages not disaggregating data by vulnerable groups what masks exclusion. The complex interplay between social marginalization or exclusion and economic exclusion can render vulnerable and marginalized individuals (e.g. the child of an unmarried, undocumented migrant) and groups invisible to the authorities. Addressing this added dimension of exclusion is thus a priority if UHC is to be anchored in the right to health. Procedurally, UHC anchored in the right to health requires that authorities engage with those who are excluded and devise policies with them to amend the health system accordingly –actually the whole social system more broadly. Only this will make UHC truly universal. (Gorik Ooms for WHO)


Universal Health Coverage, taxes and wages


  1. Tax revenue is a major statistical determinant of progress towards UHC. Each U$10 per-capita increase in tax revenue is associated with up to an additional U$1 of public health spending per capita. Whereas each $10 increase in GDP per capita is statistically associated with increases in the order of U$0.10. Crucially, tax revenues sit on the pathway between economic growth and health spending. In short, tax reform is an efficient way of translating economic growth into greater health spending. Over time, taxation within a country is associated with changes in infant mortality. The results have been crystal clear. Where taxes on goods and services increase (thereby increasing the cost of food and health care), infant mortality also increases.  However, where taxes on income, profits, and capital gains increase (progressive taxation), we do not find this same relationship. Some countries can further increase revenues through reducing corporate tax evasion. Bottom line here, tax is a cornerstone on which we can achieve UHC. (A. Reeves)


  1. The above notwithstanding, defending wage subsidies to secure a ‘basic income’ is not the solution for UHC; we ought to think twice before defending this. Receiving a ‘better’ basic income to only then have to pay for privatized health services will certainly not tackle inequalities. (Francine Mestrum)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City





Twelve arguments pointing towards why we need to embark on empowering community capacity building activities in health (From HR Reader 15)


  1. The notions of duty and justice (…and not compassion!) give the right to health its cutting edge.
  2. Power is a key relation between health and HR issues. A right confers power, i.e. the power to make key changes as far reaching as the prevailing health system allows claim holders to demand for. (It is our duty to help making the latter possible).

III. People have full power only when they are able to alter existing power relations. (It is our duty to help making this possible too).

  1. X has to have power over Y to affect results. Power thus needs to be used to change an existing unfair health system and to turn it to the people’s advantage. (It is our duty to help this use is made).
  2. Only exercising power can people freely select among the realistic available possible solutions (people’s empowerment is thus needed).
  3. Active claims are rather useless if there is no power to have duty bearers enforce their public health duties.

VII. A party other than the duty bearers has to have power over the duties in order to make sure most public health duties are enforced.

VIII. Ergo, to enforce a duty, the claim holder needs power over the duty bearer.

  1. It is not good if the claim holders have no power or control over the enforcement of their health claims.
  2. Actually, people can only have a true health claim when they also have the power to claim for it; the power is a necessary ingredient in their claim; ergo, having a claim necessarily involves having (or acquiring) power.
  3. Claim holders cannot only be passive beneficiaries of the duties of others.

XII. People’s health rights are recognized as long as the claim holders have power over the duties not being enforced.



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Human rights: Food for changing a thought (part 2)


Human Rights Reader 389


Our time is marked by the predominance of fear over hope


  1. A pact between the different constituencies of claim holders must be the result of a political reading that says that what is at stake is the very survival of democracies (and of human rights) worthy of the name, as well as the survival of the planet. The actions that this calls for are as pressing as to literally salvage that which neoliberalism has not yet been able to destroy.


  1. According to the philosopher Baruch Spinoza, people (and I should add, societies as well) are governed by two basic emotions: fear and hope. There is a complex balance between the two, but we need them both if we wish to survive. Fear is the dominant emotion when one’s expectations about the future are negative (“this is bad, but the future could be worse”); in turn, hope has the upper hand when future expectations are positive or, in any event, when refusal of the alleged inevitability of negative expectations is widely shared.


