Archive for the 'Human rights' Category


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Human rights: Food for a realist’s thought


Human Rights Reader 428



-In the post-truth era, it is not pessimism that is called-for, realism is. Perhaps truth will ultimately survive and there will be a renaissance. It will take a long time though, but valuable things always do take time. (Nathan Stone)

-These days, the discourse about progress has stopped being a discourse about improving the quality of life of the many to become a discourse dealing with their mere survival. (cited by Albino Gomez)


In human rights work we constantly battle the technocratic development mindset


  1. We battle this mindset, because it approaches every problem with a five-point plan designed to produce ‘evidence-based deliverables’. This clearly leaves human rights (HR) vulnerable or rather marginalized. Unfortunately, technocratic experts have come to symbolize even what democracy is supposed to be all about. Technocrats have always shown little interest in fights over fundamental values. Their line of thought proceeds from the assumption that everyone –or at least all ‘the people who truly matter’– already share the same enlightened commitment to development values (OK, but also to HR values?). The only debate they are concerned about is over evidence on ‘what works’ among the policy inputs they propose to produce the desired measurable outputs. So, when technocrats are all we have to defend democracy and HR, arguments over fundamental values become predictably one-sided. Technocrats do not even have a good answer for technocratic-sounding attacks on development. Technocrats’ defense of development on the basis of ‘what works’ makes HR values become hostage. But, furthermore, these self-proclaimed experts often cannot agree on what this ‘what works’ is –or even rightly interpret what has already happened. (William Easterly)


The principal defense of fundamental values (HR included) must be that they are desirable in themselves as values. Period!


  1. Technocrats are not trained to duly criticize their infatuation with evidence-based policy. This is why equal rights proponents need to mount more eloquent defenses capable of building broad resistance alliances on behalf of HR. But the long reign of technocracy has deprived-us-of proactively using the needed moral and political weapons to defend the core values that are the foundation of democracy. We will not be able to fight back against HR violations unless we, once again, find the capacity (and courage) for moral and political outrage and for actively claiming for non-negotiable democratic and HR values. (adapted from W. Easterly)


In human rights work we also constantly confront the main ideological divide


  1. As the Third World freed itself from colonialism, it gradually became clear that reformism would never lead to socialism –it might, at the very best, have led to capitalism-with-a-human-face (not a-HR-face). Eventually, both models of social transformation collapsed with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The revolution became a discredited, obsolete fundamentalism that collapsed down into its very foundations. On the other hand, democratic reformism gradually lost its reformist drive and with it its democratic practices. Reformism became a byword for the desperate struggle to maintain the rights of the popular classes (to public goods, such as public education, health and water) that had been gained during struggles in the previous period. Reformism thus slowly languished until it has become a squalid, disfigured entity shamelessly reconfigured around neoliberal fundamentalism by means of a facelift that has then been transformed into the sole model of ‘exporting democracy’, i.e., liberal democracy converted into an instrument of imperialism. (Boaventura de Sousa Santos)


The term International Community should never be used. It simply cannot be defined and has become an easy reference to avoid the needed ideological discussion (Urban Jonsson)


  1. The development aid agenda of rich countries has evaporated. This leaves development agencies (both bilateral and multilateral) with the challenge to take up a meaningful role in the broader mainstream socio-economic, political and HR discourse. This will require new alliances, not those vaguely-defined with members of ‘the international community’, but concretely with public interest civil society organizations, with social movements, with political parties, with women’s and trade unions. What is needed is for these groups to develop a new narrative for their respective constituencies (members, supporters, funders…). Inequality and HR will definitely have to be part of this narrative as the two main drivers of the required system change. (Rene Grotenhuis)


Important note


  1. As evidence indicates that there is a net outflow of funds/resources from low income Southern countries to high income Northern countries, we ought not talk about the latter as ‘donors’ (under this optic, Africa is actually an important donor*), but must refer to them as ‘external funders. The use of the term donor obscures this and is perhaps part of the fallacious worldview propagated by those interested. (Rene Lowenson)

*: After decades of development, aid has failed to carry Africa significantly forward. Critics even consider it partly to blame for the continent’s underdevelopment. Foreign aid has failed to spell out that measures to ensure the rights to food, to health or to social protection, among other, truly serve ‘legitimate policy goals’. (Armin Paasch)


  1. Let us also remind ourselves that, whereas the World Bank, as a key external funder (mostly of loans rather than grants!), claims to contribute to the eradication of poverty, it continues to finance projects that jeopardize those people and groups that for generations have been rendered vulnerable and poor. [There comes a point when help becomes overly manipulative, and violates the dignity of those who are supposed to benefit. (George Kent)].


Bottom line


  1. The more we become aware that the goal to be pursued by external funding is not really to attaint ‘aid effectiveness’, we must replace this concept by the concept of ‘development effectiveness’. (Urban Jonsson) This means that foreign-aid-funding nations must not primarily strive for security and stability, but for fulfilling the HR and protecting the dignity of those they purport to be helping. (Robert Fisk) And for us, this further means that we have to take the initiative to challenge external funders and must be bold to make room for new forms of activism and virtual and de-facto engagement that ultimately mobilize people to innovate, claim, demand, and yes, if needed, confront. (H. Wolf)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



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Human rights: Food for an opinion-manipulating thought


Human Rights Reader 427


In development work, there is a tendency to confuse political discourse with technical knowledge, enhancing the power of select experts over a) political actors/activists, and b) over the empirical knowledge of the wider population (Nadia Lambek, Jessica Duncan)


  1. Since the use of quantitative measurements can be a means to a biased end, data and evidence from the social sciences can be used for regressive ends, especially depending on what is measured. The question for human rights (HR) activists is: Can we, without the economic clout or the power to mobilize citizens, use the fruits of measurement as valuable advocacy tools to promote progressive change in public policies? (Bill Jeffries)


  1. I do not deny: While measurement is a key component of understanding and addressing development progress, I do want to point out that there are limitations associated with indicator-based measurement tools (think SDGs) including:


  • Indicators are often developed on the basis of what data exists and not on how to best measure progress towards normative goals.
  • Indicators have analytic limitations and the selection of indicators is never a neutral process.
  • There are limitations to imposing indicators designed in one context (e.g., global) to another context (e.g., local).


  1. Emphasizing the quantification of change can thus lead to mistaking means (using quantitative measures for reporting or tracking social change) for ends (reporting or tracking qualitative transformations). This is often used to stir emotions…* (Think Trump)

*: The Oxford Dictionary added the word post-truth and defined it as the situation in which objective facts or data influence less than calls to emotions and to personal beliefs. There thus is a ‘true truth’ and an ‘emotional truth and the latter can be said to be a lie-transformed-by-an-emotion as long as it becomes the belief of a majority.


  1. A wider variety of data and news sources was supposed to be the safeguard of a rational age. However, studies repeatedly show that when confronted with diverse information choices, people rarely act like rational, civic-minded automatons. Instead, we are influenced by preconceptions and biases, and we usually do what feels easiest; we gorge on information that confirms our ideas, and we shun what does not. (think human rights) If we see something we do not like, we can easily tap away to something more pleasing. Then we all share what we found with our like-minded social networks, creating closed-off, shoulder-patting circles online. This creates an ecosystem in which the truth value of the information does not matter. All that matters is whether the information fits in our narrative.


