WHEN YOU DREAM ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS ALONE, IT IS JUST A DREAM; WHEN YOU DREAM WITH OTHERS, IT PRE-EMPTS REALITY

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Food for a preemptive thought

Human Rights Reader 244

WHEN YOU DREAM ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS ALONE, IT IS JUST A DREAM; WHEN YOU DREAM WITH OTHERS, IT PRE-EMPTS REALITY. (R. Pereira G.)

-Martin Luther King did not say “I have a nightmare”. (L. Stoddard)

-Our future may be beyond our vision, but not beyond our control. (Senator Edward M. Kennedy)

1. History is not a good predictor of the future. Our institutions and our ethics come from a different historical era and have not yet been updated to knit together a globally stable society. (J. Sachs)  So I’d say that, for human rights (HR), we can safely conclude we find ourselves at a watershed of history.

2. Moreover, since in politics one should never let a serious crisis go to waste, this is the (belated) time to take bold steps. It is not by pushing for more control, more purity of intentions or more money that deepening HR violations will be avoided; to pretend being able to do more through these ‘pushes’ is to commit a sin of ignorance. (N. Boesen)

3. But is there the needed sense of urgency to take the necessary much bolder steps? If so, who feels it and who does not? Who cares about the serious HR problems affecting us the world over? Only a creative anger about the world crisis we have just lived through will lead to a renewed commitment to work towards change in the HR direction.*

*: In the realm of taking such a direction, the question then is: Does this mark a paradigm shift or is it mainly happening on the fringes of the mainstream paradigm? (We want to make sure it is shift!).

4. Unfortunately, still much is needed to more decisively embark in the HR direction: Without HR expertise**, “we are flying blind into a complex and harrowing future” –and that is a challenge. (J. Sachs)  Without a vision, our efforts will likely be little more than a pipe dream.***

**  : The challenge here is: Can people be made to care about HR if they do not already? People and systems need to be ready for change. Change happens through learning and learning happens only when people decide they want to learn.

***: The question is: Whose vision are we talking about here? The wider the gap between the vision of the outside interveners and that of the local people, the more unlikely it will be to achieve lasting results.

5. HR activists are well aware that the HR-based framework goes against the grain of the current uncaring system; but ‘our’ system is fragmented and an ‘international HR community’ does not really exist yet; therein lies the second challenge to embark-on in the HR direction: much networking and coalition-building is still needed. Currently, the international community lacks an appropriate framework and influence to guide HR interventions aimed at changing the structures and processes within a country, as well as at changing individuals’ perceptions and values related to HR. It is such a framework that is needed to contribute to individuals asking the right questions thus making interventions more effective. (J. de Lange)

6. One of the catch-phrases of recent years has been that we should use ‘existing mechanisms’ to solve problems rather than using new ones; this, to us, is a recklessly reactionary point of view. The dominant paradigm has had at its core a horrible simplification of what poverty reduction entails. It has been mixed with an arrogant belief that money and good intentions can fix the problems. Sadly, this has been said for years, with little to show for.

7. Current efforts are simply not serving Poverty Reduction goals; they actually never have been –if we consider the real need to rather be Disparity Reduction. So, in the case of foreign aid, for instance, (i.e., elite-driven processes between international actors and local elites) stop being concerned about the amount of aid as if it matters; what really matters is the social, political, institutional and environmental challenges that aid is willing to tackle.

8. In HR work, this Reader has repeatedly insisted, direct support to the realization of HR in essence entails a power struggle.  Since, through pressure, powerful interests can change their positions and fast action can ensue, herein lies the third challenge, one pointing towards social mobilization to stake long overdue claims. **** The challenge here is to translate the ‘whats’ and ‘hows’ we see happening into practical guidelines for people working in countries where HR violations are rife.

****: Because those who hold property and assets from the outset largely shape policy and market outcomes, market forces need to be confronted through politics, social ethics and a strong and vibrant civil society. (P.H. May)

9. Far from being Machiavellian, HR activists see the world in terms of power, conflict and interests. (Even Margaret Thatcher was of the opinion that we do not have neighbors as much as rivals). That is why they bring all their arguments together to use them in a political process of negotiation *****; for that, they build coalitions for change. Sooner or later resistance to the changes they propose emerge; some groups will oppose them. That is why being strategic is better than being haphazard and why it is important to know when to act and when not to, as well as why it is important to move forward incrementally trying out what works, and ensuring inclusiveness in the political mobilization.

*****: The political nature of the HR struggle becomes clear when we realize how very far from podiums and negotiation tables real HR experts are.

10. Bottom line, the conflicts we face cannot be resolved simply by doing transfers, but imply a fundamental rethinking of the precepts of HR, of equality, of equity and of social justice.

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

cschuftan@phmovement.org

A reminder: All HR Readers can be found in www.humaninfo.org/aviva under No.69.

Mostly adapted from The Broker, Issue 18, February 2010.

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