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Food for a heart beating thought


Human Rights Reader 340


1. In truly democratic societies, active participation is the means for people to voice their criticism, to open the gates to class actions, to demand justice and to change negative ingrained traditions.


2. But true democracies are a utopia (which we still nevertheless ultimately pursue). On an every day basis, what we see more of instead is that, feeling voiceless, more and more people now demand to be heard, to have a say. With a renewed sense of self-determination and self-confidence* they want not only token participation, but voice and ultimately influence. (J. Friesen)

*: Being illiterate is not a handicap. The illiterate show us, already from the far, that they have important things in their heads…instead of the alphabet. (Carlos Fuentes)


3. Local knowledge is indeed decisively valid. But it is mostly not yet serving the interests of those being rendered poor and marginalized.**  In a world where there are oppressors and oppressed and where knowledge, as much as any other resource, can be and is being used to either subjugate or liberate, we need to look at how alternative forms of widely shared knowledge can be used as a means for social transformation and for the betterment of people’s lives. Ultimately, knowledge sharing boils down to the issue of power since power can be used to maintain ignorance and the status-quo …or be used as a form of active resistance.  Whether visible, hidden or invisible,   mobilized consciously or unconsciously, power remains the lever of action when implementing strategies aimed at challenging or transforming a social and political system with skewed power relations. (B. Kaim)

**: Children and young people with disabilities, as well as other marginalized groups are among the most authoritative sources of information on what they need and whether their needs are being met.


4. This mobilization implies creating new spaces for participation, ergo opening new arenas for the human rights (HR) struggle where relevant knowledge is to be shared.*** The issue remains that, in itself, this does not automatically change the social inequalities and relations of power needed for the fulfillment of HR.  (Gaventa  and  Cornwall). Why? Because the voiceless can still be co-opted or manipulated. We need to be aware that they are limited by the dominance of the ‘old ways’ of interacting in these spaces including the language used. They often also remain silent given their own internalized sense of powerlessness.**** (B. Kaim)

***: Good participatory meetings are about the three Is: Information (being widely shared), Inspiration (coming from those who endure the problems) and Initiatives (that consider and address the concerns and demands of both claim holders and duty bearers). (A. Fazal)

****: I would ask: What happens after people have spoken up, have made alliances, and have had a taste of countering the dominant forces? Is there a ‘memory of power’ that will keep going or resurface at a later time? (B. Kaim) [History does not really give us much proof of such a memory of power…].


5. To recap then, participation is about creating new social modes of living in community –celebrating equality. It is using the language of HR as a vehicle that leads to opening new pathways. This HR language needs to inform and deliver the message of HR making people evoke local images they can identify-with and that will feed not only their intellect, but their soul, their imagination and their emotions helping them set their eyes on the new path to embark-on. So, let the people come up with their own new language, one that applies to their specific HR problems, to the meaning HR has in their daily lives. Participation in HR has ongoing learning at its core!  It is through its language that HR offer a path to another system, another frame of thinking. (S. Koenig)


6. A caveat is called for here: We have to remember that social participation was also utilized as one of the principal political and ideological mechanisms by both German and Italian fascism that put an emphasis on mass mobilization in large public spaces. (This said, the concept of social mobilization actually originated with the efforts of the proletariat to emancipate itself and to build a socialist state). As used by the Nazis, mass social mobilization moved millions of people using special symbolisms and collective rituals although it was executed vertically and hierarchically with only a handful of individuals making the decisions and often exploiting political opportunism with the objective of ideologically unifying the populace through highly ritualized practices. (E. Menéndez)


Human rights will be strong when ‘they beat in the hearts of the people’


Mind you, human rights are no strangers to history, to a country’s situation, to the vocal or non-vocal demands of the people and to the influence that each generation has exercised over them.


