THE POLITICS OF HUMAN RIGHTS IS ABOUT OVERTURNING THE DOMINANT DEVELOPMENT NARRATIVE.

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Food for an emancipatory thought

 

Human Rights Reader 377

 

Politics is not just something to be studied; it is something you either do, or let others do to you. (P. Iglesias, PODEMOS, Spain)

 

1.Politics is more than an object for philosophical reflection. It is more than a matter of opinion; it is more than a notion of consensus within public opinion. In its pure manifestation, politics opens radical and emancipatory possibilities especially, in the case of human rights (HR), when it forcefully affirms equity and equality. (A. Badiou)

 

  1. Politics that do not defend HR beyond rhetoric are more than inadequate, in good part because they are not anti-neoliberal. That is not the only problem with politics applied to HR work though: Additionally, this politics must be much more focused on appealing-to and demanding-from governments to respect, protect and fulfill the HR duties they committed-to voluntarily, as well as on using the courts to enforce legally-binding commitments. Such an approach to politics is also to direct people’s energies into writing letters, lobbying their governments and taking cases to court and to HR tribunals. Such efforts can do and do plenty of good. However, by themselves, they still do not build the kind of power needed to push governments to truly enforce HR (or violate them much less!) and do not resist actively enough existing policies harmful to HR, namely cuts to social programs and giving the green light to greenhouse gas-spewing industrial or mining projects. The kind of power needed is the power of social movements that mobilizes many thousands of people in their workplaces –and on the streets, if needed.(D. Camfield, New Socialist Webzine)

 

  1. So, what is needed is a politics that treats the defense of HR as part of a larger struggle, on many fronts, to resist the harm inflicted on people by neoliberal policies, as well as resist the many forms of oppression interwoven with them (sexism, patriarchy, racism, colonialism, heterosexism, the oppression of people with disabilities…) so as to ultimately transform society. Such a politics is not merely to appeal to our rulers for solutions that respect HR. Instead, it encourages us to work every day to do what we can to help build counter-power against the power of unscrupulous rulers; this is the way forward.* (D. Camfield)

*: There are no personal solutions to political problems. If personal, they contribute more to harm and to the perpetuation of the problems. (M. Roberts)

 

  1. So this is our challenge, as all evidence indicates that politics at the national level is no longer able to carry out its fundamental role of regulating society for the greater good of its citizens, for a harmonious, fair and just society. We face a fundamental problem of increasingly diminishing democracy, at least as it was understood up till now. The crisis of political institutions goes hand in hand with the rise of financial power, which unlike trade, has no international organization regulating it. Increasingly, the international economic and financial system has put the state in second place. What is most important, however, is that governments are losing their capacity of representing the opinion of their citizens. This calls for building social movements that fight for what people really need.** (R. Bissio)

**: As opposed to what Hegel supposedly said, I think that ideologies are the consciousness of reality, more so if they take into account the views, aspirations and claims of rights holders.

 

  1. If such an empowering pathway is eventually followed, are the right-wing printed and TV press (i.e., almost all of it), the conservative political parties, academics and journalists-who-declare-themselves-apolitical (but that are very much right-wing), corporate executives, foreign investors and financiers and conservative politicians about to have a nervous breakdown? (M. Waissbluth) Certainly not, because as the forces of HR get organized, so do the forces of the status-quo…: indeed a never-ending dialectical challenge.

 

‘Democratic processes’, more often than not, hide special-interest-candidates running for office masquerading as true defenders of human beings (…and human rights?). (R. Nader)

 

-From hearing our politicians speak, it seems that making and consuming more and more is what it is mostly about in life. (T. McMichael)

-The truth is that there are seven types of people: those who do not know; those who do not want to know; those who hate knowing; those who suffer for not knowing; those who pretend to know; those who succeed without knowing and those who live happy thanks to the others not knowing. The latter often correspond to politicians or even intellectuals. (Pío Baroja)

 

