SocMed: Fellowship in Social Medicine

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We are now recruiting for our SocMed Oryema Fellowship in Social Medicine as part of the annual course Beyond the Biological Basis of Disease course in Uganda and invite interested individuals to now apply.

Fellowship Description:

Named in honor of Oryema Patrick, a nurse dedicated to equitable health care delivery in Northern Uganda who died in 2011, the fellowship aims to mentor, inspire, and challenge practitioners of social medicine through a year-long endeavor in the coordination and implementation of social medicine education course in Uganda.


  • Fellowship runs from July 1st, 2015 to June 30th, 2016
  • Minimum in-country time in Uganda from approximately November 1st, 2015 to March 1st, 2016
  • Minimum commitment of 20 hours per week (for time in Uganda, we will help facilitate placement in other health-related organization for the remainder of his/her time, if necessary)


  • Minimum BA/BS degree
  • Overseas experience, particularly in resource-poor settings
  • Leadership, communication, problem-solving skills
  • Flexible and open-minded in new and sometimes challenging environments

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Participate in research related to teaching/learning of the course including proposal development, data collection, analysis, and write-up
  • Serve as SocMed ambassador in Uganda and US through outreach, meetings, casual encounters, etc.
  • Serve as liaison with Ugandan university students in Gulu, Mbarara, and Kampala
  • Document delivery of course for potential publishable curriculum guide
  • Support lecture development and manage field visits
  • Participate in outreach and recruitment for student participants globally
  • Organize fundraising initiatives for SocMed
  • Arrange course speakers and develop relationships with potential new course speakers and Lacor clinicians
  • Regularly update SocMed website
  • Logistical support (regular communication with admitted students; coordinate travel plans of international students, work with caterer, organize in-country transport, organize printing of course reader, student housing)
  • Work alongside Ugandan colleagues, including a counterpart in similar position
  • Regular communication with course directors

Specific responsibilities for this fellowship would vary with the level of training of the fellow. We are committed to ensuring the fellow receives quality mentorship throughout the year in order that her/his personal and professional goals are included.  He/she would not only serve a critical role in ensuring the smooth implementation of social medicine education but our goal is that he/she would also gain valuable experience in global health.

Since SocMed is a grassroots organization operating with very limited funds, the Oryema Fellowship is, unfortunately, not currently a funded position.  The fellow is responsible for his/her own airfare to Uganda, insurance, and living expenses as well as expenses associated with travel documents, medical services, or recommended immunizations.  SocMed does offer a modest stipend for living expenses incurred while in Uganda, full room/board for the month of the course, and reimbursement for in-country travel and other expenses incurred while attending to the responsibilities of the fellowship.

Information on Application Process:

If you are interested in the Oryema Fellowship, please send a detailed letter of interest, a copy of your CV, and a letter of recommendation to by Friday January 16, 2015. The letter of recommendation should be sent directly from the recommender and should assess the candidate’s leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills as well as his/her capacity to adapt to new environments.

Further information can be found on the SocMed website:

Please view our past and current fellows by visiting:

All queries related to the fellowship and/or application process may also be directed to that same email address.


Dr. Dawn Belkin Martinez & Social Justice in Clinical Practice

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On Tuesday, November 11th, Dr. Dawn Belkin Martinez will be presenting at Social Medicine Rounds on: Social Justice in Clinical Practice.  The venue will be 3544 Jerome Avenue and the session will run from 4:30 to 6PM.

Dr. Belkin Martinez has adopted a “liberation health” model for her clinical practice in social work and family therapy.  She and Ann Fleck-Henderson have co-edited a book describing this model: Social Justice in Clinical Practice: A Liberation Health Framework for Social Work.

What follows is a brief biosketch of Dr. Belkin Martinez:


belkinpixDawn Belkin Martinez, PhD, LICSW is a Lecturer in Clinical Practice at the Boston University School of Social Work and was formerly an instructor in psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School.  Trained as a family therapist, Dawn worked as the senior social worker on the Inpatient Psychiatry Service at Children’s Hospital Boston for thirteen years and is the co-author of the book Social Justice in Clinical Practice: A Liberation Health Framework for Social Work.   Dawn is one of the founding members of the Boston Liberation Health Group and gives presentations locally, nationally, and internationally about her work with immigrant families, liberation health theory and practice,

posted by Matt Anderson, MD


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Food for a majority’s thought


Human Rights Reader 349


…But is such a democracy a luxury that not everybody deserves? (E. Galeano)


*: Minorities within the majority: The importance of Gandhi was to introduce in the 20th century the idea of how powerful a minority avant-garde motivated and moved by human rights can be when really committed. He said: “It is not the numbers that count, but the quality; strength in numbers alone does not make a just cause”.


We cannot lose a democracy we never had.


  1. The illusion of democracy is just one of the many illusions that we have been educated to believe in.


  1. Many world leaders have been heard lately lamenting the death of democracy. There is actually reason for them to lament. But for something to die, it must have once lived.** Has there been democracy in most countries around the world? The answer is no. From the human rights (HR) perspective, for sure, for too long there has not been a truly democratic state.

**: Confronted with a conflict between evidence and what-they-want-to-believe-for-political and/or religious-reasons, many people reject the evidence. Apathetic individuals in society simply accept what they get –provided that not much changes and there are no surprises. They flow with the tide. The problem is not ignorance; it is wishful thinking. And knowing more about the issues widens the divide, because the well informed (you?) then have a clearer view of the evidence they need to oppose those who uncritically sustain their belief in what in reality is an undemocratic system. (P. Krugman and C. Fuentes)


  1. Governments have ruled over millions keeping their basic freedoms and HR abrogated. Indeed, there has been an illusion of democracy, or alternatively, a democracy for the haves only. This, of course, is a contradiction in terms. It is not easy to confront the fact that much of the life education we get is full of indoctrination. On second examination, just lightly scratching the surface, reveals to us what is basically a cover-up of an entirely different reality. Some of us discover this at an early age, others later. There are also those who will never discover this –perhaps they would even prefer not to see it. Representative democracy is perceived to be something positive until we understand that it means excluding a big chunk of the population from their rights. Representative democracy has enabled the pushing aside of many cultures, not infrequently with violence. There are also clichés like: democracy is about ‘free’ elections…. This is a bothersome thought. Is it possible that everything we were raised on, or at least most of it, is mistaken? What is the significance and consequence of this? (And does asking these questions undermine the fact that representative democracy is abused, often rigged and deeply flawed?) If democracy must be based on wealth, on a strong fist, on pushing out others, on violating their HR, on nationalism, on chauvinism and on militarism, then the answer is yes: mistaken it is. The pleading of too many in society regularly falls on deaf ears. It appears that the first condition for really fixing this situation –if that is still possible– is the recognition that we did not lose democracy now. We never really had it. (T. Saar)


  1. Many of our leaders seem to act like in the tragedies of classical Greek theater: Everybody knows what will happen, everybody says they do not want it to happen, but they do precisely the necessary for the undesired, unwelcome (tragic) outcome they want to avoid to happen. (Albino Gomez) Acquiescence with the designs of Capitalism is bad for democracy. Politicians simply too often pursue economic growth policies with disregard for the social and HR costs involved. What I say is that democracy cannot be governed by the market. The Greeks already knew it: In decision making, separate the market place from the forum.


Democracy, live it or lose it (F.M. Lappe)


To install a more direct democracy, upping our civil courage quotient is a must. Democracy is in bad need of that ‘participative twist’ it has been missing. (The Occupy Wallstreet Movement spoke of Consensus-based Direct Democracy)


  1. Democracy is not viable if it does not empower those rendered poor and marginalized by an unfair system, if it does not respond first and foremost to the needs and the HR of the most needy.*** We have to recreate our political systems burying all forms of hierarchy, of monarchy, of oligarchy and burying the anarchy the markets of capitalism create. We must transition from representative democracies in which power serves the interests of the elites to Communal Direct Democracies where there are no majorities and minorities, but rather decisions are taken by consensus and where reason imposes itself over rigged voting that, day-in-day-out, leads to unfair and biased decision making. Politicians cannot be allowed to use state administrative, judicial and economic tools for their own private, personal and class interests. (Evo Morales)

***: The weight of claim holders power is not to be in their voting in national elections, but in the demands they ongoingly place; demands that bring about the needed conflicts that ultimately bring about change. (E. Gruner)


  1. As US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said: “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.” In a truly democratic country, the necessary legislation must be preceded by reasoned, responsible demands by organized public interest groups.


