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Food for many missed thoughts


Human Rights Reader 380

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


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

are terribly misleading and flawed.


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


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


Are we fixated with an exclusive focus on measurable targets?


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


Yes, Yes


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



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

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



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Food for a metaphysical thought


Human Rights Reader 379


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


The other side of the coin


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


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


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


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

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


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



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

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

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

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


– Human Rights = Morality+Legality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most share basic views of a common good.

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

Most encourage some form of social and economic justice.

Most offer moral prescriptions for wartime, BUT

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


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Food for a farcical thought


Human Rights Reader 37


Hegel somewhere remarked that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. (Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852)


**All human relations require a history; we lack a truly joint, fair and truly shared history** (Isabel Allende)


  1. **Conventional history misses the true horror experienced by the world at large, the one that has lived at the gunpoint of the imperial powers.** We miss the violence, the impoverishment, the corruption and the destruction inflicted by the European (and North American) Empire. We miss the evidence of ‘ordinary’ people struggling against the Empire –and ways they will continue to do so. It would seem that the one recurring legacy of such violence is more violence. Time after time, even when wars end, the violence never really stops. Again and again, it is those secondary beneficiaries of the Empire –those in Western countries who (have) benefit(ed) from the violence and the plunder of the elites– and who are too afraid to challenge, let alone confront, these elites, that make it all possible. **We may be victims of the endless elite propaganda (distributed, among other, via conventional history)**. It keeps us ignorant and submissive, at a time when it is in good part our fear that stops us seeking the truth. What I contend is that the knowledge of what has happened and is happening is there for anyone who seeks it –if a different historical context reflective-of and pondering human rights (HR) is provided.


1a. Ever noticed? **We are almost unable to find any monument, memorial or even art work of repentance** for the on-and-on massacres, rapes, genocides and plundering committed by European (and North American) powers over the past several hundred years against the peoples of Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, the Americas, Australia, Oceania and Asia –which, let it be said, paid for Europe’s cathedrals, churches, palaces and schools, hospitals and opera houses. **Of course, there are statues for some of the most racist and genocidal figures in history…** They try to remind us about the ‘gains’ from their imperial slaughter and plunder without a sign of self-consciousness or regret.(i) (R. J. Burrowes, A. Vltchek)

(i): Estimates regarded as conservative, tell us that 55 million lives have been lost since World War II alone as a result of Western colonialism, neo-colonialism, direct invasions, sponsored coups and other acts of international terror. This figure does not include those lives lost to famines, mismanagement and outright misery triggered and maintained by Western imperialism.


  1. Conventional history does also not always foretell new horizons; this persuades me that too often it accommodates reality to mere form and formality. This is why we should never fall into the trap of thinking that everything is eventually forgotten. **How many episodes of history have we read that sounded veridical only to end up being a complete sham: not by chance**, but as a convenient rendition of ‘facts’ that hides any guilt towards Franz Fannon’s ‘wretched of the earth’. When I read history, I have to have the capacity to accept what I read, not leaving out aspects of the dignity of all protagonists especially that of the oppressed. (P. Simonetti)


  1. **Conventional history has become** a true burden to bear –**a collection of often deceiving telltales.** For the reasons I have criticized in this Reader, it tends not to move in the direction I would like it to. Significant and selected social and political events are not propelled forward into the future, but are rather left to pile up in an eternal present. Does this mean that **conventional history commemorates the wrong insurgents and heroes** so audaciously that it thinks it can stop time by leaving out brooding social struggles?


  1. No history is mute. No matter how much conventional historians have owned it and have been one-sided about it, human history refuses to shut its mouth. Despite deceit and ignorance, the-time-that-was continues to tick inside the-time-that-is. (E. Galeano)


  1. Despite the attempts of conventional history to neutralize their significance and their power, the myriad **social uprisings throughout history, the world over, have heralded a (re)surgence of the liberating force of the masses.**


  1. This just shows the insanity of the elites who control the Empire. Any society or ideology that dares to put people first is demonized and ridiculed; it is ideologically attacked. If it refuses to succumb, it gets attacked militarily, it gets bombed, and eventually, it ends up being thoroughly destroyed. **Where are the chronicles of the sins of pagans, Muslims, Hindus and of Christianity which have wanted converts**, an chronicles about Christianity’s long history of collaboration with royalty, aristocracy, slavery, banks and business interests? **We are not told about the victims of imperial violence**: those who have been exploited, brutalized, raped, tortured, mutilated and killed so that we can consume more at less cost. **Elites do not sponsor the exposure of their brutality in history.** It is ultimately the capitalist ethic that values profit over people and uses military violence to impose the ‘free market’. Am I exaggerating? Look at the history of the world through the eyes of those who have been denied a voice in White, Western, Christian history books. (R. J. Burrowes, A. Vltchek)


**In world history, we can find but a litany of lost paradises** (L. Villalonga)


-**History has basically cemented aristocracies.** (W. Pareto)


-Ultimately, we know: Laws, and the rules established by any given society, are the product of power plays and only sometimes of true compromises among the members of that society.


  1. Actually, when we turn our faces towards the have-nots in the past, what we find is what seems to be a single catastrophe that incessantly piles rubble on top of rubble. **To think historically with a HR perspective, is to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed.** (W. Benjamin)


  1. Mind you, **almost all wars, perhaps all, have been and are trade wars connected with some material interest.** They have been and are always disguised as sacred wars, made in the name of God, or civilization or ‘progress’. Since the Neolithic, the conquest of land by force has been the primary objective of sovereigns to amass wealth and extend the territories over which they hold sway. **What is never asked is: At what cost to HR?** (M. Ozden, CETIM)


  1. Otherwise, things actually do change in society and in history, because many people work very hard. They work in their communities, in their work places or wherever they are, but not enough in building the foundations of popular movements –which are the only ones that (historically) bring about needed structural social change. This is the way it has always been in history. (Noam Chomsky)


  1. If we follow the progress of inequality throughout history, we find that **the establishment of the law of property was a first phase of legitimizing inequality**; the instituting of the judiciary to defend property was the second; the third phase was the transformation of legitimate power into arbitrary power.(ii) In that sense, the state of being rich and being poor was legitimized by the first phase; that of being powerful and being weak by the second and, that of being masters and slaves by the third –which is the ultimate degree of inequality. (Jean Jacques Rousseau)

(ii): Acknowledgement of an absolute right to private property is in contradiction with the inalienable right of those rendered poor to common property given by nature, for example for land. Without land, the peasants are defenseless. The human right to land is an indispensable condition for attaining autonomy. Therefore, our approach must comprise the redistribution of land (agrarian reform) to restore the social function of land (as opposed to the absolute private property of land). We must also encourage the right to the collective use of some lands, guaranteeing the security of its occupation, as well as guaranteeing food sovereignty. (CETIM)


[**Note: Today, the classification of the right to property as a HR still raises controversy.** It is only recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. From the point of view of HR thereafter, the right to property must neither be discriminatory nor absolute. (CETIM)].


