Archive for the 'Human rights' Category


Add a comment

Human rights: Food for an unacceptable patriarchal thought


Human Rights Reader 408


In many parts of the world, cows are given more rights than women. (Huffington Post)


We cannot let anybody forget the-female-face-of-poverty


  1. Women are subjected to multiple and intersecting discrimination and negative gender stereotypes that continue to subjugate them and impede efforts to achieve equality between men and women.  Not only do discrimination and stereotypes prevent women from escaping poverty, but they inhibit women’s political participation and, therefore, among other, their ability to influence the distribution of resources.


  1. While both men and women suffer in poverty, gender discrimination means that women have far fewer resources to cope. Women rendered poor and living in poverty face extra marginalization. Measures targeted to reduce women’s poverty are thus critical. Therefore, starting by collecting better information to track how poverty affects women differently, is essential for solving the problem. Let us be categorical: Ending extreme poverty will come within reach only by fully involving women and respecting their rights –at every step along the way. (



Humankind cannot accept macho attitudes (Hans Dembowski)


Our anthropocentric culture is, in reality, androcentric (Julio Monsalvo)


  1. A fundamentalist backlash against women’s claims to equality, and especially to sexual and reproductive rights, is badly affecting national sovereignty in many countries. Culture and religion are used as excuses for perpetuating patriarchal discrimination and violence (including the control of women’s fertility). This is clearly no longer tenable. (C. Bunch)


  1. To a certain degree, the SDGs recognize women’s economic empowerment as a prerequisite for sustainable development*, for greater equality and for the achievement of SDG 5 (Gender Equality) and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth). But ‘realizing’ women’s rights is not as important as securing their right to livelihood plus their ability to realize all human rights. The right to livelihood is linked to other human rights such as the right to food, the right to health, the right to work, the right to education and the right to social security and protection.

*: As per the UN CEDAW Committee, one of ten UN Treaty Bodies, advancing the economic equality of women is one of the key human rights standards. [The other nine human rights Treaty Bodies that monitor implementation of the core international human rights treaties are: the Human Rights Committee on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR), the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural rights (CESCR), the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Committee against Torture (CAT), the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT), the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW), the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and the Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED)].


  1. In this context, there are 18 human-rights-linked-musts to secure women’s rights


  • States must not, in the name of development, displace people, especially women, from resources that support livelihoods and adequate standards of living.
  • Women’s access, ownership, control and management (including decision-making power) of productive resources and their outputs –land, water, forests, livestock, credit, energy, technology, knowledge, education, skills– must be ensured with deeds, not promises.
  • Most women work, be it paid or unpaid must be recognized; therefore, states must recognize women as workers, as growers and as producers.
  • States must further recognize, reduce and redistribute women’s multiple burden of work including those in domestic chores.
  • States must provide better infrastructure facilities to meet rural women’s needs to reduce their day-to-day drudgery in providing for themselves and their families.
  • Women must be given individual rights over productive resources (including natural resources) to secure sustainable livelihoods, irrespective of who they are and where they come from.
  • Land and property must be either in the woman’s name or under joint ownership. Single women including widows must have individual land ownership.
  • Gender-differentiated statistics and indicators must be collected nationally and regionally in order to measure gender gaps and consequently adjust development programs to rectify inequalities.
  • States must ensure universal, but not uniform, social security for all, and make all state welfare schemes applicable to all working people (old-age pension, health benefits, pension, gratuity, and maternity benefits).
  • States must also set up a recurring welfare fund by setting aside three per cent of the total revenue of the government and women must be part of the system.
  • All countries must strive towards universal respect for human rights and dignity, rule of law, justice, gender equality and non-discrimination, respect for all ethnicity, race and diverse culture for the realization of human rights and shared prosperity.
  • Notwithstanding the fact that women have a miniscule role in the events of war and terrorism, they however suffer most owing to large-scale killings, injuries and instances of displacement. States must recognize women as the primary claim holders in matters of security and peace and be given the major role in re-building and reconstruction in post-conflict regions.
  • The adverse impacts of natural and man-made disasters on women’s livelihood must get due policy recognition and women’s voices must be heard in decision-making on issues related to them.
  • Women lack control over their bodies including their sexuality, decision making in choice of their partner and marriage, and when and whether to have children. Social and cultural norms prescribed by patriarchal control over women’s bodies and sexuality result in limited mobility, brutal violence including honor killing, sex-selective abortion, marital rape, domestic violence, child marriage and limit access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services and information. Similarly, sexual minorities and sex workers are subjected to violence from different sections of society. They also face extreme social rejection and exclusion. State governments must protect and ensure women’s bodily integrity and autonomy.
  • Sexual and reproductive health and rights must be protected and freedom from violence must be ensured.
  • States must also include universal comprehensive sexuality education and information for young people and adolescent girls.
  • Violence against women is one of the most pervasive universal violations of human rights, a public health crisis, and one of the greatest obstacles to development and peace. Women are facing sexual harassment, abuse, misconduct, verbal and psychological degradation, as well as non-acceptance in higher positions. They are subordinate at their work places and institutions including market places, public transports, bus stands and in the electronic media which limit the mobility of women and their hoes to live a life with self-esteem. States must ensure women-friendly and speedy grievances redressal mechanisms and procedures, as well as a reinforced culture of accountability.
  • Women lack access to justice due to the existence of informal justice systems and the unavailability and inefficiency of judicial protection and legal aid. So, last, but not least, this aspect must also be addressed. (SAFA)


  1. Because states are being called to comply on all these musts does not mean these actions will, by divine grace, be taken. A global push on women’s organization and mobilization is needed so that, as organized claim-holders, they coalesce into movements to increasingly demand these musts become reality — one-by-one.


Looking ahead


  1. All big change starts with small groups meeting regularly –take the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the Chinese revolution. You cannot do it by yourself to create a different set of possibilities. The need is to have an alternative regular space to discover that you are not crazy: the system is crazy. And this needs to be a regular part of your life. My wish for the women’s movement is the following: the ideal structure will resemble a whole lacework of regular women’s meetings and drop-in meetings, i.e., a whole lacework of little groups meeting in schools, churches, around village wells, where any woman can drop in, leaderless, free, with the goal of supporting each other’s self authority. This is what we need to start a revolution. (Gloria Steinem)


Bottom line


  1. By mainly attributing value to gender equality in relation to economic development, the issue of power is thrown out of the window completely –and if gender is about anything, it is about power relations. Issues of gender inequality produce and reproduce power relations around the world, and while power relations are not a zero-sum game, achieving gender equality cannot be reached without some redistribution of power. We need to understand that gender issues are always relational. Talking about gender while excluding half of the global population from the discussion does not make sense, neither will it get us anywhere if we want to improve the situation for ‘the other half’. We cannot remain stuck in our safe discourse in which empowering women is only seen as valuable in economic terms and in which, for political reasons, many women around the world are excluded. We must dare to speak up, and dare to disagree. This is the only way we can make the Sustainable Development Goals global and inclusive so that they secure human rights for all people, regardless of their sex, gender or age. (Jannemiek Evelo)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City


All 400+ Readers are now available in my website



Women’s human rights are affected not only by poverty, food insecurity, lack of political participation, etc., but also by religion, especially when the State and other groups misuse religion, a deeply personal experience for many people, for political power and to exert control over people –and over women. While patriarchal interpretations, as well as religious fundamentalisms and extremisms, can disempower women and girls, women and girls can also use religion as a source of emancipation, empowerment and agency.



Add a comment

Human rights: Food for a long but important thought


Human Rights Reader 407


[Taken from ‘From Disparity to Dignity: Tackling Economic Inequality Through the SDGs’, Human Rights Policy Brief, CESR, November 2016. I found this briefing to be a gold mine of what I call iron laws. I wanted to share them with you in case you have not had the opportunity to read the full document –which I highly recommend. I do apologize for the length and compactness of this Reader].


There are (long surpassed) limits to the degree of inequality that can be reconciled with notions of dignity and commitments to human rights for everyone.


  1. If economic growth over the last 30 years had been more equally distributed, the world would be on track to eliminate extreme poverty completely by 2030


  • The current global indicators proposed to measure progress towards SDGs Goal 10 (‘to reduce inequality within and among countries’) are manifestly inadequate –for example, in failing to include a robust measure of economic inequality.
  • The agreed indicators to measure SDG10 do not properly address the scope and intentions of the goal and targets. They do not incentivize those policy actions that have been proven effective in advancing equality in society and the economy.
  • SDG10 does address a central and much-noted weakness of the MDGs, namely, that they praised and celebrated aggregate progress while masking (or even encouraging neglect-of) economic and social inequalities. But, beware, Goal 10 remains vulnerable to strategic neglect, and in some cases political backlash.
  • There is a high risk that Goal 10 will remain an ‘orphan’ goal –hostage to the ebbs and flows of competing international development priorities and diverging national interests. Governments will simply need to take much more proactive and timely steps towards achieving Goal 10 –and we are not seeing this.
  • SDG10 has no obvious set of institutions at the national or international level whose mandate is to drive actions and funding-to or monitoring this goal.
  • Furthermore, the policies that drive inequalities between countries go largely unmeasured by Goal 10 targets.
  • The World Bank’s approach to Goal 10 is shaped by its institutional priority to promote what it calls ‘shared prosperity’ rather than embracing a more comprehensive need to tackle income and wealth inequality.


  1. An approach to development that pays attention only to absolute poverty and basic needs is far from sufficient if not altogether wrong


Soaring inequality is not only a development failure; it is both a symptom and a cause of the human rights crisis, perpetuating poverty, entrenching a widespread dearth of opportunity for many individuals and communities, and contributing to alarming outcomes in health, education, employment and other areas.


  • At present, there are few institutions –either at the national, regional or international level– set up with the express mandate to address one of the biggest challenges of our time: economic inequality.
  • Many of the key determinants of inequality –from the erosion of labor rights to the weakening of public service– can be framed as denials of internationally guaranteed human rights (HR).
  • Inclusive societies are not compatible with the extreme inequality that is now undermining social cohesion, political stability and civic security.
  • All countries in the world have stark and persistent inequalities, which in many cases have grown in recent decades (including in China and in Vietnam).
  • Leaving No One Behind’ is unfortunately more a rhetorical slogan; it camouflages fundamentally exclusionary policies.
  • Sustainable development policies will need to grapple with the top end of the income and wealth spectrum, or else starkly compromise any promise of leaving no one behind.
  • Vertical economic inequality (inequality in income and wealth between individuals and households) has been relatively neglected by HR bodies. Increasingly, however, the HR impacts of economic inequality are being explored, as contributors to rather horizontal inequalities (social disparities and other HR deprivations).
  • Laws and policies that appear to treat women and men equally are not enough to ensure that women are able to enjoy the same rights as men. (Such a ‘formal equality’ can never be sufficient). This is due to the legacy of historical inequalities, structural disadvantages, biological differences and biases in how laws and policies have been/are implemented.
  • Discrimination is often indirect and/or can be structural leading to chronic inequality; both unequal opportunities and unequal outcomes must thus be scrutinized as different treatments will be required to move towards equality in practice.


  1. Inequality is not natural, inevitable or intractable


Power is an expression of wealth.


