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Saturday, 09 November 2019 22:13

Human rights: Food for a realistic critical thought  ‘On social passivity’


Human Rights Reader 503


*: Does this include us all reading this?


Human rights remain far from being universalized

-A good friend tells me that the problem with many of our peers and colleagues is not their ‘dead souls’, but their ‘sleeping consciences’. (Edmundo Moure)


1. “Everything is still possible… but who if not all of us can make it become true?”. (Miquel Martí i Pol)  Only when we reach the needed threshold to overcome this passivity will we be able to start a new era where the power of reason will prevail against the power of force. The worst thing that is happening today is the-trivialization-of-the-irreversibility-of-processes that have an irretrievable effect on society and on our Earth’s habitability. It is clear that the biggest problems humanity must face is not the difference, but rather the indifference of so many potential social actors; not the recognition of the equal dignity of all human beings, but rather of the growing ‘supremacism’ and racism. Every unique human being is capable of overcoming social passivity, there lies our hope: the future must be invented, by overcoming both inertia and outdated formulas. (Federico Mayor Zaragoza)


2. What we need to push is what somebody called Disruptive Solutions. What we do not need is people feeling it is enough to sign petitions; the latter can make great noise while the signers may/do not really always care about the cause. Signers are just thinking about themselves --what the public and peers are going to think of them. “I have always been more of a conspirator than a signer. I have achieved many more things by trying to straighten them out from the bottom up than by signing protest manifestos”. (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)


Absolute and historically defined human rights


3. Human rights (HR) should be viewed, not only as the absolute yardstick that they are, but also as a synthesis resulting from a long historical process. As an absolute yardstick, HR constitute the common language of humanity. Adopting this language allows all peoples to understand other and to be the protagonists of their own history. HR thus are the ultimate norm of all politics. As a historical synthesis, HR are in constant movement; they are historically dependent; they reflect a moment in the rolling out of history; they constitute one of the few, if not the only, (semi)-universal ethical discourse we have today. (B. Boutros Ghali, Vienna, 1993).


How do we then evaluate political and/or moral actions pointing to the fulfillment of human rights?


4. It is said that morals are an individual, non-legislated attitude and behavior. But is this so? Moral precepts are very often placed above the law. …Do we fall back on the Ten Commandments…? Some say they are divine and thus universal. (Ruben Martinez C.) I let you judge…


5. What one deems good, moral or morally acceptable is relative though depending on many factors, among them cultural factors, i.e., how one perceives society and how one perceives the international order. In practice, the wielding of power gives us some examples. For instance, why do you think ‘national interest’ still is the principle states use to define their moral values? Isn’t it just because actions considered moral can either strengthen or weaken the presence and the prestige of a country mostly in the international stage? But what about morality in-country? As we review history, we see different periods with paradigm shifts in national interest and thus in what has been deemed morally  (and politically) acceptable. (adapted from Fernando Ayala) Much can be learned from critiquing present day actions carried out ‘in the national interest’; assess if hey do or do not point in the direction of fulfilling HR… (Pick any current-day autocratic leader and judge…).


6. Naming and shaming states that violate HR is a strategy that I would say no longer works as before in a world of shameless populist leaders. Nor does naming and shaming work in a fast-paced world where some of the most serious threats to HR do not come from states, but from private corporations whose social platforms can and do destabilize electoral processes in a matter of days. (Cesar Rodriguez Garavito)


Bottom line


-Already in the 18th century Montesquieu made it clear: Injustice against one individual is a threat for all.


7. With the deep needs in the realm of HR, it is clear that no actor working alone will be able to meet the rather urgent demands (society, planet). Today’s needs landscape has long surpassed any individual approach. Collective approaches must be strongly localized, as well as supported by both committed and neutral international actors. At the supra-structural level, we are talking about, engaging multilaterally, bilaterally and mini-laterally to build a new consensus and movement on HR and, at the grassroots, build this consensus with claim holders in every HR domain in many many little places. (Peter Maurer)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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Some taking stock reflections

[In order to help you further process some of the themes covered in many past Readers, I have picked up some very important ideas my dear friends from the social enterprise, United Edge, who deliver a course on the justice based approach, put together. They have done it in the form of a list of reflection questions pertaining their course. These reflections fit this Readers’ outlook and purpose like a glove. I hope that these will be reminders of some of the key HR action themes the Readers also focus-on and that they will help you in your next steps of taking the justice- and HR-based approach forward].


  • What is your organization doing to address some of the really large problems in the world today (climate change, broken economic systems, corruption and tax avoidance, unfair trade)?
  • Where do you have gaps in knowledge about HR? What can you/should you do to improve your knowledge on HR?
  • How do people react emotionally to injustice and why is this important? What does it mean to seek justice?
  • How do you contribute to some of the world's most serious problems? What about your organization? How can you change your actions from harmful or neutral, to committed ones?
  • How does your identity, your privilege and power affect the projects you work on?
  • How is your organization addressing broken systems such as capitalism, patriarchy and the way international aid works?
  • How can your organization work on being reflective (changing mental models) and being generative (changing their vision and mission) in order to contribute to longer-lasting system change?
  • How can you deal with power relations in the design process of development programs, i.e., mitigating the power of donors and privileged groups while ensuring those most affected have their voices heard and their influence enhanced?
  • How can you ensure that claim holders increasingly make changes to improve their own lives?
  • How can your organization encourage models that are more in line with a living, accountable democracy? (Democratic schools, health centers, businesses, etc.)
  • How can you better align your personal objectives to justice and HR?
  • How can you ensure your activities are more consistent with what you believe-in and how can you encourage a culture of critical thinking in your organization?
  • Are your organization’s activities truly the best way of achieving your goals?
  • Are your organization’s activities holistic and based on healthy systems (mutual benefit, shared power, sustainability, diversity, cooperation, democratically managed)?
  • What are the alternative approaches in your area of work you can strive for? What will it take for you to exert greater influence?
  • What practices do you have in place to denounce and prevent any harm that is done through your work?
  • How can you and your organization be more accountable in terms of downward, upward, inward and outward accountability? How can you improve talking about failure?
  • How can your organization ensure you are collecting the information needed to have clear evidence of your (positive or negative) impact? Think in particular about the quality of your indicators and sources of verification.
  • How does your organization use data to empower claim holders and communities?
  • What commitment will you take forward based on everything you have learned about a justice- and HR-based approach?
  • What personal qualities make you unique and help you to make a change in your work and life?


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