**Even if we all are immersed in history, not all of us have equal power to make history** (C. Wright Mills)


Ultimately, man can be destroyed, but never ever be defeated. (Leonardo Padura)


  1. Should we give up on the idea that, despite all the terrors from millennia of HR violations, history is redeemable? Centuries of repression and struggle have also had a history of claim holders countering despair, of arriving at the point where they recognize the politics of the power behind the brutality, to then mount credible struggles for HR. As Eduardo Galeano said: **“At the end of the day, we are what we do to change who we are”**. So, if we ever lose the concept of what Galeano’s (our) generation calls ‘realidad social’, the world is in for real trouble. It is necessary to replay each scene in world’s history, precisely because it has been disguised in ‘venerable’ language.(iii) (G. Grandin)

(iii): Unfortunately, everything in ‘the new, reinterpreted history’ has reached us way too late. (L. Padura) The book “Global History: A View from the South” is one of the pioneers of global history retold from the perspective of the Third World, arguing that the countries of the South were not latecomers to capitalism, but were integrated into the global economy from the start, but in a position of dependency to the rich, industrialized North. (Samir Amin)


**It is not a fad or an obsession to rewrite history** (L. Padura)


Do we need to dream to move history where it belongs? (J. Monsalvo) No!


  1. A present day historian with the right focus will have to point to the causes of the centuries-long literal annihilation of vast sectors of humanity, especially first nations. First nations rightfully experience history as an endless repetition of depredation.


  1. **One way to develop the history rewriting skills could be to re-imagine key events.** History students could write essays exploring ‘What would the world be like if the French Revolution had succeeded in the long run?’ or ‘What would have happened if Britain had permanently abolished the monarchy in the 17th Century?’ or ‘What would history have been without slavery?’


  1. Additionally, **we need to construct an alternative historical account of international law that tells the story of its development from the perspective of non-Europeans**, i.e., a history that focuses not on events in Europe, but on the colonial confrontation between non-European and European societies. In a sense, this is to be an example of what might be called ‘history written from the margins’, because conventional history was complicit in the development of colonialism and with the unleashing of the forces of conquest and exploitation over a big part of the globe. **The history we get to read tends to legitimize and maintain the North-South economic inequalities** that characterize the world of today. In historically justifying colonialism and its offspring neo or post-colonialism, conventional **history justifies its racial or social terms thus licensing the gross violence or the benevolent liberal civilizing mission.** The historic accounts we get to read do not spare us the self-congratulatory accounts that posit colonialism as a great phase of history and not as a problem –a wonderful example of the workings of power in the politico-historical realm. (M. Kleyna)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



-Understanding requires context; understanding must be anchored. The past and present etch the future. Because utility and reality are very different standards, the history told in HR terms does provide a more rigorous grounding. Many of us are uncomfortable with a reality that remains ambiguous… until we perceive it in the right context. (B. Greene)

-The ghosts of all the revolutions that have been strangled or betrayed through the world’s tortured history eventually return as new experiences, as if the present had been predicted and generated by the contradictions of the past: history is a prophet that faces backwards: because of what was, and against what was, it announces what will be. And that is why in this Reader (that aims to critique a history of looting and to account for how the current mechanisms of plunder operate) I feature not only the Conquistadores and the Jet-setting Technocrats, the Marines, the Agents of Colonial Powers and of the International Monetary Fund, those who reap(ed) dividends from the slave trade or from the profits from Monsanto, but also the defeated heroes and today’s revolutionaries. (E. Galeano)

-To illustrate: Here is the story of the week of 21-28 May 1871, when the French ruling class carried out the biggest massacre of the 19th century in Europe: After Prussia defeated France, ending Napoleon III’s regime, the Parisian working class took power from the government. From the beginning, the Commune had the overwhelming support of most Parisians. Without question women made essential contributions to the Commune, denouncing the clergy at club gatherings, encouraging the military defense of Paris, and caring for wounded Communard fighters. The Commune further rejected high salaries for officials, while affirming the principle of having elected functionaries. The idea was that public servants would listen to citizens, who in turn would be actively involved in their government.

The ruling class denounced the Commune for challenging the regime of property, religion, social hierarchy and authority. The Communards were presented as the scum of society, ex-convicts, drunks, vagabonds and thieves, foreigners turned loose by virtue of fiendish plots organized by ‘The Internationale’. To them, the Communards were not legitimate combatants but common criminals.

From the start, France’s ruling class bombarded Paris indiscriminately, wrecking hospitals and houses. It was determined to take no prisoners. The government wanted nothing less than the execution of as many insurgent Parisians as possible. But disastrously, there was no centralized planning of the defense of the capital against the government’s 130,000 troops. Little more than two months earlier, line troops taken prisoner by the insurgents on Montmartre had been well treated. Now, thousands of Communards taken prisoner by the Versaillais were gunned down.

An anonymous Englishman recorded events. At first he backed the government, but as executions went on, the Englishman changed his tune: “It sounds like trifling for the head of state to be denouncing the Insurgents for having shot a captive officer ‘without respect for the laws of war’. The laws of war! They are mild and Christian compared with the inhuman laws of revenge under which the Versailles troops have been shooting, bayoneting, ripping up prisoners, women and children during the last six days … As far as we can recollect, there has been nothing like it in history”.

Le Figaro demanded: “Let us finish with the democratic and socialist vermin.”

Similar calls came from overseas. The New York Herald advised: “No cessation of summary judgment and summary execution … Root them out, destroy them utterly, in order to save France. Apply no mistaken humanity.”

It was clear too that the bloody repression was not only intended to destroy the Commune, but was also meant to prevent the possibility of any future revolution in France. On 31 May, [Edmond de] Goncourt concluded: “It is good that there was neither conciliation nor bargain. The solution was brutal. It was by pure force. The solution has restored confidence to the army”.

Conservative accounts accused the Communards of mass murder, estimating that 66 or perhaps 68 hostages had been killed. The Versaillais, on the other hand, summarily executed, without any real trial, as many as 17,000 people, a figure given by the official government report that followed. The municipal council paid for that number of burials after Bloody Week. But some estimates have reached as high as 35,000.” (Quoted from ‘Massacre: the life and death of the Paris Commune of 1871’, by John Merriman, Yale University Press, 2014)


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Food for an emancipatory thought


Human Rights Reader 377


Politics is not just something to be studied; it is something you either do, or let others do to you. (P. Iglesias, PODEMOS, Spain)


1.Politics is more than an object for philosophical reflection. It is more than a matter of opinion; it is more than a notion of consensus within public opinion. In its pure manifestation, politics opens radical and emancipatory possibilities especially, in the case of human rights (HR), when it forcefully affirms equity and equality. (A. Badiou)


  1. Politics that do not defend HR beyond rhetoric are more than inadequate, in good part because they are not anti-neoliberal. That is not the only problem with politics applied to HR work though: Additionally, this politics must be much more focused on appealing-to and demanding-from governments to respect, protect and fulfill the HR duties they committed-to voluntarily, as well as on using the courts to enforce legally-binding commitments. Such an approach to politics is also to direct people’s energies into writing letters, lobbying their governments and taking cases to court and to HR tribunals. Such efforts can do and do plenty of good. However, by themselves, they still do not build the kind of power needed to push governments to truly enforce HR (or violate them much less!) and do not resist actively enough existing policies harmful to HR, namely cuts to social programs and giving the green light to greenhouse gas-spewing industrial or mining projects. The kind of power needed is the power of social movements that mobilizes many thousands of people in their workplaces –and on the streets, if needed.(D. Camfield, New Socialist Webzine)


  1. So, what is needed is a politics that treats the defense of HR as part of a larger struggle, on many fronts, to resist the harm inflicted on people by neoliberal policies, as well as resist the many forms of oppression interwoven with them (sexism, patriarchy, racism, colonialism, heterosexism, the oppression of people with disabilities…) so as to ultimately transform society. Such a politics is not merely to appeal to our rulers for solutions that respect HR. Instead, it encourages us to work every day to do what we can to help build counter-power against the power of unscrupulous rulers; this is the way forward.* (D. Camfield)

*: There are no personal solutions to political problems. If personal, they contribute more to harm and to the perpetuation of the problems. (M. Roberts)


  1. So this is our challenge, as all evidence indicates that politics at the national level is no longer able to carry out its fundamental role of regulating society for the greater good of its citizens, for a harmonious, fair and just society. We face a fundamental problem of increasingly diminishing democracy, at least as it was understood up till now. The crisis of political institutions goes hand in hand with the rise of financial power, which unlike trade, has no international organization regulating it. Increasingly, the international economic and financial system has put the state in second place. What is most important, however, is that governments are losing their capacity of representing the opinion of their citizens. This calls for building social movements that fight for what people really need.** (R. Bissio)

**: As opposed to what Hegel supposedly said, I think that ideologies are the consciousness of reality, more so if they take into account the views, aspirations and claims of rights holders.


