Add a comment

Food for an ignorant’s thought


Human Rights Reader 362


In some agencies, selectivity and hypocrisy surround human rights. (I. Saiz)


  1. Human rights language in the successive post 2015 development agenda drafts still fails to move beyond aspirations and to address the real global determinants of underdevelopment with its human rights violations*: There is a tendency there to address human rights (HR) in purely aspirational terms (which objectives, which indicators, etc.). While these are important, the discussion at this level sometimes becomes a smokescreen to avoid addressing the fundamental above-mentioned global determinants, the ones that hinder strong local and sovereign expression of claim holders’ grievances. A critical shift of the conversation is needed at this level rather than the purely aspirational one being used. (S. Prato)

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


  1. Moreover, besides high-flying rhetoric, the post 2015 agenda continues to be an agenda that pretends to regulate and prescribe for the local much more than for the global. As soon as one gets close to the big elephants of the global agenda (international HR law, trade, finance, the environment and migration), a hierarchy is immediately invoked to suggest that the HR agenda cannot enter those domains as they are addressed elsewhere in existing on-going processes. I believe this needs to be challenged. If the international community is serious in pursuing the ambitious objectives it is currently discussing, there needs to be a strong call for a clear change of locus cum-accountability-demands in the post 2015 agenda. (S. Prato)


  1. On the other hand, HR have provided a common language to peasants’ and small-scale farmers’ organizations and movements, as well as other that are politically, culturally, and ideologically committed to HR on an increasing scale. (P. Clayes)


Human rights are at the heart of the emancipation of those denied dignity. (adapted from R. Luxemburg)


  1. It is impossible to defend social rights in general if workers rights are not respected. Neoliberal policies constantly produce more poverty –precisely because workers’ rights are not respected. This is why, ‘at-the-end-of-the-pipeline’, social assistance cannot solve all the problems when there are limitations to social rights. Looking at it the other way around: workers rights cannot be defended if the rights of poor people are not respected. With growing poverty and poor people willing to accept any job at any wage (Marx’s Lumpenproletariat), if there is no decent social assistance, workers’ rights are directly undermined. This means that social rights, in general, and workers rights, in particular, have to be combined and be promoted and defended together in a comprehensive way. Separating the rights of poor people from workers’ rights is precisely what neoliberalism wants. There is a neoliberal willingness to ‘help the poor’ (that is the ‘deserving poor’, those able and willing to work). But, at the same time, the aim is to disregard workers’ rights and definitely weaken trade unions. What progressive forces have to work-at is a platform to fight the fragmentation of HR. In the end, by necessity, we have to fight together to re-dynamize and re-politicize our societies, away from neoliberalism. (F. Mestrum)


  1. As this Reader has often said, all too often, economic ‘freedom’ boils down to the ‘freedom’ of business interests to trample on the weak in the name of greater profits, or, conversely, the ‘freedom’ of a worker to sell his or her labor for less than a subsistence wage.** Many on the left have rightly turned to HR as a way of articulating claims for social justice and equality. (S.Wilson)

**: Think of it: freedom of choice is a bourgeois prejudice. Think further: Freedom of expression: What good is it if the other does not listen? (A. Gomez)


  1. The political left’s greatest contribution to the theory of HR is this: if political rights are to be worth anything, they entail recognition of the means necessary to exercise them. It clearly requires the redistribution of wealth and of economic power to the extent necessary to ensure that everyone has more or less equal access to the means of self-realization and ultimately of dignity. Ergo, redistribution (disparity reduction) does matter to HR. But existing laws are too weak or too compromised to deliver any meaningful form of change in the direction of social rights and redistribution. It is no good asking an elite judge, through elite lawyers, to do something truly egalitarian. His (and it is still usually his and not her) class and other social prejudices do interfere. This is why even narrow legal victories can help catalyze positive social, labor and HR changes. The corollary is that, if legal decisions are not the subject of popular political mobilization and follow-up action, they will wither and die. Once they are upheld through active mobilization, they can create opportunities for truly transformative political action. It is not necessary to be legally recognized in unions or other social movements to have political force! Indeed, leaving HR only to lawyers and courts forgoes much of their potential. To make a HR claim is to expand the bounds of the legally and politically possible. It is often also to challenge those in power to make good on their political promises, let alone commitments, and/or to expose the contradictions in those commitments. (S.Wilson)


