December 8th, 2013 by Matthew Anderson
A colleague, Neal Arya a family physician at McMaster University, shared with us information about a conference on Peace, Global Health and Sustainability to be held in Toronto from May 2 to May 4, 2014. The conference seeks to bring together individuals from multiple disciplines to address the problem of poor health in the world.
The conference is being organized by Canadian Physicians for Research and Education in Peace (C-PREP), an organization created in 2012. It is associated with Physicians for Global Survival (PGS), the Canadian wing of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW).
Global health is one of three core themes addressed by the organizers of the conference; the others are Peace, Global Health and Sustainabilty (hence Pegasus). A previous conference – Transcending Borders – was held in 2012.
The conference program is available at this link: http://www.pegasusconference.ca/programme/
Posted by Matt Anderson
December 1st, 2013 by Claudio Schuftan
Food for a misleading historic thought
Human Rights Reader 329
-History too often dictates that atrocities are acceptable; this is a deadly premise. (J. Koenig)
-L’histoire est un voyage et pas une destination!
-For Marx, history repeats itself first as a tragedy, then as a farce. But Marcuse rebutted that sometimes the farce can be more frightening than the original tragedy.
A devil’s advocate account: The forgotten byways of human rights history.
-History does not just ‘occur’; it is often marked by a neglectful failure to remember. (M. Tamayo)
-The one who does not remember history is bound
to live through it again. (George Santayana; as
posted in Auschwitz)
1. History should build on a thoughtful understanding of the past and the present. But, to me, the history of development explores the pointless extensions of the dominant paradigm. If we are prepared to reinterpret it, it serves us with a good lesson, namely that eradicating poverty will be impossible without addressing the inequalities and the pervasive human rights (HR) violations that are pressing at the seams of our social fabric. Time and again, history allows to explain-away the bad times the losers endure in the uneven power struggle equation. In this regard, history is rife with controversies. This is not to say that history lacks coherent arguments; the question is discerning which of the arguments made are in-coherent.
2. They say that history is written by the winners. Is this a cynical perspective? How often untrue? If true, does this mean historians claim the moral high ground? If yes, what ground is that? * Be it as it may, readers of history prefer to read a history where the winners can claim virtue –even in defeat or even when history has resulted in outright exploitation and marginalization. (L. Padura)
*: Historians have too often taken for granted interpretations of their own making and, then, what they write is assumed to become the common property/knowledge of the whole world. Each new insight they share with us builds on the last. History thus rises like a building –brick by brick. But the history of ideology and of oppression is not always so neat. As often recounted by historians, it fails to follow a standard logic; it rather rehashes old ideas and historic interpretations. Many pieces of the historic puzzle have actually been seen falling into place before …and have then been forgotten. The way history spreads is as important as the way it originates. Each historian has a private constellation of intellectual parents, i.e., his/her own picture of the landscape –and each picture is limited in its own way. Does this mean historians are biased by the customs of their discipline? Probably. Mind you: No committee pushes history …a handful of individuals do it, and do so by interjecting their individual perceptions and individual goals. Historical consensus involves a certain element of revisionism although no two historians understand history the same way. A rather narrow vision has helped keep history moving so that issues of human rights fall through the cracks. Why?, because historians classically refuse to endorse ‘unorthodox interpretations of history’. They simply play the role that their discipline prescribes for them. Consciously or not, historians stand watch against ‘other interpretations’ –guarding turf on behalf of their established colleagues. They narrate/interpret ‘facts’ against a lot of common (and HR) sense. They fail to see life events whole as opposed to recounting the reductionist vision mostly of those that triumphed. We get to read too much about armies and about too many generals and not enough about the fate of the soldiers that fought the battles in the name of ideals or lost causes that were the generals’ and the rulers’. Over the centuries, too few historians reacted bitterly enough or took an active adversary role towards a historical narrative that was in fact biased in favor of those that did not mind being told a succession of heroes’ tales. It is thus fair to ask: Does history try to explain or does it hardly try to interpret the mood of the times? Is it just a construct with interpretations that fit only the interests of certain groups in society? Is it a construct that is expected to please the powers-that-be? (J. Gleick)
3. Who, then, can hold mainstream history to account and ‘rival’ it?# For one, HR do push forward the wheels of history. Consider this: Although inequity and inequality constantly change in history, more than any other moral language available to us at this time in history, it is the language of HR that exposes the immorality and barbarism of the past and modern faces of power.* (U. Baxi)
*: One must neither expect or hope that kings be philosophers nor that philosophers be kings, because positions of power inevitably impair the free judgment of reason. (E. Kant)
Is a history-of-forever-condoned-injustices-and-HR-violations a thorn in the credibility of history?
-The future shall not be dominated by those that are trapped by the past. (Willy Brandt)
-Mainstream history traces us back to specific events, particularly societal upheavals. But this type of analysis, in isolation of what happens to the ‘invisible majorities’, prevents us from relating these groups to the bigger picture of an oppression we actually find across the world, across history. (R. Mitchell)
4. Situations of inequity, inequality and human rights violations keep occurring again and again, and history is happy to ignore these recurrences. When mainstream history registers them, it often disguises them and lies about the different circumstances in which they play themselves out and about the persons or groups most affected. (A. Minc)
5. Let us be clear, the ideas of the dominant class are the dominant ideas of each historical period. (F. Engels) Not surprisingly, historical accuracy falls victim at the hands of our rulers. There has never been a time when this has not been the case. How much should we thus trust the study of history to provide us guidance for our present day?**
**: As for reflections on history, my favorite remains what I think Goethe said: “The only thing history teaches us is that nobody ever learns anything from history.” (S. George)
6. Mainstream history (the one you and I studied at school) is not the mother of truth; it is not really an investigation of reality, of what really took place, although the latter is at its origin; it is not necessarily what took place, but what we are led to believe took place; history is a depository of deeds as witnessed in the past purporting to be lessons to the present and warnings to the future. (Don Quijote)
7. History has colored not just how the events chronicled unfolded, but also by how those who write it wish those events to be seen. Can history thus be said to be a subversive subject? It surely undermines our claim to reason. Sometimes history overtakes us. Historical events are assigned beginnings, middle and ends to identify the sequence of actions that have served the needs of the rulers of the time. In doing so, history ignores its damaging influence and judges the achievements of rulers and nations rather than our performance as homo sapiens inhabiting planet Earth. (M. Golia)
8. Peter Hoeg, the Danish novelist once wrote: What is history but a fable agreed upon? But the HR view of history is one of political tragedy. Against Hoeg’s aphorism, for us, history is not a fable since it is the roles people play rather than the individuals themselves that account for history. Every wicked deed denigrates all of us as much as all good deeds redeem us. We are the historical consequence of others; as such, history is still a project under construction. We all know that parts of the world have ended up in a state of desperate and wholesale destitution and this contradicts the many representations of it in mainstream history (just think about colonialism or slavery). Any change in that reality is possible only through a rigorous critical eye that can bring the guilty to justice restoring truth and restitution –an every day challenge for HR workers. (J. Ortega)
9. Such a change in reality brings to mind the debates that took place at the very birth of social medicine. Everywhere in Europe scientists were discovering what we now call ‘health disparities’. *** The first reaction –in most places– was to identify this as a problem of the poor and various plans have been drawn-up to address the deficiencies that are created by conditions-affecting-the-poor, i.e., mostly internal/individual-blaming problems that refer to immediate, behavioral causes (risky sexual behavior, smoking, too much booze…) rather than addressing external/public problems that refer to structural causes (the role of industry, no or not adequate health care for poor people…). Very quickly though, it is clear that such plans are, by and large, unsuccessful; indeed, the British National Health System is piece-of-evidence-number-1 illustrating that, even in a socialist, universal, high quality health care system designed to eliminate class disparities in health, these disparities persist. (M. Anderson)
***: Keep in mind: In Africa, death takes the young; in high income countries it takes the old. (A. Katz)
Mainstream history: A chronicle of a race to the bottom in slow motion?
Mainstream history tends to show that things happen for the ultimate good. The question is the good of whom. So, let us stop and think. How much do we need to demystify this? …and act to change historical ‘facts’?
10. There is much intelligence to mine in history, true. History obviously carries some truth! However, the question remains: Does history disguise and pervert reality? Put another way, is all that is confirmed or denied scrupulously inexact? Are we supposed to be uncritical when history does use value-laden words and ambiguity–surely opening it up to interpretation?
11. As a result of interpreting, some say, one gets a flavor of intellectual and historical tourism. Or is it rather that this Reader exaggerates the bit of healthy skepticism reading history should provoke? Or do we here have a veiled attempt to unfairly castigate mainstream history?
12. The point is that people who live in poverty (or people who are or happen to be poor due to historical circumstances) are indeed rendered vulnerable by these circumstances. This should immediately lead to the question: Why do some people live/are kept in poverty? History is practically silent about this; it skips or does not bother to unscramble this Gordian knot –thereby virtually accepting a ‘c’est-la-vie’ attitude. HR cannot and does not condone this.
13. Never forget that the philosophy of science tells us: “You find what you look for”; or, as we well know, “the answer lies in the question”.