  1. If such an empowering pathway is eventually followed, are the right-wing printed and TV press (i.e., almost all of it), the conservative political parties, academics and journalists-who-declare-themselves-apolitical (but that are very much right-wing), corporate executives, foreign investors and financiers and conservative politicians about to have a nervous breakdown? (M. Waissbluth) Certainly not, because as the forces of HR get organized, so do the forces of the status-quo…: indeed a never-ending dialectical challenge.


‘Democratic processes’, more often than not, hide special-interest-candidates running for office masquerading as true defenders of human beings (…and human rights?). (R. Nader)


-From hearing our politicians speak, it seems that making and consuming more and more is what it is mostly about in life. (T. McMichael)

-The truth is that there are seven types of people: those who do not know; those who do not want to know; those who hate knowing; those who suffer for not knowing; those who pretend to know; those who succeed without knowing and those who live happy thanks to the others not knowing. The latter often correspond to politicians or even intellectuals. (Pío Baroja)


  1. For a scientist, vanity is inadmissible, because it clashes with needed self-criticism. (Max Weber) Politicians are mostly vain –and this makes them want to perpetuate themselves and makes them commit the two mortal sins of politics: lack of objectivity and lack of responsibility. (Albino Gomez)


  1. These days, near the top of every less-than-objective politician’s playbook lies the resource scarcity card. “Economic and social rights are a morally compelling aspiration, sure, but we just do not have the funds” goes the commonly used but rarely-proven litany from governments, rich and poor alike. When politicians seek to roll back on HR through scarcity-scare-mongering, as advocates, we should have the tools at hand to resist this ploy, interrogate the scarcity claim and promote, among other, fairer tax alternatives. In effect, ministries of finance still remain literally HR-free-zones, and are, so far, left unchecked by HR bodies within government and by public interest civil society organizations alike. This happens as existing HR principles and standards already demand that government politicians raise sufficient resources for the realization of HR in an equitable manner through transparent and accountable public institutions. But so many governments condone, facilitate or actively promote tax abuse, be that domestic or cross-border, indeed knowing they are in violation of their international human rights obligations. (N. Lusiani)


  1. Worse, politicians tend to encourage people to believe that ‘the system’ works and that advocates should work within ‘official channels’. They portray the problem as ‘bad governments’, or ‘governance deficit’, not as an unjust social order. This way of thinking is more often than not depoliticizing: it encourages people to think in shallow and narrow ways about what is wrong in society, and discourages them from asking questions that challenge the idea that there is no alternative to the kind of society we have now. (D. Camfield)


  1. We all know that, in elections, it is populism that wins over democratic republicanism. Why? Because a good part of the population too often depends on government subsidies and government jobs and is thus simply not motivated enough to stand behind an abstract defense of true democratic values. (A. Gomez) Moreover, politicians thrive counting on people’s distractions and short memory.***

***: Those with the power are indeed the ones that still govern us. But beware, they no longer really convince people since, as populist leaders, they make impossible promises…and people do notice that power over their social lives has become the greater part of political power. (Stuckler and Basu)


  1. Ah! and, yes, …delicate HR and other UN negotiations are ultimately in the hands of politicians-calling-themselves-diplomats. As long as public interest civil society organizations and social movements continue to follow silos and small themes, these politicians will continue to take us round and round, and the UN will continue to raise our hopes, only to bring them down through yet another distraction. (Senior UN staffer)


Socialism and human rights


  1. To me, socialism has the right HR hypotheses. All those who disagree with its hypotheses invariably resign themselves to the market economy, to a flawed parliamentary or presidential democracy –the form of state suited to capitalism– and to the ‘inevitable’ and ‘natural’ character of the most monstrous inequalities. (Alain Badiou)


  1. Actually, for Ernesto Leclau, the Argenitinian political theorist, Socialism should no longer focus on class warfare. Instead, socialists should seek to unite discontented groups –such as feminists, gay people, environmentalists, the unemployed– to work against the clearly defined enemy, namely the Establishment. One way of doing this is through a charismatic leader who leads the fight against the powerful on behalf-of and all-the-way with the underdogs. Such a New Left appeals to voters with simple, emotionally engaging language. Liberal elites may decry such tactics as populism, but this is because they are scared of ordinary people becoming involved in politics. (…so yes, elites do risk a nervous breakdown…)


  1. Bottom line: Why should claim holders be fishing for crumbs of hope in a sea of lost hopes and expectations? (A. Caliari) As HR activists, we need to organize people for a political struggle, to go from being passive actors to being HR protagonists.



Claudio Schuftan, Ho Ci Minh City



-As Mao Tse Tung reminded us, politics is just war carried out by other means.

-Politics binds discussion to decisions. It represents a link between truth and justice. (A. Badiou)

-Books are to persons what governments are to the people. Polls carried out before elections never ask those polled what book they are reading or have read… (A. Gomez)

– Is the left the university of the right? It is said that Rupert Murdoch’s youthful admiration for Karl Marx helped him master the inner workings of capitalism.


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Food for a more hidden than lost thought


Human Rights Reader 376


6[Variations on a theme by the Cuban writer Leonardo Padura, inspired, extracted (plagiarized) and paraphrased from his novel HEREJES, Coleccion Andanzas, Tusquets Editores, Barcelona, 2013]


-“Some dare not speak about human rights (HR) any longer, because the term has been prostituted by the son’a bitches that hijacked it for their own use and ‘wore it off’ ”.

Liberty and HR are not granted to you if you hide in a corner; you have to earn them!


The options/tribulations of a generation more hidden than lost; more silenced than deaf-mute


The liberties that we miss are the shames that remain and that we do not have to live with. (G. Moyano)


  1. We are here talking about potential claim holders


  • that choose to live hidden behind illusions rather than open to the overwhelming truths of a harsh reality;
  • that belie themselves so as to go through life without confronting their doubts;
  • that, being unhappy with the situation they live-in and alienated by the oppressive hierarchy they live-under, are really more self-excluded than marginalized –letting precious time be lost.
  • that live stuck due to a bad past, a difficult present and a future that eludes them;
  • that have sacrificed for endless years and, today, are suffering hunger with a pension not even sufficient to buy them a pair of shoes;
  • that, in short, are the result of a generalized loss of social combativity or eagerness to fight, the result of the exhaustion of credible paradigms and of expectations for the future –the latter running through all of society, or almost all of it…


  1. Why?
  • Because they find little in what to believe-in and to work-for for a better global future, one that has never come; the prospects for a better future fed to them are not just unreachable; they are an outright lie…become wealthy?, live in a consumers’ paradise…?
  • Because they have lost all illusion, all faith and too many of the hopes and dreams emptily promised to them for centuries on end.
  • Because, indoctrinated by the powerful (secular and religious), they have collectively lost critical judgment.

