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Food for a life-long thought (2)


Human Rights Reader 322
Only social movements can push politicians to turn their promises first into ad-hoc policies and laws and then into actually enforced social programs.


In tranquil times, human rights principles may be implied rather than stated. In tumultuous times, such as now, they need to be made explicit and actively pursued. (G. Cannon)


15. It is essential for us to understand the history of prior social movements that have either assured the fulfillment or human rights (HR) or, at least, prevented their violation. We will then see that only organization and social mobilization ultimately create the social power needed to stop policies that violate HR (such as the privatization of health care) and replace policies that meet the true needs of the people. * (M. Torres)

*: In social activism, there actually is an intervention ladder that goes from doing nothing; to just silently monitoring; to providing relevant information to guide people; to entering into alliances and collaborating with strategic allies; to actively intervening; to influencing decisions; to getting involved in direct actions as needed through engaging in proactive social mobilization; to actively and vocally opposing averse decisions; to fighting for the adoption of statutory regulations; to passing new laws to ban, eliminate, prohibit, and restrict; and to instating a truly progressive tax system.  We can call this ‘going from nudging to forcefully shoving’. (V. Kraak)


16. To give true hope to the people being mobilized, HR work is to be understood as a ‘practice in action’ (or vice-versa). Only then can we say that the growing HR movement is not an intellectual-type movement, but one that reacts and acts when faced with concrete situations in its respective environment.  At the moment, we can hardly identify a big enough group of countries that has been able to successfully confront major HR challenges. We can find countries that support certain demands coming from the HR framework. Yes. But if we want to build up capacities in a block of countries to follow the HR strategy, it is essential to get social movements going within those countries and outside them. ** Consolidating strong, independent social movements must be the priority together with launching massive HR learning activities. The objective is clearly to apply pressure from the grassroots up. That is and will be decisive in the struggle for HR. (La Via Campesina)

**: The HR framework requires demanding from decision-makers that they demonstrate they have done everything possible both to generate resources in equitable ways and to prioritize the rights of the vulnerable groups in the equitable allocation of these resources.


There is a divorce between human rights and the ‘rights of nature’


Human rights and the ‘rights of nature’ are but two names for the same dignity. The capitalist system gobbles up everything it finds; it includes an ideology, an ethics, an understanding of life and of things that is dangerous both for humans and for the planet we live in. (E. Galeano)


17. Drastic climate change will bring about chaotic and disorderly economic and social changes, mind you, based on coercion rather than cooperation. In this nightmare scenario, each country and each person will fight only for their own narrow interests in a mad scramble for survival where the rich and powerful have the advantage and the weak and poor will be pushed aside. It is thus important that those involved in protecting HR join forces with those fighting for justice in climate change, so that a scenario of cooperation and solidarity wins over the scenario of climate chaos and the law of the jungle. (M. Khor) ***

***: Beware: In such a scenario, the right to food cannot be just reduced to the-right-not-to-starve.


Human rights make it clear to us what manifestations of difference are outright unacceptable inequalities


I am afraid that democracy has become a structure rather than a living organism of full participation of all in equality. I like the concepts

that HR is a home;

that art is a form of activism;

that we were chosen for social responsibility; and

that the Ten Commandments now are the 30 Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (S. Koenig)


18. Inequalities predominantly affect individuals and groups that day-in-day-out suffer multiple human rights deprivations. These multiple deprivations and inequalities are closely associated with and reinforced by specific forms of discrimination in the enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.


19. We know inequalities lead to the systematic disadvantage of some social groups and to the perpetuation of poverty and of exclusion from generation to generation. We also should know, but often ignore, that equality and inequality cannot be measured by averages! (U. Jonsson) Policies, programs and interventions intended to improve the lives of disadvantaged people often only address the symptoms of inequalities, such as chronic poverty, but not their actual causes. As a result, patterns of powerlessness, marginalization and exclusion remain persistent over time.****

****: Extreme marginalization makes the marginalized have the experience of death while still alive; they simply need to be recognized as persons, regardless of differences, shortcomings and particularities. (L. Boff)


20. Inequalities are commonly ‘legitimized’ by powerful groups using stereotypes and prejudice that justify discrimination and maintain exclusion.***** Gender-based discrimination, for instance, remains the single most widespread driver of inequalities in today’s world. The new, upcoming post 2015 development agenda simply must enable those whose capabilities have been harmed by inequalities to claim and realize their rights. Only this will lead to measures that are transformational enough in orientation rather than just being marginal or incremental.

*****: Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. (F. Douglass)


21. Needed will be equity-focused and rights-based policies, as well as legal and program initiatives including:

  • explicit measures to provide for equal access, equal opportunities and equal results for disadvantaged and excluded groups;
  • appropriate redistributive measures, including social protection (i.e., social security, social assistance, labor rights, public service rights and environmental rights);
  • the provision of the specific needs of women and girls, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities and of minority groups;
  • adequate and sustained investment in children, including adolescents, as a means of combating inequality and promoting future prosperity;
  • measures to increase awareness, widen participation in decision-making and to improve the availability and transparency of data and information on inequalities and on development progress;
  • also needed will be equitable tax systems that improve collection rates from sectors and agents that have benefited disproportionately from aggregate income growth.

(Overview and Key Messages from the Report on the Post 2015 Inequalities Consultation )


22. The equalities protected by international human rights conventions correspond exactly to those areas where concern about inequalities must be the greatest. Progress thus depends on addressing the structural drivers that reproduce inequalities. The identification of and the taking action on the root causes of inequalities (and thus of HR failures) is indispensable if one is to expect effective egalitarian results at all levels. Attempts to address inequalities outside the framework of HR will necessarily be partial, hence condoning discrimination and exclusion. Demanding the fulfillment of HR obligations is the real holistic means of addressing inequalities!


23. Remember that individuals and institutions, be they acting on behalf of states or non-state actors, are now also increasingly accountable for HR abuses, not only within any given state, but subject to account to other states.


24. Let us be clear: The HR framework offers a compelling means for putting inequalities at the center of international development. The achievement of universal human rights and the elimination of inequalities are thus two sides of the same coin. (Report on the Global Thematic Consultation on Inequalities, UNICEF, UN Women, January 2013).


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City


Postscript: Two sides of a coin:

-If we do not act who will? Visions without actions remain illusions.

-“Once I asked myself if all I do makes any sense, if my mission in this world was not a different one. I seriously thought of quitting everything and going to work with the poor in Africa. At the end, I did not go, because it is so hot there. I suffer a lot with the heat, you know?”. (A. Fortabat)



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