THE GOOD THING ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS IS THAT THEY ARE HERE TO STAY WHETHER THE SDGs DRAFTERS BELIEVED IN THEM AS PIVOTAL TO THE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS OR NOT. (part one of two)

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Food for a staying thought

 

Human Rights Reader 381

 

Ultimately, success will depend on how we contribute to foster the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) in a human rights-compliant manner. (H.R. Schillinger) So, in order to add significant leverage to our work in the coming years, working towards the realization of any given SDG will mean we must anchor development in the internationally sanctioned human rights covenants. True, but are we ready to decisively commit to this?

 

Given the prevailing unfair state of affairs, it is incorrect to exclusively identify human rights with combatting duty bearers’ laissez faire and impunity

 

  1. This Reader purports that it is chiefly capitalism that erodes economic, social and cultural rights. Capitalism has changed our understanding of what human rights (HR) are and of how to guarantee them. What is thus needed is to upscale HR from just-a-friendly-non-really-meaning-reminder, to an-irritating-stone-in-the-shoes-of-capitalism. Is this a naif thought? No. The idea that ‘the minority is no longer synonymous with the oppressor’ is wrong. Therefore, advancing the HR cause will have to come to mean advancing with a majority supporting counter-power measures. (E. Arenas)

 

  1. Furthermore, and crucially, HR have also to do with the very content of the struggles of those attempting to build alternatives to capitalism –majority or not yet majority. Why? Because the big issues of social and economic justice cannot be solved through the HR paradigm if they do not confront the prevailing economic power. (F. Johansson) What should thus really concern us about our current HR work is how ill-equipped it has been in its attempt to ‘domesticate’ the very capitalism that violates people’s rights. Today, global capitalism challenges all HR dimensions including the very conditions of life on our planet. (E. Arenas)

 

It is further incorrect to say that all it takes for the realization of human rights is to improve access to justice and to rights protection in courts of law

 

  1. As a pre-requisite to the reassessment of its role, the HR movement must become aware of the limited efficacy of HR litigation mechanisms. Seeing the overall larger picture, HR litigation is only one of the HR instruments –and, at that, one that does not address the structural causes of inequality that impinge on the fulfillment of HR. Only seeing this can the HR movement attain its full emancipatory dimension. (E. Arenas)

 

  1. Moreover, too many courts continue to avoid economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) as a matter of principle, and many of those who do address them fail to do so in a systematic, doctrinally defensible, or sustainable fashion. (Philip Alston) So, as long as social rights claims are seen as outliers in the dominant paradigm, judicial systems will offer no true equality for those living in poverty and deprivation.* To use the HR framework to challenge the unjust power relationships that perpetuate socio-economic inequalities, considerable work remains to be done in developing and strengthening judicial, quasi-judicial and non-judicial accountability mechanisms. (B. Porter)

*: The unfair lottery of birth violates every child’s right to an equal start in life. (Save the Children)

 

  1. Well-inspired-left-wing-legal-scholars have overestimated the counter-hegemonic potential of judicializing what are political issues around HR. Even good court rulings can be counterproductive if their effect is to persuade us of the idea that HR are the stuff of expert lawyers and that ordinary citizens should not have much of a say in that process. All this notwithstanding, applying the HR-based framework comprehensively does not mean leaving legal rights behind. Moving beyond judicialization truly entails having HR actually influencing the global economy. (E. Arenas)

 

Being faithful to human rights principles is being counter-hegemonic in nature and requires a ‘Plan C’

 

  1. For the moment, a Plan C for HR cannot be based on the hope of a political party carrying it out. Instead, Plan C must be based around bottom-centered-claim-holders-self-organization and around the (re)building of social and political forces that truly believe in a HR alternative.** (M. Bauwens)

**: In Arundhati Roy’s words: “There is no such thing as ‘the-voiceless’. There are only the deliberately-silenced or the preferably-unheard”. Here, she is clearly referring to claim holders.