From data to communications


Optimism in the world of today can only mean a lack of ‘true truth’ information. (Albino Gomez)


  1. In this era of exploding communications, let me here just quote a couple of respectable opinions:


  • In modern times, more than communicate we actually ‘connect with each other’. Moreover, we live overwhelmed by trying to take in all the information on offer, but we spend less time thinking. (A. Gomez)
  • Social media have given legions of idiots the right to talk, something they previously only did in a neighborhood bar with a glass of beer in their hand –and this did not hurt anybody. (Umberto Eco)
  • Used recreationally, the Internet risks reducing users to mindless clickers, racing numbly to the bottom of a bottomless feed; but done well, it has the potential to expand and augment the very action-oriented HR and development space that more and more of us pursue. (Roberto Bisio)
  • At any moment, public opinion is a chaos of superstition, disinformation and prejudice. (Gore Vidal)
  • True wisdom does not come from a mere accumulation of data that end up saturating us in a sort of mental contamination. (Pope Francis)


From communications to the news media


Today, achieving a TV appearance has become a sign of elegance and status… (U. Eco)


  1. Best here as well is to quote some more respectable opinions:


  • Not innocently, the media neglect offering a reading of the true world Why? Because information has openly become a trade good. The media are no longer profitable and whoever purchases the different media outlets has a personal interest. Human Rights are ‘too abstract’ for the media and so we end up not having a rational view of the world and we end up not knowing much of anything other than what is sensationalized. (R. Bissio)
  • Newspapers are the toys of a few rich men. Capitalists and editors are the new tyrants that have grabbed hold of the world. The media themselves have become the censors. Newspapers started existing to tell the truth, but today they exist to impede the truth is told. (G. K. Chesterton, 1874-1936) [Nothing new under the sun…].
  • The elite makes good use of its paid agents in academia, in think tanks, in the corporate media and elsewhere to make sure that you are kept carefully misinformed and told what to think and how to react. (R. Burrowes)
  • People’s politics are increasingly defined by the media they consume rather than by loyalty to parties. (P. Iglesias)
  • Freedom of expression: What good is it if the other does not listen? (A. Gomez)
  • Can average readers distinguish fact from opinion, for instance from incompetent (or mal-intentioned) coverage? (S. Mysorekar) [Think fake news].
  • Every day, as I read the newspapers, it is as if I am attending a history lesson. Newspapers teach me by what they say and importantly by what they do not. (Eduardo Galeano)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

All 400+ Readers are available at



George Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Aldous Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture. (Andrew Postman)



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Human rights: Food for a thought devoid of meaning


Human Rights Reader 426

We cannot create the impression that the SDGs are a normative rather than a political framework. The SDGs are a political compromise, one that many-of-those-who-should do not fully support. (Simone Lovera)


What happens when indicators are linked to goals that are not centered on human rights?  


  1. A goal is a desired aim or ambition. Goals can be achieved as part of a human rights-based approach, but not vice-versa. Human rights (HR) are inalienable rights that we have by virtue of being equal and innately having dignity. Take the example of the right to food and adequate nutrition: A rights-based approach represents a longer-term and structural approach to addressing food insecurity and malnutrition that expects states to pass legislation and adopt national policies. These are to ensure recourse mechanisms are made available to hold the state accountable to progressively realize this right (meaning that it ensures a continual and growing commitment to addressing the realization of this right).


  1. One possible implication of the SDGs having chosen to shift from rights to goals, is that a different set of actors are emboldened and empowered under each approach. The SDGs call on a variety of actors, including the private sector, to participate in reaching set targets. This is not necessarily a bad thing —but, in our example, increased corporate consolidation in the food supply chain and increased corporate capture of food governance fora are indeed worrisome trends. They are worrying because corporate interests are not necessarily aligned with the public good: Indeed, corporations (unlike states) are not accountable to claim holders; they are accountable to their shareholders. In contrast, the human rights-based approach makes states the primary duty bearers.


  1. This begs a few questions


  • Will states pass responsibility off onto non-state actors as the Agenda 2030 becomes the main frame of action?
  • Will states be willing to compromise on social protection schemes or environmental protection when they frame their commitments to food security only through the lens of the SDGs and not the right to food and adequate nutrition lens?
  • Will states use the SDGs to deflect from their obligations under international HR law to approach hunger from a broad systemic, social determinants-based approach?


  1. All of this is very possible. The human rights framework places the focus on systemic change, one that can indeed result in qualitative changes to achieve desired outcomes, rather than focusing just on quantitative outcomes as measured by most of the SDG-proposed indicators. (Nadia Lambek, Jessica Duncan)


…and a few more questions about accountability*


  1. What does accountability really entail?
  • Name and shame?
  • Fire or replace somebody for inefficiency or corruption?
  • Tax the for ever under-taxed?
  • Kick out exploitative TNCs?
  • Preempt free trade agreements that have a negative impact on HR?
  • Regulate and legislate along the lines of HR imperatives and needs?
  • Bring-in users (claim holders) to the decision-making process?
  • Demand the drawing of participatory budgets?
  • Give public interest civil society organizations the watchdog function on the violations of HR?
  • All of the above? (probably, depending on context…).

*: There are five types of accountability, namely:

  • Judicial accountability: e.g., judicial review by domestic and international courts; constitutional redress; public interest litigation.
  • Quasi-judicial accountability: e.g., hospital complaint boards; national HR institutions, national ombudsmen; regional and international treaty bodies.
  • Administrative accountability: e.g., HR impact assessments by a governmental or independent body.
  • Political accountability: e.g., parliamentary committee review of budgetary allocations; health councils and committees, and
  • Social accountability: e.g., by domestic and international NGOs; the media; public hearings; social audits.


How can we ask for accountability when the SDGs are not binding?


  1. Some iron laws here:
  • Demanding accountability is not imposing conditionalities. (!)
  • It is a fallacy to talk about accountability fatigue when there has been so little of it.
  • There can be no accountability if responsibilities and duties of States are not binding.
  • Non-binding SDG goals bring promises and, historically, promises are broken.


Bottom line


  1. Anything less than full and meaningful accountability risks rendering the SDGs a set of lofty, but empty promises, rather than the transformative agenda that public interest civil society, the Secretary-General and many of the progressive States envision. It is not only about indicators and targets, but also about financing and lining up the means of implementation along the lines of the HR framework. (CESR, Human Rights Caucus, Amnesty International)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



Every day is a rough day for claim holders. They feel left out of any control. They are not sure what to do. Every day is anxious, and every day will be like this for the foreseeable future (if they do not get organized to claim). “What will happen today? Will my and others’ rights be infringed upon yet for another day?” (not if they get organized to claim) (Sunil Rajaraman)



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Human rights: Food for a thought in old clothes


Human Rights Reader 425


Nothing disappears until it is truly replaced. (Auguste Comte)


  1. Neoliberalism is not really new. It is actually an even more anti-social version of 20th century capitalism some of us were born into; it actually is the yet most ‘sophisticated’ predatory version and instrument of capitalist accumulation, i.e., Financial Capitalism. The latter, you know, has now been under attack. But capitalism, mobilizing its survival instinct, continuously makes the necessary concessions (taxation, social regulation, small human rights (HR) ‘concessions’ to labor and to peasants…) in order not to jeopardize and guarantee its reproduction. If the attack alternatives being proposed collapse and are no longer a threat, capitalism will certainly cease to fear its enemies and will return to its unabated predatory, wealth-concentrating madness even beyond its thirst for accumulation that already is extremely aggressive. (Boaventura de Souza)


