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Food for a critical and transformative thought


Human Rights Reader 301


1. Human rights learning (HRL) is necessary, precisely because knowledge in traditional capacity building in development work has been much fragmented to the disciplinary realm. Conversely, HRL is about how we conceive and carry out a critical and transformative learning experience for HRL participants. The question then is: Which would these key critical and transformative capacities that graduates will have at the end of their learning be? A critical education for us means providing the tools to change a society that is organized around relations of oppression and that keeps generating inequality.


2. HRL aims at participants taking home competencies that bring about their active participation, their making a commitment and their taking responsibility as dynamic and energetic social actors. Their acquisition of  not only knowledge, but of human rights (HR) values is today an imperative.


3. HRL thus promotes the political alignment of participants with their respective environments in a clearly oriented way that results in social, organizational and communication practices that have the potential to build a strong social movement that is both critical and transformative. In essence, HRL promotes an alliance between participants and the already existing social movement(s) in the area where they come from.*

*: We have done our job as facilitators of HRL when world movements begin to take human rights as their flag. (C. Mokhiber)


4. As proponents of the changes towards a new HR paradigm, many of us strongly feel the need for a big-time expansion of HRL, in part because we feel we are indebted to our respective societies. Why? Because many of us have a research or an intellectual production vocation to bring about the needed paradigmatic break; but we have (had) little to show-for as relates to activism at the grassroots level. (R. Pinto C.) This is certainly my case.


5. What we need HRL participants to embark-in is a renewal movement that brings about the needed paradigmatic break with the aging, selfish, anthropocentric, neoliberal paradigm now in crisis. And this is an eminently political shift that must be not only joined, but actually protagonized by civil society together with labor, political, educational, scientific and academic institutions: indeed a challenge that requires the bravery of not fearing modern day inquisitors.**  (J. Monsalvo)

**: Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. (A. Einstein)


6. It is our having failed our social, political, cultural and environmental surroundings that points towards our indebtedness, towards a call not heeded, towards a promise so far not fulfilled. The information people we live-among get about what-is-really-going-on is being manipulated presenting them with just fragments of the reality that surrounds them (if not with outright lies). There is no, or not nearly enough, scrutiny of such half truths coming from our ethical and a HR bottom-up perspective. Or, our relevant questioning about the HR implications of such half truths is ‘deactivated’ with clever ploys and deceptions. HRL addresses this issue.

7. Are our mindless every-day sins of omission and commission not associated with the unacceptable increases in poverty we read about, with the flagrant degradation of our environment, with overall violence in our societies and with disturbances in our communal living? The slow move towards a HR-respecting society is thus not necessarily due to what we do, but also due to what we are not doing. Is there such a thing as progress based on receding? Maybe. But any receding must be part of a well thought-out plan to ultimately advance. (we call that tactical retreat).***

***: Taking us forward includes critiquing; sometimes vehemently. Critiquing is not going backwards!

8. We can thus be accused of being ‘pan-pragmatic’, I contend, i.e., of getting caught in doing utilitarian, immediate everyday things. In light of the current global crises, we talk more than what we do about the need of changing people’s mentality so they ultimately accept and assume the tenets of HR and of the human condition overall. The theme of such a change of consciousness has, more and more, come to mean acquiring greater political consciousness –and this is where HRL comes in. What this means is that we do not just follow our humanitarian, solidarity and ecological impulses if they do not lead us to gain tactical and strategic advantages, i.e., gaining greater power. (L. Weinstein)

9. Fact: We are not yet exerting sufficient ethical and political muscle to bring us out of the actually multiple crises the world is facing. We are talking here about greater militancy to make justice, dignity, human rights, personal enrichment and harmony with nature a reality. For instance, there will be no health-for-all without addressing the social determinants of health, without addressing the burning global political issues perpetuating inequality (since these are part and parcel of the crises).

10. We are not naif. We are not trying to change the political discourse by the scientific discourse; we are not trying to impose new gurus or fly-by-night opinion leaders. What it is all about is to progressively build-unity-in-diversity among all those that aim at attaining the fulfillment of all HR. The evolution towards this is actually a revolution in which many more need to be involved –beyond slogans and rituals. It involves adding, adding and adding individual changes in political consciousness and gearing this new growing social and political consciousness towards social and political change; it also involves building lasting social networks that engage in new forms of ‘doing politics’ to address the local, national and global roots of the current crises. The People’s Health Movement is doing precisely this. (

11. All this, calls not always for just ‘doing’; often it calls for actually ‘liberating’; first liberating oureselves from ‘certainties’ imposed on us, from old habits and defense mechanisms so as to enable us to engage in new avenues of struggle. (L. Weinstein)

12. Perplexity immobilizes people when they actually need to get involved .**** This is the ultimate challenge HRL has to overcome if it is to contribute to breaking the ruling paradigm that has castrated human development for so long. There is a passive hope here, but it is a hope quickly becoming active through increased levels of participation worldwide –and HRL definitely plays a role in this growth. That is why we call for its exponential expansion.

****: In perplexity, people do not complain, challenge and/or confront; they get comfortable with keeping silent and accommodating. (S. Claro)

13. In the times of these mega-crises, HRL is not only a human rights need, but also a need of human development, of greater direct democracy; a need also to crush authoritarianism and patriarchy in our social and political life, in our institutions. The urgency with which we need to emphasize this cannot  be overstated since the preceding are key constraints and a brutal threat people face in their struggle to get ahead with their lives and the lives of their family and community.

14. A change of mentality, an opening of many people’ minds is needed. The change we call-for presupposes a new collective sense, a truly internalized sense of social responsibility. (L. Weinstein)

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City


Excepted from articles submitted for consideration for a new publication on searching for a new, more humanizing paradigm being edited by Dr Luis Weinstein in Santiago, Chile.



-If you do not let us dream, we will not let you sleep. (Occupy Movement Barcelona)

-We cannot always choose the circumstances, but we sure can choose our attitude towards them.



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  1. 1shulamith Koenig

    Having been facilitators of learning and integrating huamn rights as a way of life at the community level for more than 20 years and for thnis purpose bringing forth the initiative of human rights cities for this purpose see:
    we welcome Claudio’s 14 ‘arguments”: to tell more about our experience and aspiration see: –a recent article on UN Chronicle:

    –and a presentation at UN Women to know more about our work in HRL for which we have no other option

    Indeed this will evoke the development of a movement through critical thinking and systemic analysis about political, civil , economic, social and cultural concerns with a gender perspective guided by the holistic vision and practical mission of huamn rights as a way of life.
    Let us engage in developing further ways and means to have all women, men, youth and children know and OWN huamn rights as relevant to their lives to belong in dignity in community withe others .
    Let ]s ask the question/??
    In anticipation,
    Shulamith Koenig
    Shulamith Koenig

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