The more unequal the power imbalance the greater the oppression and the greater the abuses of human rights
Power dresses up with certain attributes (wealth, force, manipulative financial know-how). A powerful man stripped of these attributes looks beaten and trodden. (Leonardo Padura)
1. The perennial political, social and cultural domination of the countries of the North is the result of an unequal distribution of power under which those who do not have power, or have much less power, see their life expectations limited or destroyed and their human rights (HR) violated by the more powerful. This heavy-handedness manifests itself in different ways: from discrimination to exclusion, from marginalization to the physical, psychological and/or cultural extermination and from demonization to invisibilization.
2. All these forms of domination can be reduced to one only: oppression. Not trying to be simplistic, societies with longstanding power imbalances are actually societies divided between oppressors and oppressed. The factors at the very base of domination vary from period to period. In modern times, let us say ever since the sixteenth century, the three main factors of domination have been: capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy. We actually live in capitalist, colonialist and patriarchal societies. To wage a successful resistance against these forms of domination we have to wage anti-capitalist, anti-colonial and anti-patriarchal struggles simultaneously. All the struggles have to have as an objective the countering of the three factors, and not only one or the other –despite the fact that, depending on circumstance, it may be advisable to lean more on one factor than on the other –not forgetting HR. It is true that modern domination always articulates capitalism with neocolonialism and with patriarchy, but the social organizations and movements that have for long been struggling against them have, so far, stayed divided, each prioritizing the struggle against one of the factors and neglecting (or even ignoring) the other –and each arguing that its struggle is the most important –a lesson important for us HR workers to keep in mind.
3. From this historical fact it follows that the advances have been and will be scanty if, as we have experienced, the domination elements remain united and the opposition remains divided. The potentials of liberal democracy to respond to the aspirations and the HR of the oppressed and discriminated populations have always been very limited, and this limitation has become more and more serious in recent times.
4. Everywhere, grassroots democratic movements are being strangled by antidemocratic forces and, in some countries, dictatorships. In today’s world, democracy is being hijacked by powerful economic forces that are anything but democratic (e.g., central banks, the IMF, credit rating agencies…). Democracy today thus serves the imperial interests and is one of its instruments. Imperial interventions to destabilize grassroots democratic processes, including struggles for HR, are well documented, more so if they foster any redistribution and any nationalism geared at protecting themselves from an international market that is exploitative of natural, strategic resources, be it oil, minerals, land or water. This veritable destabilization counts with the active complicity of the oligarchies that dominate poor countries. (the above paras adapted from Boaventura de Sousa Santos)
Power politics drive policies
5. As a result of this drive, it is the public that ought to drive the political! All sectors must be politically active in order to affect the development and implementation of public policies, in our case related to HR –including academia and the knowledge it brings. (Keith Martin) Why? Because, otherwise, the ones with the purse end up making policy. Therefore, understanding of the power sources involved in decision-making and their respective negotiation capacity in policy development must not be ignored in the pursuit of transformative change and sustained improvement in HR work, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. (A. Koduah)
6. The politically powerful use different ways to alter our perceptions so as to make themselves socially and politically acceptable. It is when those mechanisms fail them that tyranny starts, e.g., criminalizing opponents and HR defenders.* Power continuously tests social structures and individuals using a distorted conception of what is right and wrong and what is good and bad. It practically never really responds to any call for morality and the respect of HR. (Alberto Acosta) When powerful political groups consistently operate in a certain way, the ways they act not only become ‘the norm’ for its members, but they demand the same acceptance from others. The rationale is that it is the obligation of every individual active in the group to assimilate his or her behavior to that of the group, i.e., adapt themselves to the behavior of the whole to which he or she belongs. The norm then becomes the collective way of behaving and the abnormal is any action that tries to subvert such behavioral practices. (Manuel Acunia) [Think Trump?].
*: Is it true that a nation that chooses to live under a tyranny instead of confronting the risks of opposing it deserves all tyrannies?
