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writing for godot

Human rights are advanced by reaching consensus through dialogue, enquiry, or sometimes confrontation.

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Sunday, 29 March 2020 00:26

Human rights: Food for a sometimes confrontational thought  ‘consensus building in HR’


Human Rights Reader 522


1. As I have said repeatedly, human rights (HR) represent ethical positions. A right, however, does not mean the same in the HR system as applied as it does in international law. Human rights are not necessarily always enforceable, but are instead, broad general standards that must be given concrete meaning through more specific national action. National legislation is indeed required to better enforce HR.


2. Although many laws are based on ethical consensus, ethics is not the same as law. Unethical behavior can normally only be sanctioned by blame; unlawful behavior can always be sanctioned by punishment executed by a judicial body, national or international. Legally enforceable rights must thus be pursued at the national level. In this, we have to reject all kinds of moral skepticism, moral relativism and value neutrality. We need a non-ethnocentric ethical consensus, a cross-cultural moral minimum.* (Amartya Sen)

*: When we act in a moral way, our self-esteem is enhanced. If we fail to act morally, we feel guilty. But ponder: Moral attitudes do not in themselves give rise to moral behavior. Amoral are actions in large part determined by their consequences. If we are rewarded from an action, we tend to repeat it; if we are blamed or punished, we are less likely to do it again.


3. Also to ponder is the fact that the spirit of the law transcends the limitations of the letter of the law; the letter of the law must never be used against the spirit of the law. (Montesquieu). Globalization cannot and must not fall back on positivism, legalisms and loopholes but, once and for all, globalization must fall back on ethics, on direct democracy, on respect for the environment, on international solidarity and on human dignity/human rights.** (Alfred de Zayas)

**: This is why Caroline Voyles and Mariana Chilton, in their piece on HR in The Times of Neoliberalism, rightfully ask even if rhetorically: “Respect, Protect + Fulfill or Reject, Neglect + Regress?” [A reminder: Respect: do no harm to others. Protect: prevent harm to others by 3rd parties. Fulfill: a) facilitate: help others to meet their HR, b) provide: meet others’ needs when they cannot do that by themselves. (George Kent)].


4. Yes, all states that ratified HR covenants are obliged to bring their laws and procedures in line with treaty obligations. But have they? Evidently not. It is, therefore, very important for all of you to know which treaties your country has ratified, and use this knowledge to put pressure on your government to implement and fulfill (and/or ratify) these rights. (See


5. As it turns out, constitutions and government-that-have-actually-incorporated-UN-HR-Covenants’-clauses (often not really knowing what their obligations really were to be…)*** do allow claim holders to demand what was ratified --only that claim holders do not know this(!) --and it is only quite drastically raising overall social expectations that will eventually translate into plans for the progressive realization of HR. Therein lies our challenge.

***: Sadly, too often, the pompous signing of an international HR treaty is just given as much consideration as the opening of a new shopping mall…. (adapted from Karl Kraus)


6. As opposed to the soft and non-binding declarations of global summits (‘summits of the lowest common denominator’) our HR plans of action must depict what is achievable in real political terms and ought to go for broke to implement them. Moreover, in the same line, we must link our analytical HR work with class analysis. Why? Because in HR work we cannot look at people without a history, without the cultural markers of class****; we cannot pretend these are invisible.

****: In the class that most of us come from the overriding emphasis is placed on individualism and consumerism.


In this context, how much is research on HR a priority?


7. How much will new knowledge make a difference? If it is to do so, the focus ought to be on participatory research and on HR impact assessment analyses. The question is: Are the social sciences making HR violations and actions the focal point of their analyses and priorities? If not, why not? (Elisa Martinez) In the words of Nancy Krieger, our science will only be as clear and error-free as our (unbiased) thinking.