We must call things for what they really are


George Orwell already said: “England is a country of good people with the wrong people at the helm”.


  1. We cannot continue calling national reconstruction processes what in real truth are dictatorships. The actions of such governments are not implemented ‘by mistake’, they are calculated: they pursue effects rather than addressing the causes –and all they cannot control is forbidden. (A. Gomez) If these authoritarian regimes do not become increasingly more democratic, it is young people in urban areas that will protest and act (think Arab Spring). The youth has had it with the indifference they see, with the empty speeches and insincere declarations, with the loud and ambiguous declamations and posturing that only add to a chronic trend of procrastination and lack of HR accountability. (E. Galeano)


  1. Other large sectors of society remain ignorant and unmoved about what befalls them and why, thereby virtually accepting their fate. But this is precisely the consequence of the underdevelopment they have been thrown into for generations. Conversely, there is no ignorance of the elites in throwing society into underdevelopment. (D. Caputo)


Human rights in many Constitutions: Any good?


  1. With all the importance that that what is sanctioned in some of our Constitutions has, it means nothing if every person, no matter where, and no matter what her/his activity, does not internalize and demand what is said in those clauses. (J. Monsalvo) This, because too often there are huge distances between a Constitution and concrete political practices.


Taking our grievances to the streets: Any good?


Many governments give themselves the license to forget that, sooner or later, they will have to listen to the voice of the people in chats, in blogs, in tweets and, finally, in all the public squares of their cities. If they ignore this reality, their hour will come. (Julian Assange)


  1. Public street demonstrations are an opportunity for letting off steam, for a certain degree of catharsis (when people can freely express their deep feelings).**** But these demonstrations cannot only be to denounce; they also have to announce a new order –a plan; and that is where they so often fail: no concrete follow up plans …after all dies down, then what?

****: At the same time, these acts are not only the consequence of the piling up of broken promises, of leaders’ insensitivity to people’s demands and to overall government laissez faire, but are also the consequence of opposition parties being perceived by the marchers as not forcefully enough representing their demands. (A. Gomez)


Democracy will never be supplanted by a republic of experts –and that is a very good thing (T. Piketty)


  1. Whichever way we jump, in HR work we have to do so democratically, becoming the champions of direct democracy …and there is no sense of waiting forever. (K. H. O’Rourke) We have to take advantage of the HR-given avenues for action and certainly not be afraid of grasping such liberty; much less so be afraid of those who want to restrict liberty and the fulfillment of HR. If not now, when?


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



-There is a better world, sure, but it is very, very expensive. (Les Luthiers) …In that world of Oz, hypocrisy is without shame.

-The world can be changed. If for better, the challenge needs people power. (J. Koenig)

-But beware: The power of truth does not move men. The tenet of neoliberal philosophy that ‘power positions will yield to arguments rationally and morally valid’ has for long been definitively refuted. It is material interests that drive capitalist societies and even drive to wars. Power rules; ideas don’t. The arguments of power defeat the power of arguments. (H. J. Morgenthau, Bertrand Russel)

-All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is that good wo/men do nothing. (Edmund Burke)



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Food for a center stage thought


Human Rights Reader 348


-We are weary of those who speak human rights and deny them to their own people (or perhaps do not deny them, but do not actually know enough about them). (S. Koenig)

-In a way, we are living through the pregnancy phase of the new human rights paradigm. A pregnancy there is, yes, but in cases such as this, pregnancies sometimes progress, sometimes stagnate, they even occasionally regress and/or produce malformations or end in abortion. In our case, it is a pregnancy that has ended up in a human rights paradigm of many fathers –which now makes it acceptable to many. Its fate will continue to depend on a joint parenthood, but now, all will have to come together and become active fathers and stop being mere spectators. We need to deliver a healthy baby. (L. Weinstein)


  1. We live in an era in which the ideals of human rights (HR) have moved center stage both ethically and politically*. A great deal of energy is expended in promoting their significance for the construction of a better world. But, for the most part, the concepts circulating do not fundamentally challenge hegemonic liberal and neoliberal market logic or the dominant modes of legality and of state action. We live, after all, in a world in which the rights of private property and profit trump all other notions of rights. (D. Harvey)

*: Some have asked: Is there a need for an ethical and political de-colonization of human rights? This begs the further question: Is there really a neo-colonial element in the HR discourse? Absolutely not! HR are universal; there is no cultural relativism. But there is dissatisfaction and even mistrust of human rights as an instrument for meaningful social change –and that is where the HR Readers come in.


  1. What is thus needed is an approach to HR informed by the dispassionate analysis of the oppressive, HR-violating, HR abusing or HR neglecting context of so many of the national and global social and political relationships. It is in this contexts that a ‘people-centered human rights concept and approach’ has been growing, based on the principles of social solidarity, of cooperation, of non-discrimination in all social relationships, of collective public ownership of the earth’s resources, of respect for difference, of self-determination of all peoples’ and of the recognition and respect for the inherent dignity of all individuals and people. (A. Baraka, Pambazuka News 659, 18 December 2013,


  1. The approach departs from the premise that, as a given, the currently prevailing worldwide system of social and political relations must be reformed. But reforms have to be arrived-at through consensus building with a) aggrieved claim holders, i.e., people for whom HR violations are part of everyday life, and b) duty bearers pondering the available evidence plus minding, weighing and heeding all pertinent political and ideological considerations. Never forget: Only where/when claim holders actively demand do governments not only listen, but act.


  1. Within the HR-based approach, it is the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) that is the most misunderstood instrument in the international human rights system. With the entry into force of its Optional Protocol, allowing individuals and communities to formally place complaints, ICESCR is poised to become a significant game changer in international HR law. At the national level, constitutions and courts have increasingly regarded socio-economic and cultural rights as justiciable thus narrowing the traditional divide with civil and political rights –and this is encouraging.


  1. We all know that, over decades, the economic trickle-down effect did not happen so that inequalities within a given generation were not reduced, much less eliminated. Why do we then, so often, assume that now trickle-down will do so even across generations? Actually, the most marginalized populations remain unrepresented in the practice of managing world development affairs: Here I mean particularly the future generations. Our relationships with future generations regarding HR and development issues remain largely undefined; there is a lot of show and very little substance. Future generations seem to be, but are not, an abstract entity! Establishing minimum considerations for future generations is not only necessary, but possible and indispensable. Principles such as universality and the progressive realization of HR provide the moral and legal impetus for it. If we begin now to address future generations as a rights-bearing group, we will make progress on even the most protracted inequalities that have defeated decades of development praxis. (K. Moir)


By seeing the big picture we can change it. A human rights analysis breeds not paralysis, but rather informed and inspired action.


-Is our immediate objective in HR work to achieve social peace or, to start with, a certain degree of social upheaval?

-The most important thing is perhaps the way contradictions in HR are managed: by force or by dialogue? …Or by forceful, unrelenting demands by claim holders? (CETIM)


  1. As a starter, what about these action points? (By far, here below not an all inclusive list, but rather an illustrative one just to shine a spotlight).

One: Labor unions and political parties are not articulating platforms that have HR at their core. If they did, this would be very powerful: a challenge here. Unions in principle represent claim holders; progressive parties also should, but often do not… Inter-union alliances and political parties coalitions around HR are a neglected goal to pursue, not to talk about labor union/political parties alliances on these issues so as to arrive at a wider national civil society platform on HR.


Two: Stop throwing more task forces or committees at our social problems worldwide; doing so is clearly a delaying tactic. Such task forces or committees generally are but an assembly of important people who, alone, cannot do anything while, together, they decide that nothing can be done. (Albino Gomez) [Those who know that you are right will raise heaven on earth to create the illusion that you are wrong, anyway. (P. Bhargava)] Concentrate on empowering claim holders and duty bearers.**

**: Claim holders have the right to empower themselves to change the dire HR situation they experience. This transformation –that calls for a massive HR learning push– is indispensable since change depends on amassing the collective power to right what is wrong. The freedom to make and remake ourselves is one of the most precious yet most neglected of our HR. (D. Harvey)


Three: Since chronic vulnerability is caused by HR violations, denounce chronic vulnerability as being caused by an unfair/unjust society. (Note that certain groups in society are not vulnerable, they are rendered vulnerable…).


Four: For HR activists, social protection is different from social justice. Why? Because the latter identifies the responsible duty bearers. Therefore, it is carrying out capacity analyses using the HR-based framework what will identify the latter for claim holders to direct their demands to.