What the worse in all of this is is that something despicable is considered to be ‘normal’ for them.


  1. Regrettably, the subliminal messages of that-which-is-considered-to-be-normal imply not considering any alteration of the established order, any rupture of the status-quo or, God forbid, engaging in a decisive struggle for HR.


  1. But, at some point, these potential claim holders must become combative and rebel –basically when they can no longer continue being paralyzed by fear and cannot continue being under the spell of submission.


  1. Ultimately, it is about them becoming conscious, and convincing themselves, that there is a better option and that they can overcome their fear. For that, they do not need to become anarchists or abuse the pitifully limited liberty they enjoy: Even with the physical and moral hardships they endure, they can risk a better future, even if one of unpredictable characteristics —what is there to loose!


  1. In short, in the realm of HR, one must always question that that is taken ‘as a given’ when the same blatantly violates what is established in widely ratified HR covenants.

The conventional recording of history on the one side, and the reality on the other; or A critique of history’s intentionally manipulated fact-distorting ambiguities


When so many self-proclaimed messiahs have ended up being shrewd manipulators, the only thing that we have left is our liberty to choose.


  1. Like a veritable grinding machine, and with all its false historical idols, conventional history has relentlessly smashed the fate and silenced the voice of the have-nots –which is OK with the promoters of the status-quo. These groups consider that a re-interpretation of history from the perspective of the have-nots (the real history), does not fit with the way they see the world, i.e., with the historic reality the-way-they-conveniently-understand-it, and much less does it fit with the patriotic spirit that they purport to be defenders-of.*

*: The gap between the politico-historic discourse and reality has been forever too wide despite the fact that such a discourse should be based-on and constantly redefined by reality.


  1. Franz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth are the grandchildren of an overpowering historic farce and the children of centuries, if not millennia, of poverty-spread-around-intentionally creating human beings stripped of the possibility of believing, because they have been forever told how they have to interpret and practice their liberty and their rights.


  1. The latter is at the very base of why claim holders must be willing to direct their thoughts and their actions beyond the limited liberty provided by existing laws as applied by their drafters who also happen to be the ones that sentence the transgressors.** This has always been the challenge in human history: somebody decides what liberty is and how much of it befits those-that-power-represses and how much befits those-that-power-protects –including in lands that proclaim to be libertarian…***

**: Beware: It is not the same to make a decision than to carry out an action… (Henri Bergson, the French philosopher, used to say that there is an abyss between studying a map of Paris, learn the name of its streets, look at the pictures of its monuments and taking a 20 minutes walk through the city).

***: The extremes to which men in power can arrive at, when they proclaim themselves to be the shepherds of the collective destiny of society, are well known.


  1. Bottom line here: It is better to burn out than to fade away. (K. Cobain as cited by Padura)


If a state or a political system does not allow its citizens to enjoy and practice their human rights, it is because that state or system is a failed state or system


-The problem with the line of argument that citizens cannot enjoy and practice their HR is that it presumes that we have to live with the consequences of tyranny; that there are no circumstances when we must do what is right, not as a strategy, but simply because it is … right. (Y. Varoufakis)

-Subjugation, by definition, denotes a failure.


  1. For all members of a community, the most important value is their dignity; they should never underestimate the indeed reachable possibility of practicing and living in liberty. And this will mean that potential claim holders have to literally learn to recognize how a blind faith in the mandates supposedly conceived and implemented ‘for-their-own-good’ (…and antithetical to liberty…) can and do become a jail for what is the substance that distinguishes us as human beings, namely our intelligence and our free will. The challenge thus is not only to understand, but to interiorize the gains in liberty and in HR that living without fear brings, because one never should live subjected to humiliation; because there are values with which one is born and one ought to grow up-with to which, as the HR covenants clearly tell us, we cannot renounce no matter under how much economic and political pressures we live under.


  1. Think: Liberty, dignity and HR are the highest values for us humans. Not practicing them and living by them, when it is within the realm of the possible, is something nobody should have to go through, because absolutely nobody can block us from doing so! Renouncing to them is commensurate with a sin –a veritable offense to our humanity. But everything has a price and the price of liberty, of dignity and of HR is usually high. To aim-for and attain them, (regardless of whether there is, or whether it is said there is, space given to do so), claim holders are liable to have to go through quite a bit of hardship, because there always are duty bearers that understand liberty, dignity and HR in other ways –going to the extreme of thinking that their way is the only correct way. And, given their power, duty bearers ‘decide’ how claim holders have to practice their HR the duty bearers’ way. And that is the end of liberty, of dignity and of HR, because there is nobody to tell claim holders how to enjoy their rights.


  1. In a way, we are fortunate, because we live in the era of HR. But the word ‘liberty’ is also way discredited given the fact that, in the name of liberty, it is the same duty bearers who force claim holders to obey the laws that they have come up with often assuming that they are interpreting divine pronouncements.****

****: Each new generation is forced to respect these laws, but also has the responsibility to study and analyze them, because their texts must be (re)interpreted according to the spirit-of-the-times that are ever changing.


  1. Bottom line, it is ultimately not only worth, but rather imperative to become a militant …in the ‘tribe’ that one has chosen consciously and freely. Never forget: Little is much if HR are in it.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



-It is really not much to always ask: Silence is shameful. This is actually the way it is: Love is earned; wisdom is learned, but knowing and speaking-up is power. (J. Koenig)

-In the convoluted world of today, being an optimist can only be the result of a lack of information. (Albino Gomez)

-A quote from Rainer Maria Rilke seem appropriate here: “And now we welcome the new year; full of things that have never been.” So, no longer delay action by saying that more research is needed!

-And to close, “Quem luta nem sempre ganha, mas quem não luta sempre perde”. (If we struggle we not always win, but if we do not fight we always lose).


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Food for a pauper’s thought


Human Rights Reader 375

  1. Consider the following list of iron laws about poverty and equality as highlighted by Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights


  • Poverty and wealth are often discussed as if they have very little to do with one another.
  • Poverty is directly related to extreme inequality, especially, but not only, in relation to wealth and income distribution within countries.
  • Therefore, if the human rights (HR) framework would not address extreme inequality as one of the drivers of extreme poverty and as one of the reasons why over one quarter of humanity cannot properly enjoy HR, it would be doomed to fail.
  • Those in the upper income quintile or decile derive their income from wealth instead of from labor.
  • Social inequalities and economic inequalities may, and often do, interact with, and reinforce, one another, for instance when individuals with higher incomes or their family members have more political power or access to better education than those with lower incomes.
  • Perfect economic equality is not achievable and arguably not desirable, and there is no reason to object to a certain degree of economic inequality if it reflects differences in effort and talent.
  • The problem in many societies is that poor people start the ‘race of life’ at a disadvantage and will meet many more hurdles on their way than others.
  • Starting life at an economic disadvantage makes it much more likely that one also ends life at an economic disadvantage.
  • The ideal of equal opportunity is increasingly a myth in many countries and the decline in opportunity has gone hand in hand with growing inequality (quoting Joseph Stiglitz).
  • Laws, regulations and institutions influence and are influenced by the distribution of economic and other forms of power.
  • Economic inequalities are not only the result of market forces, but equally of political forces responsible for laws, regulations and institutions.
  • The major problem in both developing and developed countries thus is the capture of the political process by powerful groups, and the exclusion of others, leading to laws, regulations and institutions that favor the powerful.
  • The existence of a democracy and the right to participate in the political process do not guarantee equal opportunity and more equal outcomes.
  • Extreme concentration of income is incompatible with real democracy.
  • The neoliberal paradigm in the early 1980s created an extremely negative environment for unions with the abandonment of full-employment policies. Since that time, labor laws across the world have become much less union friendly, and unionizing new establishments has become harder.
  • The wage differentials between skilled and unskilled workers were reduced when unions were active. Not only does de-unionization affect wage inequality, but wage inequality also affects unionization.
  • Levels of economic inequality in many countries would be lower today if there was no discrimination.
  • Economic inequalities, especially when extreme, can also be closely linked to social unrest and conflict.
  • It is clear that the most impoverished suffer the most extreme effects of inequality for a variety of reasons. In part, this is because their influence and capacity to exercise their rights is diminished relatively, even if not absolutely, as others become wealthier and gain greater political and economic power.
  • Inequality undermines human dignity. Moreover, ultimately, extreme inequality is an assault on democracy.
  • The deeply expressed concerns about the consequences of inequality are not in fact bringing the sort of structural changes that would be required in the policies of government institutions. For the most part, the response seems to involve the tweaking of traditional policies rather than any change in the fundamental priorities underlying the work of official institutions.
  • Income distribution should become an economic, social and HR indicator used by international financial institutions and other international organizations.