In human rights work, it is key to persevere morally on non-negotiable goals --even if they are unattainable


- The social production/consequence of indifference: Some of us only have ‘internalized’ HR ideals, i.e., HR ideals that stay in the back of our minds without the capacity to bring them to the fore; the challenge is to stand by what we really are. (Luis Weinstein)


8. The ethics behind the HR paradigm is centered around the idea of lobbying for and against moral concerns, for instance, arguing that going for half is not a compromise, but a treason to one’s beliefs; that is, in HR work, one has to fight for total victory. (Peter Drucker)


9. But the UN may be going only for half… In my view, it is helping to establish a sort of ‘stakeholder capitalism’ as a governance model that is far removed from HR’s aims.


10. Actually, the real dividing line is not between those who share a particular identity and those who do not, but between those who fight for the rights of others and those who oppose those rights. (Susan Rosenthal)


11. Mind you, adopting the HR framework is not inherently ‘liberatory’ or revolutionary; it fulfills this function only when we ask that it directs us towards a HR fulfillment end.***** (Belle Hooks) Consider the framework of free trade: It is clearly contradictory to the HR framework. Furthermore, (free?) trade agreements are binding and enforced. Human rights treaties are often ignored and rely on voluntary compliance.

*****: Let us face it: Decisions in the development policy arena are usually based on information sources of many origins, including superstition, scientific and statistical data, conventional wisdom or common sense, political pressures…This is why we use the HR conceptual framework to debunk some of these misleading sources of information.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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Dr Luis Weinstein’s* credo


-A specter is haunting the world, the specter of humanization.


  • Human rights activists are the blue-collar workers of humanization; they are the ones called upon to search-for and denounce the contradictory elements in the justice system, as well as to denounce injustice, oppressive power, and inhumanity.
  • Struggling for HR is actually a step in the direction of the long road to homo sapiens. …that is if we do keep alive our now millennia-long quest to reach the sapiens stage…
  • Among our many differences as humans, what unites us is the fact that we do not know (or forget) who we really are. There are phenomena that, at some point in our lives, happen not only to us, but happen to a great majority of humanity; unfortunately we hide and negate this. This is a call to be critical about how we are facing our residence on planet earth; it pertains to the dignity and humility of us being aware of our limits as mortals. We simply must escape the seduction of feeling we are homeowners in planet earth! (Is the planet its own owner…?)
  • The sun moves and our planet follows; …and the world turns on its axis --without borders, without customs, without passports and without visas.
  • Hope has to be understood as de-facto engagement. (A small pleasure can become a great power, because sparks can and do lead to fires). But just keep in mind: To be on the same wavelength does not necessarily mean being truly together. Deceptions are often part of being together, of being comrades; but such deceptions give us the opportunity to grow. So ponder: a) Is militancy the best possible tactical and strategic option in HR work? b) We are ‘possibility beings’ able to take up our collective destinies as a species in a finite environment; this includes the possibility for us to insert ourselves right in the center of the ongoing planetary dialogue, with courage without blinking and holding hands with each other; with courage to let go of fears and truly decisively engaging.
  • Despite our desire for depth/profundity, many among us end up adhering to a materialistic religion (the religion of things).
  • Is suffering the springboard to take the road of spirituality/religion? Suffering is the mourning of people for not being able to fly; it reminds us that enjoyment is not something that is given naturally; it invariably questions the inevitability of evil. On the other hand, high spirituality can bring about a sidelining, an ignoring of the ravages of human suffering.
  • Base your judgments about people always examining the eyes with which you are carrying out such appreciations.
  • Having only internalized ideals without externalizing them into action to the best of your abilities is non-contributory. You have to be consequent/take a compromise with what you really are deep down.
  • Intolerance and devious ambiguity are signals of authoritarianism. Tolerance is needed as a first step in creativity. Many children worry that the grownups have lost the ability to play… Their self-criticism requires more than empty verbalization; it requires a process of truly opening up, not one in which they defend their questionable actions. (…think Greta Thunberg).

*: ‘Lucho’ was our intellectual mentor while medical students in Chile. your social media marketing partner
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