  • The question is not if, but how public law and policies must be formulated to challenge the fundamental disparities found in economic opportunities and outcomes.
  • ‘Neutral’ measures to reduce economic disparity can have unintended adverse effects on particular social groups; they can in fact discriminate. Therefore, robust measures to be put in place must, first and foremost, prioritize redistribution towards the most disadvantaged groups.
  • Strong labor unions with the power to bargain collectively are an important factor in ensuring more equality. Moreover, joining a trade union that is allowed to function freely is a HR.
  • Wage protection measures are just as important in reducing the growth of inequality. Policies to address unemployment and to create more decent jobs must, of course, also be put in place.
  • Since a gender pay gap exists in all countries of the world, labor and wage policies must address wages and labor conditions in the informal, as well as the formal sector, making sure they are gender-sensitive.
  • Along with well-funded childcare services, family leave is also crucial to ensure the HR of both caregivers and the claim-holders receiving care.


  1. More important than attributed, financial liberalization has lead to growing economic inequality


Economic inequality is inextricably intertwined with other dimensions of social exclusion.


  • Financial deregulation has invariably been linked to a more unequal distribution of income. It has exacerbated the fiscal austerity measures (antithetical to achieve Goal 10 and set to intensify in the coming years) that many governments have taken.
  • Human rights principles –including participation, transparency, equality and non-discrimination and above all accountability– provide powerful tools to counter financial regulations biased in favor of the economic elite.
  • In countries across the globe, economic inequality has escalated since the onset of austerity fuelling the worldwide trend of increasing income disparity and wealth concentration.
  • Policy areas in tax, social protection, education and health are all redistributive especially if all implemented (They are all necessary, but not sufficient).
  • Regressive taxes do cancel out the equalizing potential of healthcare spending.
  • An effective action agenda against unjust inequalities will thus require an integrated approach, rather than merely measuring the distributive effects of siloed interventions, such as tax policy or conditional cash transfers alone.
  • Governments are obliged to explore all fiscal alternatives before introducing retrogressive measures, such as cutting back on social spending, even in times of economic crisis.
  • As regards social protection, while Brazil’s much-lauded targeted cash transfer scheme Bolsa Familia has undoubtedly played a role in tackling inequality, research has shown that it is actually the country’s pension system that has had the biggest impact on income inequality.
  • Human rights-informed social protection policies must also be carefully designed to be gender-sensitive. Family and child benefits and paid maternity leave are essential planks in these policies.
  • In health, interventions must go beyond past interventions that were often limited to the boosting of physical access.
  • Health services are a crucial equalizer by redistributing wealth into ‘virtual income’ for all.
  • The human right to health relates not only to health care services and goods, but also to the underlying determinants of health such as water, education, sanitation and housing. If implemented hand-in-hand with the commitments to allocate a minimum of 15 per cent of the national budget to health, Universal Health Coverage could provide people with a nationally determined set of promotive, preventive, curative and rehabilitative health services that will ensure the enjoyment of the right to health for all without discrimination.
  • User fees and privatization of essential water, health and education services that exclude the poor clearly contradict governments’ HR duties. Actually, user fees in education or ‘low-cost’ private schools have been shown to be detrimental to greater equality and the enjoyment of HR.
  • Additionally, one extra year of education is associated with a reduction of the Gini coefficient by 1.4 percentage points. Yet formal schooling between the ages of 5 and 18 is increasingly insufficient by itself to ensure equal chances for all in the modern economy.
  • Early childhood education is one of the most effective ways of combatting economic inequality throughout life.


  1. Taxation: no progress without progressivity


Tax policy is one of government’s most powerful tools to reduce income and wealth inequalities.


  • The decline in tax rates for the top end of the spectrum has been a key factor in the growth of inequality since the 1980s.
  • In order to tackle inequalities, taxation measures must be progressive in nature, ensuring the well-off contribute a larger proportion of their income.
  • The value added tax (VAT), popular in many countries, hits the incomes of the poor the hardest, and particularly affect poor women.
  • Governments are to also substantially crack down on tax abuse and eliminate unjustifiable tax incentives that largely benefit wealthy individuals and large corporations. Low-income countries in particular lose billions of dollars in potential revenue through these channels.
  • Rich countries are most responsible for –but currently most resistant to– creating a fairer international tax system that can tackle economic inequality within and between countries.
  • Also included and crucial must be improving the regulation of financial markets, enhancing the voice of developing countries in global financial institutions, in facilitating safe migration, in special trade treatment for developing countries, in tackling illicit financial flows and in encouraging official development assistance to those states that most need it.
  • One of the most important ways to create more equality between countries is to stem this hemorrhaging of wealth away from the countries in which it is generated.
  • Substantial reform in global economic governance is necessary in order to redress the power imbalances among states that have prevented effective international cooperation for the fulfillment of HR and the reduction of inequalities within and between states. Most high-income countries have proven very resistant to such measures.*

*: Developed countries at the Addis Ababa Conference on Financing for Development in July 2015 forcefully blocked developing countries’ and civil society’s demand for an intergovernmental tax body within the UN with the mandate and resources to create a coherent and more equitable global framework for international tax cooperation.

  • Without these reforms and others like them in equally critical areas such as debt, trade and investment policy, it will be very difficult to move towards a fairer balance of power between countries.
  • As discussed above, inequality is largely a political problem –the result of a conglomeration of specific decisions made by policy decision-makers with particular narrow interests in mind.
  • Politics is very often a zero-sum game in which the empowerment of a small elite results in the disempowerment of the many.
  • The weaker and more underfinanced the government or civil society is, the more this elite is able to lock-in its own economic privileges, creating a vicious cycle of elite capture and rent-seeking that weakens both democracy and the economy.
  • Existing HR standards provide powerful tools to challenge elite capture. Equal access to remedy, justice and the rule of law, free and fair elections, access to information that affects people’s lives, meaningful participation in the design implementation and monitoring of laws and public policies –these are all HR in an of themselves.


  1. Robust and inclusive monitoring and accountability institutions will be indispensable to drive actual changes on the ground

Note that the most privileged in society are largely uncaptured by official statistics.


  • Wealthy families are under-sampled in household surveys while, for example, capital gains are rarely captured in income statistics, and significant amounts of offshore wealth escapes the tabulations of both tax collectors and statistical agencies.
  • Yet, data does not translate into usable information without context and purpose behind it.
  • It is concerning that the agreed list of SDG targets and indicators is not informed by HR considerations and is thus inadequate at present to hold governments to account for tackling inequalities.
  • Given these shortcomings in the targets and indicators, the importance of using HR obligations and principles as a guide to implementation and monitoring becomes yet more urgent.
  • Efforts at the national and regional levels to more robustly measure and tackle inequalities will be crucial, as much as to improve global tools, datasets and the benchmarks set for processes that need to be put in motion towards the progressive realization of HR.
  • Public interest civil society –including academics and HR organizations– will be crucial in envisioning and operationalizing alternative and more rigorous measures of inequality.
  • Public interest civil society organizations are to be involved in formulating and interrogating accountability plans, as well as holding governments answerable for implementing them.
  • The power of the High Level Political Forum on the UN to review and hold states accountable for the implementation f the SDGs is, as of now, insubstantial and limited, especially given its reliance on voluntary self-reporting by states, and a meeting time of only eight days per year.
  • Given the HLPF’s institutional weaknesses, other accountability mechanisms must also be engaged. In particular, the international HR monitoring mechanisms must be encouraged and supported to play a key role.
  • Review mechanisms are to seek to examine the transnational dimensions of SDGs implementation, for example, the impact that country policies are having beyond their borders, or the impact of transnational multi-stakeholder partnerships.
  • Enabling public interest civil society to meaningfully engage in shaping the structures, processes and substance of global follow-up and review of the SDGs will simply be crucial to ensure accountability.


  1. Recommendations: What, at the very minimum, is needed is:


  • A serious worldwide commitment to a more equitable redistribution of resources and of decision-making power over all the above is indispensible.
  • This will need to be pursued via three main policy areas: taxation, social protection and universalization of public services.
  • Ultimately, this can be broken down into overhauling what is pursued, i.e., i) how and from whom resources are raised, and ii) how and for whose benefit they are spent. Both questions are necessary to see real improvement in equality.
  • Governments have to raise revenue for achieving SDG10 from those most able to pay, including by cracking down on tax abuses by corporations and wealthy individuals and closing loopholes which enable them to avoid paying their fair share of tax.
  • Labor markets, workplaces and financial systems must be regulated to protect against exploitative practices and unfair accrual of benefits at the top end of the income spectrum.
  • Disadvantaged groups, including people having been rendered poor by an unfair system, must be primarily supported and enabled to access decent jobs that pay a living wage.
  • Excessive speculation must be regulated to stop accumulation at the top and against the losses to the 99 per cent, especially those already living in poverty or at risk of falling into poverty.
  • Benchmarks chosen to monitor processes set in motion towards the progressive realization of the different HR are to be complemented by time-bound targets to progressively eliminate inequalities between groups by prioritizing a more ambitious rate of progress for those most disadvantaged groups.
  • The engagement of ordinary people in the design, implementation and monitoring of sustainable development policy processes and outcomes is not a discretionary privilege, but a right.
  • Governments are to foster citizen-led monitoring of the implementation of the SDGs, particularly SDG10.
  • Civil society space for engagement in SDGs implementation must be protected and expanded.
  • Revenues must be raised in ways that reduce inequality, in particular through progressive taxation; resources raised must be spent in ways that help equalize socio-economic opportunities and outcomes.
  • Fiscal abuse of power must be checked.
  • Governments must assess and address the gender equality effects of policies as a priority task in implementing the SDGs, as well as invest in addressing the structural barriers that drive gender inequality in the economy.
  • Minimum wage thresholds are also to be tracked and regularly improved.
  • National statistics offices and UN agencies are to be empowered to collect the data needed to monitor disparities on the widest possible range of relevant grounds.
  • Affected communities are to be closely involved in deciding the types of data required, and the indicators and benchmarks to be/being used.
  • Donor countries are to conduct HR and equality impact assessments to ensure their proposed policies and programs reduce rather than reinforce economic and other inequalities in other countries.
  • National Human Rights Commissions must be strengthened and given the resources, independence and mandate to effectively monitor inequalities under the rubric of SDG10 and existing HR obligations.
  • The HLPF is to move to more binding reporting, as well as complement national and regional follow-up and review mechanisms on priority issues such as economic inequality, macro-economic policy, climate change and other.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City


All 400+ Readers are now available in my new website



Add a comment

Human Rights: Food for a captive thought


Human Rights Reader 406



  1. Donor countries (the US in particular) continue to push WHO towards working with industry through ‘multi‐stakeholder partnerships’, rather than giving WHO the chance to implement regulatory and fiscal strategies that could make a real difference. (David Legge) Moreover, bilateral donors (and big philanthropies) demand WHO provides data according to their particular interests. Therefore, the types of data produced by WHO (and other UN agencies) are greatly influenced by a donor mandate that goes beyond the simple compilation of country-reported statistics. We know that donors seek to add value primarily through providing technical interventions (and not right to health or social determinants, for instance). So, here we are clearly faced with a biased stumbling block?* (Elizabeth Pisani, Maarten Kok)

*: Consider: While economics is not WHO’s core expertise, the impact of poverty and income maldistribution on population health clearly justifies WHO working with other agencies within or outside the UN system to focus much more attention on these questions of disparity.