  1. Speaking about power, from their origins, philosophy and HR are disciplines that cannot function by paying obedience to power. Sustaining the existing order and not criticizing what exists is tantamount to a negation of HR. (A. Badiou)


  1. So, HR cannot thus be negated. They are the defining issue of our age so that, to be really effective, HR work must be carried out on a global scale, and it must be radical in the exact sense of the word, i.e., it must go to the roots of the matter. (G. Cannon) Human rights are perhaps our greatest collective problem demanding collective, global action the likes of which humanity has never actually accomplished. Therefore, what is needed in HR work falls in the realm of big politics; it is not about better administering what we have, but to rebuild what has been and is mismanaged –starting from what has never been respected. (A. Posse) Key, then, is to address the failed governance that is responsible for so many HR violations.***

***: Note for accuracy: States violate ratified HR; other powerful actors, like TNCs, ‘abuse’ HR.


The emerging human rights paradigm: There are no nations! There is only humanity. (Isaac Asimov)


Human rights are meant to hold fast to that which is good, and to identify and alter what is bad; they require universal awareness so that a majority pays attention to what is right and what is wrong. (Therein lies the challenge of the needed massive HR learning). The over-riding responsibility of HR is to work towards passing-on to present and future generations an improved quality of human life in society. (G. Cannon)


  1. The wealth of HR cannot be measured the way we measure the value of goods or the balance in our checking account. Its value is in the qualitative realm and in the territory of the many divergencies about what humanity and human values are or are not. If there is consensus, it is that the respect for others is a positive dimension in life, an inherent wealth, a common good, a part of the movement of change towards another paradigm. (L. Weinstein)


  1. The rapidly emerging social movements like feminism, ecologism, indigenism, pacifism, ecumenism and holistic medicine increasingly value and apply HR and popular education, they validate direct democracy and they struggle non-violently. These new, in good part, spiritual streams are all part of an emerging culture that in some way questions the ruling and dominant paradigm, as well as announces a new possible post-crisis society that upholds human needs, human rights and human capabilities. These are all spaces of hope. (L. Weinstein) [The latter, Despite the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi tells us: “I do not ‘hope’. I work hard to get where we need to get with our movement.”].


  1. In the sense Thomas Kuhn gave them, these movements are spontaneous manifestations already operating outside the dominant paradigm anticipating and showcasing the emergence of the new basic, holistic integrated, cultural and political paradigm. The prevailing development model proposes to us ‘doing’ over ‘being’; individuality over an integrated vision of human beings in nature.**** The prevailing power is rightly seen as one of domination, of using pressure and force, authority and seduction; its mood is one of control, of instrumentalizing, of neutralizing (of distancing us from one another). We end up living with a fake certainty, avoiding to seriously questioning our many doubts, our ambiguities, our ambivalences and our contradictions. (L. Weinstein)

****: Caring for your fellow human beings is a mood to fit into your own nature, not one to be used to fit-in with the nature of the rest of the people. Caring must be seen as ethics and as part of our human rights culture. (L. Boff)


  1. The alternative path to be used by the-new-way-of-being-political is to use the new spaces these emerging movements (pacifists, feminists, HR… and all the above) are opening to launch the new ‘concrete utopia’ being forged. In this context, HR activists are here to remind us of our identity as human beings, of our species in relation to others in the planet, of our infinite diversity; these activists are pushing the possible and the necessary, they are going to the roots, encouraging a new needed political thrust. Yes, they represent a new form of doing politics. (L.Weinstein)