14. I do see how the world around us has, for centuries, endured a situation under-the-weight-of-history-unilaterally-told. But I happen to be a historical optimist. I mean optimism towards the future. It is still to be judged whether evil and cowardice are sufficiently powerful to seal the lips of free women and men willing to tell an honest story. (L. Padura)
15. Bottom line:
- I see no other way than to loathe those historians that condoned the abuses that manifested themselves in a rather permanent organized repression and that celebrated immoral heroes, that murdered indigenous people and decorated those that conquered country after country. They actually destroyed our sense of fairness and justice by granting impunity to such villains. (J. Venturelli)
- Following J.P. Sartre, have mainstream historians aggrandized false heroes, because they were cowards, created saints, or because they were wicked?
- Would we be oversimplifying if we said mainstream universal history ignored the wretched conflict between the haves and the have-nots –between the violators of HR and the violated?
- Is it acceptable that facts depicted by history accommodate to circumstances?
- Golden eras simply do not last forever.
#: The word ‘mainstream’ is my addition.
Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
-Names become numbers; innocents dying daily; don’t let their faces fade. (J. Koenig)
-Evil, once perceived, is half-way to its solution. (An overly optimistic statement?) (E. Gaskell)
-When will we be able to say: Humanity has said enough! and has started to move in a fair and sustainable direction? (Julio Cortazar)
-Make sure that a past that had no future does not ruin your present. (Albino Gomez)
-Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to what is pure wind. (George Orwell) Also true for history…?
- And more facetiously: More than in any other moment in history, we find ourselves in a crossroad: One path leads to absolute desperation; the other to total extinction. May God give us the wisdom to choose the right path… (Woody Allen)
November 19th, 2013 by Claudio Schuftan
Food for a humiliating thought
Human Rights Reader 328
1. Aggressions directed towards the human rights (HR) of marginalized individuals or groups utterly disarm them; they devastate the most essential tenets of their dignity.* To effectively counter these aggressions, we all need to get rid of our perennial sense of compassion –the one that only generates feelings of piousness and leads to charity. This is why I am, once again here, making an appeal for all of us to refocus our work away from charity and towards HR in our respective professional lives.
*: This is even reflected in their gazes and expressions: when dignity vanishes, fear creeps in –and fear, together with a sense of powerlessness, risks being transmitted like a legacy from generation to generation.
The alternative I am calling-for is to embrace and offer a political alternative in human rights work.
2. At whom is this call directed to?, you will ask. At you, of course. But also, among others, the call is directed:
- At academics and intellectuals that have drifted away from social and HR ideals. Are you one of them? The call here is about bringing them to a position more pro-actively supportive of the thousands of struggling marginalized and exploited groups.
- At bureaucrats who have, in many places, become a new class. It is about them rising above petti-intrigues, lingering suspicions, dirty games, ever-believed lies and never-suspected truths, and above their vocation for procrastination, as well as for also bringing them towards a position more pro-actively supportive of the same groups over whom they do have (quite some) decision-making power.
- At political parties and politicians with their often encyclopedic lack of HR culture and their distorted view of what a truly social project, beyond any grandiose philosophical illusions, ought to be. The truth is they have too often abjured from any strategic vision for a truly equitable social project –as if the only social project would be the one of the neoliberal society. Nowadays, political organizations, left and right, are true oligarchies, I’d say dreadfully cut-off from the masses of the population. They fight mostly for their own immediate interests. They make the oppressed classes believe that they are fighting for them when in reality they are benefiting the interests of the old or new governing class. I am out of words as to what alternative ‘carrots or sticks’ can/should be used to call them to engage on a decisive HR path.
- At the media, and here I mean the social media, because the freedom of the press is a lie; it does not exist. In the ‘market of journalism’ there is no plurality so that what we really find is an ideological hegemonic discourse. Here, the call is for breaking the monopoly on the news –and that is where the social media come in.
- At civil society organizations, and here I do not mean big international NGOs –that have followed the call of donors’ money. I mean grassroots organizations. There is a great need for many more of these to, once and for all, adopting the HR framework in their work. Too many are stuck in the delivery of services that, in all truth, are needed, but that only ‘tread water’ in terms of struggling for the HR of their members. For them, the call is to revision a remission themselves to critically analyze whom they are really serving: the status-quo or the forces of change?
- At the UN agencies who, for too long now, have in no uncertain terms been mandated to apply the HR framework , but have dragged their feet in doing so beyond lip service.
3. In seeking the proverbial yet elusive political alternative, the main challenge is finding those persons with sufficient moral authority and political openness that will legitimate –if not legally, at least morally– a counter-process that can replace the bad consciousness of those in this world responsible for the current state of affairs by a genuine HR-based consciousness.
4. Even if true that, overall, percentagewise poor people in the world may be less poor today, it is also true that rich people are scandalously richer than at any time before. The point here is that we cannot wait any longer to beat this galloping trend. A different way to do politics is needed; a politics that unites; a politics that uses new forms of participation (or should I say militancy?). There are still political spaces to be occupied by claim holders if they organize to regain their dignity and self-confidence. But these spaces may shrink. In short, here is a call for the creation of platform backed by people’s power, a power that results from many small groups working on small coalescing actions that progressively generate critical masses of claim holders demanding and achieving changes towards a quickly progressive fulfillment of HR. I am not talking about people participating in one-after-another street rally. In the longer term, this leads to demo-fatigue with a long face and a bad after-taste. I am talking about the need for a new strategic vision to emerge, a vision that common people not only understand, but underwrite and act upon.
5. What it is all about is to inch (or rush?) towards a new society of more advanced and genuine and direct democracy, because what we have is a bunch of authoritarian, patriarchal societies. Much active criticism is still necessary to extricate exclusion, paternalism, authoritarianism and other isms –in everyday life, in education, in health…**
**: Accepting top down changes is not the way out. The way out is about creating change, becoming part of change, stopping profiteers, speculators and other faceless operators of a system that has corrupted the world of today and of tomorrow. Never forget that claim holders are a majority in this world and they are seeking nothing but decent changes in equity, equality and seeking a system of fairness and justice, one that has been withheld from them for too long, but that is, low and behold, coming back. (J. Venturelli)
6. People have to begin understanding what they are struggling for, what kind of society they are yearning for. If they do not have and share that vision, the risk is that a number of uncoordinated spurious (fundamentalist?) movements will continue to spring up. (F. Huerta)
Has neoliberalism become a new form of dictatorship adorned with a new rhetoric?
7. The shortcomings of HR do not have their root in the historically recent developments of the hostile environment of neoliberalism. Instead, its shortcomings are more rooted in the incapacity of claim holders to, so far, massively enough demand unpostponable changes. This does not mean I do not keep up my confidence in the capacity of claim holders to shake off the excesses of the Capitalist system with its daily violations of HR.
8. The solidarity of trampled people is the only true solidarity that will achieve this. This solidarity has to come about by them exerting their genuine free choice, a choice born out of necessity, of being solidary and of being infinitely more democratic. Why? Because HR are about searching for a new collective destiny, one that is not only better, but also more ambitious.
9. Ultimately, ‘the individual’ is a concept eminently summative that can coalesce into a mass with real teeth to exert real power to root out the humiliations of centuries. This is the alternative this Reader calls-for, i.e., to embrace and offer a political alternative in human rights work.
Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
Adapted from L. Padura, ‘El hombre que amaba a los perros’ and from writings by Felix Huerta.
Postscript: Spaces for action must be maintained open by relentlessly keeping up social movements’ demands for the respect of HR. Civil society organizations must have the staying power to move in and out of these spaces over time and must build effective horizontal and vertical alliances that potentiate these demands. What must be combatted is the prevailing ‘mobilization of bias’ enacted through arbitrary rules of the game that privilege some over others. Voices we hear in visible places are but echoes of what the power holders who shape those places want (us) to hear. Civil society victories in the visible arena, where power games are played-out, are important and must be sustained. Civil society cannot forever stay outside those arenas, not being really aware of how they closely relate to their interests; civil society must mobilize to make sure that hidden forms of power do not continue undermining HR. (J. Gaventa)
November 2nd, 2013 by Claudio Schuftan
Food for an angry, brave and creative thought
Human Rights Reader 327
Activists beware: Constraints surround us; while this may sound alarming, they need not impede. So, remember: Fatigue is not uncommon with self-sacrifice; it can be debilitating. (J. Koenig)
[I dedicate this Reader primarily to share some of the enlightened aphorisms about activism of Dato Anwar Fazal the Malaysian long-time activist and dear friend].
Aphorisms by Anwar Fazal:
- Light a candle rather than curse the darkness; do whatever you can, even if it seems little.
- The Power of Five: Combine the power of one (individual as a change agent); with the power of many (joining hands with gender, ecology, justice and other networks and movements); with the power of the halo (spiritual traditions); with the power of information (good research and creative communications); with the power of success (every victory, however small, must be celebrated; good work inspires more good work).
- Social cohesion leading to joint action is a symptom of political maturity.
- You can do it, you must do it, you will do it. And yes, we will. (citing the Intergalactic Commission)
- The responsible human rights activist has critical awareness and awakes others to be more questioning; she gets involved first-hand in actions that make sure all people get a fair deal; she is socially responsible and acts with concern for the impact of her actions on others; she is ecologically responsible and is aware that collective decisions impact the physical environment; and, in solidarity, she engages in the formation of citizens groups who together make sure needed attention is given to people’s rights.
- The activist has not only vision and ideas, but acts to make change happen through networking, advocacy, information dissemination, capacity building and harnessing resources in creative ways. (She uses the word ‘network’ as a verb rather than as a noun).