  1. Things being the way they are right now, it is difficult to make sense of the shrinking scope of WHO’s role in global health governance, partly because of the ambiguity of the slogans about ‘stakeholders’ and the fait-accompli of ‘multistakeholder platforms’ and ‘public-private partnerships’ now used profusely. The continued use of the term ‘stakeholders’ (and the bundling together of public interest civil society organizations with international NGOs, private sector enterprises and philanthropies under the term ‘non-state actors’) appears to endow all of these private ‘stakeholders’ with having the right to have a ‘seat at the table’, with only the tobacco and arms industries declared off limits. Such ‘sitting rights’ sharply jeopardize the human rights enshrined in the various human rights (HR) instruments that address the rights of real people –the right to health prominently included.** (D. Legge)

**: It is important to note that the treatment of WHO by the rich countries is part of a wider onslaught on the UN system generally. The whole UN system is held hostage to short-term, unpredictable, tightly earmarked donor funding. The same strategies of control have been applied across the UN system generally through: freezing of countries’ assessed contributions, tightly earmarking voluntary contributions, and creating dependence on private philanthropy, as well as periodic withholding of assessed contributions and applying continued pressure to adopt the multi‐stakeholder partnership model of program design and implementation that, as said, gives global corporations an undeserved ‘seat at the table’.


  1. The Reform of WHO, aimed at realizing the vision of its Constitution, will require a global mobilization around the urgently needed democratization of global health governance; and this is not separate from, but part of, a global mobilization for HR and greater equity. Why? Because to claim that global health governance is somehow independent of global economic and political governance, is simply absurd. Nonetheless, such claims, still voiced by many, play an important political role for them in that they help to obscure the vested interests and power relations at play in the constraining (shackling) of WHO. (D. Legge)


Is WHO tinkering with a bureaucratic model inherited from the postwar era?


  1. WHO actually seems strangely detached from the broader political turmoil unfolding around the world. Globalization has created new collective health needs that cross old spatial, temporal and political boundaries. In response, we need global health governance institutions that represent the many, not the few; are sufficiently agile to act effectively in a fast-paced world, on top of being capable of bringing together the best ideas and boundary-shattering knowledge available. (Kelley Lee)


  1. WHO may point to its 193 member states and claim to be universally representative, but it is far from politically inclusive. Like the political alienation felt by millions around the world, many members of the global health community have turned elsewhere to move issues forward and get things done. What we see is a steady decline of WHO, clinging furiously to obsolete political institutions and bureaucratic models, yet kept alive by member states as an essential public institution. This decline is not because WHO is not needed, but because it has not adapted to and is not publicly financed for a changing world; it is not the WHO that we need today. (K. Lee)


  1. Political innovation must become a fundamental part of the process of WHO reform. Think: How might virtual and interactive town halls improve communication between global health policy-makers and the constituencies they serve? How might the closed world of global policy-making be opened up and strengthened through virtual public consultations, feedback systems and monitoring systems –all of them also aiming at reforming WHO? How might the concept of global citizenship become institutionalized within our global health institutions, especially WHO? (K. Lee)


Prescribing “LEGO models’?


  1. Otherwise, in the first decade of the new millennium, donors have pushed for increases in development assistance for health, yes, but in particular for medicines. This has clearly contributed to the re-legitimation of the ‘free trade agenda’ in health and has strengthened intellectual property (patents) protection regimes with their well-known negative consequences. Furthermore, in that development assistance, the mantra they preach to recipient countries is the one called ‘realistic costing of outputs’ that prescribes a LEGO model of program implementation, i.e., with each program comprising a set of planned outputs each of which comprises a known number of prescribed activities all of which have known costs. This approach leaves little, if any, room for flexibly managing complexity in planning and carrying out program implementation.*** (D. Legge)

***: WHO is made wary of prolonged project implementation processes, in part because they disrupts the ‘production schedule’ demanded by its paymasters. (Elizabeth Pisani, Maarten Kok)


  1. What is missing from the whole discourse is carrying out a robust analysis of the root causes of the preventable global disease burden. Only this will provide clearer criteria regarding which ‘stakeholders’ (duty bearers in the proper HR lingo) are part of the problem and which are part of the solution –and therefore which of them can be trusted to have a seat at the table. Human rights principles provide such criteria and so does the WHO report on Social (and political) Determinants of Health of 2008.****            (D. Legge)

****: The importance of non-medical factors is largely recognized as being a key predictor of health. In 2008, the WHO Committee on Social Determinants of Health stated: “Social injustice is killing people on a grand scale and constitutes a greater threat to public health than a lack of doctors, medicines or health care services”. The general conditions under which people live and work thus have a major impact on health outcomes. These social determinants of health further comprise, among other, the structural determinants of socioeconomic development, working conditions, education, housing, sex and high-risk behavior… What this implies is that health care is just one of the factors to influence health and can, therefore, only be considered part of the solution. (Koen Detavernier)


  1. The influence/control of donors over ministries of health in the South is nowhere more evident than in having kept any possibility of these ministries focusing on the human rights based approach in their agenda beyond mere lip service. Instead ministry officials keep pushing the newest slogans such as ‘universal health coverage’, ‘development assistance ‘and public-private partnerships’ that, in essence, are part of a common agenda consistent with the program of the 1% richest. They thus speak for the priorities of the 1% perhaps not realizing that they do so from within a worldview that accepts as natural and unchanging the global inequalities, the environmental degradation and the beneficence of private enterprise. (D. Legge)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City


All 400+ Readers are now available in my new website


Add a comment


Human Rights: Food for an interfering thought


Human Rights Reader 404


Innovation is not a prerogative of the private sector.


  1. More and more, we are seeing a process of outsourcing the international development agenda. The current trade and investment regimes are already favoring wealthy countries and corporations. And where has this led us? To the balance already being outrageously skewed in favor of private interests. (Look at WHO’s financing, for instance).


  1. In this Reader, I have more questions than I have answers:


  • What track record do businesses really have for being part of the solution?
  • What is the incentive for TNCs to exert their enormous power and influence in any way beyond maintaining the status-quo that has delivered so many benefits to them? So, Who benefits from the current state of affairs?:
    • The gargantuan pharmaceutical and food and beverages industry, intent on protecting their profits?
    • Governments that now are increasingly elected on the back of private election finance?
  • Does all this imply that the incentive structure only operates in one direction –not the human rights direction?
  • Is the assumption such that we should have less confidence in the aptitudes of the public sector, so that it must do more to operate on business terms? …even when those are the same terms that have led to the current highly inequitable, unsustainable, human rights-violating patterns of development?


  1. Since public and private incentives are currently so poorly aligned (a marriage in hell?), it is hard to imagine how public entities operating more and more along private lines will keep up with their primary public responsibilities, including as the main duty bearers for protecting sustainability, inclusiveness and human rights (HR). The question really is:
  • At what point should projects vital to human and environmental wellbeing happen regardless of a business take on the issue?


  1. Many businesses (of course, not all –I am not a business basher…), encouraged by years of deregulation, think of themselves as existing outside any social contract –or as able to select the parts of such a contract useful to them— for instance picking deliberate strategies that reduce their tax bills even as they are underpaying workers who then have to rely on social protection schemes paid for by general taxation. As a privileged group, big corporations are able to set their own norms, mostly related to their own survival and profitability, and further expect the public sector not to stand in their way. Large transnational corporations have pushed this approach so far that some progressive governments at the United Nations have called (and are acting upon it) for a legally binding framework to regulate them so as to provide appropriate protection, justice and remedy to victims of corporate HR abuses. But if such a new social contract keeps gaping exemptions or exclusions, it is bound to collapse. Businesses have to understand that the new global contract will be binding, not optional; it will have to be upheld and enforced, and there can be no picking and choosing –no exceptions. (B. Adams and G. Luchsinger)


There is no such a thing as a developed and underdeveloped world; there is only a single, badly developed or maldeveloped world (CETIM)


Some like to call the current development model “an evidence-free zone”. (Steven Nissen)


  1. Poor countries beware: Under the SDGs, more experts are coming! Not soldiers and bureaucrats to run your affairs like during colonialism, now it is an army of ‘experts’. (Note that, sometimes, experts are even more dangerous than soldiers). Experts come to tell you: “You cannot. The market will be irritated. The market will be angry”. It is as if the market is an unknown, but very active and cruel God punishing us, because we are trying to commit the cardinal sin of changing reality. I ask: Is recovering dignity a cardinal sin? (Eduardo Galeano)


  1. Fittingly, long ago, Immanuel Kant was of the opinion that, whoever wills the end, wills also (so far as cold reasoning* decides his conduct) the means in his power which are indispensably necessary thereto.

*: Marcel Proust used to talk about the intermittences of the heart as he observed world development going from bad to worse. (as cited by Alfredo Bryce Echenique)


The narrative of progress in development is no longer sustainable –unless things change (Steven Smith)


  1. The UN (and other development) agencies have, for decades, pitifully little to show in the implementation of actual actionable deliverables in the realm of the HR-based framework to development. It is evident that the power of interventions aimed at fulfilling HR principles and standards comes not from where they are ‘targeted’ top-down –when this power is rather to come from those who know (or suffer) how these interventions do not work to create positive change within the prevailing unfair economic and political system. This means that efforts targeted at government policy can have only limited effectiveness if they are aimed at changing relatively weak (or outright uninterested) leverage-points and individuals in the prevailing unfair system. (G. Carey)


  1. Even if it has been more than twenty years since their re-emergence on the international agenda, economic, social and cultural rights still remain a rhetorical aspiration. …or is there some global evidence that there have been many real advances in how they are enjoyed, claimed and enforced? This is indeed a pressing question. In a way, the affirmation by UN member states in the Vienna Human Rights Declaration of 1992 that HR and development should be seen as ‘mutually reinforcing’ still has a hollow rhetorical ring twenty five years on. (Alicia Yamin)


  1. On a less negative note, yes, some progress has been made on each front, particularly in the realm of discrimination, legal protection and judicial enforcement. Human rights are beginning to play a more prominent role in how we think, and how we act. But the economic and social rights of millions of people across the globe are still under systematic and renewed attacks as a result of a number of even current pervasive private/financial sector-dominated development trends. These include the imposition of regressive fiscal austerity measures and other policies fuelling economic inequality, the failure to take effective action against climate change, and the consolidated grip that unbridled corporate power now has on both national and international governance. (UN CESR) On the other hand, one of the most important innovations in human HR has been the increasing attention to economic policies such as the scrutiny of budgets, taxation, and social security systems. (Sakiko Fukuda-Parr)


  1. As you can see, a mixed picture. …in need of a photoshop overhaul…


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City, January 14, 2017



-In dreaming begins responsibility. (W.B. Yeats)

-We are simply acting as the folk wisdom that says: “If we do not change direction, we are going to get where we are going.” This is equivalent to the cartoon Yogi Bear’s: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Peace, more than any other word, represents the essence of our work in HR. (Anwar Fazal)

-Henri Bergson used to say: The future is not what ‘is coming’, but rather what we will be capable of doing and achieving. It makes no sense to wish ourselves a Happy 2017 if, like donkeys, we are going to continue accepting what is being imposed on us by a corrupt and out-of-reputation political class; wishing ourselves a Good Year of Struggles, that yes! (Politika)


Given what is happening in the world later this month, I cannot think of anything more pertinent to share with you than a visionary excerpt from Henry Miller’s 1933 Tropic of Cancer. He had this to say:


How many people and colleagues do we know that have no allegiance, no social responsibility, no hatred, no prejudices, no passion, being neither for nor against –claiming to be neutral. It is actually hard to talk to a man or woman when you have nothing in common with him or her; you betray yourself, even if you use only monosyllabic words with them.