Five: Cultural diversity expresses the wealth of humanity. Therefore, States have to be made to respect and protect this wealth at the same time the respect other people’s rights.


Six: Both individuals, as well as communities are, at the same time, actors and holders of HR. Therefore, we must interpret HR covenants to include the rights of communities and provide outlets for the latter to claim and exercise their members’ rights.


Seven: As relates to scientific research, the same should have a social function bearing in mind that all scientific progress does not necessarily benefit humanity. Its orientation, its purpose and its financing must be subject to political scrutiny.*** (CETIM)

***: Scientific evidence is necessary, but not sufficient to bring about change in public policy. Always remember that politicians move when they are scared, not necessarily when the evidence is overwhelming. (F. Kummerov)


Eight: We need to always make a clear distinction between ‘discrimination’ –a very ‘active’ behavior– and ‘inequalities’ –that may be the result of a variety of factors. There are three levels that this must be looked at:

  • Groups being deliberately excluded for any reason (in any development process).
  • Groups being missed out because they are ‘invisible’.
  • Socially excluded groups being actively sought out.****

****: Also consider people being excluded by decision makers not following best practice. If (human/financial/environmental) resources are limited, corners will be cut and the socially excluded are likely to suffer first/the most due to their relative position in society. Think about the Dalits in India. This is not only an issue of discrimination or lack of equality – it is also an issue of poorly resourced interventions. The question is: Should implementers be blamed for doing what they think is best with the limited resources (including skills and knowledge) they have at hand? (B. Reed)
The action point here is to forcefully demand the excluded groups be actively sought out.


Nine: Accountability is about more than apportioning blame –this ‘holding to account’ is only a small part of the story. Accountability means clarity about who is responsible for what; duty bearers and service providers need to have clarity about where their responsibilities to users begin and end; claim holders as users need to be clear what they are entitled to expect from providers and how to seek redress if this fails. Accountability is best exercised by a regulatory and coordination body with clear objectives and definitive public interest civil society organizations (CSOs) participation. (T. Brewer)


Ten: Creating or strengthening an existing HR commission that bring together public interest CSOs, regulators and other government officials to identify policy constraints that most hurt claim holders is a good action point. Active involvement by social movements is critical, because officials do not always understand how HR work and how their violation affects people. A HR commission can help identify problems and solutions. A key task for the commission is to devise plans to address the most detrimental policies and to increase compliance of duty bearers by reinforcing regulatory objectives and activities. A policy performance baseline can be established that will set the monitoring guidelines. Dispute resolution mechanisms will also be set up. It is the participating CSOs that must contribute the information needed for the commission’s performance monitoring.***** Other issues for the commission to address are: i) the government may not want to provide data that makes it look bad (or because it will have to incur in costs to collect it or disaggregate it), and ii) Public interest CSOs may not trust the data provided by the government. In that case, household surveys can be used to address such concerns, but data compilation has to be done by an independent organization free of industry or government dependence or influence. (B. Hoekman)

*****: This begs the difficult question: What metrics should one be using to follow HR improvements? This is an old question about which activists have for long looked for an answer.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho hi Minh City



-Do you really think the Readers are trying to explain to you specific articles of the UN HR covenants and conventions? These do not need explanation! I just want to explain what they mean to me. (Adapted from Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitz as cited by Martin Buber) [Then, who am I, you ask? Sought by all, owned by very few. I am dignity. (J. Koenig)].


-We do not need to give so many explanations; our friends do not need them and our enemies do not deserve them. (A. Gomez)

-When all is said and done, and all questions are answered, who will have the last word? (J. Koenig)


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Food for a disquieting wake up thought (2)


Human Rights Reader 347
Have we fallen into the trap of using the language of neoliberals so that they are able to shape how we think and behave in regards to human rights? (S. Kidd)


One does not combat neoliberalism because one can defeat it; one combats it because it is neoliberal. (J.P. Sartre said this for Fascism)

16. Neoliberal theories are nets cast widely to catch what capitalists call ‘world markets’. OK, but what for? To rationalize, to justify, and to master what really is a process of exploitation or of accumulation by dispossession?

17. This is a world in which the neoliberal ethics of intense possessive individualism and the concomitant political withdrawal from collective forms of action, typically affecting human rights, have become the template for our socialization. More than before, in the past three decades, the neoliberal turn has restored class power to rich elites who have a manner to solving the key questions of hot issues in society in a way that the solutions continually reproduce the questions anew. Under these conditions, neoliberal ethics becomes much harder to sustain –and we have to use this, their weakness.

18. However, in the 21st century, we have yet to see a coherent opposition to these developments. Many diverse single-issue social movements are focusing on this question only indirectly and have not yet converged on the singular aim of gaining greater control over what really underlies their particular single-issue of concern, i.e., neoliberal ideology. At this point in history, this has to become a global struggle, for this is the scale at which processes now work. The political task of organizing such a confrontation is not only daunting, but also urgent. The opportunities are multiple since crises repeatedly recur. The metropolis now is a point of massive collisions including rather dramatic clashes on human rights (HR) issues –dare we say a part and parcel of class struggle? One step towards unifying these struggles is to adopt the HR framework as both a working project and a political ideal and by applying the democratization core of HR plus its drive to build a broad social movement to enforce the people’s will. This is imperative if claim holders are to take control of what they have so long been denied. (D. Harvey)


Science, technology and ideology: Where are human rights?


Over time, a string of not-circumstantial-errors have been eroding the widespread people’s trust in scientific ‘objectivity’ which claims that science actually best explains the world to us. The ideology of neoliberalism that has ruled us in this phase has further contributed to this.

19. The felt need to legitimate science and technology to fit the pursuits of Capitalism became the point of departure for the basically dogmatic and anti-scientific shift that has biased much of ‘objectivity’. The statement that the problem is not in technology itself, but in its use is doubly worrisome, because it hides the growing subordination of science to economic power and it (re)validates and legitimizes the techno-centric bases of neoliberalism. Such a legitimation comes from the simplistic idea that technology being neutral and universal always denotes progress. …and if something goes wrong, it is because an unforeseen “Dr No” used it improperly and any damage that results from it can certainly be remedied in the future by another better technology …or by naively assuming that state regulation will take care of it (ignoring that the state is actually a partner of the interests that control science and technology).

20. Our leaders prefer to ignore that technologies are the non-innocent social product designed to fit or serve the hegemonic cosmovisions that the capitalist system demands. These leaders want to make us believe that everything is just technical thus effectively disguising the true ideology of science; or better, replacing it by a limited science devoid of any critical reflection. Ergo, a way to ignore the power relations in society is to place science and technology at the service of the dominant power. To achieve this, our leaders predict all sorts of catastrophes if society does not devotedly assume that the sanctioned science and technology is the only way forward for ’progress’ to occur.

21. So let’s retain: Science and technology are part of the powers that be. What can one, therefore ask from them? Honesty in their dictates and accomplishments? Well, it is the experts who, consciously or not, subserviently ignore these evils and banalize science (protected by a core group of intellectuals relegated to their prestigious ivory towers) that, in reality, promote what is fragmentary pieces of knowledge. Said another way, technology has been and is directed by the designs of the capital that makes it possible, i.e., technology is not a product of the neutrality or virtuosity of scientific development, but follows the ideological conceptualization and interests behind the construction of a paradigm based on predatory appropriation.

22. Being determined by market forces, science and technology are thus not neutral in their intentions. This makes active social involvement a must so as to combat biased interpretations and applications of science and technology as they threaten our future. In last instance, ‘technological progress’ simplifies complexity and sells certainty. In its discourse, we find much ambition, (false) pride, a poor understanding of the world’s complexity and simply poor science. It is big business and a falsely legitimizing discourse that honest scientists must face particularly due to the fact that transnational corporations (TNCs) own publishing houses, scientific journals and block publications adverse to the paradigm. Science, its sense of ‘for what’, ‘for whom’ and ‘going where’ is in crisis and we, in HR work, cannot pretend ignoring it if we want to pursue and accomplish our goals for a better world. ( )


Are the rights of nature being trampled?


The sad truth is that we pay so much more attention to the global financial crisis than to the ecological crisis.

