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Food for discovering a thought


Human Rights Reader 386

The important thing about Human Rights Learning is that its key is learning by discovery. (posthumously, Urban Jonsson)


  1. Human Rights Learning (HRL) is badly needed for more and more people to start recognizing the roots of their vulnerability and for them to recognize how these are related to why and how their rights are being violated. In other words, people need to learn about the social and political determination of their multiple vulnerabilities.


  1. The ultimate aim for the badly needed HRL is to promote social mobilization based on exposing participants to for-them-new-information and to expose people to awareness raising activities. These activities will eventually lead participants to become human rights defenders and get involved in campaigns that challenge discrimination and harmful social norms and that create legal awareness and human rights (HR) literacy among peers, among service provider personnel and among groups of claim holders with a focus on women, children, and adolescents, including vulnerable and marginalized groups within these populations.


  1. We are talking here about building the capacity of claim holders to participate and to claim their rights so as to ensure that transparent and accessible mechanisms for engaging their participation are created. HRL also makes sure regular communications between claim holder groups and service provider personnel are established and/or strengthened at community, sub-national, and national levels.


  1. An example of such claim holders participation is the setting up of participatory budget processes with a view to ensuring transparency and promoting the involvement of women, children, and adolescents in monitoring the allocation and utilization of resources for their wellbeing and dignity. (Human Rights Subwork Stream of the Global Strategy on Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health)


  1. Universities are certainly teaching our students the obvious touchstones of, among other, international health, international law, security studies, development and human security, the environment, information technology, and global economics. Yet, increasingly, many of us believe our students and young professionals are missing something crucial in their education that is needed to reshape the political economy of this turbulent 21st century: the coming age of human rights.


  1. Add to this the failings of bureaucracies the world over, the mechanization of life, consumerism, education received without questioning, our ailing health systems, the absence of community work, the unresponsiveness of political parties in the wide sense of the word, the lack of attention paid to HR….these are all key themes: Where are we educating for them? (Luis Weinstein)


Is the view that human rights principles do not yet move enough people the explanation of why we have so few case studies to show for?


  1. If the above is true, when will the HR movement unite claim holders in our societies to create that irresistible force of unanimity, of passionate work/cooperation with willing duty bearers to force the minority-groups-that-hold-the-power (and the intellectuals that back them*) into accepting the HR principles and standards? (R. Bourne)

*: It is no real surprise that intellectuals and technocrats are compromised with the prevailing regime. Traditionally, intellectuals have been caught between the demands of truth and of power. By putting their talents at the service of power they can attain prestige if not also wealth. Intellectuals that aspire to play this role can safely use the rhetoric of socialism or of the welfare state as they pursue the views of a meritocracy. They attempt to prescribe a society that can take care of its problems, but without structural changes. They are thus unable to perceive their own ideological compromise that defends the staus-quo. They must, therefore, be woken up so as to contribute to setting up policies that truly benefit the masses –policies that unambiguously counter the strong tendencies of authoritarianism. (The need for HRL is clear here). Intellectuals have it in their hands to create a better future instead of limiting themselves to stand by and just observe the relentless flux of what is happening. (Noam Chomsky)


There is no power in economic poverty: Human rights learning as the response


  1. It is the role of HRL to equip participants with the power of knowing all about uneven power relations since this does not come automatically. Participants cannot really find this power in libraries. Libraries are the depositories of science and experience, but do not help us in fighting malevolent immoral power. Learning about the latter is a point to start-from in HRL, i.e., learning that power exerted coexists with inequality; making it clear to claim holders that they need to understand the realities of power, about how power is the invisible companion in social relations; how it is so often destructive. In the struggle for development, power is scarcely touched upon; at best, it somehow remains a tacit, tangential notion; at worst, it is forgotten or negated. Power disregards equality. It is imposed by force: physical force, the force of money, the force of authority, the force of arms. In all of these, the opposite roles of imposing and complying with what is imposed overrule any chance of a dialogue of equals and of informed and autonomous reflection.


  1. Power, authoritarianism, patriarchy and domination are one and the same thing. In HR work, we analyze the determinants of domination, i.e., the conditions under which the power over others comes about –at present and historically. Illegitimate authority is most often blind, totalitarian, dehumanizing. There are no ready-made prescriptions to address uneven power relations, but all involve confrontation (which does not have to be violent). Claim holders have to understand they have power; the power to question, to have their own answers, to abstain when called for, to struggle…the list is long and never ending. This is where HRL comes in. Power always has a direction. As said, counter-power is, by necessity, mostly oriented towards some kind of confrontation, towards finding the best means to bring about corrective actions that address the HR of majorities. Leaders that engage in organizing humanizing counter-power actions need charisma (a feature that frequently goes with power…); they need to be conscious of the finitude of human limits (but push to stretch those limits); they must be proponents of human rights for all; they must be courageous. (Luis Weinstein)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



It would help HRL tremendously if all UN agencies and national HR Committees would convert the Concluding Comments of UN HR treaty bodies into visual form (with limited text), and provide for a budget for government and public interest civil society to translate both the written and visual version into local languages, and broadcasting on radio and television. (R. K. Murthy)


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