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writing for godot

HUMAN RIGHTS ARE UNDER AUTOCRATIC THREAT. (The Lancet)

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Written by schuftan@gmai.com   
Saturday, 18 May 2019 21:54

 

1. Human rights violations propagated by autocratic leaders throughout 2018 and 2019 continue to imperil the lives of the world's most vulnerable populations. (Human Rights Watch World Report 2019.) These violations are looked at by too many with ‘serene disregard’.

 

2. The rise of resistance against the current autocracy must, therefore, not lose momentum in 2019. Global unity is a force that needs to be harnessed to truly shift the power dynamics in 2019 and to make it a year of triumph for both human rights (HR) and health. It will be a tough journey. (The Lancet)

 

The agenda of human rights has been able to link intellectuals and activists from many countries. But it has yet to become a journey towards setting up a truly mass movement (Roberto Savio)

 

-As long as the (hopefully mass) movement for HR does not seek to dismantle the structures of power that breed and sustain inequalities, conflicts and violations will linger on.

-Yes, for change to occur, a critical mass is needed --and HR activists think about human struggles as being trans-generational. (Claudio Sepulveda)

 

3. While it is easier to build a mass participation organization against a common (single issue) enemy, it requires a lot more dialogue to build a HR movement. Take, for instance, the World Social Forum. It was the closest thing to a world movement as unelected people met to take decisions over the course of the world. Certainly, the WSF was fundamental for creating the awareness that a holistic approach is necessary to fight injustice, climate change, an uncontrolled finance, the growing social injustice, etc. But the WSF unfortunately only became a space for meeting, not for organizing actions. Actions were to be taken by those participating engaging in separate alliances; the WSF would not make declarations or plans of action. Its International Council was not a governing body, but just a facilitating structure. The subsequent erratic organization of their meetings made that media did not come any longer, as they had no clear interlocutors, as spokesmen were forbidden. Even a declaration on something that would not create any scission, like condemnation of wars, or appeals on climate action were forbidden. The result has been that WSF meetings became like spiritual exercises: useful for those who participated, coming out with more individual strength, but without any impact on the world. This is an extremely important handicap. (R. Savio) A lot for the HR movement to learn here.

 

Does not the UN profile and agenda quite accurately reflect the dominant type of international relations? (Boaventura de Sousa Santos)

 

-The UN can be a brilliant HR organization or a pathetic one depending on what path it choses for the future.

-As opposed to many a declaration from global UN summit meetings, the wording of HR arguments is not soft and is binding.

 

4. At this time, as HR activists, our most important task is to identify the forces and the processes that are blocking the implementation of the principles of the Universal Declaration of HR (UDHR) and other ratified UN HR covenants so as to make sure these solemn documents are not discarded as a nuisance by the conservative and the reactionary wave riding the planet, a wave that is totally opposed to the philosophy behind the UDHR and subsequent covenants and thus is a menace to democracy.

 

5. The true enemies are those that, up to now, have disguised as friends and get involved in mobilizing the candid and the naive (unfortunately, a good part of the world’s population)*. They have also disguised as democrats, as defenders of HR (even Nestle has recently done so), of the rule of law, of a fair access to the justice system, of cultural diversity and of sexual and racial equality. It is because of this that they are so dangerous. The ideological and mental artifacts used are packaged and disguised as non-ideological. Their greatest effectiveness resides in not telling the truth. They have set up centers of technological innovation for the massive production of ever more sophisticated propaganda and misinformation tools that include the psychological manipulation of the public opinion using political marketing techniques that lead to a mix of moral and religious disciplining. (B. de Sousa Santos)

*: ‘Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt; denial is a powerful animal’; some stay there most of the time. I mean, these ‘some’ are too often deeply intimidated by the magnitude of the HR problem. They have imprisoned themselves in their own skepticism, resignation and sometimes cynicism about the inevitability of HR violations being a ‘fact of life’. (Chris Lovelace) Carl Jung wrote: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

 

6. A case of logic (a syllogism)

  1. Successful advocacy actually comes from political activism.
  2. Advocacy is part of the HR struggle.
  3. What struggle? Ultimately class struggle.**
  4. If 3. is the struggle to engage-in, advocacy is a dialectical exercise and boils down to power brokering so as to change the balance of power in people’s favor.
  5. Therefore, advocacy is about gaining the upper hand and, gaining positions of strength.
  6. Therefore, advocacy is about empowerment of progressively growing numbers of individuals and organizations.***
  7. If 1. through 6. are true, what are the more concrete challenges for us in HR work?****

**: The allocation of resources is seldom only in response to objective needs; it is dependent on the prevailing class interests and class alliances.

***: Collective advocacy is to be understood as challenging public agencies or other powerful people/organizations by placing concrete demands.

****: Civic education and HR Learning, as key concrete challenges, are to provide the desperately needed functional HR knowledge to both claim holders and duty bearers as regards their rights and how to claim/discharge them.

 

7. To keep in mind (yet another set of my iron laws)

  • Human rights cannot be implemented as a finite project.
  • Projects and programs many of us get involved-in are implemented to achieve pre-set outcomes rather than having a HR orientation. Let’s face it: At the global level, the social and HR contents often are an afterthought.
  • Existing global policies are hardly open for debate --even if totally unsound in HR terms. They give property rights priority over HR. It is actually the ‘open markets’ paradigm that leads to an absence of openness in political discussions. (Diane Elson, UNRISD News 24, 2001)
  • We need to recognize that there are times when shielding behind national sovereignty is actually hiding grave HR violations. (adapted from John Kenneth Galbraith)
  • Human rights should not be theorized in the sense of claims being staked in a vacuum, but rather as a means of mobilizing a struggle from below based on specific local contexts of denied entitlements. (CODESRIA)
  • Human rights violations result from human neglect (purposeful or not); human complacency perpetuates them; human resolve can eradicate them.
  • Human rights work needs to dump violence and to use its energy to channel it into the more positive elements in its struggle.
  • A belief that HR are politically controversial while humanitarian rights are safe is totally flawed. A further belief that attention to HR compromises neutrality is also flawed. Human rights are impartial, but not neutral!
  • Promoting HR is not necessarily progressive; to be progressive, HR action must bring legitimization and empowerment.
  • In the HR discourse, political participation is to be understood as influencing decision-makers proactively (including legislators, ministries, judges…).
  • We cannot be more concerned about being scientifically correct than being programmatically effective. Human rights can be over-studied and under-acted upon. (Kul Gautam)

 

8. So, do not underestimate! We are taking-on formidable enemies. We need a response capacity to address local, national and global events so as to force policy makers to change.

 

9. If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito. It is not the nice guys who bring about social change; nice guys look nice, because they are conforming.

 

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

www.claudioschuftan.com

 

Postscript/Marginalia

-Some say the UDHR missed mentioning one human right, namely the right of every human being to, in life, express the full potential of her/his genetic potential/make-up. (Fernando Monckeberg)

-The pains that remain with people are related to the liberties they lack and the rights they have been robbed. (Louis Casado)

 

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