-Just as even the most determined athlete cannot overcome the limits of the human body, we cannot escape the limits of our moral responsibilities. (Adam Waytz)
-One humanity? Yes, but whose? And fair for whom?
The human rights framework sets the boundary for how far one must push when not accepting the consequences of human rights violations (ReAct)
1. Human rights (HR) violations and inequality cannot be overcome by a bunch of ‘computer activists’. But maybe it could be the spark… Linking our compulsion to tell, to denounce and to create to our current-day internet capabilities can (and often does) become an effective defiant weapon against deception, against exploitation, against submission and against resignation –all associated with HR violations. (Louis Casado)
2. As opposed to us ‘compulsives’, some kind of mental stubbornness and/or dire conditions stop many people-whose-rights-are-being-violated from taking the appropriate collective action in response to the overwhelming obvious warning signals of HR violations galore –precisely when a radical shift is so needed. These same people remain frozen, indifferent, disillusioned as if nothing can happen to them (US citizens, for example, feel that they are beyond history and are hardly shaken by threats of historic proportions). (Bruno Latour)
3. Otherwise, victims of HR violations by corporations are active, but face insurmountable barriers in their access to justice. A regulation gap exists on this, especially with regards to corporations operating transnationally. In many cases victims are not able to defy these corporations to hold them accountable for their actions, neither in the country of jurisdiction, their home country, nor in the host country of the business enterprise. [Not being facetious, does this mean that those who rebel against such HR violations have access to a jail, but not to justice?]. Experience has shown that UN voluntary guidelines and ‘UN Decades of…” have miserably failed to hold corporations accountable. They are only soft law instruments with limited powers to undertake monitoring of corporate compliance and to provide adequate legal remedies for victims.* Not surprisingly to many of us, during the 2030 Agenda (SDGs) negotiations, governments could not agree to go beyond existing ‘soft law’ instruments; there was/is not sufficient recognition of the fact that business activities can and do have negative effects on HR. (Jens Martens)
*: The United Nations defines Human Rights as “universal legal guarantees protecting individuals and groups against actions which interfere with fundamental freedoms and human dignity.”
On the gaps of social protection and the role of human rights
4. Social protection must not be compliant. It must move from being targeted to the most vulnerable victims of HR violations in the form of a social safety net to being ultimately universal, covering each individual as a holder of HR and thus legally guaranteed a life of dignity. Therefore, social protection must:
• ensure it is comprehensive;
• be institutionalized through various legislations;
• have clear financing, clear monitoring and clear implementation mechanisms; and
• be integrated in a country’s national development strategy.
5. A universal comprehensive social protection system/program must cover:
• decent work for all including informal sector workers;
• solidarity-based and sustainable livelihoods;
• right to land and other productive resources;
• right to nutrition including food security, food sovereignty and food safety;
• access to essential services (health care, water, education, housing, energy, and transportation); and
• a social pension scheme for older people, as well as adequate income support for children, persons with disabilities and calamity survivors, as well as climate refugees.
6. It is key to increase the knowledge and capacity of all claim holders regarding their claim to social protection. Among other, these programs must:
• avoid people’s incomes falling below the poverty level;
• eliminate existing gender inequality in employment, as well as the gender pay gap;
• provide adequate maternity protection measures,
• provide for child care work that is paid; and
• sanction discrimination against female workers due to their family responsibilities.
7. To enable the implementation of concrete social protection measures, the social and economic empowerment of women and LGBT groups is a must including the provision of opportunities for skills development and vocational training, as well as support for women entrepreneurs and women in leadership roles. Trade unions, public interest civil society organizations, social movements and academia must be able to engage through institutionalized participatory mechanisms in all established processes. Moreover, instruments on the promotion and protection of the right of migrant workers must be adopted (increasing coverage and allowing portability of social protection for migrant workers, particularly for women migrant workers). (all from ASEAN High Level Conference on Social Protection, August 15, 2017)
An almost existential question for the human rights movement
8. How can we actually change the socio-economic structures that are the root cause of so many HR violations? This has become and has been a recurring theme in many a debate on tackling rising inequality, confronting biased socio-economic systems; offsetting populism; and shaking the caricature of HR scholars and some activists being elitist and out of touch. We definitely need to move beyond such a crisis of confidence the movement seems to be having. The usual events-based responses we use in our work do limit our ability to see beyond deeper causal chains. So, to be a more relevant voice, we need to broaden our framing beyond denouncing unfulfilled obligations to respect HR. The Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) has developed an analytical framework that groups relevant HR norms into four dimensions (Outcomes, Policy Efforts, Resources and Assessment, or ‘OPERA’) that does indeed help us measure and act upon each dimension more systematically. Human rights advocacy based on ‘naming and shaming’, let’s face it, has often been quite linear. The idea goes like this: By exposing violations, those responsible will be pressured to change. But bringing sufficient pressure to bear to influence systemic policy change is anything but linear. To engage duty bearers effectively, we simply need to be more creative in how we use evidence, i.e., backed by mobilized claim holders, we need to tell more compelling stories that place HR violations in the context of existing structural injustices. Indicators –for example the 117 devised for the SDGs– are often perceived to be abstract, complex, or disconnected from the true fight for social change. This all points to the fact that the choices we make about the methods we use to do our work in HR are really political, not just technical (something the SDGs ‘founding fathers’ probably consciously disregarded…). (Allison Corkery)
9. There is thus no time for compliant contemplation anymore; we must move beyond soft diplomacy to further key HR objectives –even if confrontation is called for. Bold, urgent, outspoken, pro-public and pro-planet public pronouncements are now (belatedly) required.** (Medicus Mundi International)
**: Winning slowly is the same as losing. (Bill McKibben) This is not to be confused with the progressive realization of HR that is irrevocably married to their full realization. Small improvements can be and are the key that unlocks significant success. This is the concept some have called aggregation of marginal gains.
10. Working in HR implies always having one foot in the reality of poverty and misery and the other foot in a deeper HR reflection. Without this close connection, HR work is not deserving of that name. A constant question is: How are those rendered poor, the oppressed, women, the unemployed, native peoples***, afro-descendants and others who are excluded treated? It is vital to emphasize that what is important is the concrete liberation of the oppressed. What will save the world is fundamentally working with all those who unjustly have less of a life. (adapted from Leonardo Boff)
***: When indigenous rights are not observed, communities that shift their demands from the state to the corporation that usurps their land are nothing but trading-in one form of power imbalance for another much more formidable. (Laura Henry)
11. Is it with a humble acknowledgement that we have to say that everything has been said already but, as still too few listen, we must always begin again? (André Gide) Human rights goals can be achieved, but from below, through a deep commitment to direct participatory democracy. (Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope)
Claudio Schuftan, HoChi Minh City
-Utopia is always in the horizon; I get two steps closer to it and it moves two steps away from me. Even if I keep walking, I never get to it. So, What is a utopia good for? It is good for the following: For us to keep walking. (Fernando Birri)
-It would seem that all political utopias have dwindled; with them, we did not have much luck. They have been replaced by scientific and technological utopias; we will see how well we do with them –but I do not hold my breath for them. (Albino Gomez)
-Those that hide behind the walls of knowledge and reason loose their capacity to see the phosphorescence of things. Awakening from such a state is equivalent to migrating from a comfortable blindness to a painful lucidity. (Carla Guelfenbein, Contigo en la Distancia)
-You cannot let your life go by by living within a nostalgic past; such a past tricks you; it only gives you back what you choose to remember and that, almost always, is fake currency. (Leonardo Padura)