The axis has shifted, the world is dying. The world is pooped out; there is not a dry fart left. Who, that has a desperate, hungry eye can have the slightest regard for existing governments, laws, codes, principles, ideals, ideas, totems and taboos? This crazy civilization looks like a crater. And the crater is obscene. But more obscene than anything is inertia, is paralysis.


Conversely, even as the world goes to smash, there are men and women who remain at the core, who remain combative as the process of the world’s downward spiral quickens. At the very hub of this downward spiral we must keep rolling; otherwise, the whole world will belch no more. The wheel is falling apart, but the revolution is intact. Ideas have now to be wedded to action; if there is no vitality in them, there is no action. Ideas cannot exist alone in the vacuum of the mind. I find it soothing and refreshing to move among the creatures with living, breathing pores whose ethical background is stable and solid. The task to throw ourselves into is to overthrow the existing values, to make the chaos about us a new order.


The wallpaper with which the men of science and technology have covered the world of reality is falling to tatters. The grand whorehouse that they have made of life requires no such wallpaper decoration. Beauty is finished. The world is still beautiful only in an old fashioned way; it is the same old world of wine and fornication.


It sounds nutty to me, all this palaver about things happening so fast. Nothing is happening that I can see, except the usual calamities on the front page: Love and hate, despair, pity, rage, disgust, war, disease, cruelty, terror, the evil, the sorrow, the discord, the rancor, the strife, the disorder, the violence, the hatred, the chaos, the confusion…

A new day is dawning. As the thermometer rises, the form of the world grows blurred; there still is articulation, but at the periphery the veins are all varicose and are starting to bleed. To fathom the new reality it is first necessary to dismantle the gangrened ducts of the system responsible for all the garbage we see and experience.


Once I thought that to be human was the highest aim we could have, but I see now that it was meant to deceive me. I see this other race of individuals ransacking the universe, turning everything upside down, always moving in blood and tears, slaying everything within reach. We are governed by counterfeit values; only the tiny part that is left is human, i.e., the rest that belongs to life. We simply have to act before a large portion of humanity is buried, wiped out forever. My world has overstepped its human bounds; what it is to be human is left to moralities and codes disregarded by those in power. Too much of what they feed us to read is mere literature, not reality. I know what they are really like. Underneath this fake morality all is dead, no feelings. They are selfish to the core. They think of nothing but money, money, money. And they look so goddammed respectable, so bourgeois. That is what drives me nuts.


We have got our faults, but we have got integrity and enthusiasm. It is better to make mistakes than not to do anything.


Add a comment

Human rights: Food for an evidence-overwhelming thought


Human Rights Reader 403


[Mostly abstracted from chapter 18 of the International Panel on Social Progress, 2016]


-Inequality in health is a morally significant fact in itself.

A purely biomedical understanding of diminished health and preventable mortality misses key dimensions of social and economic issues.


  1. The differences in health statistics that impinge on human rights (HR), pertain to how health outcomes are distributed (the distributive pattern), to what is being distributed (the distributive currency), and to the area in which that assessment is made (the distributive locus). The risk that non-disaggregated data carry is fostering prioritarianism. Prioritarianism puts greater weight on the health or wellbeing of those who are worse off rather than focusing specifically on the gap between them and those who are better off.


  1. The emphasis must be on equality of true access to services and the health outcomes the existing inequalities brings about. Emphasis must also be on equality in the resources being made available to all. Consequently, assessing equality has to focus on the equality of fundamental social status/class, i.e., the equality in the relations among members of a population that is rarely obtainable beyond inequalities in money, in power, and, to a large extent, in health and health care. [Keep in mind that social groups are marked either by their tendency to attract advantages and disadvantages across many distributive spheres, or by their social salience and relevance].


  1. Further keep in mind that the continued high incidence of infant and child deaths in some countries plays a significant role in determining how personhood is bestowed over time, sometimes at a child’s first or even fifth birthday, instead of at birth; personhood is a human right.


  1. Historically, the reduction in child mortality began to slow down in 1985 and reversed direction in 1994 (-1/2%) before resuming its former downward trend beginning in 1997.* How do we explain this interruption of more than a decade?: Structural Adjustment. This regime had dramatic negative effects on public health, leading to its visible deterioration. Add HIV/AIDS and TRIPs to these determinants and you get pretty much the full picture. (Child deaths from HIV/AIDS peaked in 2005 and have declined thereafter, no doubt as a consequence of people-demanded greater access to anti-retroviral treatments).

*: Furthermore, note that, in all countries of the world, child mortality is significantly lower for children of more educated women even after adjusting for the effect of income/wealth.


  1. Only by the turn of the millennium did the devastating impact of the World Bank’s policies on children’s rights become impossible to ignore. Since then, the new global health actors (Gates, GAVI, GFTAM) work in close collaboration with Big Pharma and are in an important sense driven by the desire to generate a new regime for pharmaceutical innovation and a new stream of revenue flows for the pharmaceutical industry. In this way, public (not really public?) health is being resurrected as a profitable area of investment in ways that shape the kinds of health care interventions that are prioritized and this forecloses the revival of a truly public health care infrastructure. This has resulted in overwhelmingly vertical funding schemes focused on single diseases. The vertical orientation has equally brought about a new dominance of public-private initiatives and other para-statal actors over national actors.


By now we know


  1. Social and environmental factors influence child development in a broad way and, through this process, also influence adult health. In a strong way, adult mortality is socially and economically differentiated in all countries. (Serious illness does not lead to bankruptcy where there is social insurance…). A lack of programs targeting both children and overall economic wealth redistribution thus has long-term consequences for adult health and survival –their right to health included.


  1. To date, global health inequalities in child health do remain highly pertinent. However, health inequalities within countries are widespread too. Economic disparities are not only persistent, but in some areas widening. The economic gap between urban and rural, and the formal and informal economic sector is starkly visible in health trends and outcomes. Large disparities in health services and outcomes are not confined to economically poor countries, but can be found in countries throughout the world. In the United States of America, for instance, access to health services for children is highly unequal. Health prospects there intersect with race, gender and economic status.


  1. We further note that, while some of the most celebrated global health interventions of the past few decades have targeted infants and in particular under-five year olds, the specific health risks of adolescents are still relatively neglected.


  1. Within country mortality differences by income, wealth, class and level of education also persist. In many countries inequalities in adult mortality are increasing; most typically when adult mortality improves faster among the better off. Therefore, life expectancy between countries differs –and it looks like the dispersion is about the same in 1955 as in 2015 (about 35 years between the two countries with highest and lowest life expectancy).


Why do social class differences in health reappear again and again in every new generation?


Health in early life is heavily influenced by the social circumstances of the previous generation. Thereafter, life-long social circumstances have a dominant influence on people’s health and survival.


  1. Child mortality in poor household is around double that of rich households in the same country. Study results show a gradient in infant mortality from income quintile 1 to income quintile 5. This is the typical pattern in any country.


  1. Middle-aged white Americans have experienced increasing mortality during the 1999-2013 period. However, this trend only applies to low educated whites, not to those of middle or high education groups. Actually, since at least 1990, there is a longer trend of generally widening mortality differences between educational groups –and not only in middle-aged men and women. The mortality of white men and women with less than twelve years of schooling has been growing gradually worse over time.**

**: Is it likely that global market forces and corporate actors now exercise a growing influence over national income distributions, labor markets, consumption patterns, taxes and welfare policies in general that are too powerful for national governments to balance?


  1. Bottom line: According to the influential report of the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health (2008), health inequalities and the violation of the right to health are not consistent with a ‘business as usual’ approach to tackle them.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



The social determinants of health (SDH) are those circumstances in which individuals are born, grow, work and age. They also pertain to all those forces and systems that affect those circumstances like the economic, social and development policies and the cultural norms. In general, also key are the political systems that regulate how wealth and power, prestige (status) and (natural) resources are distributed globally, nationally and locally. From a more formal perspective, the social determinants of health are the structural components of a major model of causality arrived-at to specifically explain and understand (give a rational basis) to our observations and actions with regards to the health of a population at multiple levels and contexts, i.e., how these factors determine health and well-being. This new eco-epidemiological paradigm recognizes the social and historic determination of health centered around risk factors that cannot be ignored and, particularly, recognizing the distributive inequality of the opportunities to succeed in achieving good health outcomes. The SDH paradigm replaces the obsolete paradigm under which our observations about the interactions between the physical and social environments are considered ‘difficult to frame and to appropriately match’. (Oscar Mujica, PAHO)


Add a comment

Human Rights: Food for a thought at the very roots (2)


Human Rights Reader 402


We are witnessing the return of a neo-feudal system based on the governance of the powerful with (questionable) ethical values (Sofia Monsalve)


The great powers have not hidden their agenda of displacing the debate on governance away from the United Nations. The Group of Seven (G7) has become the Group of 20 (G20), and the World Economic Forum in Davos a more important space for exchange than the UN General Assembly. (Roberto Savio)


  1. Transnational corporations (TNCs) are the big-time beneficiaries of Globalization’s architecture of impunity, especially on human rights (HR). This means that these entities, more often than not, not only escape legal action owing to a lack of political determination on the part of certain states, but also get away with it, because of a lack of appropriate legal instruments at the international level. (CETIM)


  1. To add insult to injury, the profitable valorization of wo/men at the expense of nature is advancing ever onward. ‘Growth until downfall’ has long become a reality that, by now, nearly everyone is aware of.*** (Thomas Gebauer)

***: In the colono-globalized world, the center is powerful and impermeable to the ecological, social, HR and cultural realities of the periphery; it is mostly made up by multilateral and bilateral TNCs and financial institutions and their managers that are out to homogenize the world. (Jorge Osorio) (Bankers, hedge fund managers and TNCs’ CEOs are, more and more, prone to feed panics rather than quell them –look at right-wing politicians in the developed world these days… In the world of the globalized free market we live-in, the ‘liberty of money’ demands that the dispossessed be constantly imprisoned in the jail of fear and fright –which is the worst of all jails). (Eduardo Galeano)


  1. Yes, together with many (and growing) I am super critical-of, but not a blanket private sector basher. We all look at what is happening with conflicts of interest (CoI), public private partnerships (PPPs), free trade agreement (FTAs), multistakeholder platforms and at so many other conflicting issues …and what is the common denominator we find?: An increasing interference in public decision-making.


  1. By now, we are convinced that PPPs are not for the benefit of society, but about constructing new subsidies to benefit the already wealthy in the private sector. In them, it is less about financing development than developing finance. Understanding and exposing these PPPs is essential to challenge growing inequality. But equally important is critically reflecting on how the wealthy are getting away with it. (Nicholas Hildyard)


Challenging the power of the few and ending inequality badly needs greater strategic cooperation between development groups, social movements, trade unions, and human rights organizations (A. Campolina)


  1. Extreme economic inequality is not inevitable. It, big time, hampers progress in everything from economic growth and disparity reduction to social cohesion and political stability. It is created, perpetuated and exacerbated by laws, policies and practices of the sort that have dominated the capitalist global policy agenda of at least the last (too many) decades. As we know, it is compounded and reinforced by disparities and discrimination on grounds such as gender, race and disability. (Kate Donald)


  1. Although the exact package of measures for tackling economic inequality under neoliberalism will vary by country, there are several types of policies that are generally and particularly indispensable including social protection, fiscal policy (especially progressive tax policies), public services provision, labor and wage policies, and financial regulation. All of these policies are linked broadly by the idea of redistribution (how economic rewards are shared), and of changing the current status-quo of where wealth, income, power and resources are concentrated. These policies should be seen as interdependent. Each addresses a different stage or aspect of redistribution. Success will require, not only a reversal of the ongoing austerity trend that is fuelling inequality worldwide, but also a significant redistribution of wealth, resources and power, which, in turn, means addressing the financial and political privileges of wealthy elites and transnational corporations. Focusing solely on the bottom 40 percent of national populations neglects one of the key drivers of inequality, namely runaway accumulation at the top. It will be down to public interest civil society and social movements to ensure inequality is kept under the spotlight of accountability. (K. Donald) No to poverty alleviation, yes to disparity reduction!