Economic growth, if not accompanied by real social and moral progress eventually turns against (the rights of) human beings (Pope Paul VI)


The global economic system promotes market fundamentalism (really a form of super capitalism) that reorders social and political priorities away from social welfare. (Gillian McNaughton)


  1. Economics is driven (dogged?) by ideology –and it is ideology, not nearly as much as science that drives capitalist economists to assert that, for instance, bank bailouts are tolerable, but policies that protect the inalienable rights of those rendered poor are not. Unsurprisingly, flawed thinking like this is a great comfort to financial elites —explaining why so many economists are hired and funded by big banks, corporations and the wealthy. And this also explains why their words and ideas are repeated by the media outlets that faithfully serve the status-quo –or by the establishment. Why should we be surprised? Markets –in money, labor and goods– have always been subordinated to the interests of elites, those with power in society, who also govern society.* It is not so recently as many think that markets, especially financial markets, have been elevated to a god-like role, governing whole societies and determining the rights, the life chances and the future of millions of people. (Ann Pettifor).

*: Because ‘efficiency’ is what is most often used as an argument to privilege small elite groups, the collective (biased) understanding of the world by elites will simply never be enough to meet the challenges ahead. (Andrew Berg)


Transnational corporations are nothing really new either


  1. You know: There are transnational corporations (TNCs) that, even long before today, have had more power than many states; this has made them into a modern form of colonies** that violate the sovereignty of poor nations. (Albino Gomez)

**: Never forget: In the Americas, illegal immigration started in 1492. (A. Gomez)


  1. Leaving the pharmaceutical industry aside for a while, look at how the monopolistic concentration of foreign trade in commodities has led to the appalling accumulation of huge profits by the sectors that control agribusiness. It is our responsibility to make this fact, which is already common knowledge, much more widely known. (Miryam Gorban)


  1. Transnational corporations’ self-proclaimed rights are protected by hard laws with strong enforcement tools, while their obligations –such as they are right now– are, at best, backed only by soft laws and voluntary guidelines. How to correct this imbalance is one of the greatest challenges that needs to be addressed to defend public goods and peoples’ rights. The task becomes more arduous the more TNCs assume regulatory responsibility and enter into global (UN) and national governance spaces. What steps can be taken to contrast the spread of this perverse multilateralism? Fighting against the conceptual wooliness on which corporate infiltration of governance thrives is a prime necessity. Resisting the tricky corporate capture of the HR framework is another necessity. Because they are depoliticizing HR concerns by translating them into standardized technical language, TNCs are deflecting attention from the issues of inequality and oppression that they are not intent to address. It is thus imperative to insist on the distinction between states-as-the-duty-bearers in the HR framework and businesses-as-potential-HR-violators colluding with states. (Be aware: A growing range of research has demonstrates that multistakeholder mechanisms are not as neutral as is often presumed since they tend to negate the complex power mechanisms at play). (Nora Mc Keon)

Ah, yes, and then there are ‘free’ trade agreements…


  1. FTAs are nothing new either. You also know that not all HR impacts are identified before a trade agreement takes force. Accordingly, clauses concerning aspects that directly serve to protect HR are needed in them. Such clauses are to ensure that states have the policy space they need to protect the HR of their citizen. (Armin Paasch) But under the current circumstances, is this a realistic demand? A challenge for claim holders the world over…


  1. The question is often posed about whether trade is to be a zero sum game among nations, but I do not think that nations are the correct focus here. I do not think it is nations that lose or gain. It is people, workers, farmers, and corporations, and banks and their accolades.  So, perhaps we should focus more on different segments rather than nations as a whole. In other words, we should move from a nations-based analysis of globalization to a class-based analysis of globalization. (Yilmas Akyuz)


…and furthermore there are some of the favorite toys of economists: Models


Through economic modeling, economists mistake beauty and elegance for truth. (Paul Krugman)


  1. Mainstream economic theory took a disastrous turn 140 years ago, when it attempted to use calculus to explain human behavior. A real economy involves people who are not variables in equations. (J. Legge)


  1. ‘GIGO’ (garbage in, garbage out) also applies to econometric models; just because something can be computed –offering a variety of models concerning business cycles and other such like– does not mean it makes economic (much less HR) sense to do so. Keynes resisted the mathematization of economics.*** Yes, economics is a cultural product; it is a social science, but one marked by controversial debate.

***: The excessive mathematization of economics since the 1970s is to be deplored. Assuming that ‘rational’ economic mathematical models are risk-neutral is gratuitous.

Let’s face it: The purpose of these composite models is communication. No one is pretending that they are very precise.


  1. To many of us, economists that spend their time constructing sophisticated models are absolutely off; they promote theories that make it impossible to understand the real world. The only thing they can claim to have is what it is: a mathematical model. But for them that model represents ‘reality’. But if it happens that that model does not work, it is not because the model is wrong: it is that reality plays tricks –and the function of reality is to always challenge models! (Manfred Max-Neef)


As a general problem, then, our era is characterized by us knowing a lot, but understanding little


  1. We do not need to know more. What we need is to start understanding –and to do that, we have to immerse ourselves into ongoing processes. Alone, each of us can do nothing for people who have been rendered poor and whose rights are being violated; we can only do if we do with them. “Get into the field, see what potentials there are in poor communities and together build based on those potentials”. But making plans from the comfort of our air-conditioned offices where we have all the statistics (like the World Bank does) is good for nothing. Let us understand: growth and development are two completely different things. Development does not necessarily need growth. Growth is an aggregate of quantitative magnitudes and development an aggregate of qualitative and creative elements grounded on HR. Development has no limits; growth does –there is nothing that can grow forever. And as Kenneth Boulding said: “He who thinks that in a finite world perpetual growth is possible is either crazy or he is an economist”. (M. M. Neef)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



-Why are most of the reforms this Reader proposes unacceptable to capitalism and cannot be realized within capitalism? If we cannot reform capitalism, any more than we could reform the EU, does capitalism need replacing rather than rethinking? (Will Podmore)

– Nihilism is described as the negation of any belief, any moral, any religious, any political or any social principle. I do not know why, but this definition that basically purports to say that nihilists suffer from an absolute loss of ‘the value of values’, reminds me of the equations used by economists working on models. (Louis Casado)



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Human rights: food for a socially determined thought


Human Rights Reader 424


[Adapted from Anchoring Universal Health Coverage in the RTH: What difference would it make? Policy Brief, WHO, 2015, G. Ooms and R. Hammond Editors].




The human right to health is indispensable for the exercise of other human rights.


  1. The link between an individuals’ state of health and his/her access to health care services is clear. It needs no saying that the most vulnerable people have the greatest needs, but have extremely limited, or even practically non-existent, access to health care services and yet health is an inalienable human right (HR)*.

*: The right to health (RTH) is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 (Art. 25) and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966.


  1. For WHO, the RTH is to enshrine both freedoms and rights: the right to control one’s own health and one’s own body (for example sexual and reproductive rights); the right to physical integrity (for example the right not to be subject to torture and not to be subject to any medical experimentation without consent) and the right to access a health protection system which guarantees equal possibilities to all to enjoy the best possible state of health.


So what does the human right to health actually mean?