  1. I know this is a lot to digest, but the key truisms about poverty are indeed in this long list.


  1. The agenda Alston proposes is:


  • Reject extreme inequality by formally and openly recognizing the fact that there are limits to the degrees of inequality.
  • Commit to reduce extreme inequality by states formally committing themselves to policies explicitly designed to reduce, if not eliminate, extreme inequality
  • Make economic, social and cultural rights central by states taking the concept of these rights seriously and giving them the needed prominence and priority equal to that of civil and political rights.
  • Ensure social protection floors by the State meeting its most basic obligations in relation to the economic, social and cultural rights of its citizens and of others.
  • Implement fiscal policies that reduce inequality by adopting and enforcing progressive taxation policies that are instrumental to achieving that aim.
  • Revitalize the equality norm by the right to equality being given greater prominence so that it is able to add substantively to the jurisprudence of international HR bodies in ways that it has thus far not.
  • Put the questions of resources and their redistribution back into the HR equation by public interest HR civil society organizations overcoming their deep reluctance to bring issues such as resources, national budgets and the need for redistributive policies into their actions and advocacy.


  1. If you have followed these Readers for some time, you will know that the action agenda that these CSOs have been advancing are more radical and more bottom-centered than the ones suggested by Alston.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



-Some top down ideas must begin at the bottom; then rise like the sun. (J. Koenig)

-Both justice and injustice share one thing: the need of authority and sometimes force to be applied. (Albino Gomez) The problem with this line of argument is that it presumes that we have to live with the consequences of tyranny; that there are no circumstances when we must do what is right, not as a strategy, but simply because it is … right. (Y. Varoufakis)

-The globalized economy has no other purpose than to serve the private interest of a very few. Greed that has so much been behind the world’s material, technical and scientific ‘progress’, paradoxically pushes us into a cloudy abyss, towards an era without history. It is thus a must to reach a planetary consensus on the needed solidarity towards the oppressed, to mobilize the big economies to create useful goods without frivolousness, goods that will uplift the poorest groups in the world. (President Mujica of Uruguay)

-Given the above, optimism these days (in our convoluted world) can only be the result of a lack of information. (A. Gomez)




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Food for revitalizing a thought


Human Rights Reader 334

  1. An examination of the history of almost any type of social movement, including human rights (HR) movements, shows that there are great spurts of action, of organization followed by periods of relatively slower growth, perhaps to be followed by new spurts, generally of a variant kind of organization in the same realm. It may well be, that the original spurt of the HR movement is at a lull right now (the SDGs only pay lip service to them!) and that a next spurt with a renewed moral* and political spirit is ‘in the air’ (A. Stinchcombe) —meaning fear and fright are being overcome

*: Within the scientific community, there has been almost a code of honor that you will never transgress the red line between pure analysis and moral issues. But we are now in times where we have to think about the moral and HR consequences of our stance towards society. (H. J. Schellnhuber) For instance, economic development, to be morally good –i.e., fair and just– must take into account people’s need for things like freedom, education, health and meaningful work: all HR attributes. Furthermore, Pope Francis rejects the belief that technology and the ‘current economic outlook’ will solve environmental problems, or “that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth.”


  1. So, what are the challenges that a renewed push will have to face? First, it will have to develop a clear, renewed vision of where it wants to go post 2015. Revitalization will require espousing convincing policy proposals that clearly express solidarity between the different segments of the population whose rights are being violated within and between countries and continents. New forms of bringing together these groups to coalesce into a veritable movement must simply be pursued. The newly established active groups of claim holders must no longer be dominated by white male leaders from the North, but by women, people of color, minorities, many of those who are subsisting through hidden, underpaid wage-labor or in otherwise precarious jobs, or live under a debt bondage –frightened. A broadened definition of these groups will necessarily lead to a drastic change in the HR movement’s operations. It will assist these groups to further their claiming and demanding interests effectively. An additional final change needed concerns changing organizational structures and cultures not only adapted to local realities, but also to the structure and culture of the growing international HR network. Probably, the best option will be a new democratic, unitary structure facilitating the inclusion of the newly joining groups in the same international network guaranteeing a democratic approach, i.e., a greater participation of the rank-and-file members. The possibilities offered by the internet are a positive contribution to a renewed structure of this kind.


  1. Moreover, and most importantly, new methods of collective action, away from fear, and especially across borders, have to be adopted. While lobbying governments and transnational organizations has to date been the principal activity of international HR activists –and efforts are made to cultivate the ‘good will’ of states– effective action requires much greater effort engaging in active measures such as boycotts, mass demonstrations, people’s tribunals, and so on (which in turn demands a substantial strengthening of the internal structures).


  1. The HR movement cannot afford to simply be a sleeping giant or a weak inter-societal federation of frightened people. The question is whether the existing international HR movement can meet the challenges outlined here. It is likely that a new spurt in our development will be a difficult process, interspersed with failed experiments and moments of crisis. For our HR movement, organizational structures and patterns of behavior have existed for over two decades and are not easily changed. But change we must –and some inklings of it can already be seen. We are aware that it is highly unlikely that new structures and patterns will be shaped through reforms from above, through the central leadership. If there is one thing that history has taught us, it is that movements, for instance trade union structures, almost never develop smoothly by means of piecemeal engineering. They are generally the outcome of conflicts and the willingness to embark in ‘risky’ experiments. Pressure from below through citizen claim holders paying attention to alternative action models will be a highly important factor in deciding the outcome. (HR Learning playing a key role here).*** What forms those pressures will take, and whether they will be sufficient to bring about major changes, no one can say yet with any certainty. The chances that a successful new push will materialize soon will depend on all of us awakening the sleepy (but not sleeping, not frightened) giant. (M. van der Linden)

***: If by citizen claim holders exerting pressure from below we mean their using the HR framework to demand their rights by bringing governments to account and, for instance, decide how tax funds are used, then, beware, we will still be far from being active in global citizenship. At he global level, way too much attention is being given to ‘multistakeholderism’ these days. The notion of ‘stakeholder’, as opposed to ‘shareholder’, was originally a way to make corporations purportedly more accountable to the people affected by their actions. But now, multistakeholder governance in the Internet, in public-private partnerships (PPPs) within the United Nations or elsewhere means that corporations are moving into taking up a role in global governance –without necessarily becoming more accountable in the process. This means less rights for citizens, not more. (R. Bissio)


Although unrelated to the above, I have to cover an important HR topic in this Reader. So here are some words on Human Rights Impact Assessments.