 23. It is at the local level that all contradictions of Capitalism explode. The capitalist system thrives on these conflicts and uses them to its advantage. (La Via Campesina). Take for instance our increasing worries about climate change. In the last several years, the ideologues of the capitalist system have wanted to sell us the idea of a green economy as the salvation of our model of society. But this does not really mean an inch more than the mercantilization of nature. This is the bottom line of the proposed ‘Green Capitalism”. (Evo Morales)

24. Or take another example: TNCs playing no minor role, our planet is being exhausted of clean water, fertile soils, strategic minerals, energy and the rich fishing wealth of our oceans. Extractive industries are exploiting and killing all that. As a result, huge corporations suck-in whatever there is. Water is contaminated, energy is squandered, soils are desertified and overfishing is rife. (T. Abraham)

25. I fear our hopes for advancing social and environmental justice are slim. Justice demands a recalibration of power and that requires us to better understand it. Power is hidden and concealed. The peasants who lose land or whose river
is polluted by mining may not know the name of the owner or corporation threatening their livelihood. Corporations have systematically and silently appropriated power and authority through lobbying, trade and investment agreements, and through unaccountable expert and lobbying groups and bodies. This concealed corporate power threatens to become further entrenched.

26. Constant vigilance is needed as transnational corporations power morphs into ever new arenas and, beware, State and capital are an ‘inseparable duo’. They depend on each other both to dispossess and also to build legitimacy for their ongoing appropriation. For instance, the fateful triangle of big energy, big finance and complicit governments prevents a desperately needed radical response to climate change. Disassembling this fateful triangle requires that we better and more proactively use our creative skills, alternative knowledge and values to overturn neoliberalism by launching practical and feasible alternatives that embody the values of solidarity, social justice, co-operation, HR and democracy we all aspire to. (TNI)


A transnational corporations’ architecture of impunity


The power of special interests is far greater than that of the public opinion’s sentiment.

 27. Obtaining results, for TNCs includes achieving political results –and the capacity to obtain them from governments is inexorably growing.* As said earlier, democracy is gradually succumbing to the disease of neoliberal ideology so that more and more functions of legitimate governments are being taken over by illegitimate, unelected, opaque agentss, lobbyist and organizations. For neoliberals, every aspect of the welfare state is abhorrent, because it consists in taking resources from the rich –those who supposedly created them– and giving that wealth to those who do not deserve it. The rich owe nothing to the poor; nor do the rich owe anything to nature.

*: Commercial entities’ power is not only in the room of national or international meetings; it is also outside the room, in lobbying, sponsoring, financing good-for-them strategies. They only attend meetings to inform themselves and to perfect their strategy elsewhere.  The challenge is: How can we compete with that? (O.  Frank)

28. Therefore, among many other reasons, as HR activists, we should care. Why? Because unless and until we can compel transnational corporations to adopt, among other, ‘country-by country’ reporting, they will continue to pay –usually quite legally– minimal taxes in most of the countries where they have branches. With total impunity, they can and do place their profits
in low or no-tax jurisdictions and their losses in high-tax ones. At present, if they so choose, they can report simply on the home country where they have their headquarters and then forget to do it in the rest of world.

29. Much law is now made beyond national borders and, in the international sphere, much of this law concerns ways to allow corporations greater scope and freedom. Large number of new trade treaties are allowing TNCs to infiltrate executive, legislative and even judicial State functions. Even the United Nations is now a TNC target –and the UN agencies welcomes their presence. (S. George)

30. Moreover, TNCs ignore conflict of interest issues until the same enter the public discourse. They dismiss such criticism and ridicule any suggestions of its validity. They hire public relations firms to characterize available studies as ‘junk science’. They attack scientists, sometimes personally, claiming they are biased against industry (the same for HR activists). They pay scientists to undertake studies that plant doubt. They call-in favors from community groups and professional associations they have supported to discount the critical claims. They begin public relations campaigns to counter the concept. They make self-regulatory pledges to care for the public good and issue promises to change business practices (such as marketing certain products to children). They spend massive amounts to lobby against policy changes that would alter their ability to continue business as usual. They work to have industry figures or supportive political figures installed in key regulatory agencies in order to stall, subvert or weaken all regulatory action. (K. Brownell, M. Gold)

31. Furthermore, it is not exactly news that governments have always governed on behalf of certain class interests. But this is different from allowing those interests to actually write the legislation and to make policy directly, including budgetary, financial, labor, social and environmental policy, in place of elected legislators and civil servants. It is different from allowing corporations to disseminate deception and lies and to undermine the public’s right to know. It is also different from allowing such interests to replace the established judiciary with ad-hoc courts in areas such as trade dispute arbitration, even in jurisdictions where the justice system is known to be fair and independent. (S. George)

32. TNCs also benefit from the unbalanced commodification of scientific progress (which is contrary to HR aims) in a way that is almost always detrimental to claim holders. This is particularly done through the patent system. (CETIM) It is high time to end the privatization of knowledge that deprives individuals and impoverishes society overall. (UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights)

33. Our concern thus is with the damage done as a result of the unbridled commercial freedoms that, since the 1980s, have been recklessly ceded by elected governments to TNCs of all types, whose activities are contributing to the fuel, finance and food crises that now beset us, and are, as said, undermining and displacing healthy food systems.** (C. Monteiro and G. Cannon)

**: A caveat: Working with the more forward looking progressive corporations –the ‘good ones’– is still risky.  In our experience, the corporations that are most criticized (and dangerous) tend to have the most highly developed public relations machinery. These corporations claim that their aims/purposes are indeed in line with those of UN agencies. The problem is made worse if these corporations are used as the ‘messengers’ for, for example, laudable WHO health messages, because then they so whitewash their reputation. Decisions about corporate privileges and roles should be based on what entities are rather than what they do.  What they do changes (and needs careful ongoing monitoring), but what they are tends to remain the same. (P. Rundall)

34. For these and so many other reasons, belatedly as it is, it is high time to develop concrete strategies to fight against these actions of TNCs. We acknowledge it is not easy with the overhanging danger of more and more repression. We cannot ignore that governments use their armed forces to do this –and even private armies are used by certain TNCs. (La Via Campesina)


[I ask: If all the material covered in these two Readers does not affect people’s HR, then what does? As the Mahatma used to say: First they ignore you, then they laugh about you, then they attack you and only at the end you win. (Will I ever see the latter phase materialize? Sure!)]


As a sort of epilogue

35. As HR workers, we are not anti-business; we are not anti-progress; we are not anti-government. We are for fair business and responsive government. We are against violence, against political and economic bullying and manipulation and we denounce ill-health, malnutrition and deaths as overwhelmingly preventable, as well as denouncing the flagrant violations of any HR. We are against the powers that are responsible for and condone these and that thus oppress and abuse people. We seek only justice, a caring body politic, to live with dignity since we have inalienable rights, important human rights, the right to speak out for our voice to be heard, the right to redress. We all are and should be critical and assertive about such deeply felt community aspirations; we must bring the same into a widely shared vision, into a joint mission and into a journey together. Therein lies the challenge. (A. Fazal)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City





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Food for a disquieting wake up thought


Human Rights Reader 346


-We live in societies where everything is globalized; ancient ancestral cultures and human rights are marginalized by the economic processes installed. (Evo Morales)

-The passion to dominate is the most terrible of all diseases of the human spirit. (Voltaire)


Globalization has led us to a profound dehumanization in the world


We have a common responsibility to prevent the unacceptable prioritization of profits for some over benefits for all. (UNESCO)


  1. We live in an upside-down world for the simple reason that it is a world that rewards speculation and penalizes honest work. It further gives the financial sector a role that is subservient to the ‘real’ economy –a real economy that, in turn, should support ecological sustainability and human rights (HR) and not a ‘paper economy’ based on futures trading. (CIVICUS) Globalization, the latest phase of Capitalism,* has magnified this sort of affairs (T. Schreker)

*: In this phase of Capitalism, what we have is a double phenomenon of polarization related to a double surplus transfer: from the South to the North internationally and from the working classes to the ruling classes domestically; for long, the latter have been experts in parking their money in tax heavens (the ‘fiscal launderettes’), not to mention their use of ‘creative’ accounting. (CETIM and A. Fazal)


  1. The transnational way of doing business is a key aspect of economic globalization and a result of unfettered deregulation. The countries in which transnational corporations (TNCs) are most powerful include those in which regulation is least effective and whose governments are impoverished, or heavily indebted, and thus in special need of foreign investment even when this involves selling off public goods such as land, water, electricity and communications. Transnational business includes predatory competition with and takeovers of smaller national companies. The common-front trade associations and alliances formed by TNCs to protect their interests by, for example, resisting statutory regulations show that they ‘run as a pack’. They hire the most imaginative and best resourced public relations agencies with a global reach; they have vast amounts of disposable cash to spend. They have plausibly asserted that their commercial interests need not conflict with those of, for instance, public health. Consequently they are seen by the United Nations and its relevant agencies, and by the most powerful national governments, not as part of the public health problem, but as an indispensible part of its solution. (Wolves dressed in sheep’s skins?)