  1. Three other features haunt a Plan-C-HR-based approach: trivialization, technocratization and elitism (given their Northern origin and being a source of well paid jobs). This normally leads to the bureaucratization of HR and then leads to a dismissive attitude towards the voice of the marginalized, among other, indigenous communities, women and student organizations, workers unions, grassroots movements of farmers, LGBT, and human rights activists. In this bureaucratic context, the counter-hegemonic nature of HR unsurprisingly fades away. Therefore, the emancipatory goal of HR mentioned above must be pursued with nothing less than deliberate intent. This does not mean getting rid of a distorted HR-based approach, but means moving towards its appropriation by counter-hegemonic HR movements all over the world.

 

  1. These social movements have to understand that the structural sources of exclusion, indignity and environmental damage –part of today’s hegemony– are connected to one phenomenon: the rise of global capitalism. Hence, the question of whether HR are tools at the service of human emancipation requires asking ourselves if HR are meaningfully engaging in the enterprise of ‘domesticating’ or ‘civilizing’ the global capitalist economy, as well as restructuring the interplay between HR and democracy, so that people (re)appropriate their inalienable rights. What is needed for this is for social movements to articulate a whole spectrum of alternatives capable of opposing the capitalist practices that violate HR. (E. Arenas)

 

  1. Among these practices, we recognize that fiscal policy, including taxation policy, is indeed a human rights issue. Fair taxation is a key component of states’ treaty obligations to use their ‘maximum available resources’ to progressively realize HR. Progressive taxation plays a fundamental role in redistributing resources in ways that can prevent and redress inequalities and can protect national and global common goods.***  Furthermore, states are supposed to ensure that their work with the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank embraces HR and that they build policy coherence between the economic and HR spheres which so often work in silos and do not speak a common language.

***: Not to forget: It is consequently in national budgets where HR or non-HR state priorities are to be found.

 

Caveat: Human rights –generally conceived as a counter-hegemonic instrument for righting historical injustices– are being deceivingly used to further subjugate the weak and to legitimize domination (N. Perugini and N. Gordon)

-In this era of universal deception, telling the truth is a revolutionary action. (George Orwell)

In a world with such profound injustices, human rights must be subversive to be meaningful. (C. Jochnick)

-The challenge is to create a counter-power that governments cannot suppress. (H. Zinn)

 

  1. Is creating counter-power revolutionary? In a peaceful sense, yes, it is. Changing society by shifting power towards claim holders is what HR movements are about. The revolution proposed is a silent and gradual one –and it is already happening all around us. Alternative systems to-those-which-we-have-been-burdened-with-for-far-too-long are already being proposed. (O. de Schutter)

 

  1. And then there are social protection initiatives; some of them deceiving. Believing that social protection as a HR is something that only prosperous countries can afford is a fallacy; it is basically from the development perspective that such a message is fundamentally wrong. Yes, the private sector can and must play a role in social protection. However, market dynamics in itself does not lead to satisfactory social protection results; markets simply do not respond to need (and, much less to rights); they respond to purchasing power.**** (H. Dembowski)

****: Here is the deception: We risk transforming rights into needs and needs into markets hence advancing a commodification of every aspect of life. (S. Prato)

 

  1. Social protection schemes must encompass public interventions that help households manage the risks they face in life, i.e., illness, old age or unemployment, but also hail storms, volcanic eruptions or civil war, ergo all minimum standards of life for from the richest to the poorest of the poor. Social protection must thus not only be risk-based, but also rights-based (and needs-based); it is an insurance provisioning services and relief for all –much like human rights. (M. Loewe)

 

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

schuftan@gmail.com

 

Postscript/Marginalia

When I refer to authority and power in the Readers, this refers to the legitimacy of an action; when an individual or group feels or knows that they may take action; that it is permissible to take action. Laws, formal and informal norms and rules, tradition, and culture largely determine what is and what is not permissible. The structure of authority in a society reflects existing power relations. It is only when a person accepts that he or she should act, may act and can act, that the person can be held accountable for not acting. People must agree that there is a problem, agree on its major causes and then pull their resources together to decisively address these causes. (U. Jonsson)

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