- Dare to dream, wake up and make it happen.
- Dishonest leadership practices lead to a dishonest society and shoddy people. Society is like fish, it rots from the head down. Leaders have a responsibility on their conscience to fight for a fair deal for citizens. If they do not, society will rot with them.
- If the people are asleep awaken them. If the people fear to act, give them courage by taking the first step yourself.
- Without alternatives there is no vision (and vice-versa). There is no point trying to focus if one does not know where one wants to go. Issues have to be made as visible as possible (but not less). If we cannot make them visible, if we cannot relate human rights (HR) issues to aspects of the lives of ordinary people so they are moved to demand their rights, governments and the media will never become even interested. We alone, as activists, are not going to move anything or anyone by ourselves; our personal demands will be considered rather remote and will be disregarded. Guaranteed.
- Professional competence must never be compromised. Activists must constantly upgrade their abilities in the social and economic field. They must also communicate well the achievements of their work. Human rights activists must thus be active, informed and critical.
- Constant action is needed to ensure that the changes achieved remain in place and are renewed and strengthened.
- Give doable tasks to new people so they face the daily realities face-on and progressively become multipliers and accelerators.
- Competence and creativity are critical: in science, in politics, as well as in the methods and practices you use.
- It is through active trust-building that we end up with a community of practitioners that work in synergy with the mission of transforming oppressive realities as they support each other and move forward together in this endeavor.
- Movements have no future if they do not build new generations of activists. True leadership is not about heading organizations, but about preparing more leaders. (citing Ralph Nader)
- Activists are at least five things: They are a hub, a catalyst, an incubator, a multiplier and an accelerator.
- Without committed people and without creative communications, no organization can remain alive –much less achieve anything.
- The guarantees HR activists offer are often the easiest given and the most often disregarded.
- There is a growing worldwide realization that HR issues are real, important and urgent, requiring a constructive vigilance and a steadfast adherence to HR principles. Sheer vocalism (lung power) and sloganeering may have a role in highlighting and dramatizing issues, but real progress, real benefits will only be gained through responsible and constructive strategies and tactics and through the cooperative efforts of HR activists, claim holders and duty bearers.
- There was a time when claim holders’ viewpoints had little influence; they were passive and often captive. The position has rapidly changed. The HR movement is now asserting itself vigorously as a countervailing power demanding justice. But action by HR activists will not lead to significant changes unless new alliances and new organizational strategies are undertaken. It is through sustained campaigns that broadly-based networks become an international antibody working for remedies that work by causing irritation and pain to reluctant, unmoving duty bearers. Direct actions will thus be aimed at the worst antigens/HR offenders including the widespread publication of counter-hegemonic information and even taking legal action. Vigilance, an alert press and responsible activists with a new morality and affirmative action are what we strive for in our movement.
- Our movement is about people, people who care about society; it is not about value for money, but value for people. It is about power, the power of ordinary people as a force to protect their interests and jointly act against those responsible for the active and passive violence they experience in society. It is about HR, the right to a decent life lived with dignity and, importantly, about the right to organize; in short, it is about bringing about justice.
- The HR movement has begun to excite, to interest and to involve ordinary people in a way unprecedented in our short history. Diverse organizations are strengthening weak links, setting up decentralized participatory structures that link countries in the South with countries in the North and are acting together.
- An iron triangle is emerging uniting NGOs, governments in the South and ideologically sympathetic international bureaucrats. So the truth is slowly weighing on our side.
- There has been an explosion of energy in all five continents. There has also been a new depth and intensity in the work of activists. They deal with the messiness of the world and help the little people –help them have that power that makes the difference. Among other, they seek to change laws, make them work for the people and work to change the systems that imposes structures on society that are unjust, unfair and unacceptable. Government inefficiency needs to be met by actively demanding changes. Faced with government indifference, we will raise hell.
- Some things are free, others we pay with our lives, unnecessarily, unforgivably. Some of us have, some do not have; they just exist –and need a wake up call.
- Laws are only a reflection of the state of our society. A violent, corrupt, manipulative society will breed laws that serve it. Laws can pervert and subvert justice and become a powerful instrument for systematic repression. When laws do not mean justice, they should not imply automatic obedience.
- There is a worldwide proliferation of citizen movements that are seeking the common good; and they are making a difference, making waves and making miracles.
- The HR revolution is militant, but not violent. It spans the globe and gives new strength to ordinary people.
- Because we are right we will win in the end. Because we are not alone and we are getting stronger, we can win even sooner.
These are Anwar Fazal’s credos:
- We need to undertake programs that will mean real things to real people.
- We must always be angry about things that are wrong in our society.
- We must stand up and speak out. But not only speak out and move information around: Be good both with drums (tom toms) and at the same time with dot.coms.
- Developing islands of integrity sparks action.
- We are a force for HR to be reckoned with; we are a force for social justice and we are a force for a better world.
- No more being a fringe movement! No more just some token ad-hoc, half-hearted response! But direct questioners of the prevailing paradigm. Yes, using the power of truth, the power of science, the-power-of-responsibility-with-a-conscience, many little groups seeking little justice first to then create an avalanche of HR power: We shall overcome! We shall create more power, more strength! We have done it before and we will do it again –many more times! We have already done much with so little! And now we can do much more! This is a liberating necessity. We can create the future! (not just react, but pro-act, setting the agenda, adding more leaders who think global, think action, think strategy, think politics; activists who organize and manage, who ask when, what, why and how; who think big and think small; who are fast, flexible and furious –what a combination!
A Closing thought: Activists often think they finally are in the drivers seat, but the danger of getting to occupy the driver’s seat is that, more often than not, they are not (yet) the owners of the bus.
Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
October 18th, 2013 by Claudio Schuftan
Food for a hidden thought
Human Rights Reader 326
-Development solutions of yesterday have literally become our problems of today. (S. Adjei)
-It is often wrongly assumed that improvements in societies’ conditions require constant velocity in straight lines forward, as if we were shooting arrows into the future. (G. Cannon)
1. The human rights-based framework does not simply require that goals and outcomes of development be loosely aligned with those of human rights (HR); much more is necessary.
2. Using the HR-based framework in development work brings up the hitherto hidden and perhaps disconcerting or ignored dimensions of power and oppression. It does away with the harmful divide between what is private and what public, what is personal and what is political. In so doing, it makes the primary goal of development to enhance the enjoyment of HR, of wellbeing and above all of dignity. (The Broker, Issue 25, June 2011)
3. A non-HR centered application of development tools and approaches for sure eclipses the vital issues of context and power relationships; it risks leading to 15 more years of a mechanistic application of top-down, packaged technical solutions delivered in kits.* This, at the expense of actually considering and acting on the power relations imbalance between claim holders and duty bearers. (The Broker, ibid.)
*: The development industry’s ignorant hypotheses conversely tell us that the problem is not that the leaders in poor countries do not know what to do. Rather, it is that that they are unable or unwilling to follow outsiders’ good advice. (How pathetically paternalistic and neocolonial an attitude this is…).
4. We therefore have to be ‘en-garde’ to unmask the new crop of opportunistic self-appointed ‘HR experts’ in the development industry. In reality, in the name of HR, they come armed with all kinds of planning tools that just mainstream the use of checklists, scales and tape measures. Ultimately, these ‘experts’ largely and slavishly end up complying with their own logframes so as to satisfy the needs of aid agencies who want to be seen to really mean HR business –and thus to stay in business. (D. Eade and The Broker, ibid.)
5. By far, the most common buried and untested assumption in development work is that transparent, accessible, ‘evidence-based’ information will (by an act of instant enlightment) generate accountable policies, accountable budgets and accountable state behavior.* For the latter to happen (which it does not), only active work and alliances with organizations that focus on social mobilization at village and city level –and that demand this accountability– will do. In short, what is here meant is that, beyond technical knowledge, in last instance, the application of the HR framework to development will depend on the right leadership and on social action/mobilization. (R. Loewenson)
*: As currently widely applied, development is essentially a bureaucratic response to an issue that requires nothing less than radical changes of a kind that can transform all expressions of power and of inequality. (The Broker, ibid.) [Not being facetious, is the quintessential bureaucrat working in development the officer that converts each solution into a problem? (Albino Gomez)]
The special breed of development economists
6. The division we often see in development economics is between those economists that believe progress in development comes through laissez-faire and those that believe in progress through government action. HR activists would forcefully insist that those in civil society must be added to the equation of development economics for any progress to be made. In their trade, and to engineer consent, mainstream development economists frequently use (ominous) social marketing techniques (that tell people what to do, but not why). (L. Lhotska)
7. Take, for instance, free trade agreements (FTAs) inconsiderately engineered by these economists: When being pushed into FTAs, countries end up introducing the volatility of international markets into their domestic economy. This volatility does not affect all households the same way: poorer households are clearly the most affected. To shield their most vulnerable people from economic volatility, governments entering into FTAs should –but never do– save and accumulate a precautionary cushion of assets on these households’ behalf.
8. A caveat is due here: Mainstream development successes that shine too much, more often than not, have their dark side. The contradictions that these ‘successes’ are prey-to thwart the possibility of a truly balanced, people-centered development. If unchecked, the dynamics of wealth concentration always ends up having the upper hand over projects of redistribution. As a consequence, the gap keeps widening between the rich and the poor, between regions, between urban areas and the countryside.* (CETIM)
*: I simply do not believe in the possibility of engineering prosperity with good top-down policy advice and support. I consider lost time spent on unimportant disputes to be a key intellectual cause of underdevelopment.