  1. In the year 2000, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted its General Comment 14 on the right to the highest attainable standards of health. It states that:
  • A health system must function properly: Accordingly, the key to health is a functional/ing health care system, one that is available, accessible and acceptable to all without any form of discrimination and is of high quality. Let us see what this entails:
    • Available means that the facilities, goods, public health programs and health care services are functional and in sufficient supply.
    • Accessible means that the facilities, goods and health care services are accessible to all without any form of discrimination. Accessibility includes four interdependent dimensions: non-discrimination, physical accessibility, economic accessibility (being sufficiently affordable) and free access to information.
    • Acceptable means that all facilities, goods and services in the domain of health care must respect medical and commensurate ethics from a cultural point of view. In other words, they are to respect the culture of communities, individuals and minorities and be receptive to the specific requirements linked to sex and to the different stages of life. They must further be designed to respect confidentiality and to objectively/measurably improve people’s state of health.
    • Quality means that, as well as having to be acceptable from a cultural point of view, installations, medicines, goods and services in the domain of health care must also be scientifically and medically appropriate and of a high quality.
  • But acting on the other determinants of health is as indispensible, i.e.,

the RTH extends beyond the health care system. It covers an array of factors that help individuals to live a healthy life and improve the way in which the same is promoted. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights refers to this using the term ‘underlying determinants of health. These comprise: a) drinking water; b) adequate living conditions; c) nutritiously safe food; d) appropriate housing conditions; e) a healthy environmental and healthy working conditions; f) health education and information; g) information relating to sexual and reproductive health; and, last but not least, h) gender equality.


  1. Now, as the deeply ethical and political principles of the Alma Ata Declaration were disregarded and sidestepped for decades, the international community is adding the latest attempt to bring health to all in the seemingly catch-all and ill-defined initiative of Universal Health Coverage.     But is this a step in the direction of the RTH? Let us see:


Any claim to Universal Health Coverage that does not serve the purpose of the human right to health is simply not truly universal (!)


  1. Efforts towards achieving universal health coverage (UHC) do engage in some, but not necessarily all of the efforts required from governments for the realization of the right to health (RTH). The RTH covers more than the right to health care. At present, much debate surrounding UHC remains focused on health care services.


UHC leaves too much leeway for the inclusion of private-for-profit providers and does not sufficiently emphasize the responsibility of governments


  1. As enshrined in the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR), the RTH makes no mention of the role of private providers in realizing this or any other rights. The state is the primary duty bearer. If the state relies on private providers, it must ensure these providers fulfill their role on behalf of the government (!).


  1. As often pointed out in these Readers, health equality is in many respects an ideational sibling of the RTH. Equality is the principle of being fair to all persons. The RTH is somewhat better defined than health equality though.


  1. The RTH perspective insists on no discrimination and adds that non-discrimination is not optional, but a matter of legal obligation. However, often-used-cost-effectiveness-criteria do push things below the limits that are acceptable from a HR perspective —particularly as regards discrimination.


  1. UHC has little to say about the principle of shared responsibility. It does not mention that foreign assistance is also a matter of legal obligation. UHC does not imply a minimum level of core contents as the RTH does. Shared (national and international) responsibility for UHC is not clearly mentioned in the norms underpinning UHC.


  1. The RTH insists that countries have to allocate maximum available resources, but, when it comes to domestic financing, UHC provides very little, if any guidance on this. If a state does not use the maximum of its available resources for the realization of the RTH, it is in violation of its obligations.


  1. It is too often taken for granted that any form of pooling financial resources for UHC contributes to the rich subsidizing the poor; it does not (!).


If UHC is not anchored in the RTH it risks not being universal (!)


  1. Like in the case of the RTH, progress towards UHC is about the journey, not the destination. UHC anchored in the RTH requires that authorities engage with those who are excluded and come up with policies that include them in deliberations about the directions the health system should take.


Note: The Policy Brief here summarized has a very good table on the ‘OPERA HR framework and methodology’: For a summary of the same, also see HR Readers 310 and 311 at


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



-I sincerely hope that we will all write an obituary to that type of health education which has been concerned with telling people how to act and that, instead, health education will emphasize taking due consideration of the social forces that bring them to act as they so negatively do. (posthumously by Halfdan Mahler)

-Somebody proposed to, on World Health Day each month of May, send an annual letter to both the WHO Director General and minsters of health the world over complaining about the unfulfilled promises on the RTH. …worth considering.



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Human rights: Food for a non-token thought


Human Rights Reader 423


Look at the travesty of language: ‘The excluded’ are the majority, no?; actually, the ‘included’ are the minority. [By the way: We, human rights activists, are also part of the excluded since our advice is, so far, ignored].


  1. Inviting a token ‘voice’ to speak briefly at an international conference or ministerial meeting does nothing to advance the real human right to participation and the true inclusion of community representatives. Although meaningful participation is a key principle of human rights, explicitly stated in the Right to Development (among other UN resolutions), it is the people most impacted by inequalities that are quite systematically excluded and ignored from having a say on decisions and policies that directly affect them.* The clear lack of participation ‘at the table’ of policy-makers is not only the missing element in efforts to achieve the UN’s Agenda to 2030, but it signals a failure of the UN agencies to fulfill their agreed obligations to implement a human rights-based approach. (Case Gordon)

*: Being invisible is different from groups being ignored (they are visible!) Therefore, what is needed is a change in the balance of power so the ignored become protagonists. (Walter Flores)


  1. Rightly so, some are of the interesting (and plausible) opinion that public interest civil society organizations (PICSOs) staying absent from the global governance discussions (not exactly level-playing-field dialogue venues) would speak louder than them being coopted to participate as a token in these fora. (Stefano Prato)


You know this


In most of the literature we find calls for ‘more coordinated intersectoral action’. But this means coopting different technical sectors —not considering the community as a sector!


  1. Participation processes often cut off participation following the planning phase at the point and time when implementation starts. This frustratingly limits the accountability to grassroots claim holders. Given the emphasis nowadays put on participation in the self-proclaimed ‘equality discourse’ found everywhere we read, we have to be aware of the pitfalls and potential harms of so-called participation processes that are not relevant to equality theory and practice –and not relevant to what we pursue in human rights work.


  1. For people-focused policies to address human rights (HR), they must acknowledge the fact that people’s own knowledge, practices and creativity are key driving forces for social change. Since all indications make us doubt the commitment of governments, local community involvement is a prerequisite (i.e., a people-centered and inclusive participation). (Stineke Oenema)


You may not know this


  1. The guiding principle of any successful development action is the following: The material force has to be in the masses and the moral force in their organized movement(s). (S. Rodríguez, 1840) It is only when having recognized and organized their own forces as a social force that claim holders will no longer separate their social force from their political force –and this marks the beginning of human emancipation. (adapted from Karl Marx, 1843)


  1. The above applies to true claim holder participation which entails, not only being free from coercion or manipulation, but being directly involved in decision-making before plans are made, having the technical and legal knowledge required to make decisions, and ultimately reserving the right to withhold consent.**

**: In the absence of the right to say NO, participatory methods can be empty and meaningless or, at worst, smokescreens for elite control in which elites merely provide information on decisions already made. (INESCR)


