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Food for a humiliating thought


Human Rights Reader 328
1. Aggressions directed towards the human rights (HR) of marginalized individuals or groups utterly disarm them; they devastate the most essential tenets of their dignity.* To effectively counter these aggressions, we all need to get rid of our perennial sense of compassion –the one that only generates feelings of piousness and leads to charity. This is why I am, once again here, making an appeal for all of us to refocus our work away from charity and towards HR in our respective professional lives.

*: This is even reflected in their gazes and expressions: when dignity vanishes, fear creeps in –and fear, together with a sense of powerlessness, risks being transmitted like a legacy from generation to generation.


The alternative I am calling-for is to embrace and offer a political alternative in human rights work.


2. At whom is this call directed to?, you will ask. At you, of course. But also, among others, the call is directed:


  • At academics and intellectuals that have drifted away from social and HR ideals. Are you one of them? The call here is about bringing them to a position more pro-actively supportive of the thousands of struggling marginalized and exploited groups.
  • At bureaucrats who have, in many places, become a new class. It is about them rising above petti-intrigues, lingering suspicions, dirty games, ever-believed lies and never-suspected truths, and above their vocation for procrastination, as well as for also bringing them towards a position more pro-actively supportive of the same groups over whom they do have (quite some) decision-making power.
  • At political parties and politicians with their often encyclopedic lack of HR culture and their distorted view of what a truly social project, beyond any grandiose philosophical illusions, ought to be. The truth is they have too often abjured from any strategic vision for a truly equitable social project –as if the only social project would be the one of the neoliberal society. Nowadays, political organizations, left and right, are true oligarchies, I’d say dreadfully cut-off from the masses of the population. They fight mostly for their own immediate interests. They make the oppressed classes believe that they are fighting for them when in reality they are benefiting the interests of the old or new governing class. I am out of words as to what alternative ‘carrots or sticks’ can/should be used to call them to engage on a decisive HR path.
  • At the media, and here I mean the social media, because the freedom of the press is a lie; it does not exist. In the ‘market of journalism’ there is no plurality so that what we really find is an ideological hegemonic discourse. Here, the call is for breaking the monopoly on the news –and that is where the social media come in.
  • At civil society organizations, and here I do not mean big international NGOs –that have followed the call of donors’ money. I mean grassroots organizations. There is a great need for many more of these to, once and for all, adopting the HR framework in their work. Too many are stuck in the delivery of services that, in all truth, are needed, but that only ‘tread water’ in terms of struggling for the HR of their members. For them, the call is to revision a remission themselves to critically analyze whom they are really serving: the status-quo or the forces of change?
  • At the UN agencies who, for too long now, have in no uncertain terms been mandated to apply the HR framework , but have dragged their feet in doing so beyond lip service.


3. In seeking the proverbial yet elusive political alternative, the main challenge is finding those persons with sufficient moral authority and political openness that will legitimate –if not legally, at least morally– a counter-process that can replace the bad consciousness of those in this world responsible for the current state of affairs by a genuine HR-based consciousness.


4. Even if true that, overall, percentagewise poor people in the world may be less poor today, it is also true that rich people are scandalously richer than at any time before. The point here is that we cannot wait any longer to beat this galloping trend. A different way to do politics is needed; a politics that unites; a politics that uses new forms of participation (or should I say militancy?). There are still political spaces to be occupied by claim holders if they organize to regain their dignity and self-confidence. But these spaces may shrink. In short, here is a call for the creation of platform backed by people’s power, a power that results from many small groups working on small coalescing actions that progressively generate critical masses of claim holders demanding and achieving changes towards a quickly progressive fulfillment of HR. I am not talking about people participating in one-after-another street rally. In the longer term, this leads to demo-fatigue with a long face and a bad after-taste. I am talking about the need for a new strategic vision to emerge, a vision that common people not only understand, but underwrite and act upon.


5. What it is all about is to inch (or rush?) towards a new society of more advanced and genuine and direct democracy, because what we have is a bunch of authoritarian, patriarchal societies. Much active criticism is still necessary to extricate exclusion, paternalism, authoritarianism and other isms –in everyday life, in education, in health…**

**: Accepting top down changes is not the way out. The way out is about creating change, becoming part of change, stopping profiteers, speculators and other faceless operators of a system that has corrupted the world of today and of tomorrow. Never forget that claim holders are a majority in this world and they are seeking nothing but decent changes in equity, equality and seeking a system of fairness and justice, one that has been withheld from them for too long, but that is, low and behold, coming back. (J. Venturelli)


6. People have to begin understanding what they are struggling for, what kind of society they are yearning for. If they do not have and share that vision, the risk is that a number of uncoordinated spurious (fundamentalist?) movements will continue to spring up. (F. Huerta)


Has neoliberalism become a new form of dictatorship adorned with a new rhetoric?


7. The shortcomings of HR do not have their root in the historically recent developments of the hostile environment of neoliberalism. Instead, its shortcomings are more rooted in the incapacity of claim holders to, so far, massively enough demand unpostponable changes. This does not mean I do not keep up my confidence in the capacity of claim holders to shake off the excesses of the Capitalist system with its daily violations of HR.


8. The solidarity of trampled people is the only true solidarity that will achieve this. This solidarity has to come about by them exerting their genuine free choice, a choice born out of necessity, of being solidary and of being infinitely more democratic. Why? Because HR are about searching for a new collective destiny, one that is not only better, but also more ambitious.


9. Ultimately, ‘the individual’ is a concept eminently summative that can coalesce into a mass with real teeth to exert real power to root out the humiliations of centuries. This is the alternative this Reader calls-for, i.e., to embrace and offer a political alternative in human rights work.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City


Adapted from L. Padura, ‘El hombre que amaba a los perros’ and from writings by Felix Huerta.


Postscript: Spaces for action must be maintained open by relentlessly keeping up social movements’ demands for the respect of HR. Civil society organizations must have the staying power to move in and out of these spaces over time and must build effective horizontal and vertical alliances that potentiate these demands. What must be combatted is the prevailing ‘mobilization of bias’ enacted through arbitrary rules of the game that privilege some over others. Voices we hear in visible places are but echoes of what the power holders who shape those places want (us) to hear. Civil society victories in the visible arena, where power games are played-out, are important and must be sustained. Civil society cannot forever stay outside those arenas, not being really aware of how they closely relate to their interests; civil society must mobilize to make sure that hidden forms of power do not continue undermining HR. (J. Gaventa)



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