It behooves all of us to insist on asserting our human rights; otherwise, we are our own worst enemy.

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Ignoring human rights considerations carries a huge cost; one of them is an inability to understand our world. (Vicente Navarro)

The human rights situation is not like a photograph in which one can order and rearrange things so that they look good thus fixing the image for posterity; the situation is an evolving and dirty process –and one full of unforeseens. (Isabel Allende)


1. The title of this Reader begs the question: Are most of you readers development and/or health practitioners and not really human rights practitioners? If the answer to this is yes, the challenge this poses to you is to learn how to apply the human rights (HR) framework to your work. (U. Jonsson)


2. The evidence that HR violations and quality of life are socially determined should, by now, be undeniable and overwhelming to you. That is why in the HR framework, we denounce HR violators by name! (V. Navarro)


3. A number of weaknesses remain though. For instance, a number of HR rights are left as ‘conditional’ anytime full measures to fulfill them are not adopted. It is the enactment of matching laws and regulations that ‘make live’ these rights.*

*: ‘Conditional’ cannot, by any means, mean that no aspect of the respective right has immediate effect; for instance, discrimination and non-retrogression always have to be adopted immediately and are not subject to any conditionality.


4. [Note: As applied in rich countries, ‘Affirmative Action’ is a specific technique (not the only one though) to confront de-facto present and/or past discrimination. In HR terms, it should be considered a temporary special measure (since any discrimination is a no-no to begin with)].


5. An additional weakness also needs to be combated.  Civil and political rights are recognized as fundamental rights in many constitutions. Conversely, economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) are much more often rendered conditional; there is no legal justification to confine ESCR to the lower status of what has been called ‘directive principles’.** Wording of the core contents of each ESCR should thus be carefully reviewed in each country to clarify their contents beyond any doubt so as to be able to forcefully demand they be fulfilled.

**: Fundamental HR are not the same as ‘directive principles’; the latter fall short of considering and incorporating international HR obligations as fundamental; directive principles fail to recognize claim holders and duty bearers; they just represent (vague, toothless) state policy goals. [We have previously discussed in this Reader that for claim holders to remain inactive in-the-spot-that-an-unequal-society-has-assigned-them is a recipe for perpetuating HR violations: To those that nothing was given, nothing comes without fighting for it. (Isabel Allende)].


6. Bottom line: If only civil and political rights are considered fundamental rights, this fails to recognize the interdependence, indivisibility and equal value of all human rights. ESCR are not second class status. Period. (M. Kohonen)


7. Going back to what your challenge is, in general, you are called to consider and engage-in four steps for HR action; they address key inter-related areas, namely:

i.      Legislative level: Foster and support the formulation of new and the review of existing laws so as to ensure compliance with UN covenants.

ii.      Policy level: Foster and support the formulation of a National Plan of Action that puts forth an ‘implementable’ strategy that translates the provisions of the respective HR covenants into practice. Based on the priorities identified during the formulation process, one (or more) pilot project(s) should  be implemented at the community level.

iii.      Awareness-raising: Foster and support the promotion of initiatives that target the media, communities and special groups in order to promote proactive attitudes towards the implementation of the HR framework (e.g., provision of training materials and holding HR learning sessions, provision of information kits, special broadcasts, mobilization of children through starting-up HR learning at schools…).

iv.      Stakeholder involvement: Protect and support the human rights of the historically marginalized groups through work with their representative organizations so as to directly empower them and involve them in the formulation of new policies, laws and the National Plan of Action. 


8. An Advisory Board of experts, along with other partners committed to HR, will support this endeavor providing guidance and technical expertise throughout the implementation of these activities. Linking civil society organizations and other partners in the development arena will facilitate the establishment of a platform-of-national-and-international-actors working on HR in the country.


9. Actually, you are not only called to consider these four steps for HR action. As said, the challenge this poses to you is to learn how to weave-them-into and to apply them in your daily work.


10. [This call-to-action is not new; subsequent Readers just make it, every time, more compelling for you to act… So, this is not a case where you can get away with saying: “It is urgent to wait”…]. Positive people always press on; after all, no rain, no rainbows. (J. Koenig )


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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