Human rights: Food for a David against Goliath thought
Human Rights Reader 461
The problem is that, in the struggle, ‘having an interest in human rights’ is not enough to proclaim and advance human rights
-This is not really a time for celebration. The international human rights system is deadlocked, unable to respond effectively to the complex crises we are facing.
-Human rights are the vehicle for our utopian dreams. But we cannot take it for granted that people articulate their utopias in human rights terms and action. (Samuel Moyn)
1. It is the inter- and trans-disciplinary focus applied by the human rights (HR) framework that allows us all to comprehend how politics and the economy, a s well as for instance, health have led us to a crossroad where we are left with no option but to tackle the political economy of the prevailing non-HR-responsive governance system. The current proliferation of academic disciplines in specialized silos lead us to an ever-growing ‘siloized’ knowledge base that makes any comprehensive outlook for humanity and for HR impossible. Life is seriously threatened by a triumphant techno-science that only dances to the horrifying logic of and for efficiency. (Max Neef)
Facts are not irrelevant, but perceptions count as much
2. The local and foreign policy rationale for ‘naming and shaming’ has not played a very important role in promoting HR in the period since about the beginning of the present century. However, the value of gathering and disseminating highly detailed and reliable information on HR abuses worldwide is of undiminished importance. It serves several other purposes.
• First, it is of immense importance to victims of HR violations that their suffering and the identities of those responsible for their suffering, are made known.
• Second, detailed and reliable information is needed within countries where abuses have taken place if efforts are to be made to secure changes.
• Third, most abusive governments do feel that they must take into account international public opinion.
• Fourth, by now, there have been a good many cases in different parts of the world in which high level officials, among them heads of state and military commanders, have been held accountable for severe abuses of HR.
3. Gathering, documenting and disseminating reliable and detailed information on abuses, remains an essential means of promoting accountability. (Aryeh Neier)
Just because I have a strong interest I do not automatically become an active human rights advocate
-I am talking here about the need of enforcing claim rights, not liberty rights!
4. Let me explain: A claim right establishes and demands a correlative set of duties on specified others, such as in the enforcement of the HR to health or education. A liberty right only defines my license or option to perform a certain action, without a real duty on my part to do so. It is far too simple and self-serving to dress up one’s set of beliefs in HR robes. The language of HR has become a convenient, lazy way of making many people’s beliefs sound important, uncompromising, backed by undeniable truth and unquestionably right while accusing everyone else of being wrong.* This abuse of HR is the result of the conceptual misunderstanding of claim rights. The confusion arises from the fact that HR are protective shields to safeguard our most pressing interests –and those who take a stand on health, education and many other debates clearly feel that fundamental interests are at stake and need addressing. (Vittorio Bufacchi)
*: We do have to be very careful to distinguish between the HR discourse as expressed and promoted by the powerful and the HR agenda that pursues the real emancipatory course of action (that mainly social justice oriented people understand and practice). These are two different movements with diametrically opposing philosophies. (Alison Katz)
5. As a corollary, the HR framework does consider affected persons as claim holders and not just objects or beneficiaries of development and humanitarian activities. It also highlights implementing processes that empower people, such as those related to the freedom of expression, the right to information and the right to public participation in decision-making. The framework further helps us gain a deeper understanding of the root causes of existing vulnerabilities. For instance, climate hazards aggravate the pre-existing inequalities that are at the root of poverty, marginalization and exclusion. But despite increasing evidence that violations of economic, social and cultural rights are causes, consequences (and often even predictors) of an escalation in HR violations, in violence and in conflict, too many potential claim holders remain unmoved by these risks** and tend to overlook those causal linkages.
**: Some cross-cutting risks that apply here are: severe inequality, lack of access to effective grievance mechanisms, lack of meaningful consultation, lack of democratic space for an active public interest civil society and lack of media independence. Added to these are some contextual risk factors such as unequal access to natural resources (in particular land), the degradation of social services and unemployment. (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights annual report to the Council on the Realization of ESC Rights (A/HRC/37/30)
Historically, capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy are the principal forces that have upheld the man-made boundary between (totally) human beings that deserve a dignified life and subhuman, disposable creatures
-Totally true: Human rights can be and have been violated in the name of human rights; democracy can be and has been destroyed in the name of democracy…
6. The inescapable conclusion here is: Hegemonic power can only be confronted through the struggles of such ‘disposable’ social groups since they have been systematically mistreated and deprived of the possibility and the right to represent and live in a world of their own. Their often mocked about knowledge and experience have been acquired in their anti-capitalist, anti-colonial and anti patriarchal struggles –and this has not changed since times immemorial. (Boaventura de Sousa Santos) So, do not be fooled, HR movements that have attempted to change the world for the better have indeed been able to stand and to react to the mockery or the contempt by its opponents when such contempt acted like-rust-that-tried-to-chew-up-everything. (Milan Kundera)
7. The fight to decolonize HR is a permanent one. We have done little to place human rights tools into the hands of those who need them most. So, unless our posture is to stand shoulder to shoulder with people in their struggles, we cannot truly hope to bring lasting change. Dismantling patriarchy as sharply reinforced by colonialism is perhaps the oldest struggle of them all, but not an isolated one: The need for a HR-based ethical framework is abundantly clear. (Salil Shetty)
8. As the prime ethical framework, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)*** and the treaties that have ensued from it may be non-explicit or silent about the gap between the rich and the poor, they indeed have had a great deal to say about the policies that perpetuate this disparity. Since 1948, the key strategic challenge has thus been how to take HR arguments into other arenas with more direct influence over economic policy setting, such as by the IMF and the WB.**** We have indeed had and seen rich experiences of economic and social rights activists across the globe. New alliances have also emerged to tackle economic inequality as an intrinsic HR concern, as well as to fulfill the egalitarian aspiration of the UDHR through new approaches to rights claiming. We must, therefore, learn from the history of HR and build on the worldwide initiatives that have successfully invoked the power of HR to tackle the injustices of extreme inequality. (Ignacio Saiz)
***: As an aside: The UDHR is the second most translated document and has been translated into 370 languages.
****: The interest of the IMF has historically been in fostering mitigation, not transformation. It has embraced social protection largely for pragmatic programmatic considerations rather than for the principled reason that any macroeconomic framework should protect those who cannot protect themselves. The IMF tends to oppose programs with a universal scope and gives preference to targeting. But targeting is often divisive and not politically sustainable. Abrupt and short-term targeting programs are thus unlikely to be successful. A rights-respecting, durable social protection system must simply be developed in consultation and democratic dialogue with public interest civil society. Greater diversity (gender, cultural and academic) within the IMF’s staff is badly needed on top of it adopting an underlying ethical framework to guide its work and decision-making. To date, the IMF has been an organization with a large brain, an unhealthy ego and a tiny conscience. If it takes social protection and HR on board seriously –rather than making a tokenistic commitment to minimal safety nets– it can show that it has actually learned from its past mistakes. (Philip Alston)
Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
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-Sometimes remembering can be a weapon of war and forgetting can build peace. (D. Rieff)
-Aristotle famously contrasted two types of knowledge: “techne” (technical know-how) and “phronesis” (practical wisdom). Scientists and engineers have offered the techne to move rapidly from the telegraph to artificial intelligence. Now we need the phronesis to redirect our politics towards HR accordingly. (adapted from Jeffrey Sachs)