What We Have Not Yet Done

  1. The implementation of Human Rights requires first and foremost its translation to the domestic level. The current lack of development may not be invoked by Governments to justify the abridgment or postponement of internationally recognized Human Rights. Human Rights work will thus require committed leadership and an expanding popular commitment focused primarily on ensuring democracy, improvements in the incomes of the poorest, universal access and affordability of quality health, education and other social services, and improvements in the overall living conditions of people (especially women). (7)
  2. As a start, at the country level, we need to check on the follow up each country has made on major recommendations from international conferences that they attended (a key role here for UNDAF, the new UN Development Assistance Framework).
  3. How can the UN be associated with such a hard approach without being accused of political interference? UNDAF is but a very first, yet insufficient and mostly still top-down, step in that direction. It is hoped it will evolve to higher levels of accountability on Human Rights issues.
  4. Steps also have to be taken, then, to clarify the universal minimum core content of Human Rights as opposed to a minimum core per country; the latter risks excessive relativism and/or lenient application of the principles of the Universal Declaration and other Human Rights covenants. (7)
  5. Furthermore, existing standards that are not in conformity with the current Human Rights regime have to be openly opposed.

Where to Start?

“In development work, dreaming is OK, but being naïve is not.”

  1. We do not exert effective political leadership on most of these issues yet. But we cannot run away from showing intellectual leadership at least. All of us are called upon to help legitimize and enforce all UN-sanctioned people’s rights, and that requires a crucial change in conceptual thinking, a change of our mindset.
  2. More than before, defining Human Rights objectives and establishing explicit Human Rights goals is thus a political task we cannot escape. We urgently need to contribute to the setting up of the legal entities that will define people’s rights more bindingly (e.g. setting up National Human Rights Committees).
  3. To this, we will have to add all the needed work at grassroots level to launch the Social Mobilization and Empowerment processes needed to pursue the hard path alluded to earlier. (14)
  4. Additionally, among many other, what we need to, is to

 Strengthen the capacity of development workers in all fields of specialization to more effectively analyze and act upon the core economic, political and social determinants found in the basic causes of maldevelopment wherever they work (4)

 Overcome the culture of silence and apathy of this staff around Human Rights issues; this means they will have to work more directly with communities using a AAA approach

 Challenge and build consensus on political issues related to Human Rights, perhaps starting with eliminating in people’s minds the division they see between politics and their professional endeavors

 Move from the politics of status-quo to a politics of global responsibility for the enforcement of Human Rights; we need to become scholar-practitioner-activists

 Work towards the more liberatory view of social movements (Paulo Freire), and not waiting for opportunities, but creating new opportunities [rights have to be taken; they are not given!].

 Move from Human Rights to wider Social Rights and from Declaration to Implementation (Gramsci); we need to “walk the talk and not talk the talk”.

 Link the normative standards of Human Rights with other developmental processes in which each of us now works so as to proactively change our roles in development work in the new millennium. (7)

 Forcefully support the 20/20 Compact, because a Human Rights approach will need additional financial resources (20/20, also is a useful monitoring tool to monitor the intentions of governments and donors to implement economic, social and cultural rights). (7)

  1. The overall call is for us to move from a basic needs to a rights-based approach. In it, beneficiaries are active subjects and bona-fide claim holders. In the rights-based approach duties and obligations are set for those duty bearers against whom a claim can be brought, both nationally and internationally, thus ensuring that claim holder needs are met. The added value of the rights-based approach really lies in creating and enforcing the legal accountability needed and in legitimizing the use of political means in the mainstream process of enforcing it. (7)
  2. The establishment of national and international complaints procedures is, therefore, also needed. Short of civil society taking up this function on its own shoulders, national and international monitoring bodies will be needed. One can start with eliciting contributions to the formulation and adherence to voluntary guidelines that pursue the application of Human Rights principles.


  1. What has been said here, is not food for cheap Internet philosophers. I see this endeavor as the opening of the nth chapter of a long-term painful struggle on these issues that desperately attempts to horizontalize the previous more vertical dialogue on the topic. We need you to react. Here and elsewhere.
  2. We are in for an exciting new era. We need all the courage we can muster. Wouldn’t you rather become a protagonist than a bystander?
  3. Tactically, I am not so sure it is so good to say all this. It may give a tactical advantage to the ‘powers that be’ that are actually afraid of or fear and will oppose with all their might any move towards politicization.
  4. There is a big catch up task to be undertaken to remedy past wrongs and making the next decade a winning decade for Human Rights. Never be sorry to be too late.
  5. It is fitting to close with another quote from the Latinamerican writer Eduardo Galeano who asked: What if we would start exercising the never proclaimed Right to Dream to lead us to another, possible world?


(1) Schuftan, C. (1979): The challenge of feeding the people: Chile under Allende and Tanzania under Nyerere, Soc. Sci and Med. 13C, June.

(2) Schuftan, C. (1978): Nutrition planning What relevance to hunger?, Food Pol., 3:1, February.

(3) Jonsson, U. (1993): Ljungqvist, B. and Yambi, O., Mobilization for nutrition in Tanzania, Chapter 9 in Reaching Health for All, J. Rohde et al Eds., Oxford University Press, Delhi.

(4) Lewis, S. (1999): Malnutrition as a Human Rights violation: Implications for UN-supported programmes, SCN News, No.18, July.

(5) Schuftan, C. (1988): Multidisciplinarity, paradigms and ideology in national development work, Scand. J. of Dev. Alts. VII:2+3.

(6) Schuftan, C. (1999): The different challenges in combating micronutrient deficiencies and combating PEM, or The gap between nutrition engineers and nutrition activists, Ecol. of Food and Nutr., 38:6.

(7) vanWeerelt P. (1997): The right to development as a programming tool for development cooperation, CRPP/ALOP Workshop, Santiago, Chile September.

(8) Robbins, T. (1985): Jitterbug Perfume, Bantam Books, NY.

(9) Schuftan, C. (2000): Can significantly greater equity be achieved through targeting? An essay on poverty, equity and targeting in health and nutrition, recently submitted for consideration for publication to the WHO Bull., April.

(10) Schuftan, C. (1990): Activism to face world hunger: Exploring new needed commitments, Soc. Chge., 20:4, December.

(11) Schuftan, C. (2000): Globalization, or the fable of the mongoose and the snake, recently submitted for consideration for publication to the Canad. J. of Dev. Studies, April.

(12) Schuftan, C. (1992/93): Brave new world: A political pendulum in search of its balance, South Letter, winter.

(13) Jonsson, U. (1999): Historical summary of the SCN working group on nutrition, ethics and Human Rights, SCN News, No. 18, July.

(14) Schuftan, C. (1996): The community development dilemma: What is really empowering?, Comm. Dev. J., 31:3, July.

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