RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

writing for godot

Universally, in human rights work, when there is a clear path, inaction if unforgivable. (George Kent)

Written by   
Saturday, 28 August 2021 15:30

Human rights: Food for getting across persuasive thoughts  ‘HR and effective activism’


Human Rights Reader 592


[TLDR (too long didn’t read): This Reader is about some of the experiences I have gained and the lessons I have learned in my years of human rights activism. For a quick overview, just read the bolded text].


-Describe your village well and you will be universal. (Leon Tolstoi)


[Over my years of activism, together with others with better minds than mine, I have learned a couple of tricks and ways that I can share with you. I can easily fit them into my iron laws format; so here they are]:


  1. Prioritization is not common currency in human rights work

  • Well-intentioned and selfless actions that seem intuitively laudable may have a small positive impact when compared to other less obvious options. Questions about which topics or strategies to prioritize thus become pressing. In light of resource constraints, what should a given human rights (HR) organization or claim holder activists collectively prioritize? (e.g., research vs. advocacy, legal vs. communications work, civil and political rights vs. economic and social rights, etc.) Oftentimes this translates itself into an understandable impulse to commit to all issues equally. Hence the persistent difficulty of many HR organizations in narrowing down their list of causes or priorities to pursue in light of new developing contexts. However, mind the old adage: if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. (Cesar Rodriguez-Garavito) (And/or another old adage: The trees do not let you see the forest…?)


  1. 2. Cooperation is not always cowardice, as some among us repeatedly claim


  • There is nothing worse to engage in a dialogue with your adversary than coming with a fixed scheme or relying on a stereotype. (Esteban Valenti)
  • Search for cooperation is preferred when there is a presumption of imminent defeat. Cooperation eventually helps reducing dividing lines when trying to address flagrant HR violations and inequalities and where being too forceful may be counterproductive. (adapted from Jeffrey Sachs)
  • In our HR activists’ case, cooperation requires, at all times, keeping our commitment to openness and inclusiveness.* (Xi Jinping) …as much as to international HR law.

*: I do recognize though that, for some, any congruence with our strategic enemies must simply be construed as a misunderstanding. (Albino Gomez) So, let us say that the name of the game is ‘gain influence and accommodate only when it is the last resort’.


  1. 3. Beware: Failure is dramatically depressing and success a manic stimulant (A. Gomez)


  • Activism can and does lead to emotional and physical fatigue in a way that impacts the safety and integrity of local activists.**

**: This topic of the emotional costs of activism is not new, and yet it remains taboo in the world of activism. (Maria D. Villamil)

  • Furthermore, your work will confront you with moral dilemmas if and when applying uncivil means to achieve civic outcomes. Consider, for instance, public disobedience and confrontations with the authority and between existing social groups. (Alan Fowler)


  1. 4. The human rights activist must not only be an organizer, but a permanent persuader


  • What ultimately convinces claim holders is not logic, but ‘rationally supported emotions’ --thus the importance of addressing mass psychology in the work of activists. (Abhay Shukla)
  • First and foremost, in dealing with claim holders, move away from coercive practices (forced acceptance) and into consensus building (involving legitimate approval).


  1. 5. A couple ‘Activists beware’! points are fitting here:


  • It is always dangerous to attribute one ailment to one cause and predict one consequence. All developments are unpredictable; at any moment, a surprising turn can send history in a different direction. (Francine Mestrum)
  • Activists are too often faced with a ‘heads-I-lose, tails-you-win impossible situation. This, because the problems faced are not necessarily tough, but because the objectives that have been set are misleading; they appear absurd. (The latter, paraphrasing Ludwig Wittgenstein)
  • Do not let your moves be easy to spot in the development game of chess. Being the player with no plan beyond an aggressive opening is no strategy at all. It is the failure to think several moves ahead that matters. (Chas Freeman)
  • Graham Greene was of the opinion that nobody goes further than he who is going nowhere.
  • Steering towards or around goals that are close and visible is different from steering toward a distant destination… (G. Kent)


  1. 6. Bottom line here


If we are to achieve policymaking favorable to HR, the only way we have to ultimately drive institutional change is to ‘get inside’ traditionally closed spaces or spaces where we are un-invited. Take as an example: By any means, we must challenge the cozy and too often closed relationship between industry and governments, between corporations and UN agencies. (Sharon Friel, et al)


  1. 7. Finally, here is an abridged version of an Activist’s Credo:


  • I do what I can, with what I have, where I am. (Theodore Roosevelt)
  • It is my problem; I can do something about it -> I want to do something about it -> I must -> I am doing.
  • What I think, or what I know, or what I believe, in the end, is of little consequence. The only thing of consequence is what I do. (John Ruskin, 1819 - 1900)
  • If the idea does not seem futile to me a-priori (from the very outset), it has no future! (Albert Einstein) I think out-of-the-box.
  • For me, erring is a source of energy and renewed motivation. (Simone Weil)
  • I am aware: Even priority actions are bound to fail --and failed they have.
  • If I cannot do great things, I do small things in a great way. (Napoleon Hill)
  • Truth never harms my cause, because it is fair. (Gandhi)
  • I consider complacency a gratification or a contentment with which I do or I receive something. (Fernando Ayala) I do not fall for this.
  • Our force: Unity. Our goal: Victory. (General Confederation of Workers’ motto, Chile)


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

All Readers are available at



-I have often said that I will truly have achieved my full legacy when I have helped or inspired people who never knew I was a famous athlete. (Abdul-Jabbar)

-It was in Spain where men learned that it is possible to be right and still suffer defeat. (Albert Camus) your social media marketing partner
Email This Page


THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.