Our challenge is to manage a transition from an exclusive to an inclusive form of development –in a relevant time frame.
-We have been drifting, not navigating. The effort of planning with communities to demand the adoption of the HR framework in development work is much like preparing for a voyage together. (G. Kent)
9. What we way-too-often do not do is to consult with local experts, not just to claim we are inclusive, but because their expertise is often simply superior. (E. Ostrom)
10. As you by now know, in the HR-based approach to development there are explicit linkages to people’s rights, to non-discrimination, to focusing on the most vulnerable groups, to effective participation, to empowerment, to social mobilization and to accountability. Therein lies its difference.
11. Applying the human rights framework effectively requires a high degree of participation, including that of communities, of civil society, of social movements, of minorities, of indigenous peoples, and of women, children, and youth (especially if the country is experiencing a youth bulge in its demographics).
12. People that happen to be poor are typically deprived of their right to participation when there is poor governance –and the presence of corruption is an actual tax on those that are poor.
13. There are essentially invited and claimed spaces for active participation. Social mobilization in spaces outside existing formal spaces is thus an important alternative meant to start exercising power in the quest for equal participation. Ultimately, claim holders must achieve control over the terms of their participation. So, therefore, there are actually spaces to be grabbed; these arise from popular dissatisfaction prompting the creation of social movements that take over existing spaces to make their voices heard and to effect needed structural changes. It is thus important to learn how to map these spaces, i.e., which are highly regulated and which are not. Sometimes, social movements can grab spaces and have quick success; or it can take many years to do so. Sometimes, it is difficult to keep those spaces open. What is clear is that social movements need to be built-up from the ground to infiltrate higher into the system and actively negotiate from a position of strength. It is very important to note that even marginalized communities want to have political voice, i.e., access to decision-making –and power is always a necessary consideration. Without power one cannot make or influence decisions. Participation thus is, by nature, a contested process, because it is about challenging or reconfiguring power. Moreover, through applying certain strategies, invited spaces can become grabbed spaces. One could argue that, in the long run, spaces must become institutionalized so that followers have somewhere concrete to go to. (L. London)
14. Points to consider when introducing the HR-based framework in development work:
- The human rights imperative of applying HR-based approaches means that, as said above, particular attention must be paid to discrimination, equality, equity, and to vulnerable groups (not forgetting children, women, minorities, indigenous people, prisoners and groups affected by war).*
*: As there is no universal checklist of who is most vulnerable in any given context,
the rights-based framework requires such questions to be answered locally.
- Rights-based approaches give due attention to issues of access (including access to development processes), to institutions, to information and to redress or complaints mechanisms. (Be aware that ‘equity’ now is the buzz word used for measuring issues of access).
- Effective rights-based approaches give due preference to empowerment strategies for local actors.
- A human rights-based development not only assess the problems (the Whats?), but also the actual respective human rights being or having to be claimed. But that is not all. It further asks Who?, i.e., who is entitled to the right and is not benefiting from development, and who holds/owes the duty corresponding to the identified unrealized rights.
- The rights based approach then asks Why?, i.e., the root causes of the identified violations, including social practices, laws, leadership, institutions and lack of information.
- The rights based framework looks at peace, security and stability, without which there can be no hope of development. Issues of peace and security are thus addressed.
- Corruption saps energy out of society and only heightens disparities and divisions within society. As such, the rights-based framework emphasizes the accountability of those who are (corrupt and) responsible for ensuring that the vulnerable and marginalized enjoy equal rights.
- The capacity of administrative boards and tribunals, national human rights commissions and ombudsman offices need urgent addressing so as to ensure universal HR standards are translated-into/included-in the local laws and regulations with effective benchmarks set to measure the progressive realization of HR –thus de-facto enhancing accountability.
- It is a must to assess and develop claim holders’ understanding of their rights and the main obstacles experienced by the poor and marginalized among them.** HR learning processes are key here.
**: In HR work, poverty is measured not just in figures, but rather looking at the
broader lack of basic capabilities to live in dignity. Poverty is about physical and
economic insecurity, about fear of the future and the constant sense of
vulnerability; it is about lost opportunities and about a sense of powerlessness.
- Capacity in implementing HR principles and standards is an importantly needed attribute of national institutions. It is indispensable to translate rhetoric and mere lip service into action to thus truly protect, promote, and fulfill human rights, as well as providing remedy for violations. HR learning of a massive scale is needed to build this capacity.
- In the development agenda to come after 2015, the HR framework is to be considered in its entirety; if its standards and principles are not fully adopted and are ‘cherry-picked’ in an ad-hoc manner, it should be clear that true people’s development will be put off for at least another half a generation.
- Last but not least, development data must be disaggregated by race, socioeconomic status, religion, ethnicity, language, sex and other categories of human rights concern. (Riffat Sardar, UNICEF- Kampala)
15. So, if you decide to enter work in development as a HR activist, in the name of self-interested pragmatism, ask yourself all the question posed in this Reader. (N. Birdsall)
Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
October 1st, 2013 by Claudio Schuftan
Food for a confessional thought
Human Rights Reader 325
[It has been over ten years that I have been writing these Readers. I thought I would here pull together some of the roots of my credo for doing so, in part using adapted quotes that I think apply to them. (I reckon that famous quotes are not enough. It is not what they say that counts, but what we do with them). So, here it is, and I apologize: this special Reader is a bit longer].
First, the confession
There is this passion that drives the demolishing craft of the essay writer. (L. Padura)
1. I am a hunter-gatherer-composer writer. Human Rights Readers (HRRs) thus relay true stories and thoughts, in part, of third persons …with some of the inessentials altered. How does this work? I am an avid collector of clippings from what I read and use these in the Readers. Does this make me a plagiarist? No! For two reasons: I give due credit to my sources, and I rearrange things giving them a new meaning and life. Ultimately, there thus is my imprint in the Readers.*
*: By the way, I never take guilt trips, as baggage must be paid for, and it may journey to nowhere. (J. Koenig)
2. I write them to read like an extended blog aimed at a non-technical, yet somewhat learned audience. I make it a point for them to be in the best tradition of polemic writing making sure their tone is incisive, even militant. (Actually, Readers have much useful intellectual ammunition for the friend of polemics). I attempt to make them proceed at a brisk pace by adding my own insights. I try to give you, the reader, the feeling you are invited to a party, a party for well-meaning adults with a clear sense of social responsibility. (Albino Gomez)
3. It is very clear that the Readers are texts of the miscellaneous type: I want to believe they are a good travel or night table companion; they do not require continuity; they admit interruptions; they can be opened and closed without necessarily any coherence. Moreover, they do not require a remote control like your TV (since at the end of the day, many of you prefer to turn on the TV than to grab something to read). (A. Gomez)
4. Occasionally, a Reader comes along that gives you a slap; one that says “you used to care, but you’ve gotten lazy: Wake Up!” Readers are expressly intended to be timely wake-up calls.** Since they are directed at multiple audiences, this makes for tension between the need of them to be encyclopedic and the desire to shine a spotlight on important single themes. They sure encourage the reader to think –laterally and vertically. (F+D, 49:1, March 2012)
**: Actually, getting through to my readers I feel I arrive faster departing from their total ignorance than when they depart from any preconceived notions. To be of the intended value for me, new knowledge and wisdom has to be acquired by each individual reader, not by a generic category of ‘readers’. I remain optimistic: to think and to analyze are the normal respiration of intelligence. (J. L. Borges)
5. I am very clear about the still experimental nature of the Readers. At the risk of being accused of courting controversy, I think about them as a novelty. They are not exhaustive of my thoughts and are laboriously composed as they try to build-in an element of astonishment. I sure put my passion into them. This said, I understand, with a certain bitterness, that I can expect nothing from my readers who have accepted the Readers passively. But I am sure I can expect something from those of you who occasionally dare to oppose me. (J. L. Borges)
Human Rights Readers take care of their own defense; their general tone is far removed from frivolity.
The Readers are born from my many years of moving around, because I am a rambler, a constant traveler –physically and virtually. (E. Galeano)
6. The Readers do not spread rumours, because rumours start circulating in homeopathic doses that then do get out of hand. They call a spade, a spade. Better truth-based than sorry. Also, better accurate than vague.*** Readers also stay away from rhetoric, because the latter frightfully castrates the consciousness raising I ultimately aim for. (L. Weinstein)
***: When a clock has stopped working it still shows the accurate time twice a day, no…?
7. HR Readers speak about all those things that are normally hushed up; things that have been polished and you think you already know, but which you may not know properly or to which you simply pay no heed. They try to make sense of certain concepts reminding us primarily we have to live life respecting others. They are the-guardians-of-what-brings-shame –without harming or insulting anybody– and they also speak for and guard those who merely manage to survive. (I. Arredondo) In their role as guardians, often, the Readers suggest the best way to ‘confront the dragons’ — who, to start with, are within ourselves! (J. Koenig) They set out to fight the deadliness of conformity; they do not shy away from the so often senseless truth. (J. L. Borges)
8. I am aware that it is both weaknesses, as well as strengths, that change the course of destiny. The HRRs ask whether things are out of the ordinary, either in a good or a bad sense. They ask about the whys and wherefores of anything that reduces the dignity of those who are otherwise helpless –and may live only under a pretence or veneer of dignity. ( J. C. Onetti) As such, the Readers do not take life simply as it comes. Every bleak reality needs an impulse as an antidote to otherwise inevitable decay. (A. Rossi) The Readers aim at providing such impulses.