  1. Thirty or more years after the global assault on workers’ rights; after all the proclamations of social inequality and egotism as the ultimate social virtues; after the unprecedented plunder of natural resources and the expulsion of whole populations from their land, as well as the environmental destruction caused by it; after the fostering of war and terrorism to create failed states and make societies defenseless in the face of plundering; after the poorly negotiated imposition of free trade agreements that are entirely controlled by the interests of multinational corporations; after the absolute supremacy of financial capital over productive capital and the lives of peoples and communities —after all this, in combination with the hypocritical defense of ‘liberal democracy’, it is plausible to conclude that neoliberalism is a huge machine for producing negative expectations aimed at keeping the popular classes from finding out about the true reasons for their suffering and thus make them, not only conform with what little they still have, but also remain paralyzed by the fear of losing even that.


  1. Never forget that the-right-to-have-rights is an irreversible civilizational achievement. Can it then be that just when there is a new glimmer of hope, disagreement will resurface and the necessary pacts among claim holders will be thrown overboard? Were that to happen, it would be fatal to claim holders in the popular classes, who will promptly return to their muted hopelessness in the face of fatalism, a fatalism, moreover, that is as violent for the vast majorities as it is generous to the tiny minorities.


  1. A renewed constitutional pedagogy in all areas of government is needed. Why? Because the prevailing patriarchal political system has not allowed citizens to regain the capacity and competence to actively intervene and participate in political life. Biased electoral systems, ‘partidocracia’ (in Spanish), corruption, manipulated financial crises –these are some of the reasons for the double crisis of representation (“they do not represent us”) and participation (“it is not worth voting, they are all the same and no one ever delivers on their promises”).


  1. The hegemony of the neoliberal set of ideas about society, as well as the interpretations of the world and of life is predominant by reason of being widely shared –including by those very social groups who are harmed by them. This makes it possible for political elites, through their use of such ideas and interpretations, to rule by consensus rather than by coercion, even when their rule goes against the objective interests of majority social groups. The idea that poor people happen to be poor through their own fault is one of these hegemonic ideas. Worse, mistakes not only are not seen as mistakes, but actually go unnoticed and are even turned into political virtues, or at least accepted as the inevitable outcome of the existing development governance.


  1. But there is a growing struggle against neoliberalism being waged both in formal education and in the promotion of popular education, in the media and in the support to the alternative media, in scientific research and in the changes to university curricula, in the social networks and in cultural activities.


  1. The condemnation of capitalism by self-proclaimed left-wing governments tends to primarily focus on corruption and, therefore, on the immorality and illegality of capitalism, rather than on the systematic injustice of the system of domination that functions in strict adherence to capitalism’s legality and morality. The need to keep participatory democracy alive within the left-wing parties themselves is a precondition for the adoption of resistance-to-capitalism measures by the national political system.


  1. A greater emphasis on constitutional reform is imperative so as to protect and promote social rights and to bring more transparency to the political system, as well as to bring the system closer to citizens and make it more dependent on their decisions without having to wait for new elections every four years.


  1. Bottom line here, neoliberalism’s deadly machine keeps on producing fear on a massive scale –and whenever it runs short of raw materials, it hacks off whatever hope it can find in the innermost recesses of the popular classes’ political and social life, grinding it, processing it and turning it into fear of fear. It is therefore imperative that ‘the lefts’ around the world know how to feel fear, but not fear of fear. It is further imperative that they know how to poach the few seeds of hope from the neoliberal grind and plant them in fertile soil where more and more citizens feel that they can live well, protected both from the hell of impending chaos and the siren’s call of the consumption compulsion. (Boaventura de Sousa Santos)


Isolated islands of social activism on human rights can hardly exist in a sea of capitalism


  1. Given the above, South-South solidarity must thus be forged in order to advance the struggle. Many peoples and societies in the South are today in a much better position to face the challenges, and build alternatives, than they were a few decades ago. The mask of benevolence has by now been forcefully removed from the face of the oligopolies that drive the current stage of capitalism. A historic alliance of democratic forces in the North and progressive forces in South has become critical. For that, it must overcome the long held distrust among the two, as well as that among progressive groups in the North.