7. Among the key lesson from the last decade is the one that tells us that any new global development agenda must be more than just an accord between rich and poor states, i.e., with little ownership by the very people being relegated to poverty in both. International commitments on their own can support, but will never take the place of, effective national and sub-national processes that are crying for change. A new sustainable development agenda based on justice and HR must be understood as an indispensable contract between people as claim-holders, and public and private actors as correlative duty-bearers, i.e., a pact between people and policy-makers that is directly used to transform aspirational commitments into real improvements in all HR. The new commitments must apply in rich and poor countries alike and must be tailored and adaptable to different national and sub-national circumstances, always being of service-to and owned-by the people rendered poor anywhere and everywhere. (CESR)


8. What, to different degrees, both major world ideologies have trampled-on is precisely HR. We are not back to square one though; we are in square two of our search! The challenge of all this transition towards a HR regime really boils down to developing a worldwide social networking scheme that brings about the discussions we so badly need centering them on the meaning of HR to people’s daily lives: A daunting, but achievable task… Key is to decide what will be the message(s) that will keep the focus on what people will contribute/listen-to, making sure they like what they hear and that the same means something to them and to their lives, i.e., that the message(s) thus become personal. They also have to trust what the message(s) say(s) and trust that the ideas make sense to them. Also key will be that people exposed to the message(s) are motivated to talk about it with others and even try to become HR mentors who call on many other people to do the same, because applying the HR framework is indeed their best option. (S. Koenig)


What we have to be up to


Public policy often goes to great lengths to, very elegantly but ineffectually, address the real needs of the people.


9. Too much ‘social silence’ is accepted without scrutiny and discussion. People often remain silent when they really have no confidence in the capability of authorities to deal with their problems; somehow, the ‘costs’ of complaining are deemed too high. A paternalistic society has taught people not to rock the boat. The control of information and the use of powerful advertising seduce people and pull them into a false sense of comfort. Too many people are asleep; the problem we thus need to combat is apathy; everything possible has to be done to awaken them so that, together, we can progressively master the skills to act, at the same time –being both brave and angry. Victims have to get together, i.e., bring together the blood, sweat and tears of farmers, peasants, blue collar workers and ordinary people. We will also have to bring together the ‘your obedient servants’ who control institutions, i.e., the public servants nationally and internationally. (A. Fazal)


10. There are thus millions of people who do not act as militant citizens –I do not mean as members of a party; I am talking about social militancy meaning citizen that understand that individually they can do little to change and right what does not work in their respective societies. (Albino Gomez)


11. It is only with the duty bearers’ finally understanding that power will now have to be redistributed and exercised that power can be eventually taken away from its current ‘slippery center of gravity’. It is only then that any sustainable political step in the direction of HR can be brought to bear. (We are aware that, as soon as there are negotiations on this, traditional high-end power brokers begin to find loopholes to get the upper hand in such negotiations). The negotiations to be held and the deals to be struck here are clearly political.***** So, where previously international-donor-community-members may have been able to describe themselves as being politically ‘neutral’, i.e., purporting that foreign aid just needs to provide technical inputs, they now must become political actors fully aware that, in so doing, foreign aidwill only do more harm by maintaining or worsening inequality.  (S. Stuart)

*****: We are talking here, for instance, about resolving these issues by adopting participatory budgeting and planning, holding local assemblies or ‘dialogue days’ between local elected officers and communities (with quotas reserved to ensure the representation of women, of traditional authorities and of minorities). The use of social media and new IT technologies can and should encourage such participation, as well as encouraging different kinds of referenda or popular consultations.


12. Resistance is not only a political statement, but also a culture. To resist is not to be against, but to create something new. This means that we should not concentrate on sterile disputes, but rather widen our scope and open up new pathways. In our case this means creating a culture centered around HR. This reflection does not minimize the meaning and the importance of politics, but it potentiates it when applied to acts of resistance. To create new structures to resist together and to protect each other collectively is the most effective way to protect our rights. In such a community-based action path one brings together ethics, communications and economics, all essential factors to resist. (It avoids the trap of falling into a simplistic ‘oppositionism’). Undoubtedly, by forging a new collective reality, what happens is that social resistance, gender and social relations and a collective identity reinforce each other. So, let us get it into our consciences (and let it beat in our hearts) that resisting is creating a culture in which our strategies are in tune with the principles and standards of HR. (C. Calle)


Bottom line


13. If we are to build a nurturing and growing social movement, we must all catalize the emergence of a common conscience of solidarity. Yes, the arena for our HR work has expanded. Yes, the actions have taken on new dimensions. Yes, we have new actors. Yes, they network and participate actively. Yes, this has brought us more solidarity. The thrust has been amazing. The movement has newfound strengths. People’s power must now be driven by a new spirit. HR mentor-activists have to nurture the future ‘HR rebels’. (A. Fazal)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City


[previous Human Rights Readers can be found in under Nr. 69].


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