We are to fight ‘The Three Xs’: Exploitation, Exclusion and Extinction (Julio Monsalvo)


  1. Profit-driven Globalization is compelling us to think within the so-called ‘permitted worldviews and accepted narrative frames’. Markedly alternative or radical views are and will be consistently discarded by the dominant mainstream, by being labeled utopian, naïve or, even worse in our times, ‘communist’ (before a challenging political ideology and nowadays just a mere insult used by the mainstream thinkers). (Jose Luis Vivero)


  1. Furthermore, we have to fight the indifference of our youth to the present HR situation. Right now, our young and upcoming colleagues also, remain largely indifferent to the overwhelming negative effects Globalization is having in the world.


  1. Our struggle is not about the rich being stroked for a little more noblesse oblige, but about ordinary citizens banding together to challenge them, winning tough regulations, and creating a much fairer system as a result. (Naomi Klein)


  1. Taking a minimalist stand towards Globalization will do no harm, but neither will it do much good. Historically, inertia (has) and will always work(ed) against the more visionary and radical changes deemed necessary when the same fall outside the ruling paradigm.


What does the wealth gap suggest about the need for new forms of organizing by us who are attempting to resist elite power?


The key question is: What oppositional strategies can unsettle elite power instead of making it stronger? (N. Hildyard)


  1. The need clearly is to reclaim public spaces, at all levels of governance so as to protect them from the undue influence of private interests and ensure that they respond to claim holders’ demands. Cohabitation with a predatory and hegemonic form of economic globalization is hardly possible any longer. What this calls-for then is to exert resistance to this current dynamics and to strengthen all alternative social, economic and political avenues. The construction of such a people-centered agenda for social justice, equity, HR, ecology, and respect for diversity can only be driven by the inspiration and leadership of social movements and the direct participation of those most affected by the many development challenges. This contrasts sharply with the increased professionalization of international non-governmental organizations and their increasing attachment to mainstream agendas. (Stefano Prato)


  1. How to move beyond the ‘converted’ in this and capture new converts? The fundamental challenge is not so much that of pushing power structures as it is educating and challenging privileged citizens and consumers to change their habits and make the connection between their comforts and other people’s misery. (S. Prato)


  1. Yes, you can have a pessimistic long-term outlook, but this does not mean you give up hope. We cannot give up hope. If we give up hope we are lost. But if we keep battling away, we can at least make a difference, and there is at least some hope that we may turn things around before the world reaches the terminal skids. The odds of success are perhaps the same as winning the lottery. But, as the cliché has it, without a ticket we have no hope at all.(Colin Tudge)


  1. Bottom line: an effective challenge against Globalization and its negative effects on HR is possible, but demands the same kind of intellectual commitment and vigor that characterized anti-colonial or independence struggles.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



-Humanity should not succumb due to its blind selfishness. This is the truth we have conveniently forgotten for too long. After the failure of humanity in the use and control of the forces of the universe –that have now turned against us– it is indeed urgent that we feed on another class of energy. We want our species to survive; we must find a new sense in life; we must save the world and every human being that inhabits it. Hatred, selfishness and greed stand in our way in this the only planet we have. (Albert Einstein)

-The World Bank is good at systematizing findings and issues, e.g., 4 key points in this, 3 actions needed for that, actions in 4 areas, to address 2 major challenges, etc; all looks so neat in its analyses –when reality is really not so neat.

-Major immorality is a systemic trait of the North American elites; its general acceptance by the public constitutes an essential characteristic of a mass-media-controlled-society. (Adapted from Charles Wright Mills)

-What is called the international community in the United States is the United States and anyone who happens to be going along with it. The standard line is that the ‘international community’ cannot object to this. So, who really and ultimately is the international community?: What the United States determines it to be. (Noam Chomsky) Americans do not want you to say ‘yes’, they want you to say ‘yes sir’. (Boutros Ghali)



Add a comment

Human Rights: Food for a thought at the very roots (1)


Human Rights Reader 401


-Mind that the SDGs are indeed permissive of neoliberalism. (G. McNaughton)

-However attractive the ideas of neoliberalism are at first sight, they hide a dangerous liberal logic that threatens human rights and cannot thus make for a better world. (Francine Mestrum)


Neoliberalism: do we all share what it really is? To some, neoliberalism is the ideology at the root of all our planetary problems


  1. Neoliberalism has become hegemonic as a discourse. It has reached pervasive effects on our ways of thought to the point where it has become incorporated into the common-sense-way many of us interpret, live-in, and understand the world. (David Harvey)


  1. Neoliberalism manifests itself through behaviors that spring from the values (or anti-values) that define how we see and respond to the world around us. The notion of human rights (HR) is no exception: It springs from how a given culture adopts behaviors and such values and anti-values that define how the world is perceived. In neoliberalism, individualism, competitiveness and having the power to control dominate. Its morality is utilitarian: Everything is a ‘resource’ or a ‘commodity’ measured in monetary terms. But this is exploitative, excluding and extinguishing… We hear: “S/he who cannot pay should not consume”; this is the essence of the discourse. For such an ethics, feeding oneself, educate oneself, clothe oneself, take care of one’s health and having a decent home, are consumptions that need to be paid. In neoliberalism, the concept of HR and solidarity is totally absent. When someone or something is not considered ‘useful’, because it does not produce rent, s/he or it is excluded, abandoned. This invariably leads to violence in all its manifestations, wars, arms race, global warming and the loss of biodiversity. (Julio Monsalvo)


  1. The neoliberal ideology emphasizes personal responsibility, private property and markets above all else. The core human rights ideals thus differ from those of neoliberalism that promotes only individual freedoms and a skewed brand of dignity, but not equality and solidarity. The HR paradigm recognizes that individuals living in families, in communities, and in societies are bound by a global order. Crucially, this people-centered framework puts people’s wellbeing before all else. It discards a trickle-down approach as eventually leading to the enjoyment of HR. Interestingly, civil and political rights have not clashed substantially with neoliberalism; this explains a lot… (G. McNaughton)

Have a look at this table:


Comparison of Neoliberalism with the Holistic Human Rights Framework


  The ideology in Neoliberalism promotes


The ideology of International Human Rights principles and standards promotes
Ideology • Dignity

• Individual freedoms,

·       Is gender neutral and

• Market-centered




• Dignity

• Individual and collective freedoms

• Equality

• Solidarity

·       Is gender sensitive and

• People-centered

Role of the State In Neoliberalism, the role of the state is to

• Protect property rights

• Ensure free markets

• Ensure unhindered free trade






In the HR framework the role of the state is to

• Respect, protect and fulfill people’s (indivisible) rights

·       Ensure property rights and free trade do not infringe/impinge-on human rights

• Ensure human rights principles and standards are realized/enforced

• Implement wealth redistribution measures

Policy Framework The policy framework of Neoliberalism

• Promotes competition

• Privatizes

• Deregulates essential services

• Dismantles labor protection measures

• Promotes flexible labor markets

• Reduces welfare

• Reduces taxes

• Attracts foreign investment

• Balances budgets

·       Uses maximum available resources to enhance personal/corporate wealth.




The policy framework pertaining HR

• Promotes solidarity

·       Opposes privatization

• Ensures claim holders participation

• Regulates essential services and  corporations

• Protects and promotes unionization

·       Secures fair wages

• Ensures universal free daycare,

education, health care

• Increases social protection measures

• Implements progressive tax regimes and protects people’s rights in foreign investment schemes

• Uses maximum available resources to enhance well-being of people.

By G. McNaughton as amended by me.


Social justice vs. ‘market justice’ (Claudia Gonzalez)


Market fundamentalism relates to the belief (conviction?) that all areas of policy, politics, society, culture and knowledge, and not just economics, should be ordered by the market logic. (Mary Nolan)


  1. Adam Smith, one of the fathers of capitalism, did place great weight on morality: He believed that economic activity takes place in a society and can not be justified except as it advances the interests of that society. But too many economists* have come to believe that the interests of society can be measured by a number: that if a policy change raises GDP it is justified — whatever its impact on people. (J. Legge)

*: Conservative ideologues and economists so often are one and the same. Homo economicus –the fictional abstract individual who actively maximizes his personal ‘utility function’ through rational calculation– continues to hold sway as the idealized model of human action in the contemporary entity we call ‘the economy’. The real tragedy of the market is to be found in the ‘rational’ individualism at its base.


Rosa Luxemburg used to say that if the people would really know, capitalism would last three days


The rich are becoming richer and the richest are getting richer faster.

-The veritable economic anarchy of the capitalist society, as it exists today is, in my opinion, the true source of our evils. (Albert Einstein)


  1. Capitalism excels at certain innovations, granted. But it is/has miserably failing(ed) at maintenance; and, for most lives, it is maintenance that matters more. (Lee Vinsel)


  1. Take, for example ‘Green Growth’ as it is being variedly proposed. It has not resulted in solving our looming ecological crises but, in reinterpreting them, is actually creating new opportunities that business is taking advantage -of while diffusing responsibility for the causes of the same crises. Green Growth is full of contradictions and resistance to its orthodoxy is inevitable. (Larry Lohman)


  1. Actually, in Globalization –the current flagship of capitalism– “Might is Right” has come back with a vengeance. And in a defeatist stance, we have so far accepted this fact and have bowed to the forces we think we cannot effectively oppose.


  1. Globalization is, therefore, not a neutral term. You know that. It is a straight jacket as strong as those of previous incarnations of capitalism as a hegemonic ideology. Globalization also presents the market as the only basis for society, with the elimination of any national barrier for the free flow of capitals and trade –but not people. Globalization shuns, as obsolete, the values of social justice and social institutions (like welfare). Its ‘new’ values are individual success over community values. The state is seen as an impediment, a problem, not as a solution. But the problem is that the State has left the market unregulated, devoid of any redistribution mechanisms blindly trusting trickle down will do it ‘in due time’. The engine of Globalization’s growth thus is greed. You know that too. The great powers de-facto control trade –one of the two engines of Globalization; the other engine, finance, was taken away by Washington. The UN has been left only to deal with the broken dishes, i.e., with the resulting rising social issues —and doing so in an increasingly irrelevant and underfinanced role.** (Roberto Savio)

**: Today, the United Nations has no funds for action, and has become a dignified International Red Cross, left with education, health, food, children, mothers and any other humanitarian sector which is totally extraneous to the arena in which the politics of money and power is played out. The MDGs, adopted with great fanfare by the world’s Heads of States in 2000, would have cost less than 5% of the world’s military expenses. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council are responsible for the international trade of 82% of weapons, and the Council’s legitimacy to approve military intervention is a blanket conveniently used according to circumstances. (R. Savio)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



Add a comment

Human rights: What is behind the food for thought series


Human Rights Reader 400


#: I apologize for this gender insensitive quote that became the title.


[Every 50 Readers, I try to write a Reader about the Readers and their relationship to me, the compiler. Here is what I have to add today].


-For over ten years, I have been painstakingly focusing on the brutal human-rights violations and exploring some alternatives and, in the process, building up a loyal audience.

