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FOR TOO LONG IT WAS CONSIDERED THAT TRANSNATIONAL CORPORATIONS COULD NOT BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS. THIS HAS NOW CHANGED.

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Human rights: Food for a new corporate thought

 

Human Rights Reader 405

 

Already the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 interpreted the issue as implying that no State, group or person has the right to engage in any activity aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein. (Art.30)

 

  1. Because of this change, it is of the utmost importance that State parties ensure access to effective remedies to victims of corporate abuse of economic, social and cultural rights through judicial, administrative, legislative or other appropriate means. And (!), no distinction is to be made between violations committed by a State, a physical person or a legal person. There is a ratified optional protocol pertaining to business enterprises operating abroad on this, but there are no means of enforcement since available means are not legally binding. Therefore, for now, norms applied to transnational corporations (TNCs) are merely voluntary codes, i.e., with no sanctions and no compliance —so impunity continues.

 

  1. Regarding corruption though, the UN General Assembly has adopted a legally binding instrument (UN Convention Against Corruption, 2003) and, in 2009, a review mechanism for the implementation of the convention was passed.

 

  1. Furthermore, the existing norms applicable to legal persons, hence to TNCs, are fragmented, do not deal with the entirety of human rights (HR), are not universal (since they are not ratified) and they have no coherent implementation.

 

  1. It is now possible to bring the management of TNCs before the International Criminal Court. Since 2008, the HR Council has emphasized that TNCs and other business enterprises have a responsibility to respect HR. TNCs being legal persons are thus subjects and objects of the law; they are indeed bound to respect HR.

 

  1. TNCs have greatly influenced commercial treaties in their own favor. Most trade agreements place TNCs above the State thus above the people. Hence these entities have all the rights, but they are not accountable for their acts. They typically short-circuit national courts, but have the right to bring states before the World Bank’s tribunal (the International Center for Settlement of investment Disputes), their favorite court, which is unfailingly favorable to them while states are denied this right. The ICSID ignores national and international legislation on HR, the environment and worker’s rights.

 

  1. So, by virtue of current international HR law, TNCs are bound to respect HR. All that remains is to clarify the HR obligations of these entities and to establish binding enforcement mechanisms. It is possible to demand they refrain from acts that violate HR and compel them to act so that the respect of these rights is guaranteed.

 

  1. As soon as possible, measures must be taken to require accountability before the courts for their non-respect of HR. Such respect is more than ever indispensable given that privatization policies are being imposed by the IMF and the WB, especially affecting public services previously provided by the State. Simply put, the people must have the possibility to defend their rights.

 

  1. The overwhelming majority of unpunished crimes and violations are committed in the countries of the Global South where justice mechanisms are slow. Therefore, TNCs responsible for these HR violations cannot be subjected to statues of limitation.

 

  1. With their economic and political power, the most powerful TNCs can and do escape all democratic, administrative and legal control. Their strategy consists of reinforcing their dominant position in the market in practically all areas of production and services by the way of acquisitions and mergers. Moreover, legal responsibility must reach all the way to their downstream contractual chains (affiliates, subcontractors, licensees). The parent company is indeed responsible for the offenses these downstream entities commit. The parent company must also assume responsibility for the debts of their affiliates in case they go bankrupt.

 

  1. The treaty now under negotiation at the UN pertaining TNCs liability will have to establish universal jurisdiction enabling legal action in the TNCs’ host State for their offenses committed regardless of where they occur. Host countries must guarantee access to their courts to the victims of violations committed by these entities in foreign countries. The treaty will further have to reassert the hierarchical superiority of HR norms over trade and investment treaties.

 

  1. Additionally, to fight impunity, victims will have to be guaranteed: the right to know, the right to justice, the right to compensation and the right to guarantees of non-reocurrence of violations with states having the obligation to take effective measures to fight impunity. There will have to be: i) no court costs to claimants, ii) the possibility of class action suits, iii) speedy trials (justice delayed is justice denied), and iv) limits to out-of-court settlements, i.e., TNCs offering easy transactional solutions to victims to avoid conviction and victims accepting a partial monetary compensation in exchange for abandoning litigation. Lawyers’ fees will have to be assumed by the State or supported by a special tax on TNCs.