  1. More and more, social movements, public interest civil society organizations and human rights organizations are not accepting that the lives of their members, their dignity and their struggles, be fragmented. Representing their people, they do not want to see their rights reduced by unacceptable policies that only offer unacceptable minima commensurate with charity. People are no longer willing to exchange their self-determination for safety nets, their territories for meager cash transfers that carry conditionalities, and their healthy and culturally adequate meals, eaten in family and/or in community for ‘ultra-processed micronutrient-enriched’ products or genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). People further reject the public space being governed by private corporate interests. (F. Valente)


  1. So, to recap: The overall principles that guide HR are ethical in nature*****. They are concerned with our humanity and the values of human conduct; not with description, but with judgment; not with ‘is’, but with ‘should be’. Ethical issues are ‘transcendent’ and so are HR issues. They may be well grounded in evidence, but by nature, they are above and beyond experiment. Ethical questions are usually not addressed by the exact sciences but, in reality, scientists cannot justify or sustain a value-free attitude. (G. Cannon)

*****: HR may be elusive, but they unavoidably challenge many right and wrong assumptions; HR thrive best when actually practiced.


  1. All this leads me to say something about science: The widely-held view of science as a set of specialized, highly technical methods for revealing ‘the truth’ about the natural and the social world is a major obstacle to HR. Modern reductionistic science, now entrenched in the heartland of Western culture, makes it harder for us to imagine with humility and awe how we as humans are interdependent among ourselves and with nature. The task we face in HR work ranges well beyond the classical and supposedly secure scientific paradigm of data collection and data analysis. Classical rigor may be appropriate enough if we are carrying out research to find out how the world and societies work normally. Scientists have been doing that for many years. But when the research question is more urgent, when the world has stopped working normally, and the repercussions are flagrant HR violations, then, step-by-step empirical hypothesis-testing rigor may be an unaffordable luxury, i.e., number-crunching has its place, but as a servant! Directly grasping the context and the views from those affected, in our case by HR violations, is essential. Decisions and actions in the public interest depend on circumstances, and must be guided by down-to-earth judgments. The task is to find the relevant evidence that is most likely to be of value (as directly felt by claim holders) to take remedial actions that literally impose fairness and compensation. (adapted from T. McMichael and G. Cannon)


The UN and its three pillars


  1. Human rights are regularly described as one of the three pillars of the United Nations (along with development and peace and security). That makes for a short pillar and a badly aligned roof. UN member states should make sure that, as one of its core and mandated activities, HR are properly funded. Human Rights cannot be promoted and protected on a mere voluntary basis. Voluntary, and particularly earmarked contributions are often not the solution, but rather part of the problem. Earmarking funds –as we see when funds come from public-private-partnerships– tends to turn UN agencies, funds and programs into contractors for bilateral or public-private projects that erode the multilateral character of the system and undermines democratic governance. Member states simply must revert their austerity policy towards the United Nations and increase their contributions!******

******: Actually, governments treat the United Nations like firefighters. They call them to put out a fire, but do not give them the water to do so and then blame the firefighters for what is their failure. (J. Martens and R. Pomi)


  1. Furthermore, voluntary guidelines, (too) often promoted and trusted (too much) by UN agencies, are unfortunately only as powerful as the General Comments adopted by the Committee on ESCR. Being non-binding, they are less frequently used by those they call upon to act. At the eleventh hour, signatories find them ‘over-prescriptive’. (O. de Schutter) So, then, what…?


  1. Human rights are indeed not voluntary. Their progressive realization means that it is not acceptable for a UN member states to remain passive. No single part of government can avoid being called to account for failing to take the measures it is expected to take. Therefore, independent monitoring by public interest civil society organizations must result in sanctions associated with non-compliance for the processes and timelines that have been set or not been set for a progressive realization.*******

*******: We all know there are major actors who are able to block change as a result of the dominant position they have acquired in the political system. The democratization of the HR discourse thus is a necessary condition to affect change. To exercise democracy, people need to own the systems on which they depend –and for that, those systems need to be radically and democratically redesigned. (O. de Schutter) Yet another renewed call for massive HR learning here.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City




Add a comment

Food for a here-is-why thought


Human Rights Reader 361

The realization of human rights is a prerequisite for the achievement of the other three.