  1. We find an illustrative example of saying NO in Guatemala where groups in rural areas have decided to mind no more about the so many technical documents on participation. They have instead organized into groups of right-to-health-community-defenders that de-facto engage in reclaiming public services by deciding on issues in their health services. They collect information on all good and bad aspects of those services and open channels of engagement with duty bearers. Since they are not regularly invited, they claim their spaces of influence. They have variously engaged the National HR Commission, the judiciary, the MOH authorities. Furthermore, educators do not come to their communities from the city; the educators are local natural leaders. Activists in the capital do not go to speak with the authorities ‘on behalf of the people’; local leaders are trained to do their own demanding. The focus is on raising consciousness so as to be able to challenge politicians, for example, asking them: “Have you been in a public hospital or clinic?” These local leaders understand the local health care scene and the providers in rural areas (who, by the way, often also are victims, i.e., claim holders). (Walter Flores)


A relevant aside


  1. These days, we find a growing number of group initiatives struggling for the commons (land, water, other). These are civic movements pursuing actions that represent the de-facto growing expression of people’s resistance against the commodification of resources and the privatization of services that affect their living conditions. These initiatives are not based on the historically-more-traditional working-class-power-struggles aimed at coercing the capitalist class by calling for strikes. The demand for change they are placing as part of their civil rights goes beyond these traditional strategies of working-class movements. Movements demanding access to the commons actually channel people’s felt needs for change into pointed citizens’ actions including transnational actions. To be valid though, the commons movement must be able to create a social and political alliance with the HR movement thus increasing the potential to challenge commodification as a HR issue.


We have to make participation the central activity of the political obligation we all have (P. Dardot, C. Laval)


  1. As per the above, the challenge, therefore, is to move participation from the realm of a social movements to that of a political movement; At the core, it is a matter of mounting counter-power to power. We must thus speak of the political economy of power on which the political participation and representation of claim holders depends; their participation must thus be binding in character so that it not only allows them to be vocal, but to have the power to influence decisions.


  1. In the end, popular mobilization of claim holders will be the only means to reach our goals in the battle for the protection of human rights. (D. Cordova)


  1. The monitoring of accountability mechanisms will also have to be made eminently participatory if we want to greatly improve the credibility, ownership and effectiveness of the HR movement. Why? Because this monitoring accountability makes processes more responsive to people’s needs and thus facilitates the potential for real transformation.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



Caveat: Have you noticed? Holding back from providing your own answer when you ask a focus group a question is ‘more difficult than trying to suppress an oncoming sneeze’. (Jerry and Monique Sternin)



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Human rights: Food to right a distorted thought


Human Rights Reader 422

  1. Here are a bunch of questions that have for long puzzled other critics and me


  • Why is it that those who have chronicled history have not felt the chains of injustice and oppression? Is it thus made-up-dreams that fuel history’s recount? (Albino Gomez, Julio Monsalvo)
  • Are historians bound by circumstances, condemned to whatever partial, (sometimes distorted) view their sources grant them? Is it their only recourse to keep on-and-on looking hoping to get it so that the facts they gather ‘make historical sense’? So what are they actually seeing when they look? Do historians sometimes perhaps deliberately describe what never was? …or claim more than there was?*

*: Tolstoy once wrote that, in his writing, he could not be governed by historical documents, because they did not reflect the truth. (as quoted by Richard Taruskin)

  • Why have historians decided for us which forms of popular upraisings prevailed and where and which were to be chronicled into history textbooks?
  • Why does the history of power struggles and of the consequences of its exercise continue to be so often totally hidden and unexplored? (Michel Foucault)
  • Is it true that the struggle against ‘evil’ has resulted in the greatest atrocities of history? Is not the banner of ‘the good’ always used to exercise violence against the defenseless? (A. Gomez)
  • When chronicling social violence, why do historians not add chronicling violence of the state?
  • Is the history of economic development more about great men (and they are almost all men), or is it primarily about the broader processes that create widespread wellbeing and stronger, more protective human rights (HR)? (Simon Johnson)
  • Do we live under the-tyranny-of-simple/simplistic-historical-explanations? (Philip Ball)


Conventional history is in part made up of fallacies, forgetfulness and sophisms (i.e., apparently clever, but flawed arguments) (Ernesto Sabato)


  1. Here is a sampler:
  • What happens in conventional history is that it is dotted with disasters, and goes from one disaster to the next, i.e., the narrative crumbles under the weight of these endless stories of bad news for the HR victims. (Philip Roth)
  • What the science (?) of history has too often done is turning disasters into accounts of epic glories.* (Philip Roth)

*: Never forget: History is not a science, in the conventional sense, it is the art of showing a clean face and hiding a sinister ass. (Leopoldo Marechal)

  • Contemporary conventional history has lost its capacity to suggest solutions for the future.* (Marc Auge)

*:We simply have to refer to the past fairly, precisely because it is absolutely relevant for the present; the future depends on it. (A. Gomez)

  • Conventional history often dramatizes what has been called ‘somebody else’s reality’, e.g., that of the nobles of Europe. There is nothing wrong with rectifying and ‘defatalizing’ this past –if such a word exists –i.e., showing how history may have been portrayed differently about things that did happen, e.g., the harsh life of serfs in Europe, echoing their feelings voiced as what it meant to be vulnerable and abused. So, what we schoolchildren studied as ‘history’ (or harmless history) –where everything is chronicled in its own time by the winners– has been inevitably biased. (Moreover, as an aside, when you study history, you memorize dates and ‘facts’ …and then you pass the exam). (Philip Roth)
  • Standard historical accounts have privileged the role of western actors, and their perspectives on historical causalities. The reason for this state of affairs lies in a complacent approach to historical research that itself is too often focused on a celebratory or commemorative approach to the historical evolution instead of a more critical approach. (Steven Jensen)


  1. So, what it is all about is to question the many versions of ‘official (conventional) history’ that have in-visibilized the conditions of power and that have rationalized and maintained inequality, the inferiorization of whole peoples and the ingrained discrimination against them. The call is for resurrecting and re-interpreting the true historical roots especially of resistance and liberation processes leadered by social movements that never gave up building the societies they yearned-for –in short, struggling for universal justice and HR. (Jorge Osorio)


A bit of true history


  1. The first point to acknowledge is that HR came-in from the South. The year 1962 was a major turning point, because of an important redefinition of the HR project around race and religion, and the emergence of an unprecedented momentum and leadership during the decolonization period. The legal and diplomatic breakthrough was brokered by a key group of countries, namely, Jamaica, Ghana, the Philippines, Liberia, Costa Rica and Senegal. These countries pushed the HR agenda and built alliances at the United Nations for a vital period during the 1960s. They fought for and delivered a stronger HR system, including its legally binding components. Jamaica was the global leader in HR diplomacy within two years of the country’s independence in 1962. The global South’s contribution was, therefore, foundational with long-lasting legacies that are still with us today.


  1. From 1963-1968, a core group of these states initiated a diplomatic effort to develop an international HR system with mechanisms at the global, regional and national level. They believed such mechanisms were necessary if the United Nations was to function as an organization for collective security in the post-colonial world. They therefore placed issues such as fact-finding missions, national human rights commissions, treaty body monitoring and regional HR mechanisms on the UN agenda. Ghana and the Philippines led the process that laid the foundation for the treaty body system in the mid-1960s. They faced much resistance and progress was slow, but this agenda-setting would have a lasting impact.


