RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

writing for godot


Written by   
Saturday, 06 October 2018 16:26


It is politically delicate to interfere in the very limited (shrinking?) national space for effective human rights action


-As Amnesty International proclaims, “while our challenges may never be greater, the will to fight back is just as strong.”

-An up-to-date fair assessment of the global prospects for HR should induce concern rather than surrender; a call to action rather than a cry of despair. (Kenneth Roth)


9. The above being true, it is more necessary than ever to defend the principles of HR that are anchored in common universal values. We know Public Interest Civil Society Organizations’ HR activities are not always welcome at the national level, especially when they criticize breaches of fundamental rights through campaigning, raising awareness, and undertaking HR and civic education, as well as advocacy and litigation, or via watchdog activities and shadow reports. In all these activities, these PICSOs step-in to make up for social aspects the sate should be addressing, but does not (or not adequately so) such as in the cases of healthcare and social services. (Michel O’Flaherty)


10. What unfortunately emerges is a HR movement forced to re-fight and re-litigate battles it once thought were won. Why? Because implicit in the liberal HR narrative is the idea that, once binding legal norms are set, realities on the ground will eventually conform to them. But laws (and their enforcement) are inseparable from politics, rather than above it. What is clear, however, is that the global balance of power has tilted away from governments committed to HR norms and toward those indifferent or actively hostile to these norms.


11. What the HR movement has been unwilling to do is accept some of the blame for the greatly weakened position in which it finds itself. This is predictable. The needed approach now is to go beyond mere tactical adjustments. Economic globalization does not entail moral globalization. We know this. Do HR, therefore, look like a collection of doctrines that are not possible in the-world-as-it-actually-is-today? Deeper moral and political reasons explain why HR have failed to live up to what, in retrospect, seem like completely outlandish expectations for what they could achieve. Might one argue that the world will be better off in the long run, as the HR doctrine will eventually lead to the desired transformations of reality on the ground? Is this precisely the mistaken assumption that has thrown/deadlocked the HR movement into stagnation, as democracy is rolled back across the globe and authoritarianism is growing ever stronger? Human rights activists’ calls to action with business as usual are thus not enough, given that the move away from democracy and toward authoritarianism since old recipes are highly unlikely to reverse this situation in the foreseeable future. (David Rieff)

Bottom line: Human rights in an unequal David/Goliath world


-Speaking about the bible, are human rights really the secular church of the last 70 years?


12. ‘Rights’ is an inescapable word in modern politics. But asserting rights is easier than demarcating them; should they be just civil and political, or also social and economic? (This is a question long settled!) Must they rest on international or national laws, or do they embody ‘self-evident’ truths?  Human rights ideology and neoliberalism are certainly not twins. As much as they can be ill-defined, who would not prefer HR to barbarism? (S. Moyn, Mitchell Cohen)


13. Homo economicus is, as Amartya Sen says, a social moron. Being optimistic for a change, as HR are gaining legitimacy, the dominant economic paradigm is facing a crisis of legitimacy (says somebody from the IMF, not me). You just need to look at the still rising inequality and economic insecurity and at the impunity of those responsible for the financial crisis of 2008, as well as at a globalization that privileges large corporations and the financial elite. There is no way to divorce values from economic deliberations: The ethical paradigm of neoclassical economics centers on homo economicus who is driven by self-interest to seek the maximization of subjective material preferences. But is homo economicus an accurate reflection of human nature? No. Human beings are hardwired to cooperate and to uphold moral norms. Neoliberalism endorses egoism, elevates material pursuits and ignores ethical formations. Human rights encourage people to cultivate pro-social traits and to suppress those that are selfish and aggressive. As Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum stressed, the unfolding capabilities of humans pertains to their ability to do or be what they value doing or being. They were talking about capabilities free from impediments. Decent work, as a capability fulfilled, is a vital dimension of HR --a core source of dignity, purpose and social contribution.


14. The common good in HR is understood as excluding no one, so it cannot be disaggregated into the sum of individual goods. This approach has brought enormous ethical advances, chiefly through its emphasis on HR being universal thus excluding cultural relativism. Respecting laws that respect property rather than moral norms represents a moral blind spot since it is precisely this mentality that fuels massive inequality, financial instability and the environmental crisis. Beware, it becomes too easy to reduce value judgments to subjective preferences so that inculcating the values of homo economicus leads people to suppress empathy and solidarity in favor of egoism and opportunism.


15. Universalism is deeply embedded in modern moral philosophy. We must recognize that we are socially embedded beings with a deep attachment to community as the locus of civic identity, meaning and purpose. This is key to understanding the backlash against globalization. In this context, the SDGs lay out only the contours of a common good thus delineating only some of the basic requirements of human flourishing in each country* alongside the specific responsibilities of wealthier nations towards poorer ones.

*: We cannot forget that The SDGs 17 goals were predicated on the idea that economic progress could no longer be evaluated without reference to social inclusion and environmental sustainability. But is this what we are seeing…?


We must restore ethical reflection to the heart of economic reasoning

16. We also must re-center policy making on the common good, as well as re-embed ethical education and HR learning in economics and business programs. After all, economics emerged as a sub-branch of moral philosophy and it must return to its roots. (all the above taken from Anthony Annet, F+D, the IMF journal (!), March 2018)


17. So you want to change the world alone? We are not alone! What happens is that we are all spread far and wide… But do not despair, we have started to converge and to get together. (Matias A. Cepeda) Stand up and speak out on HR’s core founding values. We are not living in ordinary times, and it is not enough to adhere to HR from afar. Make your 2018-2019 resolution: On a daily basis, practice The Three Ps of HR: Patience, Perseverance and Passion. (Alfred de Zayas)


18. And to close, some more Galeano

  • Even today, international law is mostly the daughter of the law of the conquerors.
  • The ‘international order’ preaches justice, but is based on injustice and depends on it.
  • It is as simple as this: The stronger our voices and our influence the world over, the less impunity the holders of power will enjoy.
  • The general does not invalidate the particular; it helps situate it properly.
  • Solidarity is unfortunately out of fashion.
  • Is it not time for us to address dispersed lost dignities instead of adding lamentations?
  • The HR movement has much to be criticized for, yes, but also much to celebrate. HR work helps us to awaken ‘the secret muscles of human dignity’. (Eduardo Galeano, Apuntes para Fin de Siglo)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

Your comments are welcome at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it your social media marketing partner

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.