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Food for doing something about a thought


Human Rights Reader 345


-The most important qualitative and valuable change a human rights activist can make in her/his life is to stop judging so as to start understanding. (Albino Gomez)

-It is those human rights activists that apply the correct political perspective and thus have true clarity of purpose who will carry the human rights banner furthest. (L. Padura)


  1. We never stop insisting to human rights (HR) activists that they need to be proactive rather than being reactive in their daily struggles; that they need to strengthen more their action than their reaction capacities; that they must embark more on transformative than on ameliorative measures.


  1. The principles of activism that we constantly try to instill in HR activists include: Channeling our passion, controlling distress and anger and living the personal as political; watching our daily practices, questioning how and why we do what we do and exploring new directions; always tracing the causes-of-the-causes and working on the issues that matter; coming up with scenarios for change that cover both the local and the global (micro and macro; immediate and longer term); using a broad repertoire of forms of action as we work with communities so as to ultimately build a movement; and last but not least, communicating effectively (includes deep listening). (PHM, IPOL 2013)


  1. It is further expected that HR activists question and delegitimize the dominant ideology as needed and forcefully combat patriarchy and excessive materialism and consumerism; build stronger alliances for more coherent action; critique unfair policies; address the structural determinants of inequality; hold institutions responsible and accountable; and, most importantly in their work, do not let impatience become a contagious frustration.*

*: The every day skills upon which activism is actually based include: Working in groups and particularly with communities so as to organize them and raise their level of political consciousness through popular education; organizing the different groups rendered vulnerable and mobilizing the same so they effectively demand their rights; mastering elements of simple financial management and of modern information and communications technology, as well as mastering simple participatory research and monitoring and evaluation techniques. (Mind you, we are not looking for superwomen or supermen…)


  1. Furthermore, gaining authority and leadership as a HR activist is of utmost importance. This presupposes keeping vigilant and being able to react to the very early alert signals of adverse change and to thus alter the course of action as needed, as early as possible. (A. Minc) But beware: Leadership operates worst when using a ‘command-and-control’ style which is most appropriate for hierarchical organizations, but not for organizations using the HR framework. Command and control disempowers actors at lower geographic or organizational levels. For the HR activists to focus on what is actually happening on the ground and testing their initial assumptions is crucial if they want to keep an open learning attitude.


A dispassionate assessment


  1. As of now, there really is no strong global convergence of interests in solving our main HR problems. The conflicts therein need to be faced in a direct way with something more than declarations. Commercial interests have excess influence on governments so they support what interests powerful corporations. Money interests talk. HR activists do not have that influence –but do not have conflicts of interest. (G. Kent)


  1. We are aware that different activists will have their own motives, values or interests and will not always share the same views on HR; there are thus barriers to be overcome to arrive at a joint understanding or common vision if and when the various perspectives conflict –a role for HR learning here! We can expect this to take time. Even as this consensus is slowly reached, activists can target intermediate changes and benchmarks-to-achieve on the path to the longer-term realization of HR. Promoting local accountability by civil society thus calls for setting a number of intermediate benchmarks that will keep track of the accountability of duty bearers towards the progressive realization of HR. (R. Hummelbrunner and H. Jones, IDS)


From static to dynamic HR-based planning


-Being defensive takes precious time that is better spent working together on the offensive.

-Theorists are thinkers, activists are craftsmen.


  1. Plans devised by activists and claim holders should be regarded as hypotheses about program effects to be attained in the future –not as blueprints. Setting objectives with goals and specific indicators may be important, but not as important as setting performance and process achievement objectives. Interventions should thus be designed to actively test the hypotheses. How? By applying an‘iterative’ planning model which foresees the revision and adaptation of plans through successive implementation cycles or collective learning loops. One way to resolve this is to formulate clear principles for action (using ‘if, then’ statements) that will guide implementation and will provide a benchmark for a certain performance in the near future. This gives teams latitude on the approach to follow. The actual strategy to be pursued is to be a mixture of pre-defined intentions and new orientations that emerge gradually as new facts or learning are revealed during implementation. HR activists should thus limit themselves to specifying the framework conditions, but should refrain from interfering in micro-management, leaving the details to the lower levels. This stimulates the self-organization capacities of each level and improves ownership of all activities. Responsibility must thus be transferred to those best placed to identify the challenges and opportunities. Precautions are to be taken against mechanistic implementation schemes.