9. Good essays are common enough, but there is scarce dialogue around them. In the era of the fast life of the social media, are attentive, critical readers already an extinct species? Actually, every critical reader is a potential writer. Are you? Every person is capable of all ideas. Be aware that it is not true that only lost causes interest truly concerned ladies and gentlemen. (J. L. Borges)
10. Finally here, HRRs may at times be preposterous. I know. But they are deliberately so; they are not casual. They certainly do not just take pity on the misfortunes of others …and do not take pity on my own failures. (J. L. Borges)
11. I have always been selfish about my time. It bugs me to have people come and drag me out of a piece of music, some reading or my writing (!)…
12. The Readers not infrequently review current complex situations only too succinctly to the point of being just a caricature. (S. George) Despite this, I have not become habituated to the simplifications of journalism. (J. L. Borges)
13. As I am an honest person, beware of two things: i) look out for my use of adverbs: An adverb not infrequently comes up to mask something, e.g., for sure, unquestionably, understandably… and ii) every day I believe less in objectivity; even if I myself have all the intention to abide by it, all does start from my subjectivity. (A. Gomez)
14. I further confess: I read a lot. Of the so and sos or of the this and thats of what I read I do not always understand much or enough, but I do understand what bullshit is. (That never gets into the Readers).
Insights into a couple technical issues
15. As I re-read and re-read my drafts, I focus on the nakedness of the words I use and polish for clarity. Part of my credo is that it is in words that we find freedom. Words are power, because reading them can and does removeboundaries. My words do not necessarily convey truths; they convey my convictions. (Carlos Fuentes) Actually, I somehow feel that if I cannot write convincingly about what I read, I am not thinking well, and if I cannot think well, others will do their thinking for me. (George Orwell) ****
****: When one reads little, one shoots a lot. (Graffiti in Barcelona 2011)
16. Writing is more difficult than speaking; it requires a greater effort; it allows to think and to go more in depth. Moreover, it allows to correct, because when one speaks –except in the case of exceptional orators– one speaks ‘in draft’. (A. Gomez)
17. All of us writers have profitless afternoons in which we merely arrive at doing revisions and adjustments …or not even that. Also, we often wake up the next morning with a bugging feeling of guilt for errors or omissions in what we wrote or did not write in what just went out.
Human Rights Readers talk left and walk left (P. Bond)
-I would like to think that the HRRs appeal to many of you due to their ideological rigor. (D+C Vol.37, No.9, Sept. 2010)
-I have never been one of those who appear to listen, but is afraid to hear. (J.C. Onetti)
18. Foremost, I see the Readers as having the ongoing duty to convey ideas, insights and knowledge to readers who are not formally trained in human rights. (WPHNA)
19. I have more than once said in the Readers and I repeat: I am not harsh in my analysis; I strive for being politically clear.
20. What counts to me, and what I always try to do, is to address difficult political issues face-to-face, free from any taboos or biases. Why? Because issues addressing the need for greater dignity must be shared with everybody without beating around the bush. (Julio Cortazar)
21. In the Readers, the political theme is present and is absent; it is there and it is not; it depends on what you understand a political theme to be. When one speaks of political essays, I ask myself: Are there essays that are not political?
-Have you ever thought yourself to be youngest in the room? I have – I still do.
-Where are the elders, those wise minds who offered choices. They’re not gone – they’re us. (J. Koenig)
-After 50, every change becomes a hateful symbol of time passing. (J. L. Borges) But I consider myself to be in the youth of old age. (Anwar Fazal)
22. As an aging social critic, what depresses me is the timelessness of my writings. Things I wrote in the 1970s and 80s are still current today and will eventually, even today, pass peer review without any changes. Also depressing is to acknowledge that, these days, colleagues can publish what they pay for. (The Broker, Issue 25, June 2011)
23. I think I agree with what Albert Camus once wrote: “Everything I know about life I have learned playing soccer as a goal keeper –especially the fact that the ball never comes from where one expects it”.
-It is through frequent repetitions that each HRR creates the prelude for ideas to slowly sink-in. No apologies.
-Since much of what writers write and say has already been said and written, may the writer be more significant than what is written? (G. Cannon) For sure, what deserves respect is her/his opinions and beliefs.
24. When I write, I make it a point not to let my emotions out too much, because our emotions control our reason much more than our reason controls our emotions. (E. Bachrach)
25. Through the Readers, I ultimately share my passion as a writer-educator at a time when so many others are silenced by a system with its agents and organizations that stopped thinking about the importance of free education and free thinking long ago. Instead, the system has installed a logical and rational techno-bureaucracy that has shown to be incapable to address what is human and is held captive by the laws governing productivity, supply, demand and competition. (A. Ghiso)
26. Perseverance, audacity, patience and senses-on-the-alert are all attributes I use to write the Readers. Moreover, I often have to conquest my own habits and fears. Writing is one way –alas not the most effective one– of breaking out of the terrible status-quo we find ourselves in. The decisions we make never come by chance; we come to them slowly, with illumination and, above all, with maturing, with effort, with meditation and practice. I would like to think the Readers contribute a grain of salt here. (O. Lins)
27. I write very freely though. The Readers are a bit about everything; about many imaginable topics. Nothing that is human escapes me –be it about Homo sapiens or Homo demens… (L. Boff) In all truth, I write ‘when my hand itches’. I write in such a way that words that begin covering pages touch the face of those who are reading them –as if words had fingers capable of really touching. (E. Galeano) The desire to write is like the nagging, gentle, companionable pain of a chronic illness, one you are not going to die from, because it is only possible to die with it. Actually, the moment comes when some maybe unimportant event forces me to wake up, to look at things as I think they really are; then I hit the keyboard. (J.C. Onetti)
28. As you have by now guessed, writing is not a useless passion. For me, the Readers are a form of communication that is blessed in that it arrives at many, many inboxes. (E. Galeano)
29. The writing of vast books is a laborious and impoverishing experience. To go for 500 pages developing an idea whose perfect oral exposition is possible in 45 minutes is simply not worth. (J. L. Borges) A better course has, for me, been to write fortnightly or so Readers that are summarized, pointed and dosed commentaries. Against many friends’ advice, I have thus chosen just that, i.e., to write HRRs rather than a book. HRRs are much the ‘anterior image’ of a book not yet (or ever to be) written. In short, to me, HRRs are necessary undertakings delivered to your office or living room.
30. For years, and from the outset, I have felt that undertaking the HRRs challenge, although sometimes agonizing has not been futile.
31. Writing like I do these Readers has its value, but it is not what I mean by action. I see it as necessary, but not sufficient for progress. Writing in itself is not action; nor is speaking –unless it moves hearts and minds. Action as I mean it, implies commitment, in writing and in speaking, but crucially also in doing. Yes, by action I mean what leaders of social movements do when they feel it is necessary to stand up against bad laws or policies, for instance; this is called ‘direct action’ which, by definition, involves personal and professional risk, i.e., you stick out your neck. (G. Cannon)
Life is something that happens to us while we are planning to do something else. (John Lennon)
32. Readers may forecast social and economic calamities, but maintain a fundamental optimistic outlook.
33. As I write, I am often faced with the challenge of finding a distinctive tone that is somewhat pessimistic (that captures the banality, absurdity, deterioration, despair and anguish of a world that is oblivion to human rights), yet still foretells a better, optimistic future. (J. R. Ribeyro)
34. My ultimate hope is that the Readers appeal to those with a divided consciousness about social, political and HR issues. I want to believe that less is seen, until the Readers shed light on critical HR issues. Language, here, opens eyes; without words we are all blind. (C. Fuentes)
35. One can be cynical about the value of writing sometimes inflamed essays. Take, for instance this: Words — words — words can indeed have very little meaning; engaging in a battle of words to see who says it better? How often do words stay in the stratosphere of intellectuals quoting one another –with a brilliant insight here and there– without making any difference or significant change for populations that grow and grow in misery? Perhaps somewhat better than the generation before us, with the agility of our fingers we type endless messages offering no new choices –while 50 million under 25s in Africa adopt a life of crime merely to survive ‘in equality’. (S. Koenig)
36. Or, as it says in one of those files that I have at hand: “As writing exercises, intellectualized essays are ultimately useless if they do not reflect and engage with reality accurately; they may be an occasion for congratulatory toasts or obscene deluxe editions”. *****
*****: Reality has not the slightest need to be of interest; reality may avoid the obligation to be interesting …or it may not. Un-reality is a necessary condition of art, but not of essays. (J. L. Borges)
37. Someone once wrote to me: I am just about convinced that the HRRs questioning almost everything will leave readers with almost nothing. (A. Jerez) To which I responded: HRRs also give credit and admiration to the sometimes hopeless positive measures being taken the world over.