 

  1. Bottom line: In an era of neoliberal (in)justice, the power is in the hands of the biggest TNCs while this power has no correlative counterpart accountabilities. The initiatives taken so far have been limited and are far from responding to what is at stake. The new treaty will also have to take into account environmental crimes and even killings of HR defenders that elude justice. Given the colossal magnitude of the violations committed by TNCs, an international instrument (treaty), as the one under consideration, may appear insufficient. But this will be a significant first step. The existence of such an instrument will be a clear message to HR violators.

 

  1. Completing the current UN negotiations setting binding norms on this is indispensable. People must mobilize and network to back these negotiations.

 

  1. Fighting TNCs impunity also means fighting the danger that TNCs represent for democracy and for the very existence of the states. If the states wish to maintain the little credibility they still have and put an end to the principle that might-is-right, they must act promptly against TNCs to subject them to the rule of law. (Taken from TNCs’ Impunity, What’s at Stake and Initiatives, CETIM, 2016, Geneva, www.cetim.ch)

 

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

schuftan@gmail.com

 

All 400+ Readers are now available in my new website http://www.claudioschuftan.com

 

Postscript/Marginalia

Not all corporations are averse to responsibilities in the field of human rights. TNCs upholding HR and investing in best practices across contractual and production chains ought to have a clear interest in movement towards developing a binding instrument in regard to TNCs, and other business enterprises in the area of HR. An instrument at the global level will help avoid illegitimate corporate competition that could be achieved through exploiting differences in the applied standards and in mechanisms available to uphold the implementation of rights. (South Centre, Policy Brief No. 32, Geneva, October 2016)

-“Whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation, do take sides! Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” (Elie Wiesel)

Indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor — never her/his victim. In denying their humanity, we betray our own. (Eric Friedman)

-As we persistently propose the adoption of a new HR paradigm, we cannot work with our youth from our desks or facing the old blackboard, treading the old line. We have the responsibility to push them to grow new wings, to face the wind –and fly. (Jaime Breilh)

 

Following the added piece I shared with you two weeks ago on the visionary excerpt from Henry Miller –and given the important change we expect since last week in America– allow me to share with you another very relevant comment:

 

One of the details of understanding human psychology is how a person’s unconscious fear works in a myriad ways to make them believe that they bear no responsibility for a particular problem. In an era when human extinction is now a likely near-term outcome, this is obviously particularly problematic.

 

The belief is that it is the decisions of others, and not ours, that are responsible for the dire circumstances in which we find ourselves. This belief is widespread among those who refuse to accept structural violence, such as the exploitative way in which the global economy functions, as responsible for these circumstances. In a way, this leads to blaming the victims for their circumstances leading many to say: ‘I am not responsible in any way’.

 

Actually, the way these people evade responsibility is by deluding themselves thinking that a-person-who-needs-help is ‘not contributing’ while also deluding themselves about the potential importance their own efforts may have. This is just one of many delusions that wealthy people often have to self-justify their wealth while many, many people work extremely hard and are paid a pittance (or nothing) for their time, expertise and labor. A common way in which particularly some academics evade responsibility is to offer an explanation and/or theory about a social problem, but then take no action to involve themselves to change things. Deluding ourselves that we can avoid dealing with reality, much of which happens to be extremely unpleasant and ugly, is a frightened and powerless way of approaching the world. Yet it is very common. Many people evade responsibility, of course, simply by believing and acting as if someone else, perhaps even ‘the government’, is ‘properly’ responsible. The most widespread ways of evading responsibility are to deny any responsibility for military violence while paying the taxes to finance it, denying any responsibility for adverse environmental and climate impacts while making no effort to reduce consumption, denying any responsibility for the exploitation of other people while buying the cheap products produced by their exploited (and sometimes slave) labor –all these with serious human rights connotations.

 

All of the above should not be interpreted to mean that we should all take responsibility for everything that is wrong with the world. There is, obviously, a great deal wrong and the most committed person cannot do something about all of it. However, we can make powerful choices, based on an assessment of the range of problems that interest us, to intervene in ways large or small to make a difference. This is vastly better than fearfully deluding ourselves and/or making token gestures.