Actually, the concept of Benchmark Planning applies best to HR-based planning carried out together with claim holders and duty bearers


  1. Always focusing on the HR attainments desired in the longer-term future, plans are elaborated only partially up-front and are then developed gradually. The idea is to get there through progressive steps and processes planned a-few-of-them-at-a-time. Intermediary benchmarks are identified that lead to the desired final objective (which is the realization of a given HR). These annual benchmarks then become the focus of attention, because they are closer to the present and thus easier to identify and monitor –preferably by civil society organizations acting as watch-dogs. Different options to reach a certain benchmark are kept open. This approach thus uses a sequence of intermediary steps between the present and the future. It lays out the HR plans as a series of processes to be set in motion and expected to yield annual outcomes lined up from beginning to end in what becomes the progressive realization of the respective right(s).


  1. For such an approach to planning to become a reality, we are aware there needs to be a shift in the mindset of key decision-makers (e.g., in government, in donor agencies, in program directors). Granted. More so, if one has to cope with uncertainty and complexity.** But attempting to project an image of certainty and control through detailed planning is a fallacy –and this has been amply proven and decision-makers have to be confronted with this reality. Less time and resources should be spent on upfront planning (as we now do) and more on sequencing processes so that feedback from learning from the implementation steps taken (or not taken) can be incorporated into the planning process. (Note that deviations from plans should not be seen necessarily as negative. Unforeseen effects, as well as contradictions can provide useful clues about relevant needed changes). Forces pushing agencies’ staff towards risk-aversion need to be neutralized, as ‘failure’ can also be a trigger for learning. Therefore, integrating a limited and well-calculated amount of risk taking in a plan can, in the end, prove more effective.

**: As a HR activist, I am also aware that this way of thinking is not welcome in this era; nevertheless, I continue to make an effort and swim against the current. (adapted from L. Wittgenstein)


  1. A more flexible approach in planning should also be complemented by more flexibility in financial planning and budgeting. Those who are expected to manage for outcomes to materialize must be given the autonomy to do so, including flexibility on activities, resources and outcomes. Without this autonomy, they can only be expected to manage activities or outputs dreamed up in ivory towers in capital cities.


Worrying about a problem is not the same as doing something about it. (A. Gomez)


-For HR activists, a commitment is a promise and a promise is a debt.

-To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. (Lord Tennyson)


  1. Working on legitimate, well-understood problems within our respective disciplines is not enough; it rather is unorthodox work that creates revolutions in thinking and in action. A new way of seeing revolutions does not come piecemeal. Old problems are seen in a new light and other problems are recognized for the first time. We have to question fundamental assumptions; question the foundations of our social sciences. We need to be not innovators, but solvers of puzzles, to follow not-recognized-as-legitimate-lines-of-inquiry, even accepting risks to our careers. Vibrate with the intellectual excitement that comes with the truly new. (T. Kuhn)


  1. Talk about unorthodox work. Shanty towns, for instance, are a complex atlas with many intermingled maps: the map of indigence, of poverty, of unemployment, of drug trafficking of inequality and of insecurity forever. Why? Because those who suffer from these assorted HR violations do not differentiate among all of them –they just act as if they have no future, no hope*** …and this is a problem for our activism. (B. Sarlo)

***: Often, when one asks claim holders how they are, they answer: “Not well, but used to it”. Human rights activism aims at changing this. (I. Pereyra)


  1. Hope has two beautiful daughters –their names are indignation and courage; indignation at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are. (Augustine of Hippo as cited by A. Stefanini) Claim holders do not (and perhaps should not) invest in hopes and desires in situations where they do not convincingly feel they have power. (A. Gomez) Thus the need for empowerment.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

(Other HR Readers can be found in under No. 69)



-Do you know the rules of the game of checkers? The first is that you cannot make two moves at the same time; the second is that you can only move forwards, not backwards; and the third is that when you reach the last row, you can move wherever you want. (Rabbi Najum of Stepinesht)

-The spirit of a righteous man can rise too high and loose contact with his people. (Rabbi David Moshe of Tchotkov)

-A person who has not even an hour every day for himself is not a human being. (Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sasov)

-He who believes deeply has absolute confidence; he who does not will consequently have a weak confidence. (Rabbi Mendel of Rymanov)

-The HR activist must see and believe what he sees. (adapted from Rabbi Mordejai of Lejovitz; all as cited by Martin Buber)



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