RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

writing for godot

After 25+ years, is the right to health (RTH) really a movement?

Written by   
Friday, 21 February 2020 17:27

Human rights: Food for an introspective, painful thought   ‘the right to health’


Human Rights Reader 517

1. What I have to say here pertains to a series of serious questions building up on me as an experienced human rights activist over the last 25 years. The questions mostly take a devil’s advocate stand and give only some very pointed, oversimplified answers-from-experience.


2. Is there really evidence for hope? (ify to me at this point)


  • Have we broadened the ‘RTH circle’? (not nearly enough as needed)
  • Has there been meaningful progress? (depends on what we consider meaningful)
  • Has the RTH become more accessible to those involved in everyday development praxis? (not really)
  • Have we been more theorizing instead of engaged in working with and building movements? (yes) [“The identification of what is wrong must come from those who are experiencing those wrongs.” (Ruth Levine)].
  • Is it not true that the RTH (and HR in general) have neither really been integrated in the UN system nor by a host of external funders beyond lip service? (it is true)  [Just think how they all keep talking about ‘stakeholders’ and consistently ignore using the right language of claim holders and duty bearers …and this is not just a detail; language is important].
  • Yes, all of us can be accused of being mostly dislodged from the grassroots social movements. Is this: a) because we have been preaching to the converts (including these Readers)? (yes) and b) because we have remained too much in the realms of the normative? (yes)
  • Is it not too grandiose to claim that the RTH has become a ‘movement’? (yes) Is this deceiving when we have not yet achieved the indispensible collective moral outrage of a mass of claim holders? (yes)
  • Is the RTH still an aspirational goal? (yes, pretty much) Or put another way: Is it enough to just better ‘understand’ the HR issues related to global health problems? (no; more than understanding is needed…)
  • Is it that the RTH is going in the wrong direction, because it is not challenging neoliberalism that is one of the key determinants of the violations of HR in general? (yes indeed)
  • [As I reflect on my position towards the RTH, let me share: I came to HR and the RTH from being a political animal (many comrades early on thought I was falling for a bourgeois plot)]. Conversely, many of our readers have come to politics from the realm of HR and the RTH. Does this have some implications? (yes) Are we now all a one united force? (I would so much hope so, but much work is needed to, all together, foster a true grassroots RTH movement)
  • The issue of rhetoric-or-reality is really key; yes, we now have more HR publications, but reaching who? [a select group (of already converts) only?]
  • Is increasing the awareness and (some) commitment on the RTH by the intelligentsia that we are primarily reaching out enough? (not by any means)
  • Is the health and HR really an established field? (not in my view) If yes, this meaning exactly what? (would request a clarification from colleagues)


3. Let me be clear, it s not that what we read in the literature so far has not forcefully asked some of these questions! But my bottom line point is: Do we, who are reading this, need to change what we do from next Monday morning on? This is what the present challenges call for. The need is for a massive HR learning campaign, because the need is to inspire hundreds of thousands of potential claim holders (and duty bearers!)


4. Yes, writing the Readers is one form of activism, but…(you fill the blank) The fact that our orbit is the academic/intellectual one is our Achilles heel. Do I need to say more? I do use plain language and have consciously moved away from an academic format and am not bothered with precise references other than giving credit to those I quote. I want to believe that I perhaps reach a higher percentage of those involved in everyday development praxis…].


5. I apologize if my views here are a bit somber and more than a bit skeptical. But, coming from a political animal, my bottom line is as per the above.


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



-Beware: Advocating for the right to health care (RTHC) is already a tall order, but we actually need to go for the achievement of the RTH encompassing a much wider scope. Therefore, consider: The capacity of claim holders to identify and take charge of the structural determinants of health and nutrition is the first step in the progressive realization of these rights.


Note: I am the first to recognize that the Human Rights Readers are often repetitive. But not so in a mechanical way! Repetition in the Readers is rather through emphasizing the same point from different angles and perspectives. It is my experience that this is the way for HR concepts to ’sink-in’ so that you, the reader, begin using these concepts in your interaction with others. That, I see, is the ultimate goal in action-oriented HR learning. 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.