  1. The South has thus opened up and all the TNCs are determined to get a share of the action. They are bound to do so. Any corporations slow to enter emerging market economies (emerging or submerged…?) would be taken over by energetic competitors. This is the nature of the global business economy. For TNCs, the global South is where the action is. That is why, for example, Big Food corporations want to teach the world to snack –from birth to death. (C. Monteiro and G. Cannon)


  1. We simply need to be much more explicit about the various channels through which value is transferred from the South to the North, including declining terms of trade, the servicing of odious debts, the brain drain, lending money to the rich countries (mostly the US) to insure against currency speculation, and repatriation of profits to the North from unfair commercial and investment relations. (D. Legge)


Behind globalization, there are economists …and economist


  1. In (capitalist) economics, economists can do whatever they want, but it is the consequences that are inevitable. (J.M. Keynes)  If we talk about trade economists, they rally around the notion that HR principles (and HR activists) are a pox to the world trading system they pursue. (J. Bhagwati) And if we talk about the econometric models that neoliberal economists love, a word of caution is called-for: These models prove dismally blind to what the future will bring and too many people (who should know better) believe and swear by their results. No computer today can completely simulate even a simple system; one must always wonder what bit of the reality is being left out. Models can help to build intuition or to refine calculations, but they do not give birth to genuine discovery. Only the most naïf scientist believes that the perfect model is the one that perfectly represents reality. Such a model would have the same drawbacks as a map as large and detailed as the city it represents, a map depicting every park, every street, every building, every tree, every pothole, every inhabitant. Were such map possible, its specificity would defeat its main purpose, i.e., to generalize and to abstract. (J. Gleick)


Markets: Consumerism generates more clients than citizens mindful of their and others’ human rights


-Assets change hands; that is the way the laws of the market work; there is no wealth that is born from assets that do not circulate.

-As is abundantly clear, the market is not the solution to every problem, rather the problem to every solution.


  1. As we all know, the concept of ‘free market’ is used widely. It is nothing short, but glorified. Let us look, for instance, at the food market and related nutrition issues.** Every time you buy products made by transnational food product corporations (‘Big Food’, ‘Big Soda’), you are part of a process that includes some combination of relentless exploitation of primary producers, replacement of appropriate agriculture by cash-cropping, destruction or acquisition of local food industries, elimination of trades unions, foreign grabbing of land and control of water rights, as well as displacement of long-established food systems that are rational, appropriate and part of national or local cultures. So, what is ‘free’ about this? In my opinion, more people would be more aware about this, if we all stopped using the term ‘free market’, replaced it by ‘predatory Capitalism’, and explained why we do so. (G. Cannon)

**: It is not coincidental (but rather cynical) to confuse nutritional value with market price. Think about value for money, value for people and value for the environment. (A. Fazal)


  1. Moreover, it is axiomatic that the owners of capital hold something close to a veto over a range of domestic policies related to commerce and markets –even under conditions of formal democracy. They can direct or withhold the investments on which all market economies depend –nowhere perhaps more patent than in the ultraprocessed (junk) food market. In addition, they can and do use their resources to affect the outcome of political processes.


  1. As all fundamentalisms, market fundamentalism has thus to be rejected. There are all too many unquestioned market dogmas. Financial firms’ critical function is to maximize their owners’ or shareholders’ profits, not always to steer investment into production. (Consider all these corporate mergers that produce nothing new, but concentrate wealth in less and less hands). But, yes, the market ‘works’: it makes shareholders richer, as it is designed solely to do, so it has succeeded. The market does not exist to serve society (or the advancement of HR), but rather to maximize private profit, whatever its social (and HR) effects. (J. Stiglitz)


Privatization and appropriation


-Corporate and state power inter-relate and depend on each other to flourish.

-Privatization leading to further concentration of global power has always ultimately produced shifts in the institutional governance superstructure. (S. Patrick)


  1. Elite privatization creates exclusion as the private sector steps-in selectively and soon applies ‘clubby’ business practices that favor their buddies and get rid of personnel. Privatization reforms simply fail to deliver the rates of economic growth and wealth creation promised*** and, more often than not, impose further HR violations. This shows the limitation of the top down privatization politics that apply untested theories ignoring implementation constraints, as well as imposing social protection programs devoid of clear social criteria –including uncritical government spending cuts and failure to focus on the HR of the most needy. If for no other reason, a new model grounded in social justice is needed; one that gives equal opportunities, expands social protection and promotes social dialogue. Economics first and politics later just won’t do. A new social contract needs to be defined in a participatory way. (F&D, 50:1, March 2013)

***: The institutions that govern us are tailored to the interests of the Elite and are thus enamored with the idea of economic growth. But we have to ask ourselves: Is it to growth or ultimately to stagnation? (F+D 50:4, December 2013)


  1. Moreover, the emphasis on public-private cooperation is, to say the least, unfortunate, because it focuses on guidelines and principles on which the private sector already agrees. It does not acknowledge that the private sector simply must be governed by strong and unequivocal rules. The capacity of agencies that are supposed to regulate business in relation to, for example, food and medicines has been severely restricted by the pressures exerted by Big Food and Big Pharma. The argument for this in the infant feeding sector was well articulated by Judith Richter in her book, Holding Corporations Accountable. (G. Kent)


  1. It would be an understatement to say that we live in a sick society and in dangerous times. Personhood and planethood are between poor and dismal. Corporatization, Privatization and Liberalization, the ‘CPL’ virus, will need a countervailing response. We are not in a standstill struggle; every day, new developments challenge us downstream and upstream. (A. Fazal)


Inequ(al)ities in Capitalism: Think about it this way — It is like everyone is invited to the same lunch, but not everyone is allowed to eat the same food.


Everyone aspires, but is not really rising. (A. Eyakuze)


  1. Even a cursory glance at various societies would reveal that the greed, prejudice and indifference embodied in the social norms that govern us is responsible for every social inequality we so extensively see in HR work: like extreme poverty, social exclusion, discrimination, etc. Valued social attributes embedded in the idea of free markets such as ‘initiative’ and ‘entrepreneurship’ often provide an excellent cover for personal greed and social indifference. So, it is fair to say that greed, prejudice and indifference are the underlying structural cause of extreme poverty (a HR violation found everywhere). Except in a very few societies, these are universally condemned as uncivilized values.


  1. Hence, it is justifiable to take steps to extirpate greed, prejudice and indifference from the norms of those societies and replace them by HR values. This cannot be achieved by legislation though. It requires an examination of what and how greed, prejudice and indifference serve man. The answer is quite simple: Greed for power and money can render one indifferent to everything else and can prejudice one against anything that stands in one’s way. This greed can manifest itself mainly if one considers one’s well being in purely material terms, as it does in modern times. In fact, current notions of growth and development only serve to legitimize this state of affairs. (L. Manavado)


  1. This begs the question: Should we, together with others, be asking:

Is some inequality essential for growth? The key contentious point here is what is meant by ‘essential’. This question actually veers the discussion of eradicating inequalities primarily into the realm of academia; it makes no sense to people living in poverty and deprivation.


  1. It is interesting to note here that the World Bank**** has chosen to speak of sharing prosperity as opposed to reducing inequalities (or disparity reduction). The difference has important implications for HR and other development work. In good part, it is responsible, for instance, for the fact that the emerging or established middle class is more likely to resist redistributive policies than to embrace them. (T. Schreker)

****: “I am of the opinion that banks are more dangerous for our liberties than are whole armies ready for combat”. (Thomas Jefferson, 1802)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



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Food for doing something about a thought


Human Rights Reader 345


-The most important qualitative and valuable change a human rights activist can make in her/his life is to stop judging so as to start understanding. (Albino Gomez)

-It is those human rights activists that apply the correct political perspective and thus have true clarity of purpose who will carry the human rights banner furthest. (L. Padura)


  1. We never stop insisting to human rights (HR) activists that they need to be proactive rather than being reactive in their daily struggles; that they need to strengthen more their action than their reaction capacities; that they must embark more on transformative than on ameliorative measures.