-For a blogger, doing means words since language, we can safely say, is also a form of action. (Geoffrey Cannon, Albino Gomez)


  1. As a Chinese proverb says: “The only words that have a right to exist are those that are better than silence”. True. But mind that not all words tell; not all silences hide. (A. Gomez)


  1. I firmly believe in our freedom of conscience. I believe I have not only the right, but also the duty to contradict, to criticize, to put in doubt; and, yes, also to coincide with that that I agree-with, but also to say no. (Eduardo Galeano)


  1. I read and travel and think and write. I have had an intercourse with the world, a special intercourse that, as a writer, I want to bring to my readers, not only to ponder, but also to enjoy.


  1. When I write these Readers, I try to say straight forwardly what I think (and what I am), but somehow I do not say what I do not think (and what I am not). …Come to think of it, maybe none of you is too interested in either (A. Gomez) …But somehow I continue writing them anyway.


  1. You know? Marguerite Duras had it right: The writer is a strange fellow. To write is also not to talk; it is shutting-up and doing much listening. Writing is a type of solitude.


  1. What, to me, the Readers are:


  • The Human Rights Readers (HRRs) mainly focus on ideas, which include concepts and principles. They are supposed to spark and shape your inquisitiveness. They are supposed to inspire and present different conclusions from evidence I collect. (G. Cannon)
  • The Readers are intended to be an echo and a revival of the human rights (HR) concepts that it repeatedly stirs. That these concepts are not always new, makes them all the more profound; old concepts can and do achieve a new incarnation.
  • The Readers try to engage in a campaign against empty ‘inflatio-wordiness’? (E. Galeano)
  • The purpose of the Readers is to stimulate thinking and awareness. They provide a view on global issues, often citing items that have already been published in other media, but always clearly attributed.
  • The Readers provide provocative material always hoping that you will react.
  • The Readers observe with dismay the current tragic decline in appealing and workable global perspectives. (Roberto Savio)
  • Through the pages of the Readers, I do intend to sometimes be irreverent and impertinent –or the Readers would not be.
  • The Readers attempt to attune to what Susan Kelleher calls the ‘erogenous zones of a readership’ searching for substance and relevance amid a sea of online chatter and bullpoop.
  • The Readers present ‘the other side of the debate to technological and sectoral approaches to development’ –always striving to expand the awareness on the depth, complexity and resilience of combating HR violations. In a neo-liberal sense, I guess, I could perhaps simply be accused of taking-controversial-ideas-to-market. (From HRR 80)
  • Ultimately, the HRRs are a mixture of political conviction, flair, and addressing good stories. Professional, yes, but (unfortunately) not written to be consumed by grassroots people, like workers or peasants. Instead, the Readers try to hear their voices; not only to speak about reality, but also to criticize reality in an effort to raise political consciousness. (E. Galeano)


  1. But, the above said, I do recognize that every act of writing entails some inevitable exercise in duplicity and I am not immune to it. (Ariel Dorfman)


  1. What, to me, the Readers are not:


  • They are not timelessly true or false but, in practice, and depending on the case, more or less timeless, relevant, useful and/or convincing. (G. Cannon)
  • The Readers are also not directed to gain praises, but rather to bare testimony. (E. Mounier)


[If you have reached this point of this Reader, it means that you are committed to a better world, and you are an unusual reader. According to a study from UNESCO, only 3% of the world population can read 5.000 words of abstract materials, without giving up. It also means that you have some commitment probably to issues that I have left out. It would be the most positive result of reading my writings if you would make an effort and think about your commitments. I aim to provide what you, by any criteria, need to know about where we are in the world. (R. Savio) You are not paying to read these words –or you are paying, indirectly, through your attention –and I have been blessed to be allowed to enter so many of your heads with my scribbling. (J. Biggs)].


The older I am, the more I like my defects (Isabel Allende)


Or, the older I get, the better I was…?


  1. The further I go when I write, the sort of lonelier I become. At the end, I have learned that it is better like that and that I have to defend that solitude, because that way I work better –and time flies…and, if I let time go by, I feel I am committing a sin for which there is no way back. (Leonardo Padura)


  1. I am sure this happens to some of you as well –and may be, or not be, a defect: When re-writing a Reader, it becomes a different one to me; if I publish the same elsewhere it becomes yet another.* (Jorge Luis Borges)

*: Or facetiously: “I cannot write five words without changing seven”. (Dorothy Parker)

  1. Can I, at some point, ask: Does HR rhetoric (i.e., ‘rights talk’) begin to do more harm than good (including to you)? I would say NO; no more harm than good; not enough good, yes (but then, what is enough…?).  The question actually refers to the dichotomy between direct action and only contributing to create strategic credibility and motivation.** What I mean is that, as my readers, and many like you, you have to learn to stop turning the other cheek. (William Bloom)

**: The closest I personally get to direct action is my People’s Health Movement work. I left my native Chile after the coup (long, long ago) and have been an ‘uprooted foreigner’ in the US, Kenya and now in Vietnam ever since so that my chances for involvement in direct action are limited and even dangerous (given my more radical views). So the HR rhetoric of the Readers is the avenue I use. How much does it rub off? Am I reaching 3500+ already converts that receive the Readers? Not sure. (Do not think this does not go through my mind…).  From the feedback I get, the Readers are influencing some. If they use it for direct action I cannot tell –but I sure call for it every chance I have. So this is the short answer to a relevant thorny question. My aim is direct action by claim holders demanding their rights. The process is slow and I always say we are going 2 steps forwards and 1 3/4 backwards…. But if we were not there, it would be worse… Is the younger generation picking up? (We are getting old, you know? I just turned 70). I want to think yes. In PHM we certainly have a breed of new cadres.


I do not search, I find (Pablo Picasso).


-I am what I remember, but I also am what I forget.

-I prefer to cause somebody uneasiness by telling the truth than causing admiration by telling lies. (Mafalda)

-What I do want to express must be said with clarity.

-About that-what-you-cannot-talk-about, it is better not to insist and to keep quiet. (Ludwig Wittgenstein)


  1. To me, being busy finding material is not the same as being productive. It is the difference between running on a treadmill and running to a destination; they are both running, but being busy is running in place.*** (Peter Bregman)

***: The constant sending and receiving of emails has turned us into mere ‘human routers’, making for shallow work habits and keeping us from any kind of deep thinking. Our work culture’s shift toward the shallow calls for resisting this trend and for prioritizing greater depth and to produce at a higher rate –while hopefully rarely working past 6 p.m. during the workweek: Leisure time sharpens you…


  1. Do I find suffering in my inquiries? Indeed, a lot. And I am interested in it. Not that I have a soft spot for victims. But most people prefer to divert their gaze at suffering –I stare at it. Suffering has things to tell me –and I can even lend a hand, so I do stare.**** I do not, therefore, live in a state of indifference –not as the writer of the Readers anyway. Being inquisitive and then provocative is not only for the more progressive and radical essayists or bloggers –it is a necessity for all of us– and is not a shame!***** (Philip Roth)

****: Let it be said that spending a week or two in a place where everybody is oppressed and miserable is indeed an eye opener.

*****: Every time I respond to the question about our future, I try to avoid being either highly pessimistic or superficially optimistic. I try to adopt what I consider a realistic position recognizing that in the last few years we have achieved significant progress in the struggle for justice. But, at the same time, I recognize that we still have much to do and many challenges to overcome. We need new ideas that will allow us to implement action programs to end discrimination. One of these ideas is what I call the myth of time. There are individuals that purport that only time can resolve the problems of injustice and discrimination; “you have to give time a chance”, we are told. Too often, we further hear “have patience; in 30 or 50 years the problem will solve itself”. This myth about giving problems time is something that invariably comes up. The only response that I have for this myth is that time is neutral; it can be used constructively, but also destructively. And, in all honesty, I have to say that the forces hostile to our cause have used time in a much more clever way than the constructive forces have done. In our generation, we have had not only to lament the use of empty promises and of violence by bad people, but also to lament the terrible silence and indifference of good people that have not reacted and tend to say: “Time will resolve it”. At some point, it is necessary to recognize that human progress has never come from the inevitability of history; progress comes from the tireless effort and persistent work of dedicated individuals that have the drive to stick their necks out. Without that type of work, time works as an ally of the forces of social status-quo. We must, therefore, ‘help time’ and realize that it always is the right time to do the right thing. It is crucial to understand this. (Martin Luther King)


I often fear that these Readers may be coming through as lecturing rather than informing and providing action-oriented food for thought


  1. I further fear that the Readers content may sometimes suffer when the rhetoric is hot. But one thing is clear: I do not shy away from polemics when discussing the major issues related to the politics of HR. I am undeniably controversial, but, then, trying to break down common beliefs, especially if inaccurate or blinding, is always fraught with controversy. As much as I can, I try to look beyond one-sided and narrow explanations so as to gain and share a stronger understanding.


  1. Sometimes it helps to end an essay with a quote that sums up one’s position. Here is one from the English philosopher Bertrand Russell that defines my position. This is what he said: “A man without a bias cannot write interesting history –if indeed such a man exists.”****** (Quoted by Yash Tandon)

******: Sometimes people ask me, “What is the greatest achievement you have reached in your lifetime or that you will reach in the future?” So I reply that there was a great painter named Mordecai Ardon, who was asked which picture was the most beautiful he had ever painted. Ardon replied, “The picture I will paint tomorrow.” That is also my answer. (Quoted by Eric Friedman)


  1. Bottom line: All the good and wise in the Readers comes from others; that of lesser importance is mine.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



-Like Ulysses, I think that I am only a part of my own history and that, most probably, others are more than what I am myself. And this is a humbling thought… (H. Tizon)

-People who specialize in ‘the life of ideas’ tend to be extremely atypical of their societies. They –we– are freaks in a statistical sense. For generations, populists of various kinds have argued that intellectuals are unworldly individuals out of touch with the experiences and values of most of their fellow citizens, especially those rendered poor. Intellectuals are actually even more exclusive in practice, because the children of the rich and affluent are over-represented among intellectuals. By the standards of the larger society, intellectuals tend to be unusually individualistic. In the social sciences, intellectuals –be they professors, experts, self-proclaimed gurus, or policy making duty bearers– tend to be both biased and unaware of their own bias. Could they be accused of representing ‘bourgeois scholarship’? It may not hurt if, as a condition of career advancement, every professor, opinion journalist, and foundation expert (among other), had to spend a year or two working in a farmers market, construction site, hospital, or warehouse. Our out-of-touch-intelligentsia might there learn some lessons that cannot be obtained from books and seminars alone. (Michael Lind) Intellectuals and experts on tap, but not on top! (Colin Tudge)

-Free are those that create, not those who copy; free are those who think, not those who are obedient; to teach is to teach how to doubt. (E. Galeano)

-In now 400 Readers, over a period of 12+ years I have learned that “whenever someone agrees with me in some respect and disagrees with me in another, I have to rush into print to make clear the difference.” (H. J. Morgenthau, B. Russel)

-By opening the gates of publishing to all, the internet has flattened hierarchies everywhere they exist. We no longer live in a world in which elites or accredited experts are able to dominate conversations about complex or contested matters. Politicians cannot rely on the aura of office to persuade, newspapers cannot assert the superior integrity of their stories. It is not clear that this change is, overall, a boon for the public realm. But in areas where self-proclaimed experts have a track record of getting it wrong, it is hard to see how it could be worse. If ever there was a case that an information democracy, even a very messy one, is preferable to an information oligarchy, then the challenge of getting it right is to place the HR framework at the very center of such a direct democracy. (Ian Leslie)


Add a comment

Human Rights: Food for the urgent application of a thought


Human Rights Reader 398


At the moment, consensus is lacking on how the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can succeed in environments of disparate governance, especially given the history of failure of almost all states to adopt a human rights-based approach, as well as to foster genuine participatory politics and ‘direct democracy’ alternatives. (Fortunate Machingura)


A quick look back


  1. In the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) we did engage, yes …and, by so doing, we fell into a trap.* The burning question thus now is: What room is there left for us now and what spaces do we not want to miss that are opening for us for immediate, more effective action?