38. I am certain that it is not difficult to challenge my meager authority. I hope nevertheless that I will not be prevented from, still for a while, bring up important points. My detractors may think I am sometimes ambiguous, but ambiguity also has its richness. Why? Because ideas come first. Facts are significant only inasmuch as they serve ideas. (G. Cannon)
39. Such are the thoughts summoned by my dipping into my credo. I do not say anything more though, because many things get worse with too much sugar. But, in short, I can say: I am interested in only one thing: everything. (A. Gomez)
Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
September 15th, 2013 by Claudio Schuftan
Food for a democracy liquidating thought
Human Rights Reader 324
[This Reader is entirely based on ideas expressed by Susan George in her latest book The Lugano Report II, 2013, in its Spanish version and soon to be published in English]
-There is a class war, it is true. But it is my class, the class of the rich, that is fighting it –and we are winning. (Warren Buffett)
-We are living through a capitalism of catastrophe, one that is less and less controllable. It is no longer a financial capitalism, but a planet-devouring-capitalism. (S. Nair)
1. The rich world is witnessing the brutal implementation of widespread austerity measures One wonders whether Northern leaders are conducting the economy with the foot on the brake pedal. They are clearly taking decisions based on ideology rather than on sound economics. The question is: Have human rights (HR) activists been reacting too little and too late…or hardly at all?
2. The greatest victory of ‘the system’ in all this has been achieved by imposing a belief. i.e., generating, maintaining and consolidating such a belief. (The dominant classes have been master creators of beliefs made myths).* Their convincing actually explains their winning so far –a winning that has combined ideology and communications.* Since what is at stake is too important, the time has come for us HR activists to replace the out-of-date belief system. I ask, does this mean we have to create transcendent and inspiring counter-myths?
*: Big religions have also successfully done so and have influenced billions –and then, religion becomes a source of problems and revolts if followers feel their spiritual beliefs are being trampled on –no matter how irrational or illogical their reactions may be.
The time has come
3. HR are certainly not new. They date back to the Declaration of the Rights of Men and Citizens in France in 1789, as well as to the first amendments to the US constitution in 1791 (appropriately called the Bill of Rights) as conceived by James Madison to limit the powers of the state and guarantee individual rights.
4. In 1948, the Universal Declaration of HR (UDHR) told us that we have to believe in its content (fair enough!), but did not give us guidance on how its contents must be made concrete. Telling people that they have rights to everything that is found in the UDHR has an important concrete meaning –don’t get me wrong. But that means people have to actively demand what is given all human beings in that historic document. In the UDHR, the most important word is ‘universal’, because it points to the ultimate convergence of humanity.
5. So how does this apply to us today? HR being universal, they cannot be at the whim or the discretion of the market: If anybody is excluded by the market, there are no HR. The global market will never ever include everybody in the world. It vies for the creation of value and thus for profits. As opposed to what the planted belief says, it gives little importance to creating jobs; the latter comes as a secondary (or tertiary) objective to the profit motive. HR can thus not be at the discretion of the market! Moreover, since the market cannot integrate all those that do not produce anything and that consume little, for the market they do not even count. For the market, then, economic social and cultural rights represent an unreasonable predicament, a ‘belief of some idealists that can never fly’.
6. As, better-late-than-never, the time has come, HR crucially call for HR learning and for ensuing social mobilization focused on very concrete grounds and objectives. Claim holders, as victimized people, must create a veritable collective avalanche. They must think hard what they can eventually achieve demanding together. “Divided we beg, united we demand” must be the slogan. As for duty bearers, HR language does not imply ‘passing the buck’, i.e., passing-on duties to others; if you are a decision maker, you are a duty bearer. Period.
A quick reminder about paradigms
7. When one model supported by an imposed belief system occupies the major part of the political spectrum of a society, we can talk of a dominant paradigm. Paradigms capture the thinking framework of people from which it is very difficult to escape. Metaphorically, paradigms can be characterized as: The water in which the fish swims –without for a moment suspecting that another environment like the air can exist. Paradigms define what can be thought and what not in a given historical moment; they determine the course of human affairs. A change of paradigm (‘a changes in the ideological climate’) necessarily implies resistance, pain and conflict –a frontal conflict with the values that govern society. Establishing the superiority of a new set of values requires using criteria particularly based on moral and ideological aspects. For countless generations now, the pursuit of wealth and power has not been censured by a counter-system of beliefs cleverly devised: ergo, our current defy in HR work! The time has come.
So, let’s talk about the prevailing model.
The elitist neoliberal economic model (ENEM).
Fortunately, the elitist neoliberal economic model is becoming more and more difficult to defend in public.
8. The common good enshrined in any type of social contract** is the last of the preoccupations of the ENEM, i.e., Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite and other-like slogans are not exactly the strong points of the ENEM. Millions of people have come to believe that the ENEM is at their service showing that the alienation behind the belief ENEM has created has its utility. What has been key for the ENEM has been to bring about knee-jerk reactions, not deep reflection. ENEM has also led to the narrow outlook of a charity mentality in foreign aid.
**: The concept of a social contract was first defined in 1761 by Jean Jacques Rousseau.
9. To link with the above, ENEM proponents have been master-belief-builders so that the model is deeply anchored in the psyche of hundreds of millions of people making them think it is their own ideas …just look at the Tea Party phenomenon in the US and at the scores of citizens that are constantly trying to impose religion on public life.*** We can be confident that an important percentage of voters vote against their own interests for reasons related to the beliefs the ruling ideology has planted in their brains. (Consider for instance that, in the US, citizens continue to hold-on to the myth that it is the land of opportunity, of equality and ofassured social advancement).
***: It is possible to objectively measure the swing of politics to the right by looking at the vast majority of the traditional established media. This again shows that it pays to invest in ideology and communications. It never stops amazing me to see the power that a shared belief has: Something we have to take notice-of and learn in the HR movement!
10. ENEM has imposed convictions and a-shared-common-sense without having really come up with proofs –which they really do not have. But in the meantime, voters continue to receive a regular dose of conservative ideology. How is it possible? The neoliberal success passes through making-its-own a certain vocabulary in the political discourse of its strategy to influence people: Clever and deliberate. As a result, unbelievably (excuse the pun) inequality is more and more perceived as something natural; poor people are poor, because they so deserve. (Individualism and consumism foster the idea that “I am doing OK; I am sorry for you”). Instead, hierarchy continues to be hailed as the most efficient way of organizing any human aggregate –a move clearly directed at entrenching elites and ‘experts’ at the helm. ****
***: Establishment experts show-off their degrees, but never show the fact that they are advisors to key interests of the ENEM –let alone mentioning their conflicts of interest or ‘revolving door’ employment history.
So, some of us get outraged
The best is to defeat your enemy without a struggle. (Sun Tzu)
11. Under these circumstances, sincerity needs to be celebrated. The message behind the message here is that speaking truth to power ought to be the norm …and power must be made to acknowledge this truth! (We may argue that there is such a thing as ‘the-right-to-getting-it-off-one’s-chest’ or ‘letting-off-steam’).
12. Street protests often do not help much, they represent brief shows of anger. They are isolated and have the bad habit of ending up retreating in desperation.
13. Being right and on the side of the truth and actually expressing our position in an aggressive way are two different things. Why provoking resentment when we can achieve the same results with a bit of discretion? A call for iron fists and velvet gloves here? Or, acting with firmness of objectives, but flexibly in the execution. (May one say such a recommendation is not only based on ethics, but on efficacy?).
14. As activists, we have been called a-band-of-militant-intellectuals and also ‘radical-democrats-who-want-that-everybody-be-listened-to’. No shame here.
15. But we are utterly divided. Different activist groups stay locked in their own realms and demands (HR, environment, women’s issues….) without realizing that their struggles are but one: changing the ENEM paradigm. There is just one conducting thread here: A ‘shishkebab mentality: keep worrying about the morsels and you are doomed to forget the skewer’.
16. If I am left with one thing to do about what to do when, as I say, ‘the time has come’, it is to apply in practice what you stand for, it is to galvanize every activist group to concentrate on the skewer and join forces to bring about the changes in the ideological climate that will break-with and replace the ruling paradigm. What this means for each of you I leave for you to decide.
Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
-The eleven sins against humanity: Politics without principles; wealth without work; enjoyment without conscience; knowledge without character; business without morality; science without humanity; religion without compassion; rights without responsibilities; power without accountability; development without sustainability; and laws without justice. (M Gandhi and A. Fazal)
-Almost 100 year ago, Lenin already said that the development of Capitalism had reached a point in which, even if the free market would continue to reign, to be (allegedly) ‘free’ and to be considered the basis of the whole economy, most of the benefits would continue to go to those who engineer the financial intrigues of the capitalist system.
September 1st, 2013 by Claudio Schuftan
Food for a life-long thought (3)
Human Rights Reader 323
Human Rights and Human Security
-The respect of the rights of others is what peace is all about.
-At a minimum, human security means freedom from violence and from the fear of violence. Unlike the more traditional concept of national security –which focuses on defending borders from external military threats– human security is concerned with the security of individuals.
25. The United Nations Development Program first drew global attention to the concept in its 1994 Human Development Report. The report’s broad definition of human security encompasses everything that constitutes freedom from want and freedom from fear.
26. Human security is indebted to the human rights (HR) tradition. The human security model can be seen to have drawn upon ideas and concepts fundamental to the HR tradition. Both approaches use the individual as the main referent and both argue that a wide range of issues (i.e. civil rights, cultural identity, access to education and health care) are fundamental to human dignity.* A major difference between the two models is found in their approach to addressing threats to human dignity and survival. While the HR framework takes an approach based on HR covenants, the human security framework adopts flexible and issue-specific approaches, to make them work at local, national or international levels as fits the specific needs.