  1. The left parties with their priorities set on their political goals are not equipped and are not necessarily the best vehicles to take up the human rights struggle in a sustained manner. A renewal in the current primary national political expression, i.e., the political parties and their interface with social movements is, therefore, a must. The various emancipatory forces must be brought together into a unified will, into one platform able to formulate realistic firm proposals so as to work in a non-hegemonist way to craft solidarities in the struggle for human rights (HR). This kind of broad platform must allow the building of new alliances and the formation of a large opposition social bloc committed to building authentic democracy on the long road to the fulfillment of HR.


  1. Parliamentary electoral politics can provide a critical, but alas a small base in fuelling the needed new energy in peoples struggles to carry them forward to further social progress and democratization. Parliamentary politics has been carried out at the cost of strengthening its relationship with the masses.*

*: A society respectful of HR cannot arise de novo and must arise from the rundown existing capitalist forms. This means that the struggle will still be located within the framework of the neoliberal paradigm. Let us not forget this.


  1. A democratic practice, built from below and rooted in solidarity is the way to attract new social actors in the struggle for an alternative society. Therefore, the right to information is another not-to-be-forgotten element of democratic progress, because it offers further prospects of expanding the social base for authentic democratization and socialization of the HR struggle. (S. Chachra)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City




-As you finish reading this, make no mistake, these seemingly abstract issues about which we write papers are matters determining the lives of millions of people. We all know that, as Benjamin’s Law says, when all is said and done, a lot more is said than done. It is, therefore, not enough to bring these issues under the spotlight; as someone else said, we need to make more light!

-At the tunnel’s end, hope is a constant flicker; the light is in us. (Jerome Koenig)

-It is well known that money has no morals …the same as many of our current leaders. (H.M. Guyot)

-Those who convince you of absurd things can make you get involved in atrocities. (Voltaire)

-If alone you cannot, together with strategic political allies you can!

Social Medicine Course in Uganda 2017

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Course Announcement

 On behalf of SocMed, we are pleased to invite health professional students to apply for the seventh annual course Beyond the Biologic Basis of Disease: The Social and Economic Causation of Illness, a social medicine immersion experience offered on-site at Lacor Hospital in Gulu, Uganda from January 3rd – 27th, 2017.  Beyond the Biologic Basis of Disease merges unique pedagogical approaches including community engagement; classroom-based presentations and discussions with a breadth of facilitators; group and self-reflection; theater, film, and other art forms; patient clerking and presentations which emphasize narrative medicine, and team projects.  These approaches create an innovative and interactive learning environment in which students participate as both learners and teachers to advance the entire class’ understanding of the interactions between the biology of disease and the myriad social, cultural, economic, political, and historical factors that influence illness presentation and social experience of disease. 

The course curriculum places considerable importance on building partnerships and encouraging students to reflect upon their personal experiences with power, privilege, race, class, and gender as central to effective partnership building in global health.  In the spirit of praxis (a model of education that combines critical reflection with action inspired by Paolo Freire), these components of the course give students the opportunity to discern their role in global health and social medicine through facilitated, in-depth conversations with core faculty and student colleagues.

In our annual Uganda course, thirty health professional students enroll each year, with half of the spaces filled by students from Ugandan medical and nursing schools, and the other half filled by international students from anywhere outside Uganda.  Credit for away-rotations can be arranged.

This course is offered through SocMed, a social justice non-profit organization working to expand the conversation on and engagement with the social determinants of health through education and movement building.  Our focus is to foster a diverse community of learners who carefully examine and strategically respond to the social and economic contexts of health.  Our aim is to provide space, opportunities and facilitation for students from around the world to build partnerships with one another in order to gain skills and practice in tackling challenging health problems.

More Information and Application Process

 Further information can be found in the attached course prospectus and on the SocMed website:www.socmedglobal.org.   Please view short videos describing the course, publications related to the course, and advocacy videos created by previous students during the course by visiting the “Resources” tab on the website.

Applications are due July 31, 2016. Templates are available on the SocMed website but please note that applications this year must be submitted through an on-line format at:


If you have questions, please contact us at socmedglobal@gmail.com.