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writing for godot

THE MOST IMPORTANT HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIONS ARE LOCAL, NOT IN GENEVA OR IN NEW YORK.

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Written by schuftan@gmai.com   
Monday, 25 February 2019 04:05

 

Professionalization of human rights work

 

1. Global human rights organizations do important work, often voicing the concerns of the voiceless. However, organizing human rights (HR) work around the idea that it-must-be-led-by-high-level-skilled-professionals-in-large-international-organizations can and does disempower local people whose rights are at stake.* Global organizations could do much more to help local people find their own voices. (George Kent)

*: People’s empowerment means increasing their own capacity to define, analyze, and act on their problems. An empowering program is one that steadily reduces the claim holders’ need for it. It builds the capacity of individuals and communities to make their own good (or bad…) decisions on the myriad problems they face.

 

People who have had everything else taken away from them should simply not also have their problems taken away

 

2. Foreign and domestic development agencies simply must devote more of their resources to foster claim holders empowering themselves to act more effectively where they live and ‘where it hurts’. Global agencies are simply not doing enough to help local people find ways to provide for themselves.

 

3. The way things are, there are serious limitations to the capacity of claim holders to act on their own behalf. In some cases, the obstacles can indeed be circumvented by linking them to existing proactive advocacy groups where people with similar concerns work and learn from each other. They can pool their resources and, where it may be important for security reasons, can gain anonymity. Some may collaborate in writing reports and submitting complaints about particular HR grievances. On this, there are many ways in which professionals in the HR arena or otherwise can work together with claim holders on the ground.

 

4. Activating claim holders is important in every sort of situation. You may have certain rights in your health care organization or in your neighborhood. If you do not know what those rights are and do not know how to strive for them, they mean little to you, and you are likely to fall silent. Any well-functioning HR system must include safe and effective mechanisms to ensure the engagement of claim holders. If they remain silent, the system has failed --as simple as that.

 

To use human rights to advance social justice in our current tempest we need to break free from the dominant neoliberal narrative in the world (Alicia Yamin)

 

5. Human rights are set out and protected by law --international treaties, national constitutions, and many other laws do set out key HR protections and guarantees. Human rights advocates try to have these laws enforced, including by taking cases to court. But courts are not necessarily rights-friendly venues! Costly delays, obstructive procedural rules, legal chicanery, and unsympathetic judges may individually or in combination mean even the most compelling cases of injustice are dismissed. The risks of failure are even higher in countries where the judiciary’s full independence and impartiality is in doubt. Judges may be wary of upholding HR when repressive and/or discriminatory laws enjoy wide support and are championed by politicians (e.g., gay rights). (Open Global Rights) We would thus be wise to acknowledge the limitations of judicial approaches to achieve more than lukewarm mitigation in many contexts since there are inherent dangers in using strategic litigation when judiciaries have little independence, authority or capacity. Moreover, strategic litigation always had to be --and now more than ever must be-- only one tool to defend and protect HR. This is why we need to break free from the dominant neoliberal narrative in the world… (A. Yamin)

 

6. The above is further compounded by two facts:

a)     Many of our peers live in fear about others finding out they are ignorant about something as important as why the dominant neoliberal narrative fosters greater inequality and violates HR. Is it because they do not understand well enough where the world is going? (adapted from Haruki Mura Kami. Tokyo Blues, Norwegian Wood).

b)    Considering the growing nefarious impact populist-nationalist messages against HR are having, the question is how to build and deploy counter-narratives that effectively influence public opinion and citizens perceptions about their true rights and about those who truly defend them. Human rights scholar-advocates, cannot realistically expect their frame to become the common universal moral roadmap. If, as in the past, HR actions continue to fundamentally apply this top-down frame, our future will be doomed. Bridges simply have to be established with other bottom-centered frames seeking justice. (Cesar Rodriguez-Garavito)

 

…and do not take it lightly: In the North, the public came to know human rights as a problem elsewhere --not everywhere (Mona Younis)

7. In the North, they persisted to focus on what they could ‘do’ about HR, neglecting what actually needed to be done. Over the course of decades, the Northern HR community developed and professionalized its work but, for the most part, failed to reach out-to and mobilize ordinary citizens --anywhere significantly enough. As a result, the citizenry was never mobilized to actively demand their HR from those who govern. The focus of Northern citizens was mainly to leverage their governments to pressure other states, but neglected to leverage their own governments to enable those countries citizens to pressure their respective governments. The North privileged what they knew how to do over what was needed.