*: Dignity is the enemy of charity (which in HR work we consider a sin); pride is no sin; pride is actually pure dignity. Pride is not a right; dignity is. (Carlos Fuentes) The basic demand for dignity is a demand shared by all in this world. (La Via Campesina)
27. Some human security advocates argue that the goal of human security should be to build upon and strengthen the existing global human rights legal framework. However, other advocates view the human rights legal framework as part of the global insecurity problem and believe that a human security approach should propel us to move above and beyond the more legal approach to get at the underlying sources of inequality and violence which are the root causes of insecurity in today’s world. (Human Security Research Group, School for International Studies, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver BC, Canada — http://bit.ly/VQiKgQ and Wikipedia)
28. The concept of human security challenges a number of widely held assumptions about violence, war and conflict. Human security is the combination of threats associated with war, civil war, genocide, and the displacement of populations.
29. Human security and national security should be –and often are– mutually reinforcing. But secure states do not automatically mean secure people. Indeed, during the last 100 years, far more people have been killed by their own governments than by foreign armies!
30. All proponents of human security agree that the individual should be the focus of security. However, consensus breaks down over exactly which threats to the individual should be addressed as human security issues.
Among the threats that have been proposed, sexual violence and violence against women and children, especially during war and conflict figure prominently (and armed conflict can be State-based and often persistent; it can also be non-State-based with deadly assaults on civilians).
The post 2015 outlook
31. Entrenched discrimination continues to force hundreds of millions into marginalization, exclusion and deprivation particularly where:
- the rules of the game are written by the powerful, for the powerful;
- the capacity to aspire is suffocated already at birth, or degraded over time through social conditioning;
- opportunities are denied by the willful intent or passive effect of public policy choices.
32. What does the international HR framework say about inequality and what does this mean for the post-2015 development agenda? On these two counts: A lot! No vision or measurement of human progress can be complete without an analysis and tracking of who is winning and who is losing in the quest for development.
33. I am troubled by how often international commitments –such as the MDGs– are concluded without proper regard to (or even mention of) existing and legally binding agreements that address the same or very similar subjects.
34. HR treaties call for more than mere equality of opportunity –or similar-treatment-for-all. Treating all persons equally in formal terms can literally be a death sentence to those laboring silently, daily, under the yoke of structural discrimination. We are taking of equality of results.
35. Rather, HR treaties require the active dismantling of discriminatory barriers to social, economic and political freedoms and rights plus special measures to level the playing field.
36. It simply does not matter what promises member States make in 2015, if there are not adequate incentives and mechanisms of accountability to ensure that those commitments will indeed be translated into real and durable action. Accountability for post-2015 commitments must be anchored in the already existing, specific, obligations that are inscribed in our HR treaties. To ignore these treaties is to undermine them.
37. New post-2015 goals that will eventually aim to be universal, that will center on the overall goal of equality and that will be framed by HR will indeed enhance the moral resonance, the mobilizing force, the sustainability and the impact of post-2015 commitments.
38. No new development agenda will eliminate, entirely, a problem as profoundly ingrained as the scourge of structural discrimination if injustice of this kind is not brought to the surface wherever and whenever it occurs. (Navi Pillay, UNHCR)
Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
Postscript: I am walking in the street and stumble over a stone and fall. Everybody around comes to pick me up. But no one removes the stone. As long as we continue to look at symptoms –which is what most are doing– we will not go anywhere. Yes, pick up everybody that falls; but also join forces with those who want to remove the stone. Yes, this is a process, but it is our task to break through the vicious cycle that leaves stones untouched. It may be a long process, but this must not deter us from embarking in it. (S. Koenig)
August 15th, 2013 by Claudio Schuftan
Food for a life-long thought (2)
Human Rights Reader 322
Only social movements can push politicians to turn their promises first into ad-hoc policies and laws and then into actually enforced social programs.
In tranquil times, human rights principles may be implied rather than stated. In tumultuous times, such as now, they need to be made explicit and actively pursued. (G. Cannon)
15. It is essential for us to understand the history of prior social movements that have either assured the fulfillment or human rights (HR) or, at least, prevented their violation. We will then see that only organization and social mobilization ultimately create the social power needed to stop policies that violate HR (such as the privatization of health care) and replace policies that meet the true needs of the people. * (M. Torres)
*: In social activism, there actually is an intervention ladder that goes from doing nothing; to just silently monitoring; to providing relevant information to guide people; to entering into alliances and collaborating with strategic allies; to actively intervening; to influencing decisions; to getting involved in direct actions as needed through engaging in proactive social mobilization; to actively and vocally opposing averse decisions; to fighting for the adoption of statutory regulations; to passing new laws to ban, eliminate, prohibit, and restrict; and to instating a truly progressive tax system. We can call this ‘going from nudging to forcefully shoving’. (V. Kraak)
16. To give true hope to the people being mobilized, HR work is to be understood as a ‘practice in action’ (or vice-versa). Only then can we say that the growing HR movement is not an intellectual-type movement, but one that reacts and acts when faced with concrete situations in its respective environment. At the moment, we can hardly identify a big enough group of countries that has been able to successfully confront major HR challenges. We can find countries that support certain demands coming from the HR framework. Yes. But if we want to build up capacities in a block of countries to follow the HR strategy, it is essential to get social movements going within those countries and outside them. ** Consolidating strong, independent social movements must be the priority together with launching massive HR learning activities. The objective is clearly to apply pressure from the grassroots up. That is and will be decisive in the struggle for HR. (La Via Campesina)
**: The HR framework requires demanding from decision-makers that they demonstrate they have done everything possible both to generate resources in equitable ways and to prioritize the rights of the vulnerable groups in the equitable allocation of these resources.
There is a divorce between human rights and the ‘rights of nature’
Human rights and the ‘rights of nature’ are but two names for the same dignity. The capitalist system gobbles up everything it finds; it includes an ideology, an ethics, an understanding of life and of things that is dangerous both for humans and for the planet we live in. (E. Galeano)
17. Drastic climate change will bring about chaotic and disorderly economic and social changes, mind you, based on coercion rather than cooperation. In this nightmare scenario, each country and each person will fight only for their own narrow interests in a mad scramble for survival where the rich and powerful have the advantage and the weak and poor will be pushed aside. It is thus important that those involved in protecting HR join forces with those fighting for justice in climate change, so that a scenario of cooperation and solidarity wins over the scenario of climate chaos and the law of the jungle. (M. Khor) ***
***: Beware: In such a scenario, the right to food cannot be just reduced to the-right-not-to-starve.
Human rights make it clear to us what manifestations of difference are outright unacceptable inequalities
I am afraid that democracy has become a structure rather than a living organism of full participation of all in equality. I like the concepts
that HR is a home;
that art is a form of activism;
that we were chosen for social responsibility; and
that the Ten Commandments now are the 30 Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (S. Koenig)
18. Inequalities predominantly affect individuals and groups that day-in-day-out suffer multiple human rights deprivations. These multiple deprivations and inequalities are closely associated with and reinforced by specific forms of discrimination in the enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
19. We know inequalities lead to the systematic disadvantage of some social groups and to the perpetuation of poverty and of exclusion from generation to generation. We also should know, but often ignore, that equality and inequality cannot be measured by averages! (U. Jonsson) Policies, programs and interventions intended to improve the lives of disadvantaged people often only address the symptoms of inequalities, such as chronic poverty, but not their actual causes. As a result, patterns of powerlessness, marginalization and exclusion remain persistent over time.****
****: Extreme marginalization makes the marginalized have the experience of death while still alive; they simply need to be recognized as persons, regardless of differences, shortcomings and particularities. (L. Boff)
20. Inequalities are commonly ‘legitimized’ by powerful groups using stereotypes and prejudice that justify discrimination and maintain exclusion.***** Gender-based discrimination, for instance, remains the single most widespread driver of inequalities in today’s world. The new, upcoming post 2015 development agenda simply must enable those whose capabilities have been harmed by inequalities to claim and realize their rights. Only this will lead to measures that are transformational enough in orientation rather than just being marginal or incremental.
*****: Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. (F. Douglass)
21. Needed will be equity-focused and rights-based policies, as well as legal and program initiatives including:
- explicit measures to provide for equal access, equal opportunities and equal results for disadvantaged and excluded groups;
- appropriate redistributive measures, including social protection (i.e., social security, social assistance, labor rights, public service rights and environmental rights);
- the provision of the specific needs of women and girls, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities and of minority groups;
- adequate and sustained investment in children, including adolescents, as a means of combating inequality and promoting future prosperity;
- measures to increase awareness, widen participation in decision-making and to improve the availability and transparency of data and information on inequalities and on development progress;
- also needed will be equitable tax systems that improve collection rates from sectors and agents that have benefited disproportionately from aggregate income growth.
(Overview and Key Messages from the Report on the Post 2015 Inequalities Consultation http://www.worldwewant2015.org/node/308651 )
22. The equalities protected by international human rights conventions correspond exactly to those areas where concern about inequalities must be the greatest. Progress thus depends on addressing the structural drivers that reproduce inequalities. The identification of and the taking action on the root causes of inequalities (and thus of HR failures) is indispensable if one is to expect effective egalitarian results at all levels. Attempts to address inequalities outside the framework of HR will necessarily be partial, hence condoning discrimination and exclusion. Demanding the fulfillment of HR obligations is the real holistic means of addressing inequalities!