  1. For a scientist, vanity is inadmissible, because it clashes with needed self-criticism. (Max Weber) Politicians are mostly vain –and this makes them want to perpetuate themselves and makes them commit the two mortal sins of politics: lack of objectivity and lack of responsibility. (Albino Gomez)

 

  1. These days, near the top of every less-than-objective politician’s playbook lies the resource scarcity card. “Economic and social rights are a morally compelling aspiration, sure, but we just do not have the funds” goes the commonly used but rarely-proven litany from governments, rich and poor alike. When politicians seek to roll back on HR through scarcity-scare-mongering, as advocates, we should have the tools at hand to resist this ploy, interrogate the scarcity claim and promote, among other, fairer tax alternatives. In effect, ministries of finance still remain literally HR-free-zones, and are, so far, left unchecked by HR bodies within government and by public interest civil society organizations alike. This happens as existing HR principles and standards already demand that government politicians raise sufficient resources for the realization of HR in an equitable manner through transparent and accountable public institutions. But so many governments condone, facilitate or actively promote tax abuse, be that domestic or cross-border, indeed knowing they are in violation of their international human rights obligations. (N. Lusiani)

 

  1. Worse, politicians tend to encourage people to believe that ‘the system’ works and that advocates should work within ‘official channels’. They portray the problem as ‘bad governments’, or ‘governance deficit’, not as an unjust social order. This way of thinking is more often than not depoliticizing: it encourages people to think in shallow and narrow ways about what is wrong in society, and discourages them from asking questions that challenge the idea that there is no alternative to the kind of society we have now. (D. Camfield)

 

  1. We all know that, in elections, it is populism that wins over democratic republicanism. Why? Because a good part of the population too often depends on government subsidies and government jobs and is thus simply not motivated enough to stand behind an abstract defense of true democratic values. (A. Gomez) Moreover, politicians thrive counting on people’s distractions and short memory.***

***: Those with the power are indeed the ones that still govern us. But beware, they no longer really convince people since, as populist leaders, they make impossible promises…and people do notice that power over their social lives has become the greater part of political power. (Stuckler and Basu)

 

  1. Ah! and, yes, …delicate HR and other UN negotiations are ultimately in the hands of politicians-calling-themselves-diplomats. As long as public interest civil society organizations and social movements continue to follow silos and small themes, these politicians will continue to take us round and round, and the UN will continue to raise our hopes, only to bring them down through yet another distraction. (Senior UN staffer)

 

Socialism and human rights

 

  1. To me, socialism has the right HR hypotheses. All those who disagree with its hypotheses invariably resign themselves to the market economy, to a flawed parliamentary or presidential democracy –the form of state suited to capitalism– and to the ‘inevitable’ and ‘natural’ character of the most monstrous inequalities. (Alain Badiou)

 

  1. Actually, for Ernesto Leclau, the Argenitinian political theorist, Socialism should no longer focus on class warfare. Instead, socialists should seek to unite discontented groups –such as feminists, gay people, environmentalists, the unemployed– to work against the clearly defined enemy, namely the Establishment. One way of doing this is through a charismatic leader who leads the fight against the powerful on behalf-of and all-the-way with the underdogs. Such a New Left appeals to voters with simple, emotionally engaging language. Liberal elites may decry such tactics as populism, but this is because they are scared of ordinary people becoming involved in politics. (…so yes, elites do risk a nervous breakdown…)

 

  1. Bottom line: Why should claim holders be fishing for crumbs of hope in a sea of lost hopes and expectations? (A. Caliari) As HR activists, we need to organize people for a political struggle, to go from being passive actors to being HR protagonists.

 

 

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Ci Minh City

cschuftan@phmovement.org

 

Postscript/Marginalia

-As Mao Tse Tung reminded us, politics is just war carried out by other means.

-Politics binds discussion to decisions. It represents a link between truth and justice. (A. Badiou)

-Books are to persons what governments are to the people. Polls carried out before elections never ask those polled what book they are reading or have read… (A. Gomez)

– Is the left the university of the right? It is said that Rupert Murdoch’s youthful admiration for Karl Marx helped him master the inner workings of capitalism.

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