  1. The principles of activism that we constantly try to instill in HR activists include: Channeling our passion, controlling distress and anger and living the personal as political; watching our daily practices, questioning how and why we do what we do and exploring new directions; always tracing the causes-of-the-causes and working on the issues that matter; coming up with scenarios for change that cover both the local and the global (micro and macro; immediate and longer term); using a broad repertoire of forms of action as we work with communities so as to ultimately build a movement; and last but not least, communicating effectively (includes deep listening). (PHM, IPOL 2013)


  1. It is further expected that HR activists question and delegitimize the dominant ideology as needed and forcefully combat patriarchy and excessive materialism and consumerism; build stronger alliances for more coherent action; critique unfair policies; address the structural determinants of inequality; hold institutions responsible and accountable; and, most importantly in their work, do not let impatience become a contagious frustration.*

*: The every day skills upon which activism is actually based include: Working in groups and particularly with communities so as to organize them and raise their level of political consciousness through popular education; organizing the different groups rendered vulnerable and mobilizing the same so they effectively demand their rights; mastering elements of simple financial management and of modern information and communications technology, as well as mastering simple participatory research and monitoring and evaluation techniques. (Mind you, we are not looking for superwomen or supermen…)


  1. Furthermore, gaining authority and leadership as a HR activist is of utmost importance. This presupposes keeping vigilant and being able to react to the very early alert signals of adverse change and to thus alter the course of action as needed, as early as possible. (A. Minc) But beware: Leadership operates worst when using a ‘command-and-control’ style which is most appropriate for hierarchical organizations, but not for organizations using the HR framework. Command and control disempowers actors at lower geographic or organizational levels. For the HR activists to focus on what is actually happening on the ground and testing their initial assumptions is crucial if they want to keep an open learning attitude.


A dispassionate assessment


  1. As of now, there really is no strong global convergence of interests in solving our main HR problems. The conflicts therein need to be faced in a direct way with something more than declarations. Commercial interests have excess influence on governments so they support what interests powerful corporations. Money interests talk. HR activists do not have that influence –but do not have conflicts of interest. (G. Kent)


  1. We are aware that different activists will have their own motives, values or interests and will not always share the same views on HR; there are thus barriers to be overcome to arrive at a joint understanding or common vision if and when the various perspectives conflict –a role for HR learning here! We can expect this to take time. Even as this consensus is slowly reached, activists can target intermediate changes and benchmarks-to-achieve on the path to the longer-term realization of HR. Promoting local accountability by civil society thus calls for setting a number of intermediate benchmarks that will keep track of the accountability of duty bearers towards the progressive realization of HR. (R. Hummelbrunner and H. Jones, IDS)


From static to dynamic HR-based planning


-Being defensive takes precious time that is better spent working together on the offensive.

-Theorists are thinkers, activists are craftsmen.


  1. Plans devised by activists and claim holders should be regarded as hypotheses about program effects to be attained in the future –not as blueprints. Setting objectives with goals and specific indicators may be important, but not as important as setting performance and process achievement objectives. Interventions should thus be designed to actively test the hypotheses. How? By applying an‘iterative’ planning model which foresees the revision and adaptation of plans through successive implementation cycles or collective learning loops. One way to resolve this is to formulate clear principles for action (using ‘if, then’ statements) that will guide implementation and will provide a benchmark for a certain performance in the near future. This gives teams latitude on the approach to follow. The actual strategy to be pursued is to be a mixture of pre-defined intentions and new orientations that emerge gradually as new facts or learning are revealed during implementation. HR activists should thus limit themselves to specifying the framework conditions, but should refrain from interfering in micro-management, leaving the details to the lower levels. This stimulates the self-organization capacities of each level and improves ownership of all activities. Responsibility must thus be transferred to those best placed to identify the challenges and opportunities. Precautions are to be taken against mechanistic implementation schemes.


Actually, the concept of Benchmark Planning applies best to HR-based planning carried out together with claim holders and duty bearers


  1. Always focusing on the HR attainments desired in the longer-term future, plans are elaborated only partially up-front and are then developed gradually. The idea is to get there through progressive steps and processes planned a-few-of-them-at-a-time. Intermediary benchmarks are identified that lead to the desired final objective (which is the realization of a given HR). These annual benchmarks then become the focus of attention, because they are closer to the present and thus easier to identify and monitor –preferably by civil society organizations acting as watch-dogs. Different options to reach a certain benchmark are kept open. This approach thus uses a sequence of intermediary steps between the present and the future. It lays out the HR plans as a series of processes to be set in motion and expected to yield annual outcomes lined up from beginning to end in what becomes the progressive realization of the respective right(s).


  1. For such an approach to planning to become a reality, we are aware there needs to be a shift in the mindset of key decision-makers (e.g., in government, in donor agencies, in program directors). Granted. More so, if one has to cope with uncertainty and complexity.** But attempting to project an image of certainty and control through detailed planning is a fallacy –and this has been amply proven and decision-makers have to be confronted with this reality. Less time and resources should be spent on upfront planning (as we now do) and more on sequencing processes so that feedback from learning from the implementation steps taken (or not taken) can be incorporated into the planning process. (Note that deviations from plans should not be seen necessarily as negative. Unforeseen effects, as well as contradictions can provide useful clues about relevant needed changes). Forces pushing agencies’ staff towards risk-aversion need to be neutralized, as ‘failure’ can also be a trigger for learning. Therefore, integrating a limited and well-calculated amount of risk taking in a plan can, in the end, prove more effective.

**: As a HR activist, I am also aware that this way of thinking is not welcome in this era; nevertheless, I continue to make an effort and swim against the current. (adapted from L. Wittgenstein)


  1. A more flexible approach in planning should also be complemented by more flexibility in financial planning and budgeting. Those who are expected to manage for outcomes to materialize must be given the autonomy to do so, including flexibility on activities, resources and outcomes. Without this autonomy, they can only be expected to manage activities or outputs dreamed up in ivory towers in capital cities.


Worrying about a problem is not the same as doing something about it. (A. Gomez)


-For HR activists, a commitment is a promise and a promise is a debt.

-To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. (Lord Tennyson)


  1. Working on legitimate, well-understood problems within our respective disciplines is not enough; it rather is unorthodox work that creates revolutions in thinking and in action. A new way of seeing revolutions does not come piecemeal. Old problems are seen in a new light and other problems are recognized for the first time. We have to question fundamental assumptions; question the foundations of our social sciences. We need to be not innovators, but solvers of puzzles, to follow not-recognized-as-legitimate-lines-of-inquiry, even accepting risks to our careers. Vibrate with the intellectual excitement that comes with the truly new. (T. Kuhn)


  1. Talk about unorthodox work. Shanty towns, for instance, are a complex atlas with many intermingled maps: the map of indigence, of poverty, of unemployment, of drug trafficking of inequality and of insecurity forever. Why? Because those who suffer from these assorted HR violations do not differentiate among all of them –they just act as if they have no future, no hope*** …and this is a problem for our activism. (B. Sarlo)

***: Often, when one asks claim holders how they are, they answer: “Not well, but used to it”. Human rights activism aims at changing this. (I. Pereyra)


  1. Hope has two beautiful daughters –their names are indignation and courage; indignation at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are. (Augustine of Hippo as cited by A. Stefanini) Claim holders do not (and perhaps should not) invest in hopes and desires in situations where they do not convincingly feel they have power. (A. Gomez) Thus the need for empowerment.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

(Other HR Readers can be found in under No. 69)



-Do you know the rules of the game of checkers? The first is that you cannot make two moves at the same time; the second is that you can only move forwards, not backwards; and the third is that when you reach the last row, you can move wherever you want. (Rabbi Najum of Stepinesht)

-The spirit of a righteous man can rise too high and loose contact with his people. (Rabbi David Moshe of Tchotkov)

-A person who has not even an hour every day for himself is not a human being. (Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sasov)

-He who believes deeply has absolute confidence; he who does not will consequently have a weak confidence. (Rabbi Mendel of Rymanov)

-The HR activist must see and believe what he sees. (adapted from Rabbi Mordejai of Lejovitz; all as cited by Martin Buber)




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Food for a poor political thought


Human Rights Reader 344

What’s truly lacking
is performance in politics.
Why do good men go and hide? (J. Koenig)


Many politicians oversimplify. Sometimes I think this allows us to talk of ‘political poverty’


Too many contemporary politicians do not know –the problem is they do not know that they do not know.