  1. Although other types of impact assessments, particularly health impact assessments, may also involve participation by the people likely to be affected and concerned about the inequality of the health consequences on different populations, Human Rights Impact Assessments (HRIA) are distinctive in that the principles and norms used are elaborated based on a body of existing international and domestic laws and recommendations. Therefore, what is required for the fulfillment of the rights to non-discrimination and to equality, for example, is not decided by the assessment team, but rather by bodies authorized to establish standards that apply to all levels of government and across all sectors, as well as apply to the monitoring of compliance with them. Human rights (HR) thereby provide greater coherence and stronger mechanisms of accountability than other forms of impact assessment.


  1. Human Rights Impact Assessments intend to contribute to the capacity of claim-holders to claim their rights and duty-bearers to meet their obligations. This invariably means that HR Learning for both claim-holders and duty-bearers must be part of the assessment process. HR Learning empowers claim-holders by giving them knowledge of their rights, this encouraging participation in the assessment, as well as in future HR struggles. HR Learning for duty-bearers is centered around the standards they are responsible for meeting and the processes they need to put in place to inform the public. By encouraging their participation, at the same time they are promoting equality and nondiscrimination, and are integrating accountability mechanisms into government decision-making. In this way, HRIA processes serve as a model and an opportunity for claim-holders and duty-bearers to practice HR-based governance. It is key that the people most likely to be affected are included in this process from early on, rather than simply as sources of information at more advanced steps. They must have a meaningful opportunity to influence the decisions on which alternatives, if any, are explored before adoption. HR principles and standards provide the framework for this discussion. All alternatives must be evaluated in terms of their HR impacts.


  1. The main difference here is that human rights standards are integrated into each step of the HRIA. Therefore, the initial screening requires determining the HR obligations of the State; scoping requires informing claim-holders about their HR entitlements and how the proposal under review may impact on them; data collection must thus be done in response to established HR-based indicators. In later steps, HRIA requires a HR-based analysis of the options and a HR-based justification for the policy under consideration for adoption. It is this use of the HR framework that makes the HRIA unique.


  1. Repeated recommendations of the Committee on ESCR (CESR), over several years now, urge States to employ HRIA so that HRIA must now be considered the appropriate means to make progress in realizing economic, social and cultural rights.** The Convention of the Rights f the Child (CRC) has also recommended child rights impact assessments be carried out on investments in the health sector. Human Rights Impact Assessments are clearly an aid to equitable, inclusive and sustainable policy making –and from a right-to-health perspective, are a key feature of a health system.

**: As an aside here, consider: There is nothing like ‘fundamental human rights’. This comes from the US-favored position that only civil and political rights are real or ‘fundamental rights’ while economic, social and cultural rights are ‘aspirational rights’. (U. Jonsson) There is nothing like ‘basic human rights’ either; all rights are equal, i.e., indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. Actually, over and over, we have to reaffirm the interdependence and indivisibility of civil and political (CP) rights with economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights in the context of their correct connotation, that is that both categories of rights are equally justiciable and subject to effective remedies.


  1. In sum, so far, HRIAs are necessary to determine whether a proposal is consistent with any State’s existing national and international legal obligations, including obligations for the right to health. It is also an important means of informing public debate and thereby enhancing the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs.


  1. HRIAs require: broad-based consultations with international agencies, non-profit organizations, public health or other professional associations, community-based or advocacy groups, and community leaders who can provide invaluable perspectives regarding how health policies affect human rights in their communities. Today, HRIA is widely recognized as a key tool in the HR toolkit.


  1. As part of the policymaking process, impact assessment has become a method to engage claim-holders and duty-bearers, to provide an evidence base upon which to predict the potential impacts of a variety of options, to openly debate alternatives and to select the policy option that will lead to the greatest positive impacts. This approach correlates well with the obligation of governments to progressively realize the right to health and other rights. Therefore, today the aim of a HRIA related to health is to identify the policy option that will lead to the greatest enjoyment of the right to health. HRIA is necessary for governments to know whether proposed policies conflict with their pre-existing HR obligations, including to progressively realize the right to health. Guidelines do exist.


  1. The proliferation of soft law aspects on HRIA so far has the potential, with time and further development, to turn into hard international law. There is no doubt that the entrenchment of HRIA in domestic law will be necessary before HRIA is carried out routinely as part of the policy making process. It is time for governments to routinely carry out HRIAs of proposals that have the potential to impact on the right to health and other rights, as recommended by the pertinent UN HR mechanisms. In this regard, HR Learning in more public health schools will be helpful. Finally, there is a huge need for funding to carry out HRIA. Governments can no longer claim that the right to health is too vague to implement, nor can they maintain that the methods and tools for monitoring and assessment of the right to health are not available. A wide range of methods and tools are now available for governments and NGOs to carry out HRIA, including those related to health. HRIA for healthy policy making is now a feasible endeavor at the local, national, and international levels. Moreover, HRIA is now highly recommended, perhaps even legally required, by the CESCR and the CRC, as well as the UN Special Rapporteurs on the right to education, the right to health, and the right to food. Even if not yet legally required by HR bodies or by domestic legislation, HRIA simply makes sense as it leads to improved decision-making processes, healthier policies, and greater respect for human rights. (G. MacNaughton)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City


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Food for a disparity reducing thought


Human Rights Reader 373


  1. The reduction of extreme poverty is undeniable in some regions, but the reduction worldwide remains limited.* Just consider: 75% of the world’s people today have no access to basic social protection, a key human right (HR). Are we thus talking of clearly redistributive and thus HR-relevant mechanisms being put in place? (CETIM)

*: Take, for example, increasingly popular direct transfer programs implemented the world over; they transfer modest allocations to the poorest households. True. But its members are still too often excluded from the formal job market.


  1. Let us look at China: With the opening of its markets, China has seen a spectacular growth and a reduction in poverty.** But has it seen disparity reduction? No. One cannot actually pass over the fact that this growth was planned by first eliminating extreme poverty and establishing of a ‘poverty-with-dignity’ regime (debatable from the HR perspective…!) that assured the majority of Chinese access to essential goods and services: Only building on such a base, could the adoption of market mechanisms indeed bring about the rapid economic growth realized. (As we all know, the controversy is still ongoing today though whether the long-term social and environmental effects of this growth are sustainable).

**: Mind you, the global average poverty reduction that the United Nations celebrates is almost exclusively due to China –and most of it happened before the MDGs.


  1. The MDGs are credited with reducing poverty (not disparity though) but, as aid, some of this reduction happened before the MDGs existed, i.e, before the year 2000. (R. Bissio)


  1. No, we do not yet have much to show for disparity reduction; on the contrary. Does this mean we must consider poverty reduction efforts a failure? I think yes. [Ask yourself: How less poor are people barely above the 1.25 USD/capita/day threshold?]. So, what did-the-world-do/is-the-world-doing wrong? The answer is: a lot. Do we just need to do more of the same? No. What has been wrong all along is that efforts have simply not tackled the shortcomings of how capitalism functions. Capitalism promoting the fiction of personal choice misdirects people masterfully. Capitalism has perfected the art of making things appear different from what and how they are. The liberal emphasis on personal choice hides the impact of capitalism on our social system and deflects workers and the unemployed from their common HR-linked class interests. There is simply no profit in providing social services and thus mitigating HR abuses –and the working class has not been strong and united enough to organize and forcefully demand the provision of these services and of fair employment. Just as capitalism required African slavery, it requires, to take just one example, sexism to deny social support for women’s sexual and reproductive health, for adequate maternity leave, for women’s job security after pregnancy, for higher wages; all this, to keep most women financially dependent on higher-waged men. For the majority of the working class, obedience is demanded, questioning is forbidden and defiance is punished.*** (S. Rosenthal)

***: Moreover, children present a special problem for capitalism, because children are natural scientists; they want to know “Why?” about everything. And when they do not like the answer, they keep asking “Why?” …Nothing can be more subversive.