 

Moreover, powerful choices are vital in this world. We face a vast array of violent challenges, some of which threaten near-term human extinction. In this context, it is unwise to leave responsibility for getting us out of this mess to others, and particularly those insane elites whose political agents (who many still naively believe that we ‘elect’) so demonstrably fail to meaningfully address any of our major human rights, social, political, economic and environmental problems.

 

You may have had a good laugh at some of the examples above. The real challenge is to ask yourself this question: where do I evade responsibility? And to then ponder how you will take responsibility in the future. (Robert Burrowes) (January 14, 2017)

 

BUSINESSES DO NOT PLAY A ‘CRITICAL ROLE’, AND CALLING ON THEM TO ENGAGE AS EQUAL PARTNERS IN A HUMAN RIGHTS-BASED DEVELOPMENT PROCESS, IS NOT CALLED FOR.

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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

schuftan@gmail.com

 

Postscript/Marginalia

-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.

THE MOST COMMON DESCRIPTION OF HEALTH INEQUALITY TRENDS AMONG AND WITHIN COUNTRIES IS THAT HEALTH INEQUALITIES ARE INCREASING: A CLEAR INFRINGEMENT OF THE HUMAN RIGHT TO HEALTH.

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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

schuftan@gmail.com

 

Postscript/Marginalia

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)

THERE IS AN OPPOSING RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN NEOLIBERALISM (AND AUTHORITARIANISM) AND THE HUMAN RIGHTS FRAMEWORK. (Gillian McNaughton) Part 2 of 2

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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

schuftan@gmail.com

 

Postscript/Marginalia

-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)

 

THERE IS AN OPPOSING RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN NEOLIBERALISM (AND AUTHORITARIANISM) AND THE HUMAN RIGHTS FRAMEWORK. (Gillian McNaughton) Part 1 of 2

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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

schuftan@gmail.com

 

New Video on Gun Violence as a Public Health Issue and Violence in the Trump Era

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For those interested, there is a new video from the series I have been doing on public health and social justice issues, all of which can be found on the videos, tv, radio page of the website at https://phsj.org/videos-tv-radio/ – feel free to share

The latest is on gun violence as a public health issue, epidemiology of violence, the nra, statutes, how women and children are affected, major studies, etc. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5cwchwu0kM

the last 17 minutes covers thoughts on the trump election, what it means viz a viz social justice for the US and the world, including violence

I talk almost the whole time, as this is what the host asked for

Martin Donohoe
http://www.publichealthandsocialjustice.org
http://www.phsj.org
martindonohoe@phsj.org

I WOULD LIKE TO SEE THE HUMAN RIGHTS READERS AS A SKIRT: LONG ENOUGH TO COVER THE SUBJECT AND SHORT ENOUGH TO BE ATTRACTIVE.#

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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

schuftan@gmail.com

 

Postscript/Marginalia

-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)

TALKING GRANDIOSELY ABOUT ‘LIBERTY’ AND ‘FREEDOM’ ALLOWS CONSERVATIVES TO IGNORE ANYTHING APPROACHING THE NEEDED TRULY DEMOCRATIC WAYS OF WORKING TOWARDS THE REALIZATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS. (Ted Greiner)

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Human Rights: Food for how to bias a thought

 

Human Rights Reader 399

 

In many countries, democracy and capitalism may actually be oxymorons (contradictory expressions) –and never forget, low intensity democracy leads to populism. (Albino Gomez)

 

Be the change you want to promote (anonymous slogan)

 

  1. There is little democracy left in our election-based political systems where the same wo/men keep trying to fight each other and where the interest of the many is buried under layers of elitist complacency. Young people know all this and seek solutions elsewhere. They know the post-war (for the North) and postcolonial (for the South) solutions will have to be abandoned, or at least seriously re-visited. We should be grateful for young generations focusing on what needs to be changed. Formal changes in rules and institutions will be indispensible though. Ethics, solidarity and human rights (HR) must be the basis from which to start. Francine Mestrum calls this ‘reciprocity based structural solidarity’ and says this is what will have to be pursued, and further says that it is local initiatives that are the way to democratically build something new, bottom up.