 

8. The gravest error arguably was (and is) to imagine that they could push governments overseas to become rights-respecting without mobilizing their respective citizenry. This meant considering and taking-on mere fixes, corrections, tweaks --all in the realm of ‘experts’-- thinking these would suffice. The fundamental transformations or shifts in power needed --that only movements of HR claimants can achieve-- did therefore, not happen …and still do no happen.

 

9. Fortunately, local pressure groups continued --and are continuing-- to form and act in both the South and the North; regrettably without Northern support for the most part.

 

10. As a result of all this, the vast majority of humanity came to know HR, if at all, as irrelevant, disingenuous, and/or inaccessible. Those hostile to HR have readily and effectively exploited this. Only reviving the vision of all HR having to be respected by all states will point the way to what we need to do and achieve. We will know we have succeeded when states de-facto prioritize HR in their policies, legislation, budget allocations and actions, because their citizens accept nothing less. (adapted from M.Younis)

 

Bottom line

 

Being polite but stern is different from being quiet. (Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez)

 

11. We have a problem: The challenge is bigger than the commitment of most of us because, ultimately, it is not ‘the politicians’, it is us! The trouble is that once you see the problem, you cannot unsee it. And once you have seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There is no innocence. Either way you are accountable. (Arundhati Roy) Nearly 2000 years ago, Marcus Aurelius put it as: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

 

12. When the people have been pushed from being part of an active social movement to an uprising, an important qualitative difference gets triggered. Social struggles bring about violent police repression. And the powers-that-be stick to the denial that justified-social-violence is actually warranted --and this is a supreme and illegitimate form of violence in itself. ‘Furious good people’ are actually socially provoked by the economic aggression they experience day-in-day-out, by the systematic lies thrown at them and by the elitist contempt about their condition. (Frederic Lordon) Nevertheless, for HR, violence is taboo. What is essential is mass political involvement through personal or small group identification with widespread suffering and violations of human dignity.

 

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

All previous 470+ Readers can be found in www.claudioschuftan.com

Postscript/Marginalia

A brief lexicon of useful human rights concepts and synonyms:

[Throughout these, by now, many Readers I have used a number of technical HR concepts. Over the years, I have found attractive synonyms for some of these concepts; here they are in no particular order. You are welcome to use them].

 

  • Some colleagues make ‘people’s rights’ a synonym of HR.
  • Human rights violations can also be referred to as ‘neglect of HR’ or as ‘an assault on human dignity’.
  • Combatting HR violations can also be referred to as ‘defusing HR violations’.
  • Instead of using ‘to realize’ HR, you can use  ‘respect, protect and fulfill HR’.
  • Instead of using ‘claim holders forcefully demanding change’, you can use ‘claim holders staking a claim (or claims)’.
  • Instead of using ‘demanding the fulfillment of HR’, you can use ‘demanding the vindication of HR’.
  • You can use ‘to take-up one’s HR’, i .e., ‘claim holders (or aggrieved claim holders) to take up their HR’.
  • Claiming your rights can also be expressed as ‘exercising your rights’.
  • Claim holders and Duty bearers are, by definition, ‘rights-bearing individuals’.
  • The Elite can also be referred to as ‘the political class in charge’.
  • When you use Respect, you are talking about ‘cannot violate HR’;
  • When you use Protect, you are talking about ‘must prevent HR violations, must provide accessible redress and must ensure no discrimination’; [Redress means having recourse mechanisms in place; some also speak of retribution/restitution].
  • When you use Fulfill, you are talking about ‘must move towards the realization of HR and about creating an enabling environment through the allocation of sufficient resources’.  [Remember, to Fulfill includes to Provide and to Facilitate].
  • Duty bearers fulfilling their HR functions and responsibilities entail not a ‘should’, but rather a ‘can’ and a ‘must’ …a big difference here! This is why a Gap Analysis of their capacities is so needed. (Urban Jonsson)
  • Human Rights Principles are: Universality and inalienability, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness, equality and non-discrimination, participation/inclusion with a binding character and accountability (for entitlements and freedoms), as well as the rule of law. To these you can add the right to consultation and to transparency. A simplified version has been captured in the acronym PANTHER P– Participation A– Accountability N– Non-discrimination T–Transparency H– Human dignity E– Empowerment R– Rule of law.

Examples of HR Standards could be: States to cooperate internationally on HR, States to devote maximum available resources to the progressive realization of HR, advancing economic equality of women……

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