Add a comment


Food for a badly needed thought



Human Rights Reader 296





When asked “What should we do about human rights?” Voltaire answered, “Let the people know them”.



1. I am convinced –and I have said so repeatedly– that we need to open a badly needed worldwide conversation on the meaning of human rights (HR) as a comprehensive value system key for the future of humanity. (S. Koenig)



2. The potential-to-influence-HR must not be confused with the capability-of-doing-what-is-needed-about-them. Achieving the latter takes time *, takes experience and requires overcoming many constraints. This is why policy makers/duty bearers (but not only them!) need exposure to human rights learning (HRL) so as to start focusing proactively on easing these constraints. (K. Hempel)


*: Developing the ability to use HR-promoting skills effectively may be time consuming, but it makes development programs more effective and sustainable. Let us also not underestimate: HRL can be expensive to implement since extensive training is involved. But that does not make it less of an imperative.



3. A weak capacity to act, in good part, results from a lack of knowledge about HR claims and duties. HRL is the key instrument to build people’s capabilities; it is ‘a vector for meaningful action’.



HRL is necessary not only to understand but, at the same time, to judge.(A. Gomez)



4. Let’s face it: Regulations and policies we live-under are imposed –and not HR-based. Values that guide us are inspired and are championed by our moms and dads; they also come from our teachers and sometimes from our preachers and thought leaders or role models. (T. Friedman)



5. Human Rights Learning affords us the opportunity to rightfully question values, regulations and policies. Together with participants, HRL trainers** identify these plus the power structures that perpetuate the status-quo –as well as those groups that support change in a HR direction. It is thus key that in HRL we discuss with participants what questions have to be asked to ensure more HR-based policies and programs are implemented.That is why the actual engagement of people is the essence of human rights learning. (S. Koenig)


**: When I train on human rights I always say that it is OK if people get to the end of the training and do not really believe in human rights, and that they may have understandable reasons not to. But I have to better understand those reasons! True, I am an explainer, not a salesman. However, I have to become better at tackling those reasons. In my training, I also explain (depending on who I am training) that, most likely –whether you are working for government, for a local NGO or an international NGO– you are expected to conform to HR standards as your organization also is expected to. So, if your organization is not following that path, you should perhaps think lobbying for this to happen –short of finding somewhere else to work. Sure, I let people make up their own minds on this. (D. Seymour)



6. Being a conduit for a people’s engagement, HRLhelps communities break through the vicious cycle of humiliation and silence. Learning how human rights are relevant to their daily lives provides an organizing tool that enables the people and communities to take a giant step forward by recognizing the patterns of oppression they live-under and how these patterns shape our ideology and behavior. (U. Baxi)



7. Put another way, HRLgenerates knowledge through political education as a tool to promote a transformative political and democratic process. What this means is that putting the major problems at hand in a claims/duties perspective reveals the political dimensions of engaging in poverty reduction efforts. What is ultimately needed is to use this knowledge to carry out actions of political transcendence, i.e., actions capable to, in the end, exert power over parliament, over political parties and over the judiciary and the executive branches of government. (World Social Forum)



8. The long term challenge thus is to raise the awareness and build the capacity not only of health care workers, of teachers, of faith based organizations, of civil society organizations, of women, of students, but also of government officials, civil servants, the media and the population in general.***


***: Not to be overlooked: In HRL, there is a clear need to focus on youth as a distinct social and demographic group. It is more: There is an urgency to invest in young people in this endeavor. (K. Hempel)



9. From the on-the-ground HR work perspective, HRL is the vehicle to enhance the capacity of local and country teams to use practical advocacy tools, to launch social mobilization initiatives, to engage in knowledge sharing with strategic partners, as well as to raise seed funding for further capacity building in HR.



Human Rights Learning: From informative to formative to transformative.



10. The not-easy-to-answer question here is: What kind of capacity development needs to happen to ensure that all these groups can get involved meaningfully?



11. First, let us look at what the hurdles and challenges are that HRL must overcome at claim-holders level, i.e., what is HRL to combat?


  • Claim-holders lack of awareness.

  • Resignation to the injustices of the status quo.

  • Fear of reprisals against human rights activists.

  • Mistrust of institutions in charge of HR appeal mechanisms.

  • Inability to claim human rights while fighting for mere survival.

  • Economic and physical inaccessibility to competent authorities.



12. Second, HRL is also particularly important for legislators and judges. In the HRL sessions for officers of the judiciary and for lawyers, the hurdles and challenges that HRL must overcome are somewhat different, namely:


  • Lack of knowledge of HR law.


  • Lack of interest in changing social inequalities and patterns of injustice.

  • Lack of impartiality.

  • Unavailability of adequate legal materials on HR.



13. Even in cases in which a HR judicial decision can be obtained, HR are still not guaranteed for the people concerned; the difficulties and obstacles faced by people in having these decisions implemented constitute a major challenge. ****


****: To overcome these obstacles, in good part the answer is: more HRL at the different levels of claim holders and duty bearers (particularly to make claim holders aware of their rights and of the possibilities available to them to lodge a complaint.)



14. One of the key problems here is that many countries tend to place procedural law above substantive rights. This being so, even in a situation where a violation can be clearly identified and the liability of the competent authorities is established, judicial authorities tend to raise obstacles grounded in procedural rules, such as terms or formalities.



15. Jurisprudence in HR cases also remains confined to the constitutional jurisdiction or to the high courts, and HR are not applied by judges of lower hierarchies in different jurisdictions. In other words, jurisprudence on HR cases does not permeate the system to the judges working in peripheral areas. (A.M. Suarez Franco) That is why HRL is so important for them.



16. Finally, learning together about human rights as a way of life not only means unlearning the inhumanity, the violence and injustice that plague the human condition; it also offers reachable outcomes and a value system to strive for, one through which we can live with one another in peace and equality, without discrimination, in trust and in respect. (S. Koenig)



Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City






Adapted from UNFPA A HRBA to Programming: Practical implementation manual and training materials, 2010;D+C Vol.37, No.5, May 2010;OHCCHR: HR: key to keeping the MDG promise of 2015, Aug. 2010;andGetting the MDGs right: Towards the founding of an operational framework for the MDG-Human Rights Nexus, Copenhagen, Nov. 2010. Also look at United Nations General Assembly, Follow-up to the International Year of Human Rights Learning, Sixty-sixth session, Third Committee, Agenda item 69 (b), document A/C.3/66/L.53/Rev.1, 9 November 2011.



Postscript: It is better to be hated for what you are, than to be loved for what you are not. In that sense, to have ideas that go counter-current to the times is heroic and he who does not dare is a coward. (A. Gomez)


I say: Expose your vulnerability and insecurity, don’t live strictly inside your comfort zone; don’t always play it safe. Therefore, avoid doing something just because everyone thinks you should. “Ultimately, you have to live the way you think or, sooner or later, you will end up thinking the way you live”. (P. Valery)

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks


  1. No Comments

Leave a Reply