  1. Global South actors from 1962 also redefined the international HR project around racial discrimination and religious intolerance. They challenged the major Western powers to engage more fully with the emerging international HR diplomacy. The evolution of HR was never just a Western project. It was a pluralist project emerging through a multitude of historical processes with a diverse set of actors involved. This is what conventional historians have failed to acknowledge. This is a paradox that remedy we must. (Steven Jensen)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

all 400+ Readers are available at under ‘Readers’


Let’s face it, most great nations in history owed their existence to conquest. They then established themselves legally and economically as the privileged class of the conquered nations. They secured for themselves the monopoly of the ownership of the land and appointed priests from among their own. These priests then controlled education fostering the division of society into social classes making this a permanent feature and, through that, inculcating a value system through which, in a way, social behavior could be controlled. We have not really overcome the ‘predatory phase’ of human development. For too long we assumed that historians are the only ones who have the right to tell us all questions that affect and have affected the organization of society. Looking back in time, they make it seem that there were periods in which groups of individuals fully enjoyed their privileges; those times are gone forever though. Individuals are now more conscious than ever of their dependence on society. But they do not see this dependence as a positive fact, like an organic link, like a protective force, but rather as something that threatens their human rights or even their economic existence –and that needs to change. (Albert Einstein)



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Human Rights: Food for a thought from the horse’s mouth


Human Rights Reader 421


[Excerpted from F&D, the IMF quarterly publication, 53:4, December 2016 (with human rights issues added)].


Setting the stage


  1. The two decades following the Cold War were celebrated and decried as the era of globalization. Critically speaking, the long-term trend of globalization masks a frank deterioration. As opposed to poor households, high-income households have been able to save a lot but, relative to their incomes, consume too little. Economists have simply not given much attention to the income polarization this has been brewing. [Income polarization measures the move from the middle of the income distribution out into the tails. Income inequality measures how far apart incomes at those tails are, i.e., the income distribution between the low and high-income groups]. Since 1970, polarization has grown faster that inequality with alarming consequences for human rights (HR) and for the economy overall. (Ali Alichi)


  1. What the above says is that globalization has continued to enrich the few at the expense of providing a decent livelihood and a respect for the HR of the many. There is a long tale of foreign interests undermining domestic controls of the economy. It has importantly been bilateral trade instruments, treaties and free trade agreements (FTAs) promoted by the rich countries that have entrenched their dominance and have generated the uneven bargaining environment under which we live. Industrialized countries are the rule makers –poor countries are rule takers. Rich countries go for growth, but an inequality-entrenching growth, together with HR violations and poverty. Bottom line, globalization is a story of very few winners and billions of losers, a story of unequal partners, of inequality, of suppressed development, of continued exploitation and of exclusion. The rules are not working for the many; they never have. (Kumi Naidoo)


What is claimed


Point 1: Corporations are effectively using data to influence public opinion and behavior. They tell we must focus on stronger growth first. “A larger slice of the pie for everyone calls for a bigger pie”.


Point 2: For long, the deliberations and decisions of the IMF have not fully taken into account the political (and certainly not the HR) ramifications of globalization, true. But now it does see that politics and economics are a two-way street. So they now are calling into question the legitimacy of the political and economic elites the world over. (David Lipton)


Point 3: Globalization has allowed a quantum jump going from strengthening safety nets to calling for ‘trampolines’(springboards), for instance, for creating new jobs. Better international coordination against tax avoidance to prevent the bulk of globalization’s gains from accruing disproportionately to capital is called for. (Maurice Obstfeld)


Point 4: As the world economy becomes richer, it shifts from manufacturing to services –and that is good. So, globalization is purportedly changing the economy rather than stagnating it or retrogressing. That the distribution resulting from globalization has so far been inadequate is a failure of politics rather than of globalization per-se. (Sebastian Mallaby)

Point 5: There is no evidence that immigration exacerbates inequality within the bottom 90% of earners. Immigrants need help with language training and job search support; recognition of their education and work experience, all easing the way to entrepreneurship. Eventually, economic reality can overcome cultural resistance to migration.* (Florence Jaumotte)

*: Prince Parsis fleeing from Iran to India was received by the local ruler with a cup of milk full to the rim implying there is no more room. He responded by adding sugar to the cup to show how immigration can enrich local communities, dissolving into society.


What is countered (and closer to the truth)


Counterpoint 1: In many developing economies, income inequality and the violation of HR have clearly increased over the past three decades especially in Asia. Free trade affects earnings unevenly across local labor markets within a country. Lower export costs affect workers differently across provinces –the poorer provinces ones carrying the brunt. Provinces that benefit more are richer to begin with. So, as trade goes up so does regional wage inequality. International trade generates an earning wedge across regions. Poverty decreases less in rural districts disproportionately harming households rendered poor. Ultimately, households in the bottom 10th and 20th income distribution percentiles experience the largest decline in per capita consumption. Many have to find jobs in the informal sector. (Nina Pavcnic)


Counterpoint 2: Discriminated losers have been fighting globalization before it had a name; they still are. Economists thus have to pay more attention to these groups’ plight. For the losers to lose their job is something crucial to plead about. You may think they want to stack the deck in their favor, but if they do not, technology and trade under globalization will stack it against them. Nothing new here: The over-privileged generally benefit from globalization more than the under-privileged. Thus there is both a fairness case (less inequality, greater respect for HR) and a politico-economic case (fairer trade) for supporting much more the losers of free trade. (Alan Blinder)


Counterpoint 3: Globalization has actually resulted in greater income inequality, HR violations and disrupted lives. Most governments have not ensured that gains from the purported economic growth are broadly shared. Inequality has worsened most in Asia and Eastern Europe; it had declined in Brazil, but now, who knows. There has been a decline in labor union members and influence and a related rise in businesses’ willingness to shift production to low wage venues offshore. There is no guarantee the potential of globalization will be realized, absent decisive government action to support those who suffer from its negative effects. (Maurice Obstfeld)


Counterpoint 4: The right response to the inequalities brought about by globalization is taxing policies and spending policies that redistribute the overall gains to those who are hurt by an unfair economic system.


Counterpoint 5: Trade liberalization is very attractive to the kinds of people who go to Davos and talk about global affairs. The overall effect has been big gains for the third-world middle class and the global top 1%. It is surprising that he backlash against globalization has been so long in coming. Globalization may well be a finished project. (Paul Krugman)


Counterpoint 6: Trade, like technological advances can and does skew the distribution of income and often threatens HR.


Counterpoint 7: Viewing the downgrade in workers’ jobs and pay over the past 30 years as solely the result of globalization risks letting national governments off the hook. Domestic politicians have often given the impression that they are powerless. In the face of globalization trends this hardly confirms this claim. It is their policy choices that have had a huge detrimental effect on the prospects of working people’s jobs and pay. Most important for trade unions, attacks on collective bargaining rights progressively weakened one of the most important protections against inequality. Countries with a higher coverage of collective bargaining agreements enjoy lower wage inequality, including between high and low skilled workers, between women and men, and between workers on regular and temporary contracts. We must remind our respective governments that they have the power to improve working people’s lives and can enable and encourage trade unions to continue their vital work in protecting workers human rights and pay. (Frances O’Grady)


Counterpoint 8: We thus need policies that address the needs of those who lose out from technological change and globalization. Otherwise our political problems will only deepen. (David Lipton)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



It is said that Voltaire so much enjoyed annoying stupid powerful people that he kept forgetting that stupid people who had gained power were never stupid about threats to their power.



