-Human rights activists cry out, not just to rescue others from their oppression, but to preserve what is left of their own dignity. (K. H.)
-I do not do this to change the country. I do this so the country does not change me. (A. J. Muste)
-Although individually, none of us activists can save the world, all of us can serve the world. And together, we can have impact.’ (Commissioner Zeid, UNHCR)

Political theory is useful to change consciences –and that is what human rights activists do

To will the (political) ends is to will the means. (Emmanuel Kant) Human rights activists thus use the means in their power. They do not feel despair; they get angry. (Jan Eliasson)

1. Solidarity is, by far, not yet the development goal most commonly pursued. The mercantilistic-logic-of-individual-accumulation actually works in the opposite direction and this forces us to act politically, particularly because the conservative ideologues desperately try to invisibilize politics. Our challenge thus is to resist so we can protect what we have already won, at the same time that we build convergences for the political struggle that we simply have to embark-on. Processes in this effort are pendular; when the pendulum swings to the right (like in this day and age), as it comes back, it never returns to the point where it started out the swing from the left. What this means to us is that some of the achievements won do stay, if nothing but in our collective memory, and this we have to take advantage-of as we struggle for more solidary human rights-abiding social structures. (Armando deNegri)

A defining property of the prevailing human rights situation anywhere is complexity

2. Because of the sheer number of relationships and feedback loops between the human rights (HR) discourse’s many elements, these relationships cannot be reduced to simple chains of cause and effect. Those of us engaged in seeking change need to identify which elements are the most important and understand how they interact. It requires an iterative and endless testing of assumptions about right and wrong, a constant adaptation to the evolving nature of what is happening and exploring the key relationships.

3. Human rights activists thus need to adapt their analysis and strategy according to the stage that their political surrounding most closely resembles. They have to question linear approaches to the campaigning they promote and engage-in. ‘Critical junctures’ force activists to question their long-held assumptions about what constitutes ‘sound’ policies, and make them more willing to take the risks associated with innovation, as past tactics suddenly appear less worth defending.*
*: Would you agree? The danger of taking a risk is worth a thousand days of ease and comfort. (Paulo Coelho)

Because of the complexities involved, the best activists are the most insatiable learners

– As an old English poet wrote: Be like the fountain that overflows, not like the cistern that merely contains. (P. Coelho)
– You cannot defend what you do not believe-in and you cannot love what you do not know. (adapted from Erich Fromm)

4. This is wrong:** Some among us live like fish in an aquarium, contented because whenever they choose-to they can see the world outside through the glass. The same glass allows nothing strange to trouble their ordinary existence; they do things because they are used to do them. They watch the news on TV, as we all do, as a confirmation of their happiness in a world full of problems and injustices, carefully avoiding all knowledge of what lies beyond the glass walls of the aquarium. (P. Coelho)
**: This is also wrong: In the struggle for HR, it often feels that much of our efforts are expended on responding to attacks or crises instead of actually proactively preventing the violation of HR principles and the erosion of HR standards. (Phil Lynch)

5. Ongoing learning allows effective activists to make timely, constructive critiques and proposals and to do so based on ideas and facts that ‘touch’ and motivate claim holders. They are expected to do so with great humility, yet also very forcefully,*** because it is absolutely necessary for claim holders to make governments understand they are missing the opportunity of regaining the lost trust and support of its citizens. (Alejandro Navarro)
***: Activists cannot be shy: Those who are born as a whistle never makes it to trumpet. (Albino Gomez)

6. From an unorthodox source comes to me something that applies precisely to the point above, namely what I call the effective activists’ credo: I am responsible for taking action, for asking questions, for getting answers, and for facilitating collective decision-making. I will not wait for someone to tell me. If I need to know, I am responsible for asking. I have no right to be offended that I did not get-this-sooner. If I am doing something others should know about, I am responsible for telling them. (Harvard Business Review)

7. So, because an idea only comes to life when someone stays behind putting it into practice, good recommendations require the active engagement of the activist so as to lead to actions that eventually bring about the changes planned together with the claim holders. (P. Coelho)

A crisis –actual or perceived– produces real change, no matter what

8. When such a crisis occurs, activists are to quickly develop alternatives to existing policies and are to keep these alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable. [Note that International NGOs are not always quick enough in spotting and seizing such opportunities (if at all)].

9. Conversely, crisis or not, robust public interest civil society organizations (PICSOs) active in the HR domain can and do fulfill eight essential functions. These include:
producing compelling moral arguments for action,****
building coalitions beyond, in our case, the HR sector,
introducing new participatory, workable policy alternatives,
enhancing the legitimacy of HR initiatives and institutions,
strengthening systems in the social services sector,
enhancing accountability systems,
mitigating the neoliberal determinants of maldevelopment, and
ensuring rights-based approaches are followed.
****: HR activists do not yet hold power, but they are here to forcefully set limits. (Ricardo Lorenzetti)

10. Given that PICSOs’ activism has reached tremendous progress in HR work, there is a need to invest-in and support this work as a global public good to ensure that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development can remotely be realized. (Adapted from Julie Smith, Kent Buse and Case Gordon)

11. Human rights activists also need to build trust and connections between key claim holders and duty bearers who, together, are able to push through the desired changes. Everybody involved must understand and take advantage of the windows of opportunity (crisis or no crisis). These are critical junctures for HR constituencies-for-change to transform attitudes and norms, so that the impossible can suddenly come to happen.

12. HR activists need to become better ‘reflectivists’, taking the time to understand the prevailing system (its opportunities and constraints) before and while engaging to change it. They need to better understand the stop-start rhythm of change exhibited by complex systems and adapt their efforts accordingly. They also must avoid becoming arrogant and be more willing to learn from accidents, from failures and from other people. Finally, they have to make friends with ambiguity and uncertainty, while maintaining the energy and determination so essential to changing the world. (much of the above from Duncan Green)

13. As Groucho Marx said: Am I right or am I right?

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

All 400+ HR Readers are available in http://www.claudioschuftan.com

– For activists to pretend to always be consequent in each and every one of their actions is a utopia; the same is true for pretending that all marriages have 100% smooth relationships. (Pablo Simonetti)
– Evils once recognized are half-way on towards their remedy. (Elizabeth Gaskell)
– Q: How are you? A: Busy. How did we end up living like this? When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings? This disease of being ‘busy’ (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. (Kyle Westaway)
– Hope is a paradox. To have hope means being permanently prepared for that that has not occurred yet. But in so doing, do not despair if that does not happen in your lifetime. (Erich Fromm)
– Confucius already knew that it is better to light a candle than to curse darkness.
– Do not ever say that your future depends on your dreams, …because they will send you to sleep. (A. Gomez)
– For activists, to shake hands is supposed to be a sign of solemn agreement. To shake hands is testimony of an open, honest and frank attitude. (Franz Kafka)
– When we want to involve young people in HR activism work, we have to face the issue of power. To give young people a real say in decision-making, we older people need to hand over at least part of our power to the younger generation. (Jannemiek Evelo)
– As a put-down, PICSOs leadered by HR activists are purposely and mistakenly called ‘unorganized’ and ‘informal’ by the enemies of HR. (Vandana Shiva) So keep in mind: Activists receive affection from their friends; their actual importance though is given by their enemies. (A. Gomez)

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