As long as there are politicians of double morality, there will be countries of double morality
There are those politicians who only see one side of a question and never see the other side at all. Politically, this often translates into politicians who do not know left from right and step uncomfortably between the two. (Joseph Heller)
7. Demagoguery still seems to work: Demagogues sell supremacy and not equality, sow suspicion rather than calm, and hurl enmity against defined categories of people who are vulnerable –easy scapegoats deserving their hatred. This brand of politician, champions at constructing ambiguity, seem more intent on profiting from the genuine fear of specific constituencies than promoting care for the welfare and the HR of the whole. These extreme practitioners of a thin agenda get away with dismissing many of today’s international laws, including HR law. And because, to the non-lawyer, the system of international law is so complicated, i.e., the HR system so indecipherable to many laypersons, it is hard to rally the general public against demagogues since the public does unfortunately not always see any immediate threat to themselves.
And so do dictatorships: Dictators do not entertain their own or others’ doubts; their judgments are as categorical as the adjectives they use. Dictators function as owners of a destiny and give themselves the right to decide on the lives of those who dissent with them. Valid arguments seldom have served/serve to sway their decisions. For dictators, it is indispensible to spread falsehoods and believe in them, and to forget any facts that do not support what is convenient in the spur of the moment. (Ricardo L. Plaul) There will come a day though when nobody will want to buy a dictator’s lines and reasons anymore. This is why, universally, despots despise opposition, but they do know that a servile opponent is worth more than a dead one. But, mind you, there are facts so clear and uncontroversial that not even the power of dictators succeeds in changing or manipulating; HR are one category of those facts. It is this that activists have to exploit to their advantage. (L. Padura, La Novela de mi Vida)
8. Many politicians, for whom economic, social and cultural rights mean little or nothing, are indifferent to the consequences of economic austerity on the have-nots. They view HR only as an irritating obstacle for the expediency they seek for their initiatives. For yet other politicians, mere indifference is not enough; their rejection of the HR agenda is expressed in terms replete with their utter contempt for the have-nots.
9. Only very few politicians have the courage to accept their lack of talent.** They are neither cold not hot, they are lukewarm, and as an evangelist in some holy book says: Lukewarm things are not pleasing to the palate. (Paulo Coelho, The Zahir)
**: Joseph Heller, of Catch 22 fame, makes one of his characters say: “I do not approve of him and find it difficult not to wish him evil. He was a very serious, very earnest and very conscientious dope”.
10. We should thus intelligently challenge the apathy and unsubstantiated prejudices of those politicians since they have the bad habit of sticking to fixed ideas and to their very own obsessions. (L. Padura) Hope thus lies not primarily with governments and these kinds of politicians, but with those people who reject all forms of discrimination and reject the populisms of the rightwing ideological outer limits. Hope lies with those who choose to elect more enlightened political leaders.*** Hope also lies with the most courageous of us: the HR defenders, often victims of violations themselves who, armed with nothing beyond their minds and voices, are willing to sacrifice everything, including seeing their children and families affected, losing their work, even their lives, to safeguard rights –not just their own, but the rights of others. It is they who will save us, and we in turn must invest every effort in protecting them. We are still fighting, standing up. (Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights)
***: If only young people went back to vote, this would change the situation …this is the real historical loss of the left the world over. (Roberto Savio)
Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
-In the last analysis, politics is not predictions and politics is not observations. Politics is what we do, politics is what we create, politics is what we work for, what we hope for and what we dare to imagine. (Paul Wellstone)
-We elect our political leaders to lead. We send them to parliament to make decisions in the best interest of their constituents. That is not what is currently taking place in many parliaments though. Pride, ambition and personal agendas are the ruling mindsets, and no substantive progress is being made. The citizenry, rather than being the priority, are now collateral damage from the ideological differences and power jockeying taking place. Other leaders are not leading either. They are not doing their jobs. They are failing us. There was once a time when, for instance women and children would not be used as political pawns and all could agree to preserve their best interests. Clearly, we are not in those times, and so many current leaders cannot seem to get over their personal interests for the sake of protecting the HR of the citizens. If that does not show us, the voting public, that changes need to be made, I am not sure what else will. (Sonia Constanzer)