2. Human Rights or the Importance of Being Earnest: A Personal Account.

I am a true convert. I do believe the Human Rights approach to development is the way to go forward. Why Now? As a freelancer working in public health for the last 2 years I am not involved in any long-term project on an ongoing basis. It is my being involved in different fronts of public health through my consulting that I have come to realize the time has come for a Human Rights-based approach. I have gotten very involved in it. But, so far, mostly as a critic of what we do in the Western Development approach and as a dreamer of what could be…(1, 2, 3, 4) The failures and very partial successes I witness in my every day work have also made me an avid seeker of alternatives and a reader of the cutting edge literature. I come from a background (Chile) of those who look at development more from a holistic and political perspective. So it was a natural to jump into the nascent Human Rights literature. What I have read continues to reaffirm my own, and a growing number of others, prior belief: The bottlenecks to development are foremost of a political nature. (2, 4) So my adoption of this new approach came easy. Why? Because I think the Human Rights approach to development politicizes the discourse and puts rights/ claim holders more in the driver’s seat of the development process. (2) It also faces duty bearers with obligations they can no longer dodge. This, particularly because their obligations in this field are anchored in international law and draw their power from the official ratification of the various Human Rights covenants by most countries in the world. This is an important and powerful step forward: We are discovering that what so many of us in development work stand for, is not only ethically, but legally backed by the highest principles of international law. Moreover, the Human Rights-based approach to development overall has become the stated policy ahead for the whole United Nations System. So I see it as my responsibility to link Human Rights to my work in health and nutrition. And I do get involved. I have seen myself become an activist in this cause. I have chronicled the slow start of this approach and how it is the result of a transition from earlier approaches to change the still prevailing Western development paradigm. (2, 5) And, in the process, I have often taken the position of an alter-ego or a devil’s advocate in the cause. (1, 2, 3) Do I Feel I Have Been Rewarded By Taking This Course? Yes indeed. I have recently started a periodic “Reader in Human Rights” which is now distributed through a few electronic list servers. It has ignited an interesting chain of responses from readers. This is my contribution to widen the dialogue on Human Rights. And it has come to a good start. Are People Receptive? So far, the UN agencies have; although all may not yet have a clear picture of how to steer the Secretary General’s mandate towards real actions in their respective upcoming work. (1) Otherwise, our peers using the electronic super highway have also been receptive; although I am perfectly clear that those are not the people that actually need the changes. But we are in the phase where the emerging messages also still need to be beamed to those among us who work in development, because they influence significant others. (The same is the leitmotiv of the publication where you are reading this piece). The involvement of the beneficiaries must be the next logical step in the process. What I am saying is that receptivity has to start with creating awareness in a wide range of actors in the development arena. And I have taken that responsibility face on…. starting at the upper end though, that is true, and that is my shortcoming. Does the Human Rights Approach Help Me in My Work? At this stage, I could not think of my work without continuing my engagement in the Human Rights approach. I have simply internalized it. I have added this perspective a bit to all I do and write. It has helped me tremendously in networking with, and hopefully, in mobilizing colleagues and students to build the new coalition that will devotedly work on the Human Right approach. A matter that I still consider pending is for YOU to join this movement. References: (1) Schuftan, C. (2000): Human Rights-based planning: The new approach, accepted for publication by SCN News, ACC/ SCN, Geneva, November. (2) Schuftan, C. (2001): The role of Human Rights in politicizing development ethics, development assistance and development praxis, sent for consideration for publication to the Comm. Dev J., February. (3) Schuftan, C. (2000): What does the new UN Human Rights-based approach bring to the struggle of the people? – sent for consideration for publication to Development, SID, Rome, February. (4) Schuftan, C. (1983): De-Westernizing health planning and health care delivery: A political perspective, Chapter 15 in Third World Medicine and Social Change: A Reader in Social Science and Medicine, J.H. Morgan, Ed., Univ. Press of America, N.Y. (5) Schuftan (1988): Multidisciplinarity, paradigms and ideology in national development work, Scand. J. of Dev. Alternatives, Vol.VII, Nos.2+3, pp.241-290.

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