1. There is a serious danger in transforming politics into a way of acting out a leader’s private ambition.* Many of them just wear ‘a tie of democratic appearance’. Why? Because, in their politics, certain pragmatisms are nothing but different forms of cynicism. Their promises of a better future are too often manipulated at the expense of people being made to accept a worse present. (Albino Gomez)

*: There was a day when the heaven was full of big and small stars and all of them lived in perfect harmony. These days, so many do not want to be a small light and bend in front of a bigger light so that everyone wants to have a heaven for himself. (Rabbi Mendel of Rymanov as cited by Martin Buber)


2. Too many populist politicians use public funds at their discretion. They have no patience with the subtleties of democracy, the economy or the finances. The national Treasury is their private patrimony which they utilize either to enrich themselves or to embark in projects they considers important or glorious, or both –regardless of costs. The ignorance or lack of understanding of populist leaders as regards the economy has resulted in massive disasters of which their countries take decades to recover from. (E. Krauze) So, who lives at the expense of poor people and violates human rights (HR)? Centuries ago it was monarchies; today, it is a good number of populist regimes.


3. When cornered, politicians generally react quickly and give knee-jerk responses. This, many do by expressing doubts about or twisting the meaning of the question they are posed, i.e., in the sense that they give to the question; they thus ‘know’ what they have to respond.** (Is this why many politicians, have you noticed, lose their apparent brilliance when they speak in public unprepared?) Instead, intellectuals, when interviewed, first reflect as if they had not captured the sense of the question or as if they had doubts about their own interpretation of the same. (J. Kirkpatrick).

**: According to Albert Camus, no artist tolerates reality …and this is true for many politicians as well.


4. As regards political decision-making, my firm belief is that scientific evidence is probably necessary, but certainly not sufficient, to move politicians to act. My conviction further is that they move to action when they are scared. (F. Kummerow) So often (too often) decisions taken fall in the category of ‘politics light’ –meaning that they never explicitly address or attack the shortfalls of the neoliberal ideology. I note that these decisions may mention HR, but they too fall in the category of ‘human rights light’ –meaning that the most they can say is: “We mentioned it! What more do you want?!”   (T. Greiner)


5. In relation to the abused excuse of remedial-and-restitution-actions-for-HR-violations-not-being-taken due to a ‘lack of political will’: J.P. Sartre reminded us that decision makers must… make decisions. They can, of course, refuse to make decisions acting as-if-they-were-made-for-them by others. But even in those cases, they are making a decision, i.e., ‘choosing not to choose’. Sartre thought that decision makers thus are what they ultimately make themselves to be; nothing foreign decides what they, in last instance, decide; each of them carries the entire responsibility for her/his decisions; there are no ‘accidents’. Choices not made can be due to inertia, to cowardice in facing the public, or because they give preference to certain other ideological values! Any way we look at it, it is a matter of choice. “If I do not choose, consider me a simple accomplice with no excuse”. The consequences of decision makers’ decisions arise in a situation that they and only they create. They end up with the situation they deserve; they stamp it with their own seal, without remorse or regrets, without excuse. They may remain passive in a hostile situation tearing themselves away from a given responsibility. But they are responsible nonetheless for the very choice of fleeing responsibilities making themselves passive. Refusing to act on issues is still a conscious choice. It is an opportunity neglected. Decision makers are thus not able not to choose on HR related issues. So much for J.P. Sartre. Bottom line: Political will does not fall from the sky –it needs to be proactively built (S. Gillespie), or as I prefer: demanded.


Have you noticed, as I have, that ‘political’ is often a code-word used by some colleagues for ‘ideology with which they disagree’?


Yes, ideological warfare is a kind of guerilla warfare –not involving generals.


6. Most of our colleagues claim to be non-political. But, knowingly or not, they espouse an ideology. The same is true for ‘the public opinion’. I am most probably right if I say that HR are not part of their ideology. Therefore, neither colleagues nor the public opinion are the vehicle for an ideological renovation towards HR. It is not at all clear where the public opinion wants to go, what dreams it has and what it is willing to tolerate. Measuring its ‘heartbeat’ is not indicative of its aspirations, its internal conflicts or its internal dynamics. Surveys and statistics tell us little about these parameters. With its tendency to reduce everything to a minimum common denominator, our societies through its public opinion push towards weak thoughts, soothing ideas and status-quo. By practicing this special type of collective narcissism with which the public opinion resonates (some have called it the ideology of the extreme center), contemporary societies do not allow deviations, originality, creativity and out-of-the-box-thinking. The public opinion swallows all social trauma, blatant HR violations and tensions of all types with incredible ease. It does not forcefully reject anything, being permissive. Bottom line, the public opinion rarely embarks in a true political opposition mode or ‘sticks its neck out’ for HR. (A. Minc)


In the work a good number of us do, it is not (only) about discussing the substantial technical issues, but also the substantive political issues.


Einstein was right when he said that the day technology surpasses our humanity, the world will only have a generation of idiots.


7. All the above said, political issues are indeed substantive. Some of us have taken this to heart and have entered the politics of HR with fiery ideals and often end up as firemen in the-big-forest-fire-of-HR –25% (?) contained. (A. Gomez) Our challenge remains to go from a crusading stage-one by a few concerned citizens to a true popular stage-two movement. (A. Fazal)


8. I talked about intellectuals. As regards them, many of us feel disappointed they have disappeared from the frontline public political debate on HR. This, not because their lack of desire to expiate their past errors or their newly acquired lack of interest about things political in HR, but maybe because workable societal political remedies have ceased to be ‘thinkable’ and achievable for them. (A. Minc) We certainly have to move them out of this apathy.***

***: As regards radicals, in all honesty, we have had splinter groups, among them not only religious fundamentalists, ‘the fascists of the revolution’, and those who embark in ‘the intellectualized praxis of stagnant socialism’ (Julio Cortazar), but also well organized grassroots social movements that are diligently and bravely advancing the HR cause.


9. Now for liberals. Liberals assume that there is no fundamental mistake in our societies; there is only an imbalance; so there is a need to rebalance. (Conversely, radicals see the problems as a symptom of grave social disorders in society; injustice and exploitation are seen as key issues that call for social and political action). Liberalism with its gurus, its oracles and its priests does not function as a global philosophy of how societies ought to function; its philosophy could have a future but, as the market ideology, it will clash with realities that definitely resist its basic tenets.

Liberals tend to be fond of PEST medicines, i.e., for political problems –a bit of political medicine; for economic problems –economic medicine; for social problems –social medicine; for technological problems –technical medicine.****

****: As much as liberals, the so-called popular classes can be reactionary, conservative, progressive, or innovative; it all depends on who ‘feeds’ them. (A. Gomez)


10. We falsely assume liberal governments ought to respond to a just cause like HR. But in reality, many pressures bare on them, powerful traditional pressures and pressures by the business community among them. (making a ‘cash register ethics’ prevail over universal HR and social considerations). This may seem harsh to the uninitiated, but harsh realities like this call for harsh actions, not gentle admonitions. As activists, we will thus have to deal with unholy alliances between greedy businessmen and corrupt and inefficient bureaucrats, with a docile press and with the disenchantment of previous participatory forms of government that have not worked. (A. Fazal)


11. Bottom line, HR must still be politicized in direct response to the respective actual local issues. It is understanding the political incentives of our strategic allies and the motives of our strategic opponents that will result in better strategies for achieving improvements in the HR situation. Linking HR to development also gains greater traction with national partners and is likely to lessen the sensitivity around certain topics. (M. Brathwaite)

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



-Harry Truman once said: My two vocations in life were to either become a pianist in a whorehouse or a politician. To tell you the truth, there is not a great difference between both.

-Although not always true, George Orwell was of the opinion that political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

-The politics of peace is seeded in Human Rights. Where are the sowers? (J. Koenig)

Not so Marginal:

Most world news today either disgust us, anger us and/or bring about a sense of anguish and despair in us. But only rarely do they elicit our personal commitment. We act as passive receptors of the revelations of a reality others are responsible for with us having no say whatsoever. We then face our daily life with the serenity of knowing ‘we are well informed’. We exchange opinions about the day’s happenings either sharing our happiness or our indignation (mostly, these days). But, after a certain time, we abandon the issue –basically out of frustration and/or boredom. (Journalistic accounts are a deplorable literary waste, because they are mostly written to be forgotten, Jorge Luis Borges used to say). We soak up new information quickly, we forget fast and we make room to absorb a new scandal or atrocity that injects in us some more adrenalin and informs us about a new transitory current event. For long now, news seem to be but variations of a same theme: the same actors, the same infamies, the same predictable words and declamations –just never ending new casualties. Things happen in this world that have long stopped to catch our longer term attention, because they do not affect us. Is it just because they have to do ‘with the human condition’? or is it with the political and HR villainies that are still ubiquitous? (S. Zimmermann) Silence’s not golden. It’s an endorsement of sorts. All voices must be heard. (J. Koenig) Plenty food for thought here with Gaza, Ukraine and Irak in the media.