*: Take an example: Did the MDGs change trends in child mortality? In all truth, there has been little assessment of the role the MDGs have had in progressing this international development indicator. A 41% reduction in the under-five mortality rate worldwide from 1990 to 2011 has been reported, as well as an acceleration in the rate of reduction since 2000. But why did this occur? Results analyzed for all developing countries indicate that it is not due to more healthcare or public health interventions, but is driven by a concomitant burst of economic growth. Although the MDGs are considered to have played an important part in securing progress against poverty, hunger and disease, there is very little evidence to back up this viewpoint. A thorough human rights-based analysis of the successes and failures of the MDGs is therefore necessary (and sadly still missing and/or ignored) before embarking on a new round of global goals as those proposed in the SDGs. (Declan French)


  1. To some, it would be more appropriate to refer to the MDGs as the Millennium Development Wishes. Why? Because, other than taking the human rights (HR) dimension for granted, the agreement left entirely unspecified who was to do what. So, if no clear division of labor is specified for achieving the SDGs, there is a real danger that any failures will be blamed on the poorest countries. This is exactly what happened during the MDGs era. (Thomas Pogge)


Cynics will say that international agreements are unenforceable; they are right


  1. Agreements such as the SDGs or the Climate Agreement appeal to humanity’s better angels, but are subjected to national self-interested demons. The question is whether they strengthen resolve, clarify pathways, spur global responsibility, promote initiatives or end up more likely providing the free riding opportunities that so often characterize global cooperation which is big on lip service and short on binding commitments. (Jeffrey Sachs)


  1. We know: Cheery declarations are made in pompous summits knowing that the same are just the beginning of a process, when future progress is actually what it is all about. (But we are told we must be ‘optimistic’…). This is primarily because those political/diplomatic actors ooze confidence that markets will play a forceful positive, correcting role. But as long as these mostly Northern leaders expect the market to do its job, citizen disaffection will (and does) grow and human rights violations will (do) continue unabated.** (Roberto Savio)

**: Be reminded that it is all about social justice, not about an artificially and maliciously thrusted-upon-us ‘market justice’. (Claudia Gonzalez)


  1. The prestigious journal The Lancet went so far as to say: “The SDGs are fairy tales dressed in the bureaucratese of intergovernmental narcissism, adorned with the robes of multilateral paralysis and poisoned by the acid of nation state failure. Yet this is served up as our future”. (Richard Horton) Ultimately, the SDGs only reflect the consensus by193 nations in a way that ‘balances’ interests in an exercise of compromises that reflect the perennial uneven power imbalance reality in a world of haves and have-less (or have-nots).


  1. The problem is that the SDGs are toothless, and are undermined by their devotion to growth along present models. The SDGs explicitly and unapologetically refuse to take the needed steps to address the fallacies of this model and are careful to (not unintentionally) shun needed deep, structural transformations. Public interest civil society and social movements are clear that the SDGs represent neither the people’s ambitions nor their HR concerns. They are not just inadequate, they are dangerous; they will lock in the global development agenda for the next fifteen years around a failing economic model that requires urgent and deep structural changes. (J. Hickel)


  1. What does it really mean to ‘leave no one behind’, as the SDGs proclaim?***

Communities are not forgetfully left behind! It is the neoliberal policies that systematically exclude them. (Warda Rina)


  • The GDP may well have grown in many places, but inequality grew as well. Some member states agreed to the SDGs agenda reluctantly, and in subsequent negotiations there has been a lot of push-back and backtracking by them. For instance, financing negotiations seem to be going back to business as usual. Actually, if some of what is on the table right now goes through, it will create direct obstacles to achieving the SDGs. (Barbara Adams)
  • Furthermore, quite a few UN panels are being steered by corporate interests and are not-a-bit inclusive. (Sandra Vermuyten)
  • Laws of countries, from the U.S. to European countries, are giving more rights to corporations than to human beings. (Chee Yoke Ling)
  • Justified apprehensions are coming back as a deja-vu: Some countries did not start implementing the MDGs in earnest until 10 years after the goals were adopted. If no action is taken in the first 1,000 days of the SDGs –in other words, in the first three years up to September 2018– then governments and all of us (more than) risk leaving people behind and failing to achieve certain goals altogether (mostly those related to HR!). The world simply cannot afford delays that threaten the chances of achieving the SDGs. (ODI)

***: If we are talking about slogans, this one must be linked with another slogan, namely nothing about us without us. Moreover, the strong and urgent commitment to ensure that ‘no one is left behind’ can only be realized if equally ‘no HR is left behind’. (Stefano Prato)


  1. Let me share with you what I think are Thomas Pogge’s iron laws about the SDGs:


  • The approved SDGs discourse really only invites an incremental approach to overcoming deprivations: “We have a certain distance to traverse, and so we set off toward our destination and approach it step-by-step”. The HR discourse, by contrast, suggests that the corresponding violations must be ended right away (or in an agreed, binding progressive realization plan).
  • In fact, the reductions seen during the MDGs would have been much more substantive if the income gains had not been so heavily concentrated at the very top of the global income distribution. It is indisputable that, to put it mildly, governments have failed to ‘spare no effort’ to reduce severe deprivations during the MDGs period.
  • In UN-speak, ending deprivations right now means (a) that we must aim for the full eradication of these deprivations, (b) that we ought to approach this objective in a continuous manner (without backsliding) and (c) that we may take as much time as we deem reasonable to complete the task progressively, but decisively, if needed.
  • Neither the fact that hunger and poverty were even worse in earlier times, nor the anticipated fact that undernutrition and poverty will one day be eradicated, must be allowed to detract from the moral HR imperative so softly expressed in the SDGs. (The eradication of slavery and of severe poverty are a morally relevant comparison…The worldwide eradication of severe poverty is possible today, so we must eradicate it now, as fast and as thoroughly as we possibly can. The absolute same was true for the abolition of slavery: acting could not wait).
  • The progressive realization of HR notwithstanding, once we recognize a HR not to be enslaved, we must not make a 15-year plan aiming to halve the number of slaves or aiming to reduce floggings by half. (Similarly, once we recognized a human right violation to be done away with, we must not make a 15-year plan “to halve the killing rate at Nazi concentration camps…”).
  • Never in human history has severe poverty been so easily and completely eradicable as in the present period. (Reads like a cliché, but is’nt) That we continue to perpetuate it through national and supranational institutional arrangements that are massively skewed in favor of the rich shows the great moral and political failing of our (and past!) generation(s), of governments and citizens alike.
  • The morally and politically required response is to recognize these deprivations as massive HR violations that we must stop, at once, by implementing institutional reforms at the national and especially the supranational level.
  • At the very center of the SDGs is the Right to Development and the internationalization of responsibilities pertaining to HR.
  • If the world’s most influential agents had been held sufficiently accountable for what they owe toward making sustainable development work, the concepts of plain level partnerships and universalism would have been more meaningful, rather than what they are now likely to become: a smokescreen for perpetuating global inequalities.
  • All we have is a long list of Sustainable Development Wishes along with the pious hope that economic growth and charitable activities will move things far enough in the right direction.
  • The full realization of HR requires a massive roll-back of international and intra-national inequalities, which the SDGs fail to call for, much less demand. There is no explicit reference to reducing inequality within and among countries outside of Goal 10 of the SDGs.
  • Moral concerns are easily dismissed as naïve in the context of the jungle of international relations where each state prioritizes its own interests, power and often survival.
  • As international rules and policies gain in influence and increasingly reflect the interests of global elites, economic inequalities mount and the HR, needs, interests and voices of those rendered poor are increasingly marginalized and easily disregarded.
  • We tend to look at the trends, and invariably find that things have become better than they had been before. But such comparisons are wholly out of place when HR are the issue!
  • In this regard, the SDGs fail by shielding the world’s most powerful agents from any concrete responsibilities for achieving the new goals, when, given their wealth and influence, they ought to be taking the lead in providing the needed resources for sustainable development and in implementing systemic institutional reforms that address the root causes of poverty.
  • The assembled governments in Geneva and New York wished that the HR of those rendered poor would be realized, but they put forth no plan for contributing to this realization, thus effectively entrusting this task to the vagaries of charity and economic growth.

Just consider


  1. To be fair, the SDGs would need to commit to setting and measuring poverty at closer to U$7.40/cap/day (the ethical poverty line, adjusted to 2011 Purchasing Power Parity), and hunger at closer to the normal physical activity threshold by gender and age (or, alternatively, using a survey-based methodology). Anything less than this will result in a misleading assessment of the problem and in inaccurate reports about progress. The SDGs will thus need to include monitoring mechanisms to prevent the kind of statistical manipulation that has compromised the MDGs. Basically, the SDGs want to reduce inequality by ratcheting the poor up, but while leaving the wealth and power of the ‘global 1%’ of the richest intact; they cynically want the best of both worlds. They irresponsibly fail to accept that mass impoverishment is the product of extreme wealth accumulation and overconsumption by a few that, along the way, bring with them processes of marginalization, extraction, and exploitation. You cannot solve the problem of poverty without challenging the pathologies of accumulation. (J. Hickel)


  1. Some states, foreign aid and private philanthropy actors are already ‘cherry-picking’ goals and targets in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and are totally overlooking the HR perspective. Rather than treating all 17 Goals in the 2030 Agenda on equal footing to protect the most marginalized and vulnerable populations and to improve their situation, we are already witnessing some goals getting more support than others. Addressing individual SDG goals (17 of them) and targets (169 of them) is not intended to replace international HR obligations. (Stefano Prato)


  1. In the same vein, the private sector’s contribution to the SDGs agenda must take place with due regard to its responsibility to do no harm and to respect HR, i.e., their agenda must, in no way, become the-perfect-excuse to give less priority to their binding human rights obligations.**** (UNHCR)

****: For instance, as regards the right to food, the SDGs unavoidably will give priority to the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Initiative…. ( This can realistically be foreseen and little we can do about it despite the many-times-pointed-out conflicts of interest the role of the private sector plays in it and in the forthcoming Decade of Action for Nutrition. The question is: Do we really, politically, want this? Will it open space for HR? Funds will go to Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) and multistakeholder platforms and we can guess that this will not necessarily open spaces for HR.


Only participation and accountability from below (bottom-centered) will make the SDGs relevant for all.


