HUMAN RIGHTS ARE NOT JUST A POLICY CHOICE, BUT AN IMPERATIVE: HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE US TO REALIZE AND ACT UPON THIS?

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Food for a point of entry thought

Human Rights Reader 256


Human rights work ought to constantly look for political points of entry.

1. Human rights (HR) are global affairs, i.e., matters that straddle national borders, as well as matters that pertain to often artificial divisions found in-country. HR are thus not only foreign aid or development assistance issues. Addressing both  international and national HR affairs inevitably requires the involvement and engagement of government entities as the primary duty bearers. It is for that engagement that we constantly look for political points of entry.

2. But even understanding the preceding, legal domestic enforceability of HR has yet much to advance to become an accepted political notion.*

*: Just imagine how much further back the issue of HR would stand if civil society advocacy had not so actively pressured states and markets. We cannot be complacent based on such victories though. The international financial sector still has more powerful and vocal constituencies than us! Beware.

3. So, there is much still to be done. For instance, public opinion has to be nurtured for HR to earn a) public respect and visibility, and b) political force among claim holders. We are talking here about the need for collective-action-for-political-leverage. Why? Because it is political roles that shape the claim holders’ political identity –the one that HR work badly needs to succeed.

4. And who is going to have to get the needed process of change going? Most of the readers of this Reader are professionals. For a moment, please, consider the following: Belonging to a professional group brings to play an effect of censorship which goes far beyond institutional or personal constraints: in your/my profession, there are questions you do not ask, and that you  are not supposed to ask. Professional adherence to methodology, procedures and measurement is demanded from you to protect the profession’s ‘legitimacy’. But this reinforces the supremacy of technical procedures and outcomes over social and political processes as a means of protecting the same ‘legitimacy’ both in aid and in development operations. As we have insisted repeatedly in this Reader, greater emphasis has to be put on processes set in motion.**

**: Someone said: “Noble outcomes are routinely perverted by the tyranny of technical procedure in which adherence to form and appearance is a higher priority than setting in motion processes that have a much greater chance for achieving sustainability”.

5. Turning now to international decision-making, the later still reflects the actual unequal global power relations. Nothing new here. International Capitalism is the geopolitical system used by superpowers, i.e., a system that determines ‘everything’. Its policies are more based on vested interests than on scientific facts (something we too often forget…). They also typically remain silent on how to meet the fiscal implications of the recommendations made. Moreover, most multilateral decisions made at the international level are essentially non-binding. As a result, a) development has been rightly faulted as a thinly-veiled-hypocritical-apology-for-perpetuating-an-imperial-domination; and b) in most of the world, the current situation masks, or sugar-coats, the realities of domination and exploitation.

6. Under these circumstances, national political elites shrug their shoulders or give the matter a silent treatment: “there is nothing we can do; it’s beyond our power”. This, of course, amounts to a strategy-of-avoidance-of-all-social-responsibility.

7. On the other hand, it is true that under the ongoing global marketization process, states that win and lose are continually changing –but the list of the losers hardly changes…

8. Privatization is, as you know, a central issue of global marketization. But ‘public’ and ‘private’ are not innate properties of the global commons (climate, water, health…), but are rather a matter of choice –and we know which institutions (the ones we should be actively opposing) advocate the private choice…

Forming coalitions to increase our power is the only way to ensure human rights will get to center stage in development work.

Shared-interests-coalitions around HR are what we need, i.e., coalitions that will jointly define/frame the policies and strategies to pursue for a final success.

9. This type of coalitions are possible, but are most likely underpinned by the requirement that NGOs and other civil society organizations share a similar political ideology, at least, on the need to implement the HR-based framework.

10. Effectively responding to a country’s HR needs will thus ultimately require that these coalitions interact-with and in-due-course-influence several sector ministries and a host of aid agencies.

11. Procedural questions here are: Are NGOs and civil society organizations operating ‘politically’ on the expected side of the divide? How should they get a grip on the changing power relations and thus seek and gain access to greater political space? How are they to, more readily, seize political opportunities to introduce the HR-based framework? How can they also get a grip over the supra-national level determinants of HR violations? ***

***: i.e., they have to take the outside world into account when formulating policies for their work at national level!

12. I am afraid most NGOs still overemphasize upwards advocacy and lobbying, whereas many of the skills and actions needed to mobilize citizens for collective action (not forgetting migrants and refugees) get less attention.

13. On the other hand, as a rule, donors do not focus on movement building, even if that is exactly what is needed when the HR focus is given priority.

As said, it is undeniable that their strategies are driven by their geopolitical interests. Development cooperation is, in fact, for them, just an excuse for keeping the present economic power relations in place. ****

****: Unfortunately, poor countries’ politicians listen more to actors in the international arena (donors, markets, influential nations, etc) than to their own electorates. They totally neglect the fact that their governments have to make use of all available options consistent with their solemn international HR commitments.

14. To keep track, overseas development assistance (ODA) devoted to HR objectives should thus be separately budgeted and accounted-for –if the same is to provide clear net benefits to recipient claim holders.

15. Finally, to mobilize human groups,  ideas, morality and emotions are important if proactive social movements are to emerge from this work. The power of shaping ideas and mobilizing people is simply vital to move forward. Experience shows that, framing the problem of poverty as a HR violation increases the support base and the political clout of claim holders. Ultimately, social movements have to take the-introduction-of-the-HR-based-framework as their responsibility. And this may well mean they will simply have to challenge many of the current bogus ideas about development with sufficient force so as to change the democratic outlook of the development process in their respective countries.

16. Bottom line: Since it is the coalescing of popular movements that best gains the needed ‘traction’ in the political arena, the focus of our HR work should be decisively more on organizing such popular movements. Our aim is to launch a veritable ‘assembly of claimants’…

17. For that, as said, more attention needs to be devoted to locally based NGOs and civil society organizations. The good news is that many of them have begun to adjust their collaboration in ways that robustly match these new realities. True, they have done well, but we could still enrich the debate with more Southern inputs. (G. Dutting and D. Sogge)

18. More and more frequently now, poor countries are making their voices heard on the various HR challenges they face; this because, all too often, they have been adversely affected by foreign aid. Nevertheless, despite this still slowly growing trend, negotiations on global HR obligations are just limping along.

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

cschuftan@phmovement.org

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2 Responses to “HUMAN RIGHTS ARE NOT JUST A POLICY CHOICE, BUT AN IMPERATIVE: HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE US TO REALIZE AND ACT UPON THIS?”


  1. 1moses

    stand for and fight for out rights whether were detained or threatened

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