23. Remember that individuals and institutions, be they acting on behalf of states or non-state actors, are now also increasingly accountable for HR abuses, not only within any given state, but subject to account to other states.
24. Let us be clear: The HR framework offers a compelling means for putting inequalities at the center of international development. The achievement of universal human rights and the elimination of inequalities are thus two sides of the same coin. (Report on the Global Thematic Consultation on Inequalities, UNICEF, UN Women, January 2013).
Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
Postscript: Two sides of a coin:
-If we do not act who will? Visions without actions remain illusions.
-“Once I asked myself if all I do makes any sense, if my mission in this world was not a different one. I seriously thought of quitting everything and going to work with the poor in Africa. At the end, I did not go, because it is so hot there. I suffer a lot with the heat, you know?”. (A. Fortabat)
August 5th, 2013 by Claudio Schuftan
Food for a life-long thought
Human Rights Reader 321
-What ever happened to the maxim “to each according to her needs?”
-He who has, fears losing privileges; he who does not have, aspires to have opportunities; that is the dialectics of hard reality. (L. Boff)
1. What the adoption of the human rights framework is all about is making sure that short-term responses do not preclude the chances of identifying and acting-upon long-term solutions. (O. de Schutter) The human rights framework is definitely used wrongly if it delays policy development or, as is often the case, it deteriorates into a series of public relations exercises by its proponents. The ultimate purpose of adopting the human rights framework is to embark in it with clear objectives and rules of engagement that are task- and action-oriented, as well as time-bound. (F. Gomez) That is why accepting the human rights framework does not allow for a ‘pick and choose menu’ approach. (M. Wopold Bosien)
2. We have all seen how the usurpation of the concept of human rights (HR) has caused it to lose the essence of the social and economic message it is supposed to convey. There is a thus real danger of losing the long term transformative wisdom and sense of the HR framework. We cannot but be watchful. We must also be clear when we speak about HR, i.e., we must insist on the fact that the HR framework is ultimately intended to bring about change in the prevailing economic and social discourse. (La Via Campesina)
3. Applying the HR framework is about applying its operational principles and standards of conduct so as to ensure development plans deliver on their promises to everyone in society. Its application is about making sure the new development agenda avoids the shortcomings that have hindered progress towards key current MDGs, for example. The post-2015 agenda should thus be firmly rooted in the nine key principles of the HR framework, namely universality, interdependence, equality, participation, transparency, accountability, meeting minimum essential floors, using maximum available resources and international cooperation. These have, by and large, been overlooked in the design and implementation of current development commitments. As a consequence, now is the time to define ‘common but differentiated’ responsibilities. Abiding by these principles, standards and responsibilities will indeed help ensure that the sustainable development commitments to be agreed by 2015 do not go down in history as yet another set of overoptimistic yet unfulfilled promises. The basic needs era generated promises; HR call for correlative duties: a different ‘ball game’. The new development framework will have to actively empower citizens so they can hold their governments and the international community to account for what they are doing to meet the commitments they have solemnly made internationally.
4. Never forget: Reframing development in HR terms is not only an ethical and legal imperative; it also enhances the effectiveness and accountability of future development efforts.* (CESR)
*: But we are not dreamers. We are aware that, at best, HR have been referred to in current development debates as rhetorical abstractions whose relevance to the nitty-gritty of social policy formulation has rarely been spelled out. At worst, HR have been misperceived as either irrelevant to the development process or as too politically-sensitive for inclusion in a global partnership for development. (CESR)
Participation must come before accountability
5. Also all about HR, is the fact that HR policies must be initially developed through processes of consultation (defined by the Oxford Dictionary as meaning ‘to seek information or advice from’) rather than through a process starting at the negotiations stage (defined as ‘trying to reach an agreement or compromise by discussion’) where a proposed text is put forward for popular discussion.
6. What the latter implies is that there cannot be any intention for any one or any group of duty bearers to ‘own’ HR. HR are a universal alternative to be used and driven by claim holders either intuitively or as achieved via widespread ad-hoc (badly needed) HR learning activities. Owning HR brings about a new way of working –in the positive sense of the word (even if not always in a predictable way). Ownership must lead to the development of national platforms or coalitions that will give growing legitimacy to initiatives born locally.** (The problem is that many existing platforms do not include a single claim holder –when the issue is precisely to inject their know-how into the development equation). As repeated over and over in these Readers, decisions on HR cannot be taken without consulting the grassroots… (La Via Campesina)
**: Note here that there are no conflicts between the HR framework and, as is sometimes alleged, trade unions. Sometimes the gap is big, but also there is no dialogue. The debate on alliances with working-class trade unions is considered a central issue due to their fundamental and historical role in society. (La Via Campesina)
When a law is unjust, the correct thing to do is to disobey. (M. Gandhi)
The obstacles to strengthen human rights law are not legal, but political.
7. States are not at all asked to make generous-political-commitments. As they guarantee the fulfillment of the HR of their citizens, they are nothing but discharging their duty under international human rights law.***
***: We are not unaware that there are formidable impediments to the application of HR to address the major HR problems under the globalization regime.
8. That is why we need independent monitoring mechanisms that allow individual victims or organizations to file claims against any state failure to take the measures required under international law for the realization of the different economic, social and cultural rights; this is what distinguishes legal obligations from mere policy commitments.**** (adapted from O. de Schutter) Do not overlook the fact that we now have the respective Optional Protocol with clear instructions on how to go about to place claims.
****: It is very disturbing when the word ‘responsibility’ is used instead of ‘obligation’ or ‘duty’. Such a language reflects a clear lack of determination to adopt the human rights framework. It is important also not to forget that the concept of ‘voluntary guidelines’ is not recognised by International Human Rights Law. (!) (U. Jonsson)
9. This is also why having the private sector around the table –with its myriad conflicts of interest– is a crass mistake when policies are being decided. Among other, the risk we know this brings is that we end up with small incremental changes rather than the significant, effective structural changes that are actually needed.
10. It is actually more. Given the role corporations often play in governance issues, the obligation of States to protect against human rights infringements by third parties requires taking proactive steps to prevent, investigate, punish and redress any abuse through effective policies, legislation, regulations and adjudication. This means that States must ensure that those affected by business-related abuses have access to a prompt, accessible and effective remedy –where necessary including recourse to judicial redress, as well as non-judicial accountability and grievance mechanisms. (M. Sepulveda)
11. In general, as regards duty bearers, the main challenge they face is not what actions they think are feasible or how they have to be carried out, but rather their willingness to take action, i.e., what some call political will, or rather the lack of it. In the words of one observer, most duty bearers suffer from a disease called ‘cold feet’ characterized by looking the other way of HR violations and thus not being willing to take the needed actions when it comes to the protection of the most vulnerable people in society. One way of removing the cold feet and opening up real possibilities, therefore, is to look-around-and-point-fingers at non-responsive leaders and politicians, both globally as well as locally –this being what in HR parlance is called holding duty bearers accountable through organized demanding. (M. Gulleth)
In a human rights context, there are innocent victims and ‘guilt victims’. (L. Boff)
For every ten persons that are actually responsible for human rights violations there are a thousand that condone these violations –many of them are high level decision makers. Ergo, in any given country, the progressive disappearance of morals and of the respect for human rights always precedes historical catastrophes. (Albino Gomez)
12. Where this puts us is confronting the need to counter the cynical view that nothing will work. We need to make the case that fighting against HR violations does work –and it is not just for humanitarians to get involved, but for finance ministers, presidents and prime ministers to do so. We need to aim high. (J. Sheeran). *****
***** Caveat: Minimalism is a dead end street. At the end of the day, just a token compliance with HR is still a violation of HR.
13. It is not an illusion that we can protect people from HR violations under current adverse conditions although sometimes we will face a very uphill battle. Such adverse conditions can simply not tamper our resolve. To revert the situation, we have to exert a social pressure of such a magnitude that the State is made to budge –and for this to happen communities simply have to become de-facto claim holders and forcefully demand. (A community is to be understood as a social group structured by ties, rights and duties, moral and/or legal). The State has to be made to understand that these violations do not only affect those whose rights are violated, but society as a whole. How? In that progress towards overall development is blocked. A political process has to be launched for the resolution of the HR problem as a clear political demand since governments otherwise act according to their preset priorities –of which HR are not one. (adapted from F. Monckeberg)
14. In short, about innocent and guilt victims, it is a horror that HR violations happen and are being accepted ‘just because’ it is perceived it is so difficult to do something about them. Those on the right are mostly unmoved in their disdain for what happens to the millions of the dispossessed and alienated. (Julio Cortazar) Most loathsome are those that recognize all the symptoms, but fall back on apathy. (J.C. Onetti)
Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
Postscript: What would happen if we organized ourselves, confronting our oppressors without arms, without words? Thousands, no, millions of eyes just staring at them. No chants. No clapping. No smiles. No pat on the back. No political slogans or songs. No singing at all. I don’t know, but I ask myself, what would happen? (Mario Benedetti)
All prior Human Rights Readers, going back over five years, can be found at
www.humaninfo.org/aviva under No.69