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writing for godot

Fewer than 10% of the world's population participates fully in political life; less still on human rights. Do you get involved in long struggles?

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Saturday, 17 October 2020 15:39

Human rights: Food for going beyond a thought   ‘New interpretations of HR’


Human Rights Reader 549


[TLDR (too long didn’t read): This Reader is about engaging in a more inclusive interpretation of HR actions beyond neoliberalism, about the role of claim holders holding duty bearers accountable and about how a misunderstanding of reality and an immoral position often reinforce each other. For a quick overview, just read the bolded text].


-The UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights is still the world's moral charter, and one that is the product of many cultures, as it combines Western enlightenment values with Confucian wisdom and Islamic insights. It still stands today as a great beacon of hope and shared global values. (Jeffrey Sachs)


1. Let me start with a disclaimer here: We are witnessing not a hasty process to create/adopt new rights, but we are engaged in the articulation of a new, maybe more inclusive, interpretations of human rights (HR). This, so as to mount yet new struggles to cover additional aspects of human dignity not necessarily considered in the existing HR covenants and conventions.* These new struggles apply the language of HR and to entitlements not so far properly covered in the HR framework. In other words, the HR framework does very much continue to be valid in our renewed struggles for justice; it is thus not so much an issue of adding new rights, but of adding to the scope and content of existing rights. (David Petrasek) From a HR perspective, it is not just about identifying emerging areas where HR have been excluded; it is about broadening our recognition of the types of interventions needed when it comes to tackling unacceptable inequalities. (Steven Jensen)

*:  There are 2 UN Covenants and 7 UN Conventions. In the realm of their respective mandates, specialized UN agencies are supposed to take international action for the achievement of these mostly universally ratified HR agreements --but are these agencies really doing so? Not if we consider: a) that a right is a categorical claim, unconditional and overriding!, b) that ultimately, human-rights-are-justified-claims towards the protection of persons’ most basic entitlements and dearest interests; c) that they are justified-priorities-that-give-people-basic-claiming-capabilities to achieve them; and d) that rights convey respect to persons-as-choosers, as active rights-claiming, choice-making agents. But, (agree with me) a wide gap still separates the rhetoric from the reality of truly HR-centered approaches. (UNRISD)


Neoliberal ideology has driven us to focus on individuals, individual victims, individual perpetrators (adapted from Angela Davis)


2. Neoliberal logic assumes that the fundamental unit of society is the individual, and I would say, the abstract individual. This logic fails to recognize that there are institutional barriers that cannot be brought down by individual determination. Neoliberal logic deters us from thinking about the really needed structural solution(s). We have been aware of the need for these structural institutional strategies at least since Marx and Engels…


3. But neoliberalism resists change even at the individual level. It rather asks the individual to adapt to conditions of capitalism, to conditions of discrimination and racism. What this ultimately means is that both victims and perpetrators relegate HR violations to the back burner of oblivion…


4. One never knows when conditions may give rise to a conjuncture such as the recent ones that have rapidly shifted popular consciousness and suddenly allowed us to move in the direction of radical change in HR. If we did/do not engage in the ongoing struggle(s) when such a moment arises, we miss taking advantage of a unique opportunity to change. And, of course, such moments are passing right now. The intensity of the demonstrations we see on our TV screens cannot be sustained over time, so here is a call to shift gears and address the key HR issues that are at stake in different arenas  around the world based on a whole set of new circumstances. (A. Davis) The shift of gears must ultimately lead to aggrieved claim holders claiming and exercising their rights by staking needed claims.


Most governments do not adopt the needed human rights strategies; let us not come up with new diversionary ones


5. It is time governments adopt and follow through with the right strategies so let social accounting really mean assessments of achievements and failures must be carried out by claim holders --not academics. Why? Because the indispensible prelude to HR accountability is about a redistribution of political and economic power that only mobilized claim holders can bring about. Consider, for instance, the ‘muscle’ needed to install an effective, progressive taxation of the wealthy… (R. Lekachman)


6. We hear a lot about the state of law --a central piece in liberal thinking-- but that only protects the privileged at the top and is indifferent about the plights of claim holders at the bottom that have been rendered marginalized. More than indifferent, the state of law, monopolized by a few, pushes the have-nots to a state of permanent need, of HR violations and of social injustice. This explains the growing movements of civil disobedience the world over. (Jorge Zabalza)


It is not enough to bring human rights violations under the spotlight; we need to make more light (Bill Clay)


7. A couple of not really rhetorical questions here ought to be: a) Are we intellectuals going to contribute to give people their freedom beyond just being a nice ‘pronouncements and proclamations avant-garde’?, b) Does not the pendulum really have to swing so as to have claim holders take the initiative …beyond nice pronouncements? and c) Are we square back to a class struggle meaning that claim holders simply have to be eager to pick up the fight for their demands to achieve equitable changes in their lives according to their established rights? We absolutely need to believe in claim holders’ ability to envision a better future!