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Human rights: Food for a not-so-private-matter thought


Human Rights Reader 420


Religion and Science


  1. Insofar as religion makes claims in the area of science –which it does, because it talks about creation, about the nature of the universe and about the nature of life– to that extent, all scientists should be involved in it. (Richard Dawkins)


  1. Scientists are clear though that science is an evidence-based system and religions are primarily faith-based systems.That is the difference for them to ponder given that when a scientist finds that the evidence disproves a hypothesis, the hypothesis is rejected. Religious beliefs are not rejectable. (You do not have to have faith in science or believe-in or know-about the science of immunization for your vaccines to work –and early childhood immunizations are part of the Rights of the Child).


[Caveat: No denying, many scientists continue discussing about the lack of proof about the existence of God. But the absence of evidence is no evidence of absence. (Albino Gomez)].


Religion and human rights


  1. There are the frequent propositions that religion merits protection because it is a public good. The extreme expression of this view comes in the form of blasphemy laws, in which it is no longer individual or collective human rights that are protected by the state, but rather the religion as such.


  1. Actually, proponents of the ‘defamation of religion’ laws have, for over two decades, tried hard to impose the view in the United Nations Human Rights Commission and then Council that the defamation of religion should be condemned as a violation of the human rights of believers,* arguing that no clear line can be drawn between offending a religion and offending a person professing it. (D. Petrova)

*: Not being facetious, with so many million believers and atheists, God must be tired of being personified by religions and sects and would rather prefer that people be treated more like her, i.e., be respected and loved. (A. Gomez)


  1. Furthermore, according to the United States Declaration of Independence, its citizens’ inalienable human rights (HR) were given to them by the ‘Creator’. But, from the perspective of modern political science, this appeal to God is, of course, futile. Conversely, it is deceiving to think that simply disregarding the Almighty will be sufficient to achieve more secular humanist ideals such as HR. The truth is that we have never managed to vouch and advocate for HR in sensible and convincing modern terms.


  1. One common strategy has been to appeal to Nature rather than to God. On this view, human beings have inalienable natural rights. But in order to accept this alternative one must ascribe ‘human nature’ something it does not have so that it cannot be the source of binding, inalienable rights.


  1. Kant claimed that the rights of humanity are grounded in our capacity for rational deliberation. However, in order to uphold this position one must defend a metaphysical conception of reason, so, no good outlook there either. Actually, current political thinking prides itself for being ‘post-metaphysical’** arguing that without a theory of justice there is no theory of the state. (the above, from O. Boehm)

**: I ask: Can, under some circumstances, a metaphysical question make a come-back as an urgent political one? Religion may, after all, merely be a subject for philosophical speculation. Although this is the way many persons think, no one takes the first step to relegate religion to that realm perhaps for fear of being called irreverent. (Paulo Coelho)


[Caveat: No denying, historically, religion has both helped tame or avoid popular upraisings, but has also been an ethical motivation/motivator for important revolutionary engagements –including in the realm of HR. (Francois Houtart)].


What comes/does not come from religion?


  1. It is further argued that the state is supposed to be an instrument for defending the interests of its citizens. But is it? Does the state really defend justice or universal human rights? Do Northern governments not often ally with many despotic, HR-violating regimes? What is here evaded is the more general, but urgent question of the peoples’ actual entitlement to political claim. While it is a fact that history shows us many examples of commitments to HR (true, sometimes coming from the realm of religion), the problem is precisely that, also historically, we have not yet been able to translate these commitments to HR into political action.*** (O. Boehm) What do religions have to show in relation to this translation?

***: In the world, we do have plenty of ‘identity politics’ which is about group interests, often defined by tribal allegiances and/or religious belief, i.e., communities often organize according to ethnicity and/or faith. Depressingly, faith-coded fanaticism can still exploit widespread frustration with corrupt and dysfunctional governments. The clear-cut ideology of simplistically pitting good against bad attracts alienated, frustrated and deeply confused youth internationally (with HR falling flatly through the cracks…). (Hans Dembowski)


Is religion just a private matter?


Man has the innate and indomitable desire to judge before understanding, and in this desire is where religions have thrived. (Milan Kundera)


  1. Do we need to get involved, not just in an education about facts, but a de-education in faith –the form of belief that replaces the need for evidence with simple emotive commitment? Is our challenge to win people away from faith-based living to evidence-based living? I ask, because an open alignment with irrationality makes accepting the implausible a virtue. There are literally thousands of religious sects (44,000 Christian alone). So the odds against children choosing freely from all these to follow the same faith as their parents are pretty high. (J. Coyne)


  1. Commitment to one’s faith has nothing to do with the available evidence, but is importantly about social pressures. Science has learned through experience that assuming the existence of gods and divine intervention has been of no value in helping us truly understand the universe. Why does all this matter? Unfortunately, religions can and do have not always positive public and HR implications. Do countries need to do something about this? Take, for example: Forty eight states in the USA allow religious exemptions for vaccination, endangering the children who do not get immunized and also the community in general, for even those who are vaccinated do not always acquire full immunity. (J. Coyne)


  1. During the French Revolution, the goals of equal rights for men and women, plus the setting aside of unreasonable Church influence**** in favor of secular governance and human fraternity were some of the aspirations that mobilized the common people to rally against the old regime and to strive to build a new order.***** (Jose Luis Vivero)

****: Voltaire’s intolerance of religion was nothing like religious intolerance; it was directed at institutions –the Church– not individuals. It is thus refreshing that, at a time when many people pay great deference to faith, one can make measured criticism of religious institutions acceptable. But be reminded that this kind of open free thinking is rather rare to find in our world.

*****: Chauvinistic, HR-denying pathways by right wing parties use and have used every conceivable instrument and media in an attempt to reach out to the masses in churches, mosques, temples, pagodas and other bases for social gatherings. (S. Chachra)


Religious leaders can and do influence. So, yes, religion defines many people’s values (B. Felmberg)


  1. Very generally speaking, it seems to me that religions can (and have) typically have (had) a few functions: the control of women’s fertility* (men want to know who their children are); the protection of property/rights of ownership (though shalt not steal, etc); the promotion of commerce; wielding political power over large numbers of people; giving financial power to the leadership; mobilizing military force (rallying the troops behind a cause); fostering a sense of community, of belonging; offering a common narrative and rituals; providing relative safety among people of the same group mostly through a social behavior contract; validating a set of assumptions regarding behavior that can be used to navigate transactions with people of another group; enabling networks and intra-group trade; setting rules often enforced through fear and coercion and sometimes violence.****** (Sarah England)

******: Religions, at their best, are not about punishment. But unfortunately, when it comes to women, women’s rights and sex, they are rarely at their best.


  1. Religion is merely a matter of consensus, that is, it can make a lot of people think some thing is right (good or bad, fair or unfair) –and so, that thing becomes right. (Paulo Coelho) But when men think they only fear their God, they do not stop at anything… (Baron von Hobach)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho hi Minh City


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– The co-existence of gods and humans was one of the most effective achievements over the ages. All it took was to trade and sell the many demi-gods in the three existing celestial markets: the market of the future that lies beyond death, the market of charity and the market of war. Many competing religions sprang up, each criticizing the faults attributed to their rivals, but still, all alike, being what they most vehemently claimed not to be: a market for emotions. Religions were markets and the markets were religions. (Boaventura de Sousa Santos)

– Religious people are sometimes further away from their fellow beings than what atheists are far from God. (A. Gomez)



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Human rights: Food for a more than convincing thought


Human Rights Reader 419

-Human rights activists cry out, not just to rescue others from their oppression, but to preserve what is left of their own dignity. (K. H.)