  1. The same failure is true for the whole poverty reduction narrative. It has nothing to do with poverty or with ‘the poor’ (yak!). It is about strengthening the macro-economic and institutional reforms, and about doing away with welfare states, with public social services and with social insurance. ‘Anti-poverty’ policies (yak!) never aim to help those rendered poor in the first place. They have other objectives, such as economic programs, or achieving the ‘political legitimacy’ that make governments look good. Poverty reduction is the ‘social label’ of the Washington Consensus policies. They give neoliberal globalization a purported human face. (F. Maestrum) And after all, as this Reader has incessantly repeated, the most pressing problem is not poverty per-se, but inequality as linked to HR.




  1. The issue of wealth redistribution remains mostly untouched and thus keeps relentlessly feeding ever growing social inequalities at all levels, including in governance –since wealth buys power. The world has tried all sorts of ‘pro-poor’ policies (yak! terribly paternalistic concept!). But these cannot succeed without addressing the following crucial aspects (not an inclusive list): cross-subsidization between rich and poor people; a balancing of the use of non-renewable resources; global wealth redistribution schemes; regulation of a basically exploitative system that tramples HR; global social policies that redistribute not only access opportunities, but results; and proactive promotion and defense of HR. Targeting may be (may be!) a useful adjunct to universal policies in order to ensure equity and equality, but cannot become a substitute for overall disparity reduction measures. (Globalism and Social Policy Programme at STAKES)


  1. For the above to materialize, global, regional and national social policies are needed to secure the ‘Three Rs’ of Redistribution, Regulation and Rights that are nothing less than fundamental to the much wider social vision of HR.**** These policies should provide for:
  • systematic resource redistribution between countries and within regions and countries to enable poorer countries to meet human needs,
  • effective supranational regulation (for sure including of TNCs) to ensure that there is a social purpose in the global economy, and
  • enforceable economic, social and cultural rights that enable citizens and residents to, where necessary, seek legal redress against unjust or ineffective governments at whatever level.

****: The Three Rs are mutually dependent, each upon the others, i.e., each necessary but not sufficient.

  1. Bottom line, to secure economic, social and cultural rights in poor countries, at least resources must be redistributed between and within countries and international business activities everywhere must be effectively regulated.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



Mahatma Gandhi said that the ultimate solution for fighting poverty was not mass production, but production by the masses. We have to trust and believe in ordinary people to offer their own simple sustainable solutions. The view that the millions of families living in marginalized, neglected, poor or exploited communities and who cannot read or write, are unable to think clearly for themselves or act responsibly in their self-interest is terribly pejorative, paternalistic and derogatory. What we definitely do not need are $800/day consultants from the World Bank and international donor agencies producing voluminous unreadable reports telling developing countries the infinite advantages of Western models to ‘combat’ poverty (yak! a term borrowed from war academies?).


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Food for an indeed enforceable thought


Human Rights Reader 372


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes human rights as the most important of the four ‘pillars’ in the UN Charter, when stating: “The recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.” [The original Pillars of the United Nations are: Peace, Justice, Freedom and Human Rights.  Democracy is not mentioned in the UN Charter, although ‘freedom’ is seen as a substitute for ‘democracy’]. (U. Jonsson)


We do not need to demonize, but to democratize the SDGs process


Had you ever pondered? The human rights framework offers solutions that closest resemble the way humanity survived and operated prior to the establishment of theocratic, monarchic, colonial or oligarquic states.


  1. We cannot but look at the challenges being brought about by the sustainable development goals (SDGs) as a collection of separate morsels (goals) in a shish-kebab held together by a skewer. The mother of all challenges is the shish-kebab’s (neoliberal) skewer that holds together and binds all the morsels. Why? Because it (the skewer) has deliberately been made human rights (HR) deaf. We badly need a critical post-approval hearing about the post 2015 development agenda kebab –or perhaps that is not enough and some of its elements actually need some radical excision or graft surgery…


  1. For a long time, optimism that HR treaties could improve the lives of people coexisted with what can only be called cynicism about the willingness of countries to comply with them. In recent years, political scientists have found little evidence that countries that ratify HR treaties improve their HR performance. Instead, governments prefer to selectively complain about the HR violations in adversary or looked-down-on countries ignoring their own and their friends’ HR violations. Actually, human rights-violating countries do not admit that they violate HR and sometimes go to great lengths to conceal their violations. Sadly, international HR institutions have not been able to effectively step in, because they have been deprived of the needed legal power and have been starved of funds. (E. Posner)


  1. As a reminder, there are two essential approaches to translating international HR treaties into national law and thereby allowing individuals a recourse to invoke HR treaty provisions before national courts. This will be crucial in the SDGs era. One approach is the system of automatic incorporation where after the ratification of a HR treaty by the State, it automatically becomes part of national law. The other approach is the dualistic system in which provisions of international HR treaties only become a part of the national legal framework once they are enacted through ad-hoc national legislation. In both cases, parliaments and parliamentarians can and do have a prominent role in ensuring the application of international HR law, but they have a more active part to play in the dualistic system where further legislation must be adopted or adapted.


  1. Moreover, parliamentarians can and should be active in developing HR Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Follow-up Action Plans (UPRs are submitted by all countries every four years to pertinent UN HR bodies), as well as in advocating for a Mid-term UPR Review to better monitor the implementation of UPR bodies’ recommendations. The UPR actually provides useful entry points for parliamentarians to engage in more closely follow-up UPR recommendations.


  1. You may wonder what happens with enforcing the different categories of HR. Although enforcing civil and political rights does not carry monetary costs, it is to be noted here that there are other costs to implementing them (prominently, political costs). There are various costs involved in implementing economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) especially to effectively promote, protect and prevent their violation. As the primary actors in approving national budgets and thus shaping national priorities, parliamentarians are indeed the critical actors in ensuring that sufficient funding is provided to implement ESCR and that the recommendations of the UPR are enacted. Better late than never, in the post 2015 era, parliamentarians should thus consider the recommendations of the UPR (in addition to other pertinent comments and recommendations emanating from specific HR treaty bodies –children’s rights, women’s rights…) before passing the national budget every year. Similarly and crucially, appropriate measures and resources should be allocated and made available to raise the public awareness of HR and to ensure that HR Learning becomes a part of the regular curriculum in schools and elsewhere. Awareness-raising programs and regular training of parliamentarians and judges on the work the UN Human Rights Council and the UPR do must be absolutely supported. Parliaments can further establish permanent HR committees and sub-committees that will oversee the follow-up to the UPR recommendations.


