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writing for godot

Suffering is not increased by the numbers of sufferers; one body can contain all the suffering the world can feel. (Graham Greene, The Quiet American)

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Sunday, 10 May 2020 16:57

Food for a human rights outrageous thought  ‘Suffering, solidarity and HR’


Human Rights Reader 526


1. Too bad: We have been deeply intimidated by the magnitude of the human rights (HR) problem. Is it that we have imprisoned ourselves within our own skepticism, resignation and cynicism about the inevitability of HR violations being a fact of life?? (C. Lovelace)


2. Solidarity is supposed to mean mutual help and support, not just ‘assistencialism’ (from the Spanish). Solidarity is an ethical gesture of moral consciousness, an ethico-political act; it addresses causes, mobilizes, organizes. Assistentialism only lessens/mitigates the negative effects of HR violations. The problem is the-silent-majority’s-leniency-towards-a-system-that-is-rotten, that cares painfully little about solidarity and that allows excesses and HR violations by states as failing duty bearers. The latter often react defensively when called to order on issues of violations claiming this falls in the realm of their sovereignty. But the sovereignty of states must no longer be used as a shield for gross violations of HR.


3. We need to humbly take conscious note of how irrelevant we are (and have been) to really influence the deep causes of HR violations. Otherwise, we deceive ourselves --and those we purport to support and serve. Our technical professional entry point(s) and modus operandus to address the basic causes of maldevelopment is no match to the type and magnitude of the political forces behind the status-quo that we need to confront* to achieve sustainable, HR-based development. There are simply no social aspirins. (Michel Latham)

*: Beware: the confrontation may as well come not from states, but from the forces of fundamentalism.


4. We further need to examine the processes that lead to widespread HR violations so as to identify the myths behind those processes and to show how the contradictions on which they rest are generated by the political needs of the more powerful in society at a given moment of history. This means we not only have to unveil the workings of the HR violators, but also have to create a space from which we can then forcefully speak out.


Where then is the human rights outrage to be found? (George Kent)

5. Widespread child mortality does not result from murder, but arguably it results from a form of negligent homicide. Many of those deaths are avoidable. It is important to distinguish between one-off incidents and repetitive patterns.

  • If people are consistently harmed from using tobacco, opioids, or are exposed to pesticides, the manufacturers should be held accountable.
  • If a factory operates in a way that repeatedly leads to specific types of injuries to workers or the environment, the owners should be held accountable.
  • If a social order regularly and predictably reproduces widespread poverty and hunger, it should be held accountable.


6. Doing things that are predictably harmful in a persistent way should be treated as intentional in some sense. Occasional unintended or ‘collateral damage’ might be forgivable, but persistent, widespread, and intense unintended damage should not be ignored. Persisting in harmful behaviors can rise to the level of committing an atrocity, even if the behavior is not undertaken for the purpose of inflicting that harm. The atrocity of widespread hunger and poverty can and should be compared with other types of mass atrocities such as genocide. No one speaks in favor of widespread hunger in the world, but that is different from a willingness to pay for action to end it. Many people, in and out of government, see hunger as someone else’s problem --just like genocide. People care about hunger, but not enough.


7. The lack of interest in HR is generally shown by the tiny budget for the operations of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights especially when considered in relation to the enormous number of ongoing violations of HR around the world.


8. This all brings to mind the commonplace calls for ending hunger in the world that end up with projects to alleviate the problem a-little-bit-here-and-a-little-bit-there.(!)


9. Imagining a world without mass atrocities such as genocide and hunger is not easy, but that work must be done. Turning away is not acceptable. (all by G. Kent)


In our struggle for human rights, we are moving into the eye of the storm


-I do not have to tell you we are facing monumental obstacles. We are talking about building counter-power to power --the only strategy that has worked in the past.


10. The time for more ‘should do this, should do that’ is over. Why should? Who should? Should by when? should ‘the SDGs’ or should we/you? ‘Should’ is directed at faceless ‘addressees’! Instead, what is needed is help to empower, help to organize and help to mobilize claim holders for them to decide what to demand needs to be done.


11. For people to actively embrace HR beyond ‘should’, rights need to be made both more relevant and enforceable (because communities are unfortunately more concerned with needs than with HR).


12. What this calls for is to prompt HR actors (us) to rethink their (our) traditional doubts with regard to the role of the economic systems, and prompt them (us) to adopt a more frontal critique of neoliberal economic orthodoxy. Reducing inequality and fulfilling HR are simply not possible without a radical redistribution of resources, wealth and power. There is a clear message emerging from the streets that HR actors should get behind: There can be no democracy without economic and social justice. For this reason, any durable resolution to the current unrests we see the world over must have economic and social rights accountability at its core. (Ignacio Saiz)


13. The agenda for you as a progressive HR thinker and doer ought thus to include:

a) Sustain your attention on the most burning problems from a big picture perspective,

b) Join a global network; do not stay in your living room or office,

c) Your call is to create a movement, not apply yet a new methodology (the latter can only be a small part of the puzzle; it can be a toolbox --and tools evolve as they are used), and

d) As a social actor, you will need to be/become a technician with a political agenda.


14. So, what, as an individual and in your organization, are you doing that is HR related? What ought you be doing from an equality and HR perspective? If nothing, why not?


15. Although it may be painful, each of us ought to stop for a while, look back, and see how much of what we can offer to society we are really giving and who is profiting from what we actually give. For example, are applied social sciences just for science’s sake really a tenable prospect or goal…?


16. The key is to be committed. The modern world holds no place for innocence. But the innocent remain with us; they are not always quiet and when vocal, they are as unreliable as smart advertising. Innocence can and does cause harm; a sense of mission is needed to eventually be free from guilt. (John Cassidy) The world does not hold a place for paternalism either: Paternalism is still in our midst and creates havoc through its dominance and the misinformation it hides behind.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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