8. Take for example what I heard an American pastor on CBC Radio’s ‘As It Happens’ unequivocally say:  “If you're silent, you're against us. It is not enough for you not be racist, you must become anti-racist. Instead of sharing with me your sentiments of guilt, fight against discrimination”. (Chad Sanders) Among many other, this also means: Go to the roots of the matter: invest in people’s rights, in food, in water and the Malthusian myth will fade in countries rendered poor --as it has already done in many of them and mostly in the countries rendered rich. (Barbra Ward)


Bottom line


-A misunderstanding of reality and an immoral position often reinforce each other. There is so much righteousness and hypocrisy that we have rightly lost faith in those who preach empty HR parlance. So many have decided to accept such empty talk so that they bow to the forces that they feel they cannot resist. (Mahatir Mohamad)

-He who lives from hopes dies starving. (Benjamin Franklin) To have hope cannot mean adopting a passive attitude in the hope that somebody will concede doing what one hopes. On the contrary, to have hope implies action! (Julio Monsalvo)


9. The inertia is so great --and the view of reality of so many among us is so distorted and entrenched-- that the likelihood of us changing the reality that is hitting us in the face is dim; neither individuals taking increased responsibility individually nor efforts at mere reactive containment strategies will do. A solution will somehow have to be imposed on us by some powerful or strategic force, either by fate or by design and it will have to be soon (COVID 19??). The answer must be to control that which fuels the problem. Radical? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely! Impossible? Is the possible likely? Unlikely. But what are the alternatives and could they do the badly needed job on time? (Charles Thomas)


10. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has. (Samina Zahar) People’s processes are autonomous, but do need to converge (!), be joined together (i.e., jointly working on a shared HR perspective) --beyond our petti silos or organizational objectives. This said, being realistic, action networks cannot be set up by money; it requires the right spirit, trust, mutual respect and great dedication to set them up --all of these take time. It is from this vantage point that we need to exert pressure that can mobilize and sustain a coalition for radical structural change.


11. This said, our endeavors will only mean something if and when women, first nations and youth become central in the HR work and processes ahead --a role they are now not sufficiently taking (or are being denied to take). (N. Nieftagodien). Do not overlook: We must fight the indifference of the-cell-phone-obsessed-youth towards the present abominable HR situation.** This fight ultimately pursues a civic renouncement and/or an abdication of the prevailing indifference (that is not the prerogative of the young only…)

**: There is no such a thing as youth. There are only those years when we have faith in and fight for the ultimate answers and those years when we accept that we are always going to have to live with the ultimate questions. I myself crossed this shadowy boundary long ago. Long ago, I resigned myself to the fact that all I can do is pose the same few unanswerable questions over and over gain in new ways. (Peter Hoeg, Tales of the Night)


12. Never forget: We need not to apologize for our ‘HR bias’ since it is key as a corrective approach to the other more dominant value biases out there in the market place. We want to do more than proclaim bold objectives! We want to perform bold actions! (Ernest Loevinsohn, CIDA) The future will not be what will come, but what we will make it. (Henri Bergson)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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-Imposing one’s language is imposing one’s thinking (French lingüist Claude Hagège) Only poorly informed people think that a language only serves to communicate. A language also constitutes a way of thinking, a way of seeing the world, a culture. Adopting the language of your enemy means assimilating so as to take advantage of his prestige and prerogatives. The even involuntary adoption of the language of your adversary is yet one more defeat. Perhaps even worse, because it means that he succeeded to convert you to his way of thinking and of seeing the world --to his culture. It will thus take courage for us to tell people the truth using the glossary of neoliberalism. So how do we construct a political alternative if we are not even capable of creating a language of civic insurrection, of HR, of sovereignty of a struggle for our liberation from an oppressive system? (Louis Casado, Jean-Luc Porquet) There is no worse defeat than one that takes up the language that is used by those who impose over us their domination. your social media marketing partner
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