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Food for a campaigner’s thought

Human Rights Reader 265


– When one leaves behind problems without solutions, one does not leave, one absconds.  (J. Koenig)

– A powerful interest of a few has the potential to sway the situation for many.

– The truth of the activists does not coincide with that of the ones that accumulate wealth. (Doing good for the cause of justice requires personal, unselfish commitment; doing good for any other cause requires incentives that buy commitment). The words of truth are not written with gold, but with blood, with tears, with mother’s milk and/or with excrements.  A society happy in its anesthesia does not need activists. Actually, such a society has found the way to silence activists. Activists are the denouncers of inertia –of no action on human rights. Human rights are thus an attitude. (C. J. Cela)



19. On the normative side, HR activists are expected:

  • To stand behind two imperatives: a refusal to lie about what they know and a fierce resistance to oppression. (Albert Camus)
  • To paint the big picture that conceptualizes and contextualizes reality.
  • To recognize that everybody shares a responsibility for the human rights (HR) issues identified.
  • To carry out seven key roles to address issues of equity, namely the roles of  educator, watchdog, resources broker, community developer, partnerships developer, advocate and catalyst. (R. Labonte)
  • To fight for more equitable distribution of state resources to the historically marginalized groups.
  • To detect violations or situations which pose a risk of HR violations.
  • To realize that claim holders take a lot of things for granted –often myths that need to be debunked.
  • To put pressure on duty bearers by aligning claim holders’ interests, identifying and working with ‘champions’ in the community and by going for early wins to reach tipping points –since delayed decisions have a cost.
  • To assume a leadership role in their communities.
  • To develop trust so that new roles and greater responsibilities are taken up by claim holders so that they come away with a different frame of mind regarding their ability to successfully claim their HR.
  • To oversee the implementation of the collective decisions arrived at.
  • To channel people’s demands into veritable people’s movements.
  • To provide some key answers, and to oversee the implementation of actions agreed upon –including the placing of concrete demands and the negotiation of needed time frames. (Remember: Action unites, words and procrastination divide).
  • To negotiate agreements between competing interests and to act as brokers allowing the community to solve their differences and to take the initiative in pushing them to demand their HR.
  • To assess the state’s HR efforts in terms of its legal structures (constitution and laws).
  • To assess the measures taken and not taken by the state in the realm of HR (what is being done) and to assess outcomes (what has been actually achieved).
  • To choose areas for their own further learning and engagement*, and
  • To co-opt important allies ** (the middle class, the media, political parties, trade unions, public servants) and to neutralize opponents of the HR-based framework.

*: Often, the training of HR activists is not necessarily based on a reflection generated by what they read in history or social sciences books, but is based on their own personal history; their thinking can be said to be ‘anecdotally-analytical’. (A. Gomez)

**: But by interacting with new allies, they also risk being co-opted themselves or losing direction or momentum. Or, otherwise, their positive motivation can fast turn into frustration.


20. HR activists are further expected to determine:

  • Whether any HR elements have been incorporated into the country’s development agenda and whether additional elements still need to be introduced.
  • Whether HR elements are being implemented by the state at all.
  • Whether implemented HR actions are making progress as quickly as possible.
  • Whether specific HR policies are being effective and have eliminated prior HR violations.
  • Whether non-discrimination is being universally ensured and how.
  • Whether international cooperation is playing a positive role in fostering HR.
  • Whether victims have the possibility to assert their rights and have access to mechanisms of redress.
  • Whether what should be getting done is not being done.
  • Whether what is being done is done incorrectly and/or inadequately, and
  • Whether steps are being taken towards progressively realizing specific HR with appropriate benchmarks being achieved.


What are the determinants of success of human rights activists in implementing human rights reforms?:

21. Normally, the content of a reform is less important in determining whether or not it receives policy and/or legislative approval than, among other things: the timing of the proposal; the way in which the reform proposal is presented; the discussions that are spurred between those with roles of claim holders and of duty bearers; the power relations between these two groups; the existence of appropriate HR-watch institutions to support HR reforms from decision to implementation to monitoring.


22. When demanding reforms, it is important for HR activists to keep in mind the following:

• The expected impact on, and the reactions of those affected by the reform.

• The content of the reform agenda, its timing and its expected effect on other policy areas, and

• The support received from international organizations to sustain the reforms.


23. A number of stages in the demanding-for-reforms-process need to be covered before the demand can be placed successfully; failure in one of them will generally lead to failure of the reform.

Issues particular to the health sector, for instance, include taking into consideration:

• The position assumed by the professional monopolists in the provision of health services (physicians and their associations).

• The role of available information on right to health violations, whether disaggregated or not and who has access to it.

• International comparisons with the functioning of HR-compliant health systems in other countries.

• Matching the design for the proposed HR-based health R-nbasd HR-basedreform with a clear, realistic diagnosis of the actual violations of the right to health in the country.

• Taking advantage of political ‘windows of opportunity’.

• The engagement of both claim holders and duty bearers –especially of those duty bearers holding veto power.

• The use of incentives, to align the interests of all affected by the reform.

• Securing sufficient resources to ‘oil the wheels of change’.



24. After chronicling over two Readers about all the nice attributes of HR activists, the truth is that the biggest chunk of our work is still to be done. So, paraphrasing the Communist Manifesto, I say: Proletarians of the world, forgive us.


Claudio Schuftan in Ho Chi Minh City

All HR Readers from 1-211 can be found at under No.69


Adapted from Development in Practice, 19:8, 2009; A. Gomez, Ultimo Patio, Ed. Turmalina, Buenos Aires, 2009; D+C 37:7-8, July/Aug 2010; F+D, 47:2, June 2010; and A. Gomez, Despojos y Semillas, Editorial Belgrano, Buenos Aires, 1997.

Postscript: The tactic used by the strategic enemies of HR is to demoralize, to put-down the self-confidence of claim holders. Depressed people do not win fights against social injustice. This is why HR activists face the challenges ahead cheerfully. Nothing big can be achieved in a sad mood. (A. Jaureche)




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