  1. The effective implementation of the SDGs depends on it being consistent with the overarching commitment to HR. This includes accountability, non-discrimination and equality, notably gender equality —and clear consideration of the primacy of claim holders demanding States’ uphold their HR obligations. (Stefano Prato)


  1. What we further need is to tackle head-on the irrationality of endless growth, pointing out that capitalist growth–as measured by GDP– is not the solution to poverty and the ecological crisis, but rather the primary cause. And we need a saner measure of human progress –one that gears us not towards more extraction and consumption by the world’s elite, but towards more fairness, more equality, more fulfilled HR, more wellbeing, more sharing –to the benefit of the vast majority of humanity. The SDGs fail us on this. They offer to tinker with the global economic system in a well-meaning bid to make it all seem a bit less violent. But this is not a time for tinkering. (J. Hickel)


  1. The 2030 Agenda –as the SDGs are also, in my view, distortingly addressed as– is already experiencing significant attempts to coopt and ‘domesticate’ civil society’s engagement by fully aligning its agenda to that of the SDGs and undermining any attempts to promote (valid) dissent. This calls for a more sophisticated strategy of resistance and proactivity, one that engages with the process without accepting its limitations and pushes for a level of ambition that is far beyond the currently framed objectives and targets. The current means of SDGs implementation will simply not provide the necessary instruments and resources to advance the aspirations and the depth of transformation that progressive public interest civil society and social movements need to foster. This fundamentally means that these groups cannot limit themselves to the monitoring of the currently framed SDG targets and financial commitments made (or not made) so far, as these are largely inadequate (even if achieved) to support the extent of economic, social and political changes that we collectively aspire to. Hence the need to establish a far more ambitious progressive agenda that raises the bar with respect to the existing level of commitment. (Stefano Prato)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



Add a comment

Human rights: Food for a committed leader’s thought


Human Rights Reader 397


-I do not have enough energy to surrender. (Luis Manzano, peasant activist in Chile)

-Critics who use their words to hide their cowardice of being in the front and making a difference are of no help in human rights activism. (Shula Koenig) On the other hand, there are honest leaders that promise nothing, but silently perform and do have deeds to show for. (Albino Gomez)


  1. Let me start with a caveat: Human rights activists are indeed vulnerable to others’ expressed preferences, ideologies, correct or false perceptions, knowledge and/or ignorance. They must thus be aware that they are vulnerable to taking society’s conventions, policies and hierarchies at not-really-face-value; they must analyze them with care before adopting any of them. (K. Brownlee)


  1. A further distinction that activists must rightfully make is when they see that recommendations are coming from a technocratic-academic- ‘pragmatic’ left rather than from a social-movements-left, i.e., from the electoral-left as opposed to the social movements left. The latter incorporates alternative visions of development and human rights (HR) that are not just symbolic statements, but rather things that can and will be operationalized. This is a trend HR activists are seeing particularly regarding indigenous movements; they do no longer see these movements’ inputs as something symbolic, but as something that needs to be put into practice. From the latter movements absence in the main HR discourse emerged a common slogan in the indigenous movement, namely: ‘From Protest to Proposal’. It embodies the idea that they are no longer protesting policies they disagree with, but are putting forward concrete proposals; this is now the driver. (Marc Becker)


Is utopia the principle of all human rights progress and of the design of a better future? (Anatole France)


In the words of Alfred Adler: “It is easier to struggle for a set of principles than to uncritically live by them”.


  1. I am not sure if utopia is the principle, but only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. (T.S. Eliot) This is one of the reasons why a true leader is s/he who does no longer complain. This is also why true HR activists are the ones who fail the most …because they are the ones who try the most.*

*: Beware: You actually need a lot of bad ideas in order to get a few good ones. (Adam Grant) “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work”. (Thomas A. Edison)


  1. In practice, an activist must foresee that which does not yet exist. S/he has to imagine a future others cannot yet perceive, interpreting reality and making it even more vivid and lasting. (David Ebershoff) Yes, but there also comes the moment for activists when actuality eventually triumphs over their dream(s)… (Philip Roth)


  1. Per aspera ad astra or Ad astra per aspera is a Latin phrase that means any of the following: ‘Through hardships to the stars’ or ‘A rough road leads to the stars’. This is why those who embark in big projects to benefit HR must be prepared to face tiresome delays, painful disilusionments and offensive insults –and, what is even worse, the judgment of presumptuous ignorants. (Edmund Burke, 1729-1797)


  1. So, do HR activists need to become skillful in several ways by, for example, ‘staging creative and provocative acts of civil disobedience’, ‘intelligently escalating our demands once a mobilization is underway’, and/or ‘making sure that short-term cycles of disruption contribute to furthering longer-term goals’? (Mark and Paul Engler) Depending on circumstances, perhaps yes. But, nevertheless, HR activists must question the dubious assumption coming from the mass protests tradition that sheer numbers will win the day. The ‘numbers obsession’ leads to mass marches with big drama instead of starting a campaign with smaller numbers, less drama and more planning –to then win. Some Occupy Wall Street leaders saw the opportunity of disrupting the ‘One percent’ at a small political cost. But, as we know, the prevailing culture of Occupy prevented building a lasting and enduring mass movement –so far. (George Lakey)


  1. Moreover, the traditional political structures have failed us in HR. Nothing new there. So, understandably, there is widespread discontent. The challenge for moving discontent-with-this forward has, by default, fallen on ‘civil society’ –a somewhat nebulous entity. Certainly, ‘public interest’ civil society can play a radical role, as we have seen in the case of the Occupy movement and other contemporary mass mobilizations. But, beware, such mass actions can also easily play a conservative role by appeasing or placating discontent by then opting for various state-funded welfare initiatives. There is no obvious litmus test to decide what the best HR role for public interest civil society is. (Matthew Anderson)


  1. Umberto Eco rightfully said that getting social networks mobilized to demand gives the task to their leaders to talk to legions of disaffected men who previously only talked small talk with no relevance to their communities in bars with a glass of beer or wine in their hands. (Choose your own equivalent venue for women…).


Activists-led direct actions are seen in all effective public interest civil society organizations and social movements


Not surprisingly, these Readers always make a strong pitch for activism as the most reliable foundation for analysis, prescription …and direct action.


  1. Do HR activists really combine penetrating research, formidable intelligence, incremental information, and direct action? (Intelligence not in the sense as used in the Central Intelligence Agency…) Actually, no. But, as the most effective operators within the HR movement, they seek contacts with everybody who counts and seems to be respected and even recognized by their most aggressive adversaries. This is a lesson taught in different ways by Gandhi and by Mandela, as well as equally historically by the fights for universal suffrage. Direct action does not have to involve breaking current law, but it often does, when, at times, the latter is unreasonable and unfair. So, should all HR organizations that want to make a difference remain reasonable? Would they then contribute to the problems they seek to solve? (Geoffrey Cannon)


  1. Conventional wisdom artificially erects a high wall between scholarship and activism. (But the era of scholar activism is here…). The same conventional wisdom makes us believe that the terrorists are always those resisting control by the established political order, and never those that are exercising authority oppressively and violating HR with impunity. Consequently, governments give much more weight to relationships that bolster their security capabilities than they do to matters of international morality, HR, equality and law. (adapted from Richard Falk)


  1. Let me predict: When actively joining the ranks of HR activism, you are setting yourself up (fortunately so, for us already in it) to add yourself to the growing contingent of mentors of the upcoming generation. This, so that our youth
  • not only better understands, but practices solidarity, the respect for mother earth and regains faith in the future, as well as
  • rescues and revalorizes the collective hope in HR so badly lacking right now when consumerism, social media, individualism, extractivism, impunity of HR violations and injustice reign supreme. (Eduardo Espinoza)


  1. Yes, our criticism has become sharper and our demands have grown. But we still face a great deal of atomization that separates us into too many small groups to make collective action successful, i.e., making a substantive difference. We are still fragmented. (Alejandro Korn)


This brings this Reader to the thorny issue of the role of NGOs in human rights work, especially international NGOs


We live in a confusing world of public interest NGOs (PINGOs), international NGOs (INGOs), business interest NGOs (BINGOs) and dishonest or ‘briefcase’ NGOs (DINGOs).


  1. Let us embark in a (I recognize partial) reality check:

Fact: The corporatization of civil society has tamed the ambitions of INGOs; too often it has made them agents rather than agitators of the system. (CIVICUS)

Fact: The danger we face through the advocacy carried out by INGOs is one of becoming tools of more sophisticated political actors.

Fact: With the lines between business and politics being blurred, we increasingly see PINGOs voices being relegated to the margins in discussions on the post-2015 agenda and other global matters. (Not so for INGOs). (J. Naidoo)

Fact: INGOs have a hegemonic stranglehold on national civil society’s involvement in international affairs. In that, they pursue interests of their own.

Fact: To some extent, international organizations such as trade unions, farmers or women’s unions provide a counterbalance to INGO dominance IF they are not dominated by their rich world counterparts. Civil society organizations (CSOs) in the global South are too often merely INGOs puppets. What this means is that they do not get the attention and respect they deserve. The systemic predominance of INGOs perpetuates the status quo in the global arena; it actually strengthens it. INGOs supplant the voices and role of those rendered poor in international affairs in various ways. At the root of this power is their funding for southern CSO partners. However well-meaning INGO managers may be, their influence is systemic and too often patronizing. (A. Tujan)

Fact: Some major INGOs continue to approach economic and social rights in ways that do very little to change the marginality of those rights in the development field.

Fact: INGOs want to be seen as ‘whitewater rafts’ instead of ‘supertankers,’ working in the spaces between governments, civil societies and markets, bridging across different geographies and constituencies, and focused on embedding values of equality, sustainability and rights into larger systems: but are they really?*** (Adriano Campolina)

Fact: PICSOs and social movements are basically tired to be treated as ‘allies’ without, de-facto being incorporated in the big decision-making processes.

***: The way I see it, INGOs are too small to be agents of economic transformation; too bureaucratic to be social movements; banned from politics because of their charitable status and structurally removed from the societies they are trying to change. They end up sitting uncomfortably in the middle as the real action takes place around them –doing what they can to save lives, speak-out and build on small successes in the process. For those convinced by the argument that immediate lifesaving is a better option than long term social transformation this strategy may be attractive, but most of the people I talk to inside international agencies are not persuaded. (Michael Edwards)


Progressive public interest civil society organizations and social movements must be recognized and supported as vital partners in achieving the necessary human rights transformations


  1. Especially actors from protest-oriented-social-movements are more effective and transparent in influencing international political processes, so much so that these broad social movements are needed to address delicate power relation issues including those within transnational INGOs. They are thus the ones who rise to the great and urgent challenges humanity is facing. (R. Ranke)


  1. If we take the example of health, a robust public interest civil society can and must fulfill eight essential global health functions. These include:
  • producing compelling moral arguments for action;
  • building coalitions beyond the health sector;
  • introducing novel HR-based (right to health-based) policy alternatives and ensuring these are applied;
  • enhancing the legitimacy of global health initiatives and institutions;
  • strengthening national and local systems for health;
  • enhancing accountability systems; and
  • acting on the commercial determinants of preventable ill-health and malnutrition; (Julia Smith)


NGOs bottom line


  1. INGOs urgently need to focus their efforts much more on advocating for the ‘basic building blocks of HR work’, namely recognition (of HR violations occurring), institutionalization (of HR-based approaches) and accountability (of duty bearers) before delving into the more sophisticated yet vague SDG-proposed techniques for monitoring and promoting economic and social rights that now preoccupy many an international NGO. (Philip Alston)


  1. Moreover:
  • A more robust mutual accountability system among PINGOs working on HR is needed.
  • Organized PINGOs thus needs to go into deep introspection, as well as into truly realigning themselves with people’s needs and their voices so as to rebuild their legitimacy and trust with people.
  • PINGOs thus have to return to the hard, painstaking work of organizing and mobilizing the people, i.,e., unlocking maximum citizens potential, as well as coming up with the tools that will strengthen the struggle for social justice, HR and greater social solidarity. (J. Naidoo)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City