It is man’s humanity that makes him so inhuman (Erich Fromm)


-No government has the right to hide behind national sovereignty in order to violate the human rights or fundamental freedoms of its peoples. (Kofi Annan)

-International law –including international HR law– cannot be enforced against great powers. There simply are no enforcement mechanisms. (Noam Chomsky)


  1. Apologies used by the perpetrators of HR violations include justifying these violations by distorting them or even negating them altogether and then uniting with other perpetrators far-and-near in persistently holding the same line of justifications. We have all seen (and are tired of) critics of HR using subtle apologetic nudges praising things purportedly slowly going ‘in desirable directions’. However that may be true, these purported achievements fall way short and are overshadowed by many regrettable omissions. These soft critics miss the chance to really throw weight behind key and overarching (and politically crucial) priorities and to truly frame the discussion unambiguously from a human rights-based perspective; there are no “a little pregnant” options here.*

*: Note that this is not the case of genuine progressive realization of HR plans.


  1. ‘Intentional ignorance’ and bogus apologies thus pertain to the inconvenient truth about the suffering of those whose rights are being violated, because they are deemed ‘inconvenient to be acknowledged’. Such an attitude leads to saying: “Yes, bad things happened in the past, but let us put all of that behind us and march on to a glorious future, all sharing equally in the rights and opportunities of citizenry.” Nice deception, isn’t it?**

**: Take for instance racist hatred in the US (and Europe); what do people see as some of the necessary requirements for ending it? There are many responses thrown at this question; many answers are or have been right, and some have achieved results. But racism is far from eradicated; it is not what it was not very long ago despite such efforts. It’s a long, hard road: No magic wand to address intentional ignorance. (N. Chomsky)


  1. Carrying out justice on HR issues requires not only caring, but commitment. The realization of HR in general depends on caring. Nice agreements can be adopted in United Nations meetings and governments can vocally proclaim the centrality of HR. But, if there is no commitment, no amount of these formal engagements means much. They are just promises. It is time to look inwards into the way HR work is done so as to put HR principles really to work –beyond promises.*** (G. Kent)

***: The fulfillment of basic needs generates promises; the fulfillment of HR carries correlative duties by the state.


Human rights accountability work encompasses assessing responsibility, answerability and enforceability.


  1. We must make the monitoring of HR-oriented processes and mechanisms meaningful, mandatory and not miss looking at cross-border impacts. National accountability processes presuppose a ‘conducive environment’; this invariably calls for broad public interest civil society and social movements participation. But, in reality, we know that, in many countries, public interest civil society organizations and movements are faced with diminishing resources and restricted political freedoms –a burden, but not an insurmountable one. In our search for accountability, ex-ante HR assessments of potential private sector partners must play an important role so as to flag the potential risks of undue influence that will call for extra vigilance and preemptive protective measures. (K. Donald, CESR)


We are neither right nor left, we are coming from the bottom and going for the top. (Spain’s Indignados slogan)


  1. As the late Tarzi Vittachi from UNICEF once said, the debate about the future (of the SDGs and of HR in our case) is always conveniently ‘about something else’. What has grown is the disconnect between the perception of many about HR and the world that we want to change. The disasters created by neoliberal globalization are now evident for everybody to see. The loss of legitimacy of the political system is deeper every day. The inability of the system to resolve even problems for the survival of the planet, like climate change, have become common knowledge. The unprecedented growth of social injustice is now even denounced by international organizations like the IMF and the World Bank. However, on all those issues, these organizations do not take any proactive position. Can anybody remain frozen in their vision of what HR work must be, if they/we do not relate it to what is happening in the real world out there? HR activists are just facilitators who only help us taking strong positions; they propose a vision and now, more and more, propose concrete plans of action. We cannot allow activists and just a handful of the converted to meet, debate among themselves and act by themselves. If the debate is left to activists and some representatives of selected organizations alone, the level of combativity will go on the decline. We have to further ask: Can those whose rights are being violated free themselves using the same instruments as the violators? Are we (and them) wrongly adopting the verticality that characterizes the ills of the violators’ political system? Horizontality is very difficult; true. But that is where we must go. We thus need to start acting by taking strong positions on global issues. Are participants in the post 2105 debate ready to adopt the needed mechanisms of organization and action, albeit limited at the beginning? I do not know about you, but I am ready. As said, international law –including international HR law– cannot be enforced against great powers. There are no enforcement mechanisms. A counter-power has to emerge… (N. Chomsky)


  1. So, activists must ready themselves to accept this, i.e., to fight the system, proposing some kind of counter-system and acting-upon it. Food for thought for you here. Without that clear decision, everything will always be ‘about something else’, and we will continue debating issues that are not really central. (R. Savio)


  1. It is participatory monitoring that will eventually lead to new commitments about what requires corrective action. Why? Because it makes the HR movement ultimately answerable to the people and communities whose lives are affected; it fosters the ‘leave-no-one-behind’ principle. Participatory monitoring is, therefore, not an optional add-on in our work. (CESR)


  1. In recent years, governments around the world have been implementing policies across sectors that impact negatively on the realization of economic, social and cultural rights. These retrogressive measures include, for example, privatization of the provision of public goods, unequal revenue raising and austerity measures. Plenty to monitor here! Government laws and regulations across policy areas negatively affect the realization (or the retrogression) of these rights. Sometimes the influence of policies on HR is direct and at other times it is indirect –there is always an impact though. But, on the other hand, we are witnessing a new era. Recent jurisprudence on economic, social and cultural rights demonstrates the willingness of some courts to decide individual and collective claims of violations and in some instances to require structural remedies to redress mass violations. More to monitor here…


From aspirational to operational


– People must be able actually to do or be, rather than be what they are prevented by others from doing or being. (Amartya Sen)

-Only a world movement will bring human rights to the world. The best of words can keep us going, but… (C. Mokhiber and S. Koenig)

-Revolutionizing our HR work will only succeed when you realize it starts with you. (R. Popovic) There is no alternative unless we come up with a better one.


  1. It is fair to note that many national and international civil society organizations are still searching for a new HR-based institutional path which will allow for continuous true popular participation –without delegating decision-making space to anybody else. They continue to search and the search will go on until genuine citizens movements find the power and the right pathways and structures to enable them to add HR contents and to impinge on the legislative process in each country. Without this happening, the negotiating capacity for a better world in pertinent political institutions is severely limited. (R. Bissio) In short, the public policy space needs to respond to claim holders. (Stop this nonsense of rather saying: “must respond to stakeholders”).


  1. Therefore, the challenge that remains for HR work is organizing and mobilizing claim holders to demand states bridge the gap between the sphere of international legally binding obligations on HR and concrete actions on the ground.


  1. Bottom line, we need to be bold and find the courage to speak up among friends, colleagues and claim holder, as well as duty bearers groups on vital public matters especially on HR. This will require fighting against all kinds of falsehoods and lack of transparency. Ultimately, it is claim holders who need to appreciate their individual and collective power. The only choice we do not have is pondering whether we ought to change the world; it turns out that every act we do carry out, or don’t, changes the world. (F.M. Lappe)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



I see many colleagues trying to introduce yet another right, the right of the commons which is to substitute the right to property by the right of use and the right of free access. They argue that the commons is the result of a social process of democracy and solidarity by civil society organizations that try to organize society in a different way. For them, it is not about opposing the commons and public services, but rather to build on the achievements of public services and to democratize their management and their orientation. Their ultimate aim is to change the right of property by the right of the commons, thereby creating a ‘commons based alternative’. (WSF TUNIS 2015) I remain yet unconvinced of how this supersedes or improves on applying the HR framework.

Social Medicine and Human Rights in Health Professional Training

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All are welcome to join for upcoming workshop at the University of Chicago on teaching social medicine & human rights in medical education.   This workshop is in preparation for a larger event at the University of Minnesota on teaching social medicine that will take place April 28-30th, 2015.

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