 

  1. If the little that is left of representative democracy is said to be ‘a higher form of human civilization’ and elections to be ‘the festival of a democracy’, then we are not including the violence, the terrorization, the corruption, the filthy speeches, the rigging, the voting booth capturing and the malpractices that go with it. (Swasthya Siksha Unnayan)

 

  1. The problem is that, ideally, democracy expects all its wings to function independently, but in a way that ultimately allows sovereignty to stay with the people. It is another matter that rulers themselves become authoritarian and behave like the worst of the emperors. Those who ought to ensure that democracy functions in the interest of the people are the judges who, in theory, have the power to interpret and apply the law. The debate about whether the judiciary or the executive is supreme is an ongoing discussion. Moreover, on HR issues, journalists are too often failing us in the standards, the rigor and the ethics they apply. None of this has been helped by the new digital technology that promotes very short stories or sound bites. In fact, things have deteriorated to such an extent today that news columns can be bought. It is an open secret that several stories are nothing more than paid news. Some leading newspapers feel no shame in selling the space to whoever wants to buy it. For them, it is purely a question of revenue –forget democracy. (Kuldip Nayar)

 

  1. Are we living in a post-ideologies and post-parties era? Is being on the left or on the right becoming increasingly irrelevant? Without ideologies, politics are becoming just acts of administrative action, where differences disappear. Parties without ideologies carry little motivation and identity. Gone are the times when they were based on strong membership with a vibrant youth wing. Parties are becoming just movements of opinions which mobilize citizens only to vote in temporary campaigns, where hired experts of marketing tools and other instruments of mass communication have replaced debates on actual visions and values. More important yet, the Internet and new technologies have changed how people relate to politics. The relationship between the parties and voters is no longer direct and vertical, as it was at the time of the radio and of TV. Voters still use the TV, but more and more the Internet as their primary instrument of information. Clearly, the great popular meetings filling public squares are something of the past. Is the Internet destroying good politics? The net is progressively reducing the power of the traditional system of information for people now immune to the traditional information systems like the printed press and even TV. (Roberto Savio)

 

What we are left (or right) with

 

  1. Will the traditional political elite be able to learn lessons from reality and change austerity for growth, discard banks as a priority, come back to a debate of ideas and visions, values and ideals, begin to discuss at least social remedies in the face of the disasters of an unregulated globalization? –and growing violence?* (R. Savio)

*: Winston Churchill famously stated that it is always better to “jaw, jaw than to war, war.”

 

  1. Will the traditional political left get its act together and rally around HR? Their leaders tell themselves: “Deep down we are struggling for the same, but too many shades of thinking separate us”. [As opposed to this, the traditional right leaders tell themselves: “Many shades of thinking separate us, but deep down we are on the same page and have a common objective, don’t we?”].** (Politika, Chile)

**: ‘The Right’ has it clear what it wants and what it rejects. ‘The Left’, when it is divided (and it always is), immediately shows its key shortcomings, namely: leadership and a common program of action.

 

6a. Because ideology also plays a key role elsewhere, this brings us to the equally hot topic of governance. [Governance is the tradition and institutions that determine how authority is exercised].

 

Good governance needs to be measured by more than the number of meetings where jawing occurs, but also by who’s invited to do the talking

 

Not being facetious, what is needed for better global governance is not convergence, but rather more dancing together… or better, what is actually needed is not negotiators trying to fit into the same shoes, but rather taking off their shoes as a gesture of equality.

 

  1. The problems States face when negotiating with other states at the global level is to be found in their divergent interests and ideologies and their unequal wealth and resources. This invariably results in conflicts as relates to finding the solutions they can eventually agree-upon. There is a glaring neglect of true efforts to find common interests and ideas that are to benefit humanity and are not constrained by national physical, political and mental borders’ interests; the result is watered-down initiatives, resolutions declarations or whatever. (adapted from Kelley Lee)

 

  1. Newly proposed governance tools, even the so-called whole-of-government approaches, have proven insufficient to the task. (Olivier de Schutter) Political negotiations involve complex political processes over prolonged periods of time with a predicable conciliatory outcome inevitably dominated by the same old tensions between rich and poor counties. (F. Sassi) Power imbalances and the ensuing impacts on decisions taken should not merely be seen as ‘inconvenient obstacles’, because they invariably end up taking center stage. (IPES)

 

  1. Multilateralism creates a false confidence that global governance is adequate. On the contrary, if its outcomes are shaped by the interplay of national interest perspectives generated from highly unequal circumstances, it is naïve to think that global interests will be adequately served. (Richard Falk) The challenge is making multi-actor governance work for the HR of those lacking the necessary power to have not only voice, but influence.

