10. The Role of Human Rights in Politicizing Development Ethics, Development Assistance and Development Praxis – II

When A Little is Not Enough

“What you push is what you change.“

  1. I would like you to agree with me that taking, what I call, a ‘minimalist stand towards Human Rights’ will do no harm, but neither will it do much good.
  2. This, because Western Development has led to:
  • adopting what has been called an ‘exclusion fallacy’, where what we choose not to discuss (most often the politics of it all) is assumed to have no bearing on the issues, and led to
  • consistently adopting soft solutions when faced with hard choices (e.g. ‘safety nets’ that are nothing but a part of a strategy to manage poverty so as to attenuate social unrest and keep it at a minimum cost).
  1. Moreover, such exclusions and the choice of patch solutions make impact their primary goal, not equity, not Human Rights. The stark reality is that there is no escape from politics, no way to represent the social world free of ideology.

Commitment to change coming from ethical imperatives alone does not fuel great social movements anymore. It is not enough to encourage the articulation of a shared moral vision, because it leaves us unable to consolidate this vision into moral outrage and that outrage into political power to change an unfair state of affairs impinging on the most basic rights of people.

  1. Society is said to evolve as a (bloody) pendulum: a conservative cycle/a liberal cycle; action and reaction, always taking a toll of death. As long as we are trapped in this cycle and do not proactively try to break its passive successions, we cannot expect much in the way of Human Rights (in this context meaning ‘liberation’ to many). As a matter of fact, we cannot even expect any fundamental change, except that of the awful slow variety where each step takes two generations or more. (8)
  2. Actually, both soft (ethically-motivated) and hard (politically-motivated) approaches to Human Rights are necessary. But the former alone is simply not sufficient! Both call for a militant commitment.
  3. The bottom line is that there will be no more business as usual (or even business being more focused or interventions more targeted, as the present mood seems to call for). This is thus a key time for reflection and soul searching. (9)
  4. We need moral advocates to influence perceptions. Granted. We need mobilization agents and social activists to influence action. Granted. But we also need political advocates to raise political consciousness and provide leadership. The latter cannot be left for later. Therefore -since working on a common set of values is politics– agreeing on the politics of Human Rights –beyond ethical pronouncements– is the real challenge.
  5. But orthodoxy (the right doctrine) is not enough either. Orthopraxis (the right acting) is ultimately more important. (A. Gramsci). The challenge is to move the process from orthodoxy to orthopraxis and from minimal to full steam.

The Human Rights Paradigm

  1. The use of the Human Rights discourse in development work undoubtedly constitutes a paradigm break. But so far, this break has only been conceptual, not yet operational. In this day and age, there is a social need for commitment beyond ethics. What I am convinced of is that, in its operationalization, the new Human Rights paradigm will have to become more overtly and explicitly political with the creation of well organized pressure groups amongst those whose Human Rights are being violated. And to transcend minimalism, these groups will further have to rapidly coalesce into major movements –a challenge, among other, for the Internet.
  2. Fighting for Human Rights is combating the surplus powerlessness of the have-nots by creating a movement that helps build committed, multi-level action networks.
  3. We need to explode the myth that things are just fine; they are not. For this, our strategy, of necessity, must become more political; that is an imperative set by how the world ticks. Power politics cannot simply be ignored; we cannot look the other way; we have to deal with it.
  4. It is not enough to go from People’s Needs, to their Entitlements, and from there to their Rights, and then Passing Laws, hoping the latter are Enforced.

This is considered to be a soft approach in the new paradigm.

  1. We need to start from the People’s Felt Needs, translate those into Concrete and Effective Demands, that foster People’s Organizations, to start Exercising (growing de-facto) Power, and then Consolidating (their newly acquired) Power with that of other like-minded similar organizations.
  2. The latter delineates the needed hard approach and path, because what is needed is to counter a host of complex social and political issues that are preventing people from improving their own wellbeing -and these are mostly related to control processes in society.

Has Science Helped People’s Development?

  1. In the latter part of the twentieth century, Science was not deliberately at the service of people’s rights and development. The mainstream sciences –both basic and social– simply failed to raise the level of the political discourse in development work.
  2. Science does provide us with all the knowledge we need to implement Human Rights. But without the ethical and political imperatives to apply its principles to human development it remains toothless and idle, and overwhelmingly serves the interests of the ‘haves’.
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