  1. The application of the human rights-based framework must be seen in the larger UN perspective. In order to fully understand and appreciate the potentially powerful role of human rights (HR), the relationships between HR and the other ‘pillars’ of the United Nations (peace, justice and democracy) need to be understood. The relationship between justice and human rights is of particular importance. Two things must be recognized: (i) the centrality of applying and integrating justice and HR in development policy, and (ii) the need to include democratic development and respect for HR as indispensable to achieve sustainable development at all levels.


  1. A careful reading of the United Nations Charter helps us understanding the relationships among these universal aspirations. The UN Charter is actually based on the ‘four pillars’ of Peace, Justice, Freedom (Democracy) and Human Rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights further explains that HR form the foundation for the other three:


“The recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.”


  1. This suggests that the realization of HR is a prerequisite for the achievement of the other three and what this means is that the Human Rights-Based Approach to Development (HRBA) represents the broadest and most fundamental development strategy.


So, if it is a prerequisite, what does it entail?: A recapitulation for latecomers (U. Jonsson)


  1. Any specific issue affecting human beings is a right only if it has been codified in an International Human Rights Treaty (Covenant or Convention). This means that all human beings have such a right –they are right-holders. If a country (State Party) has ratified that treaty, individuals move from being just right-holders to being claim-holders with valid claims on others who then become the correlative duty-bearers. This forms a ‘claim-duty pattern’ in society in which the State most often is the ultimate duty-bearer. Increasingly though, ‘non-state duty-bearers’ are being recognized.


  1. A Human Rights Standard represents a desirable goal or an outcome of the realization of a specific HR. These standards are codified in HR treaties, for example the rights to health, to education, to food, to adequate housing, etc. There are many different ways of achieving a desirable outcome, or more precisely, there are different processes that can be used to reach a certain outcome. In the Human Rights-Based Framework the processes should meet the criteria of Human Rights Principles (i.e., universality and inalienability, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness, equality* and non-discrimination, participation and inclusion, and accountability and rule of law).

*: A common misuse of equity and equality interchangeably, originally introduced by the World Bank, who defined equity as equal opportunities, forgetting that equality of opportunity does not automatically result in equality of results. A high degree of equality of opportunity may be desirable, but is seldom a sufficient condition for equality of results! (See HR Readers 228, 285, 289 and 307-308).


  1. The United Nations HR work focuses on the development of the capacities of duty-bearers to meet their obligations and/or of rights-holders to claim their rights. Any HR work must focus on the Progressive Realization of HR [which includes setting (annual) benchmarks that will show processes have (progressively) been set in motion, all pointing towards the full realization of that right]. While most development approaches focus on outcomes only, in the HR-based framework ‘development’ is understood as processes that lead to outcomes. This facilitates both the identification of priority actions and is helpful in monitoring. It must be noted that the HR relationship between claim-holders and a duty-bearers, more often than not, reflects unequal power relations.


Human Rights Approaches to Development: Action or no action (U. Jonsson)


  1. Consider five scenarios:

(i) There is a lack of any significant reference to human rights, i.e., no significant or explicit reference is made to HR, or it is assumed that HR that are not codified in national law are not ‘real human rights’.

(ii) Misuse of human rights, i.e., HR are misused by using normative ‘human rights-like’ positions that are not recognized as part of International Human Rights Law thus not being real HR; for example, ‘youth rights’ and some parts of ‘property rights’.

