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Food for a here-is-why thought


Human Rights Reader 361

The realization of human rights is a prerequisite for the achievement of the other three.


  1. The application of the human rights-based framework must be seen in the larger UN perspective. In order to fully understand and appreciate the potentially powerful role of human rights (HR), the relationships between HR and the other ‘pillars’ of the United Nations (peace, justice and democracy) need to be understood. The relationship between justice and human rights is of particular importance. Two things must be recognized: (i) the centrality of applying and integrating justice and HR in development policy, and (ii) the need to include democratic development and respect for HR as indispensable to achieve sustainable development at all levels.


  1. A careful reading of the United Nations Charter helps us understanding the relationships among these universal aspirations. The UN Charter is actually based on the ‘four pillars’ of Peace, Justice, Freedom (Democracy) and Human Rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights further explains that HR form the foundation for the other three:


“The recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.”


  1. This suggests that the realization of HR is a prerequisite for the achievement of the other three and what this means is that the Human Rights-Based Approach to Development (HRBA) represents the broadest and most fundamental development strategy.


So, if it is a prerequisite, what does it entail?: A recapitulation for latecomers (U. Jonsson)


  1. Any specific issue affecting human beings is a right only if it has been codified in an International Human Rights Treaty (Covenant or Convention). This means that all human beings have such a right –they are right-holders. If a country (State Party) has ratified that treaty, individuals move from being just right-holders to being claim-holders with valid claims on others who then become the correlative duty-bearers. This forms a ‘claim-duty pattern’ in society in which the State most often is the ultimate duty-bearer. Increasingly though, ‘non-state duty-bearers’ are being recognized.


  1. A Human Rights Standard represents a desirable goal or an outcome of the realization of a specific HR. These standards are codified in HR treaties, for example the rights to health, to education, to food, to adequate housing, etc. There are many different ways of achieving a desirable outcome, or more precisely, there are different processes that can be used to reach a certain outcome. In the Human Rights-Based Framework the processes should meet the criteria of Human Rights Principles (i.e., universality and inalienability, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness, equality* and non-discrimination, participation and inclusion, and accountability and rule of law).

*: A common misuse of equity and equality interchangeably, originally introduced by the World Bank, who defined equity as equal opportunities, forgetting that equality of opportunity does not automatically result in equality of results. A high degree of equality of opportunity may be desirable, but is seldom a sufficient condition for equality of results! (See HR Readers 228, 285, 289 and 307-308).


  1. The United Nations HR work focuses on the development of the capacities of duty-bearers to meet their obligations and/or of rights-holders to claim their rights. Any HR work must focus on the Progressive Realization of HR [which includes setting (annual) benchmarks that will show processes have (progressively) been set in motion, all pointing towards the full realization of that right]. While most development approaches focus on outcomes only, in the HR-based framework ‘development’ is understood as processes that lead to outcomes. This facilitates both the identification of priority actions and is helpful in monitoring. It must be noted that the HR relationship between claim-holders and a duty-bearers, more often than not, reflects unequal power relations.


Human Rights Approaches to Development: Action or no action (U. Jonsson)


  1. Consider five scenarios:

(i) There is a lack of any significant reference to human rights, i.e., no significant or explicit reference is made to HR, or it is assumed that HR that are not codified in national law are not ‘real human rights’.

(ii) Misuse of human rights, i.e., HR are misused by using normative ‘human rights-like’ positions that are not recognized as part of International Human Rights Law thus not being real HR; for example, ‘youth rights’ and some parts of ‘property rights’.

(iii) Rhetorical repackaging, i.e., a desire to refer to HR is in these cases expressed, but without any serious effort to ‘integrate’ HR or taking a truly serious ‘HR perspective’. The reason of this is often a desire to show a ‘high moral ground’ by referring to HR, and the incorporation of HR terminology into an otherwise traditional development discourse without any significant discussion of its operationalization.

(iv) Human rights as a cross-cutting issue, i.e., although the term has been used by many agencies, no agency has so far managed to define ‘cross-cutting’ HR work in clear operational terms –which in many cases has just reflected a ‘high moral ground’ approach (see iii above)

(v) Human rights mainstreaming, i.e., here the aim is to ensure that HR are ‘integrated’ into all sectors/aspects of existing development interventions (e.g., water, education, etc.). ‘Mainstreaming’ and ‘integrating’ are often used interchangeably, although very seldom clearly defined.


  1. As understood today, sustainable development, and the realization of HR are, to a large extent, dialectically related. Neither sustainable development, nor the realization of HR can be fully understood or achieved without an understanding and achievement of the other one. Three of the four components of sustainable development primarily reflect specific groups of HR: Sustainable Social Development (social and cultural rights); Sustainable Economic Development (economic rights); and Sustainable Political Development (political rights), while Sustainable Environmental Development does not yet have a clear group of ‘environmental rights’, although some rights in the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights do relate to the environment.


  1. Bottom line, the realization of human rights is a pre-condition for the achievement of democracy, freedom, justice, sustainable development and peace in the world –and here we explored why this is so… [How badly this needs to be remembered in the final stages of the negotiations of the Post 2015 Development Agenda…].


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



Soliloquy: We cannot but face the apparent contradictions maliciously planted to oppose the HR discourse. It sometimes looks so uphill a battle to me to fight… but not doing so means giving up, which I won’t. We simply have to crack the apparent (and the real) paradoxes. For that, sometimes we have to get into more complex topics, topics that go deeper into the human identity and into what I would say is the current crisis of human evolution. I have variously brainstormed on this but, over and over, I see no other way out than that of concerted political action. Our world today is beyond existential doubts and philosophizing. Our needs are more immediate, urgent and concrete. We have to break with conventionalities, think and act out-of-the-box; we have to avoid falling into rhetoric and empty pronouncements; perhaps accept that the old school of ‘theory and practice united will never be defeated’ may have its limitations. The question is whether new approaches will get more traction with the common people. For the vast majority of the haves, who have the power to change things, reasoning-in-a-planetary-sense has stopped being a preoccupation, much less a practice –not even in their most sublime moments. So what else than to dislodge them from their positions of power? I will be glad to consider other promising alternatives… To be radical in HR implies integrating radical analysis and/with radical action. This is the way many of us see it. But can this view be passed on to claim holders and duty bearers? These Readers think so, not moralizing but focusing on the “we have to” and “what is it that we are doing (or not doing)?” …and “to what avail?” (apparently, so far, to not so much avail…). Much to be done. (adapted from L. Weinstein)


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