 

  1. The network model of governance highlights how power is mobilized through nodes that link ideologically linked groups (in political and HR terms, basically two). Each group ultimately aims to alter the distribution of power more in their favor. This is the logic of the approach public interest civil society organizations and social movements are using to achieve political change (…and so do their opposing forces, but only to keep the status-quo). (adapted from David Legge)

 

  1. If we take the example of the needed global mobilization aimed at democratizing all instances global health governance, we have to be clear that this objective is not separate from, but very much part of, a global mobilization effort of a wider perspective. To treat global health governance as somehow independent of global economic and political governance is outright absurd. Simply said, proclaiming that the challenges of global health governance can be dealt independently plays the important political role aimed at obscuring the vested interests and power relations at play. (D. Legge)

 

Welcome to the Human Rights Hive

 

  1. Here is an interesting novel theory: The value of being connected is not in just-being-networked; it also is in arriving-at-a-shared-opinion and collectively-moving-into-action-towards-the-desired-outcome. This is why the concept of a hive is a smarter one, as it has now evolved from the concept of a network. The hive is bigger than the sum of its parts. The hive calls for: i) increasing the frequency of interactions, and ii) creating a higher level of synchronicity between members of the hive. This produces stronger ties between individual members and allows the hive to act collectively. As we are moving towards the idea of achieving more with less, hives will beat networks. If you want to survive, do not just build a network. You have to build a hive, and eventually a ‘hivemind’. In that sense, a network is a neutral description of how connections between composite parts form a system. The hive learns collectively and this is how the hive makes informed decisions in response to a changing external environment; in short, it becomes more effective. Hives produce stronger ties between individual members and allows them, as a hive, to act collectively. Because of the increased frequency of interactions, a hive behaves more intelligently. It ongoingly responds; interactions get everyone on the same page so as to work in sync aligned around shared goals. (Arjun Sethi)

 

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

schuftan@gmail.com

 

Breaking News: All HR Readers, from No.1 on, are now available in my new website www.bodega-vn.com

 

Postscript/Marginalia

-Political will is usually understood as a greater resolve on the part of states. But political will is not owned by politicians –who usually act only in response to consistent and compelling pressure from claim holders. Therefore, it is not a lack of political will, but rather the accumulation of a political will by the powerful to oppose or stall, in our case, the implementation of progressive policies that tackle HR abuses.

-In the corridors of governance, we can often hear the haves say: “Other things being equal, the safer option is obviously the better one”. But other things are not equal….

-In the corridors of governance, we can often hear the have-nots say: “We had the best slogans, they won the war”. (Spanish Civil War) [Is this because it is which voices, and at what decibel levels, are the ones that ultimately clinch decision-making…?].

 

A Social Justice Take on the 2016 from Martin Donohoe, Public Health and Social Justice Website – Re-post with additional link

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Re-posting, as some have had problems accessing link.

 Please forgive the blatant self-promotion……hopefully some will find this interesting, since it touches a little on the candidates, but more on how various social justice objectives are/are not being (and can be) achieved in the US – host gave me permission to pretty much rant for an hour
Social justice take on the 2016 election. Conversations with Dr Don (cable television program), October, 2016. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfOq8V0JR_w.
If any problems accessing this link, you might try https://www.youtube.com/user/friendlydon1 instead, then clicking on my show P0720.
Covers American democracy and exceptionalism, a variety of domestic and international social justice issues, and how to create a progressive and more just society.
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WHEN WE TALK ABOUT THE SDGs, WE MUST TALK ABOUT WHAT WE MUST DO TODAY TO ARRIVE WHERE WE WANT TO BE TOMORROW. THIS COMPELS US TO ADOPT AND APPLY THE HUMAN RIGHTS FRAMEWORK –NOW.

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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…. (http://scalingupnutrition.org/) 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

schuftan@gmail.com

 




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