(iii) Rhetorical repackaging, i.e., a desire to refer to HR is in these cases expressed, but without any serious effort to ‘integrate’ HR or taking a truly serious ‘HR perspective’. The reason of this is often a desire to show a ‘high moral ground’ by referring to HR, and the incorporation of HR terminology into an otherwise traditional development discourse without any significant discussion of its operationalization.

(iv) Human rights as a cross-cutting issue, i.e., although the term has been used by many agencies, no agency has so far managed to define ‘cross-cutting’ HR work in clear operational terms –which in many cases has just reflected a ‘high moral ground’ approach (see iii above)

(v) Human rights mainstreaming, i.e., here the aim is to ensure that HR are ‘integrated’ into all sectors/aspects of existing development interventions (e.g., water, education, etc.). ‘Mainstreaming’ and ‘integrating’ are often used interchangeably, although very seldom clearly defined.


  1. As understood today, sustainable development, and the realization of HR are, to a large extent, dialectically related. Neither sustainable development, nor the realization of HR can be fully understood or achieved without an understanding and achievement of the other one. Three of the four components of sustainable development primarily reflect specific groups of HR: Sustainable Social Development (social and cultural rights); Sustainable Economic Development (economic rights); and Sustainable Political Development (political rights), while Sustainable Environmental Development does not yet have a clear group of ‘environmental rights’, although some rights in the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights do relate to the environment.


  1. Bottom line, the realization of human rights is a pre-condition for the achievement of democracy, freedom, justice, sustainable development and peace in the world –and here we explored why this is so… [How badly this needs to be remembered in the final stages of the negotiations of the Post 2015 Development Agenda…].


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City




Soliloquy: We cannot but face the apparent contradictions maliciously planted to oppose the HR discourse. It sometimes looks so uphill a battle to me to fight… but not doing so means giving up, which I won’t. We simply have to crack the apparent (and the real) paradoxes. For that, sometimes we have to get into more complex topics, topics that go deeper into the human identity and into what I would say is the current crisis of human evolution. I have variously brainstormed on this but, over and over, I see no other way out than that of concerted political action. Our world today is beyond existential doubts and philosophizing. Our needs are more immediate, urgent and concrete. We have to break with conventionalities, think and act out-of-the-box; we have to avoid falling into rhetoric and empty pronouncements; perhaps accept that the old school of ‘theory and practice united will never be defeated’ may have its limitations. The question is whether new approaches will get more traction with the common people. For the vast majority of the haves, who have the power to change things, reasoning-in-a-planetary-sense has stopped being a preoccupation, much less a practice –not even in their most sublime moments. So what else than to dislodge them from their positions of power? I will be glad to consider other promising alternatives… To be radical in HR implies integrating radical analysis and/with radical action. This is the way many of us see it. But can this view be passed on to claim holders and duty bearers? These Readers think so, not moralizing but focusing on the “we have to” and “what is it that we are doing (or not doing)?” …and “to what avail?” (apparently, so far, to not so much avail…). Much to be done. (adapted from L. Weinstein)



Add a comment

Food for a central political thought


Human Rights Reader 360


The centrality of politics


  1. Do politics matter? We should realize that if the answer to this important question is no, then we –those living in so-called democratic societies–are in deep trouble. Why? Because we know that democracy does not work under primarily technocratic regimes. Do note that the evidence shows that the answer to the question above is a strong YES: politics do indeed matter. Political parties, for example, do shape outcomes –although not always in the direction we would expect or like them to, e.g., having human rights (HR) considerations at the forefront… (V. Navarro). What this Reader has been saying repeatedly is that people need to conquer the right to fight for their rights* –and this is only possible in democracy. (F. Mestrum)

*: Independently of how powerful economic, political or even military institutions are, they persist because they are legitimized and that legitimation rests on the acquiescence of people. But people can legitimize and delegitimize! One of the characteristics of legitimacy is the power of people to change its precepts. History has certainly been a witness. (W. Herman) We are all what we remember, but also what we choose to forget and those of us who do not protest are insensitive to the inequalities in this world. (Albino Gomez)