1 Comment

Food for a make or break thought (3)


Human Rights Reader 343

[These three Readers are a distillation and adaptation of Vol.56, No.1, 2013 of this important issue of the journal Development entitled ‘The Future of Development’ edited by Tariq Banuri. The issue has contributions from 14 authors listed at the bottom. Some text is taken verbatim].


To make human rights radical once again, today we need to refocus it on the long-term vision of the post 2015 agenda


Even qualified scientists are warning ‘game over’ so it is no time for feeble responses.


29. It has always required a certain amount of courage to defend and fight for human rights (HR) publicly. The key questions are: Are the efforts made by our movement too timid? Is the articulating of our views perceived as ‘radically unrealistic’? Yes, HR are radical as they, among many other, call for disparity reduction, for gender equality and women’s empowerment. …Anything wrong then with being radical? These goals are radical, but they are not marginal or baseless: they are enshrined in numerous global agreements, texts and covenants endorsed by most countries. At least, this is what courageous should be –and what it recently has not really yet been.


30. The fight for HR-for-all includes work on education, freedom of expression, equality, justice, access and opportunities for people everywhere. It means meeting the real non–negotiable needs of both people and planet. Without apology, this is the kind of fresh start needed radicals are demanding.


31. This is not an idle debate over broad philosophical constructs. Rather, without such a radical strategic conception, it is impossible to reach social consensus –or even engage in a meaningful political debate and struggle.


32. Some of us, sometimes feel a powerful temptation to sound apocalyptic alarms to awaken the somnolent. Arousing fear, though, without offering a compelling vision of a better path, awakens only dispiriting anguish and despair. This pessimism is not so much wrong as it is disempowering. Pessimists can make a strong case, but this does not settle the matter [not that optimists (if any remain) can offer compelling refutation]. Do not let pessimism rob us of the motive to make change. A culture of despair, which fosters fatalism and complacency truncates possibilities, becoming a self-fulfilling cause of the decline it foresees.


33. In our historical moment, the world has become a single community of fate; catastrophic premonitions must be defied and negated. Scrutinizing world conditions and trends will indeed find considerable support for defeating such bleak outlooks. Good things are happening.


34. Proponents of neoliberal solutions bent over backward to add social dimensions to their promotional language and flagship initiatives, but these simply do not satisfy the desire that the world seems to be expressing for a broader, more inclusive vision of the future. Reduced to old-fashioned neoliberal economics we will be left waiting for market forces, including ‘visible’, as well as ‘invisible hands’, to produce all the necessary transformations. This approach may work to spread information technologies, but it is unlikely to be adequate for disparity reduction and for ensuring the human rights of all people, everywhere, in an appropriately short time horizon.


35. But beware: the very forces driving global affairs are, at the same time, preparing the basis for transcending them. We have become a single community of fate; we have to be prepared and act.


36. Developing countries (lately rebranded as ‘emerging markets’) –and occasional but disruptive social protest movements– have gotten louder and more forceful in their demands. They are reaching towards the peak of their influence and are discovering that this pinnacle is still far from adequate to the task at hand. Therefore, as said, activists must prepare society for change by systematically and repeatedly articulating a vision based on justice and HR to then work planning and implementing a strategy and action plan that derive directly from that vision.


37. Perhaps most unsettling is the apparent helplessness of the political order to act in the face of these gathering threats. Judging by the decades of inaction, the challenge of our time lies beyond the grasp of our current political order. The fragmented and myopic governance institutions we have inherited from the twentieth century are ill-suited for addressing the systemic and long-term predicament of the twenty-first. The debate among them has never been settled, only sidelined, sometimes for decades at a time.


Bottom line, we still can pivot and turn towards a civilization of human rights


38. Rather than a quixotic vision divorced from the real world,


  • HR ideals have become pragmatic necessities for the survival and the flourishing of the human project.
  • HR have become the keystone to a positive resolution of our perilous moment.


39. The question is: Can a global movement for change emerge and consolidate with sufficient speed and scale? Normally, societies develop gradually within resilient boundaries of law, governance, and values. However, when historical continuity is interrupted, old social structures weaken and cultural strictures loosen. In hinge moments, the scope for human choice and freedom to choose expands. Then the efforts of an active minority can amplify and redirect (the) social (r)evolution. This is the meaning of Margaret Mead’s dictum: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has’. Ergo, it is collective action that has punctuated human history for long. We must create greater collective awareness and foster broader-based actions powerful enough to bend the curve of history.


40. The road ahead brings opportunities unexpected. But the history of the future will be written by choices yet to be made and actions yet to be taken. It is all about helping establish the sufficient ‘political punch’ for HR.


  • HR cannot appear as ‘neutralized from their real political intent’.
  • HR do not lend themselves to using too simplistic slogans, simply because HR approaches are consciously political in character. (This justifies our call for a holistic and politicized vision of HR as an explanatory and emancipatory framework).


41. For those already embedded in HR, I hope to re-emphasize, re-kindle, re-inspire or even re-imagine HR. For others, I hope to encourage the recognition of the centrality of HR as an organizing principle in society. But this needs removing the naïf guise of neutrality associated with the HR approach.


  • HR offer a normative, justice-oriented project that assumes hierarchies are socially constructed, ethically indefensible and require dismantling to facilitate people’s empowerment.


42. It is the emancipatory element of this project that makes it HR-based. We cannot shy away from engaging with HR directly.


  • HR are ubiquitous. They are multifaceted and not-always-obvious principles in the prevailing social system.
  • HR shape roles, responsibilities and new social expectations. They operate well beyond the local scale, reaching across household, neighborhood, municipal, regional, national and international levels delimiting opportunities and constraints.


43. Giving centrality to HR thus forces us to examine the issues from their ideological tenets or framing which tells us things about what is valid in a given society and how that becomes embedded in existing power relations.


  • HR focus on deeply rooted, socially constructed differences.
  • HR strive to expose unjust subordination and explain why it happens.
  • HR lie at the heart of social relations, driving human interactions with nature and shaping local, national and global politics and what maintains social hierarchies;
  • HR reflect the relative degrees of power associated with rules and the existing political dynamics.
  • HR explore all power laden realms that produce and reproduce discrimination, difference and inequality.


44. Historically, NGOs can be and have been either witnesses, architects or detractors of HR. Because of that, we see a process of civil society fragmentation. We thus need a vast movement of building global citizenship that expresses a supranational identity to reflect shared concerns and a reprioritization of global values.


45. We will need to foster a great deal of HR learning, to encourage the needed enormous change in mindset, to inspire much greater adherence to ethics. Transformative social and economic change in the direction of idealistic outcomes does not come easily; it emerges from hard work and life-long learning, from courage and commitment over decades.


46. A new set of HR values must ultimately displace individualism, consumerism, and the domination of nature. The redesigning of our economies must serve human rights and spare nature, not bloat profit for the few. Only thus will global citizenship become a strong aspect of human dignity, the foundation for strengthening democratic global governance. Are we ready for the needed Great Transition? It is the degree and quality of the social mobilization we will achieve, and its expression as political will that are the primary constraints to this Great Transition –and not technical or policy know-how as so many want us to believe.


47. What is needed politically is a precious blend of awareness, capacity and courage. This is where we are. We who work for a sustainable HR-respecting world have always known this. We must know it again.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City


List of contributors: T. Banuri, H. Clark, W. Bello, S. Alkire, A. Atkisson, S. Fukuda-Parr, A. Yamin, D. Hastings, S. Marglin, P. Raskin, E. Braunstein, B. Armah, A. Hovorka and J.J. Johnson.


What is the single best thing we can do for our health?

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A chance encounter with a neighbor walking his dog, reminded me to post this short video by Dr. Mike Evans, a physician with an interest in Preventive Health. It discusses the health benefits of walking. This an activity that requires no special equipment, no special gym, no coach, and no particular training (past age 14 months). You can watch the video on his website at this link or watch it on You Tube screen below. (If you do watch it on You Tube please skip any creepy Pharma ads).