ONLY WHERE AND WHEN HUMAN RIGHTS ARE RESPECTED CAN WE SPEAK OF DEMOCRACY BEING STABLE.

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Food for a resounding majority thought

Human Rights Reader 241
 
The human rights framework provides a normative base for poverty reduction, while democracy organizes political and social life to this end. (Sida)
1. Ratification of UN Covenants and Conventions (has not) and does not require(d) any type of democracy. Actually, the reasons for why so many non-democratic countries have ratified many UN treaties include:
·      gaining international legitimacy;
·      attracting donor funding; and
·      having accepted them with Reservations (which is when states accept most of the text of a covenant, but with some reservations).
Although ratification of a UN Convention is legally binding, there is no real enforcement mechanism, especially if there are no active monitoring bodies (which a true democratic regime calls for). (U. Jonsson)
 
2. In their ODA, more often than not, donors fund recipient countries to focus primarily on human rights standards (i.e., on desirable outcomes –classically these days the MDGs*); human rights standards do not require democracy. In their aid, these same donors conveniently overlook their recipients’ adherence to human rights principles (i.e., the required criteria for human rights-based processes to be set in motion on a solid base); human rights principles do require a working democracy for their enforcement. This is a crucial point to keep in mind.
*: A single-issue-focus is applied to the achievement of each individual MDG –without due attention being paid-to through which processes each goal is to be achieved. Moreover, no attention is paid to whether the same are rights-based processes –as mandated by UN covenants and as clearly stated in the Millennium Declaration where the MDGs actually come from! (U. Jonsson and  D+C, 35:6, June 2008).  
 
3. The mere fact that elections are held, does not mean that democratic rules are firmly in place. Actually, the representative institutions of so-called-democracies are widely perceived as being controlled  by the dominant economic and financial groups in society. (V. Navarro) So, democracy is not only about elections –and not even a tradition of uninterrupted ‘free’ elections means there is democracy…or that human rights (HR) are respected.
 
4. Would a jobless family from Marseille, Frankfurt or Antwerp have any reason to swap places with a family in Managua, Phnom Penh or Nairobi? Probably not. Put the question the other way around, and the answer is quite likely yes. The reason is not just that France, Germany or Belgium are richer than Nicaragua, Kampuchia or Kenya. But, within its confines, democracy in Europe works better. *
*: On the other hand, look at the OECD countries: With all their democracy, they have, at best, been lukewarm towards HR violations in poor countries. 
 
5. People who happen to be poor can only be given guarantees they can assert their rights where states pass laws that protect HR and that ultimately enforce and observe them. Democracy is thus not simply a function of voting; it is a matter of HR as well –and this is mostly forgotten. A true democracy secures physical and economic access to all social services with no discrimination and implements fair rules of compensation for HR violations.
 
6. Even in so-called democratic countries, many times the bureaucracy is too hierarchical**, is arrogant, aloof, despondent, dismissive, arbitrary and corrupt in its behavior… and does not care for HR –being absolutely ignorant about HR standards and principles. (One often wonders if civil servants really give a damn…).*** What we find is that civil servants have different levels of moral standards and work ethic.
**:   Thinking loud, one wonders, would organizing the civil service in trade unions change their culture of blind obedience?
***: Administrations have to serve society and not themselves, right? But too often we see them using the law to make arbitrary decisions –not in the direction or interest of HR.
 
7. Many societies function along the lines of patronage systems –where who you know matters more than what you know. This is one reason why bureaucracies should not just be seen as a machine –they are an important, but unpredictable component of any governing system and are thus not to be taken for granted.
 
8. Under this guise, would it seem somehow patriotic to subvert a bureaucracy uncaring about HR…? In our eyes, a good public administration is to serve development and to provide impetus to the implementation of the HR-based framework.
 
9. So, to what a position does all of this lead us? The problem with democracy is that organized greed always wins over disorganized egalitarianism. We thus either need more checks and balances on the greed (but that requires challenging the power of the greedy) or we need to strengthen the organization and the mobilization of the ‘egalitarians’ (which also requires challenging power). So, no easy solutions, leaving us to do what needs to be done perhaps in small steps (…?). (L. London)
 
10. Ergo, can the current world political structure be “reformed”? It is run by the rich and powerful and they are not going to voluntarily cede their privilege, are they? **** It is acknowledged that there is always a tension between reformism and revolution –and that cannot be resolved by this Reader. Our role is to point to the most progressive solution to the political problems we have inherited in the 21st century. (M. Anderson)
****: Do not dismiss it lightly: i) Democracy is seen as an obstacle, a barrier to the operation and the unbridled ambitions of neoliberalism. (T. McDonald), and ii) Dictators are the proxy facade of the owners of the wealth.
 
11. This leaves us with the question: In this context, what are HR activists to do? We will promote a firm pro-democracy stand with an unmistaken HR base! We will use HR as a decisive contribution to a bottom-centered-direct-democracy! *****  
*****: Direct democracy is the collective action that has historically allowed poor and excluded groups to make their voices heard; it is a way in which the condition of being relatively powerless can become internalized and linked to the  ability to forcefully negotiate and influence decisions by actively engaging in the political system. (D. Green).
 
12. Bottom line: Knowledge about all of this alone, or democracy alone for that purpose, will not improve HR.  Already centuries ago, Francis Bacon, said that knowledge is power. But knowledge is not automatically followed by action. Strengthening capacity is important, but without power, it is not sufficient.
 
Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
cschuftan@phmovement.org 
______________
Partly adapted from D+C, 35:6, June 2008; D+C, 35:7-8, July/August 2008; D+C, 36:5, May 2009; The Broker, Issue 15, August 2009; The Broker, Issue 16, October 2009; L. Weinstein, Ed. Multiversidad, Editorial Universidad Bolivariana, Coleccion Nuevos Paradigmas, Santiago, Chile, Mayo 2009; and Development and Practice, 19:8, 2009.
 
Postscript: In the alleged ‘democratic discourse’, not all opinions affecting outcomes are backed by the same power. Am I thus being ‘HR-facetious’ if I paraphrase: “All opinions deserve the same respect” is a very harmful idea and falsely democratic. (Albino Gomez, Tiempo de Descuento, Editorial El Fin de la Noche, Buenos Aires, 2009).

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