  1. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. (F. Douglas) Take, for instance, patriarchal power. It is embedded in political power and is inimically opposed to dialogue. It places all types of obstacles to dialogue. Patriarchal politicians pass judgment and give explanations as if they were the sole truth. (J. Monsalvo) Greed, hunger for power and patriarchy are congruent desires. (P. Simonetti)
  2. The belief that it is possible to solve political problems as if they were engineering problems, with rational planning, is a tragic fallacy. Technocrats, politicians and ideologues have abstract technical knowledge and think that that is all there is. Their prefabricated plans come apart, because they simplify reality and do not understand how society works and, importantly, what the rest of the people know intuitively. (M. Oakeshott)


  1. This is why more of us have to start using honest and punching political language to address the so many current political processes going the wrong way. Capitalism itself is one such exploit. Neoliberal dogma has made honest political terms into dirty words (think equality, disparity reduction, HR….). Capitalism is not a dirty word. It is a dirty system.  Ergo, we must use honest and simple political language with people to explain political processes and systems to then take effective political action. No wonder we cannot mobilize ‘the people’ when discussions are unintelligible to most claim holders; the point is they do not have to be unintelligible. Not surprisingly, when politics is explained truthfully, it is perfectly understandable to the vast majority of the population.(A. Katz)


It is not a lack of political will, but rather the accumulation of a political will by the powerful to oppose or stall the implementation of progressive policies that tackle human rights abuses


-Power is omnipresent, but really only shows when there is the will to use it. (paraphrasing Nietzche)

-All we need is political will, but political will is a renewable resource. (Al Gore)


  1. You are all aware of the classical contradiction between powerful trade regimes and the relatively weak HR regime. When we hear calls for coherence and greater commitment among development actors, it is not clear ‘coherence’ in whose interest? Greater coherence can indeed erode HR accountability by coalescing actors who are party to unfair trade agreements and aggressively impose their financial interests and capture public spaces –in practice working against HR and against greater equality.**

**: Inequality is best understood as a proxy for how effectively an elite has constructed institutions that extract value from the rest of society. (W. Hutton)


  1. Given the unilateralism imposed by the powerful, “We, the People…” has taken-on a new urgency (A. Fazal), and to respond to this urgency, claim holders need to say no to the fatal flaws of neoliberalism that we witness day-in-day-out informed by the unfair ethics of the market. This is an ethics in which a minority makes most of the profits against the majority literally giving their lives. In other words, those who cannot compete, die. This is a perverse ethics that, in fact, is devoid of ethics.*** (P. Freire)

***: Since when has economics been making itself a moral science? (R. Savio) In the trenches of the opposition, we argue with high morals while those in power use the logic of the market.


Political will is not owned by politicians


-The problem in our world is that fanatics are always sure of themselves while our intellectuals and politicians are always full of doubts. (Bertrand Russell)

-Heads of government all know what to do; they just don’t know how to get re-elected if and when they do it. (J. C. Juncker)


  1. We are ruled by a class of politicians who know only how to dismantle and starve public institutions just when these most need to be fortified and re-imagined. Theirs is a culture of the perpetual present, one that deliberately severs itself from the past that is responsible for what we are, as well as from the future they are not shaping with their actions. (Naomi Klein)


  1. It is fitting to remind ourselves of the term ‘doublethink’ coined by the novelist George Orwell. He defined doublethink as “To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies****… to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it…

****: Is it right for politicians to sell their soul in order to acquire power, a power they then use only to purportedly ‘serve the poor’? No, indeed not. (D. Brooks) On the other hand, when politicians strive so hard as to be feared, it takes no time for them to be hated. (Montesquieu)


  1. We have to vehemently combat the dirty tactics of flimsy politicians such as the one that says: “If there is misery, hunger, corruption, poor health and worse education… don’t let it show!” (A. Grande)


  1. So, indeed, political will is not ‘owned’ by politicians who usually act only in response to consistent and compelling pressures. For HR activists exerting such a pressure, ‘acting’ means more than thinking, more than writing and/or speaking. It means getting involved in direct action, political action that is often irrevocable, which always involves danger and risk, and changes the lives of those who commit themselves.