I do not do this to change the country. I do this so the country does not change me. (A. J. Muste)

-Although individually, none of us activists can save the world, all of us can serve the world. And together, we can have impact.’ (Commissioner Zeid, UNHCR)


Political theory is useful to change consciences –and that is what human rights activists do


To will the (political) ends is to will the means. (Emmanuel Kant) Human rights activists thus use the means in their power. They do not feel despair; they get angry. (Jan Eliasson)


  1. Solidarity is, by far, not yet the development goal most commonly pursued. The mercantilistic-logic-of-individual-accumulation actually works in the opposite direction and this forces us to act politically, particularly because the conservative ideologues desperately try to invisibilize politics. Our challenge thus is to resist so we can protect what we have already won, at the same time that we build convergences for the political struggle that we simply have to embark-on. Processes in this effort are pendular; when the pendulum swings to the right (like in this day and age), as it comes back, it never returns to the point where it started out the swing from the left. What this means to us is that some of the achievements won do stay, if nothing but in our collective memory, and this we have to take advantage-of as we struggle for more solidary human rights-abiding social structures. (Armando deNegri)


A defining property of the prevailing human rights situation anywhere is complexity


  1. Because of the sheer number of relationships and feedback loops between the human rights (HR) discourse’s many elements, these relationships cannot be reduced to simple chains of cause and effect. Those of us engaged in seeking change need to identify which elements are the most important and understand how they interact. It requires an iterative and endless testing of assumptions about right and wrong, a constant adaptation to the evolving nature of what is happening and exploring the key relationships.


  1. Human rights activists thus need to adapt their analysis and strategy according to the stage that their political surrounding most closely resembles. They have to question linear approaches to the campaigning they promote and engage-in. ‘Critical junctures’ force activists to question their long-held assumptions about what constitutes ‘sound’ policies, and make them more willing to take the risks associated with innovation, as past tactics suddenly appear less worth defending.*

*: Would you agree? The danger of taking a risk is worth a thousand days of ease and comfort. (Paulo Coelho)


Because of the complexities involved, the best activists are the most insatiable learners


– As an old English poet wrote: Be like the fountain that overflows, not like the cistern that merely contains. (P. Coelho)

– You cannot defend what you do not believe-in and you cannot love what you do not know. (adapted from Erich Fromm)


  1. This is wrong:** Some among us live like fish in an aquarium, contented because whenever they choose-to they can see the world outside through the glass. The same glass allows nothing strange to trouble their ordinary existence; they do things because they are used to do them. They watch the news on TV, as we all do, as a confirmation of their happiness in a world full of problems and injustices, carefully avoiding all knowledge of what lies beyond the glass walls of the aquarium. (P. Coelho)

**: This is also wrong: In the struggle for HR, it often feels that much of our efforts are expended on responding to attacks or crises instead of actually proactively preventing the violation of HR principles and the erosion of HR standards. (Phil Lynch)


  1. Ongoing learning allows effective activists to make timely, constructive critiques and proposals and to do so based on ideas and facts that ‘touch’ and motivate claim holders. They are expected to do so with great humility, yet also very forcefully,*** because it is absolutely necessary for claim holders to make governments understand they are missing the opportunity of regaining the lost trust and support of its citizens. (Alejandro Navarro)

***: Activists cannot be shy: Those who are born as a whistle never makes it to trumpet. (Albino Gomez)


  1. From an unorthodox source comes to me something that applies precisely to the point above, namely what I call the effective activists’ credo: I am responsible for taking action, for asking questions, for getting answers, and for facilitating collective decision-making. I will not wait for someone to tell me. If I need to know, I am responsible for asking. I have no right to be offended that I did not get-this-sooner. If I am doing something others should know about, I am responsible for telling them. (Harvard Business Review)


  1. So, because an idea only comes to life when someone stays behind putting it into practice, good recommendations require the active engagement of the activist so as to lead to actions that eventually bring about the changes planned together with the claim holders. (P. Coelho)


A crisis –actual or perceived– produces real change, no matter what


  1. When such a crisis occurs, activists are to quickly develop alternatives to existing policies and are to keep these alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable. [Note that International NGOs are not always quick enough in spotting and seizing such opportunities (if at all)].


  1. Conversely, crisis or not, robust public interest civil society organizations (PICSOs) active in the HR domain can and do fulfill eight essential functions. These include:

producing compelling moral arguments for action,****

building coalitions beyond, in our case, the HR sector,

introducing new participatory, workable policy alternatives,

enhancing the legitimacy of HR initiatives and institutions,

strengthening systems in the social services sector,

enhancing accountability systems,

mitigating the neoliberal determinants of maldevelopment, and

ensuring rights-based approaches are followed.

****: HR activists do not yet hold power, but they are here to forcefully set limits. (Ricardo Lorenzetti)


  1. Given that PICSOs’ activism has reached tremendous progress in HR work, there is a need to invest-in and support this work as a global public good to ensure that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development can remotely be realized. (Adapted from Julie Smith, Kent Buse and Case Gordon)


  1. Human rights activists also need to build trust and connections between key claim holders and duty bearers who, together, are able to push through the desired changes. Everybody involved must understand and take advantage of the windows of opportunity (crisis or no crisis). These are critical junctures for HR constituencies-for-change to transform attitudes and norms, so that the impossible can suddenly come to happen.


  1. HR activists need to become better ‘reflectivists’, taking the time to understand the prevailing system (its opportunities and constraints) before and while engaging to change it. They need to better understand the stop-start rhythm of change exhibited by complex systems and adapt their efforts accordingly. They also must avoid becoming arrogant and be more willing to learn from accidents, from failures and from other people. Finally, they have to make friends with ambiguity and uncertainty, while maintaining the energy and determination so essential to changing the world. (much of the above from Duncan Green)


  1. As Groucho Marx said: Am I right or am I right?


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City


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For activists to pretend to always be consequent in each and every one of their actions is a utopia; the same is true for pretending that all marriages have 100% smooth relationships. (Pablo Simonetti)

Evils once recognized are half-way on towards their remedy. (Elizabeth Gaskell)

– Q: How are you? A: Busy. How did we end up living like this? When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings? This disease of being ‘busy’ (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. (Kyle Westaway)

Hope is a paradox. To have hope means being permanently prepared for that that has not occurred yet. But in so doing, do not despair if that does not happen in your lifetime. (Erich Fromm)

– Confucius already knew that it is better to light a candle than to curse darkness.

– Do not ever say that your future depends on your dreams, …because they will send you to sleep. (A. Gomez)

For activists, to shake hands is supposed to be a sign of solemn agreement. To shake hands is testimony of an open, honest and frank attitude. (Franz Kafka)

– When we want to involve young people in HR activism work, we have to face the issue of power. To give young people a real say in decision-making, we older people need to hand over at least part of our power to the younger generation. (Jannemiek Evelo)

– As a put-down, PICSOs leadered by HR activists are purposely and mistakenly called ‘unorganized’ and ‘informal’ by the enemies of HR. (Vandana Shiva) So keep in mind: Activists receive affection from their friends; their actual importance though is given by their enemies. (A. Gomez)