  1. Gandhi’s choice of campaigns was always inspired by knowing what would touch ordinary people in their everyday lives, what would raise their consciousness and thus make them active citizens. In HR affairs there come times when direct action is justified, and where failure to act is wrong. So, has the point now been reached when direct action is needed to improve the state of, for example, public health and nutrition throughout the world? We are thus talking about taking actions in the public interest. In these matters, scientists need to step down from their ivory towers to now become citizens and political activists as well. The HR field is a good place to get them started… All those with special knowledge-of and interest-in their respective field now need to denounce what is happening, nationally and globally, in clear and strong terms, again and again. Being polite and writing notes of concern (or buying a page full of signatures in the New York Times) does not work. All concerted responses that fall short of direct action, and that overlook the need for laws and regulations that protect the public interest, never work. (G. Cannon) But beware: In the eyes of those who hold the power, protests can be as rowdy as they want –as long as they remain ineffective. (B. Moore)


  1. States are still the dominant actors, but public interest civil society organizations and social movements are increasingly involved in shaping the global agenda, in defining new rules, and in monitoring compliance with international HR obligations. (S. Patrick) Only a united global social movement will force nations to acting in the interest of humanity and of the planet. Herein lies the role of the global HR movement.


Claudio Schuftan Ho Chi Minh City




-Issuing ‘global report cards’ on corporations and on governments naming and shaming their actions adds to the pressure good popular organization can bring about.

-In people’s politics, sticking to positions is not negotiating. There are many many members of public interest civil society organizations and social movements that over-and-over witness how many rich countries stick to their short-term, self-interested positions as they negotiate rather than being flexible when facing humanity’s greatest ever challenges. Over the last 20 years plus, international high level negotiations have sadly become instances of ‘business as usual’ and this trend seems to me is set to continue for another 20 years. The North/South divide in global summits is, by now, a classic. Only a united global social movement will force nations to acting in the interest of humanity and of the planet. Herein lies the role of the global HR movement. (Repeated on purpose).

-The Economist once said: “Of all the ills that kill the poor, none is as central as bad governance”. To this add: The mother of all failures is a governance failure. (A. Fazal) Rulers are what some call ‘macro-responsible’.

-The principles of what is needed in global governance can be summarized into The 3 Rs: redistribution, regulation and rights. I would add social justice and equality.

-What passes for governance in so many countries is thus an ungainly patchwork of formal and informal institutions. (How often would we like to say: This is not policy. This is insanity!).

-This is why governance must be HR centered, participatory, transparent, equitable, guaranteeing access to justice and to the rule of law; it must fight against corruption and, above all, be accountable.




Add a comment

Food for an unfortunately powerless thought


Human Rights Reader 359



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


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


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


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


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


The food sovereignty can of worms


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



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


Ebola in Liberia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Add a comment

Food for a dubious humanitarian thought

Human Rights Reader 358


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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City




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

-The only free cheese is in the mousetrap.

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

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

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



Add a comment

Food for a godlike thought?


Human Rights Reader 357


Food for thought for those who doubt


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

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


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

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

  1. Faith-based action for those who believe


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


  1. Not surprisingly true


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


  1. Sadly true


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



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

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


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City




-Atheism is a non-prophet organization.

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

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

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

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



Add a comment

Food for a borderless thought


Human Rights Reader 356

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

A lot more for us to do still.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



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


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

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



Add a comment

Food for an exhausted thought


Human Rights Reader 355


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

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


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

(W. Podmore)

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


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

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


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


Neoliberalism is but a moment in the history of capitalism


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Claudio Schuftan, Ho ChiMinh City




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

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


SocMed Uganda – Health Worker Campaign

Add a comment

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

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

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

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