Food for a people’s thought

Human rights: Food for a people’s thought
Human Rights Reader  392


Allow me to start this Reader with an homage to the late Urban Jonsson with whom I worked for many years on many human rights issues –not always agreeing, it has to be said. I have quoted him dozens of times in the Readers given his, better-to-none, clear thinking on these issues. Here are a few more of his thoughts:

In human rights (HR), it is not necessarily about ‘blaming and shaming’; it is about bringing the parties to agree on what is required for the progressive realization of specific HR. (Urban Jonsson)

• I am no longer worried about the fact that all HR are the prerogative of individuals, reflecting the liberal origin of the idea about HR. I thus always refer to the emerging collective rights as having the same prerogative as individual rights. (Urban Jonsson)

• The common denominator in the use of ‘stakeholder’, ‘entitlement’ and ‘basic needs’ approaches in development parlance is crucially that, in each of them, there is no duty-bearer with correlative duties! (Urban Jonsson)

• Another common denominator, this one for the non-realization or violation of a HR, is the lack of capacity of claim-holders to claim their rights and/or the lack of capacity of the duty-bearers to meet their duties (let alone the fact that most claim-holders are not even aware that they have inalienable rights). As for duty-bearers, if they do not have the capacity (or are objectively limited) to meet a duty, they cannot be held accountable (they may themselves be claim holders to a higher level of duty bearers). But, mind you, the State is the ultimate duty-bearer and, yes, there are also many important non-state-duty-bearers with obligations that are increasingly recognized in everyday HR work. (Urban Jonsson)

By paying central attention to exclusion, disparity and injustice, the HR framework directly addresses the basic or structural causes of development problems, at the same time giving preferential attention to the needed legal and institutional reforms, as well as to the needed systematic review of existing national policies. (Urban Jonsson)

Human rights principles inform the content of good governance efforts. The HR framework addresses all key dimensions of governance, including public participation, access to information, and accountability. A critical aspect of good governance is the government’s capacity to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights. Ultimately, it is the simultaneous realization of all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that contributes most to good governance. (Urban Jonsson)

Now, for the topic of this Reader:

Where and how ‘the mandate given by the people’ does/has not work/ed

It is true that the academic discipline of human rights uses certain words that (have) become stereotypes and clichés that rather ‘complexify’ simple people’s clear human rights demands.

1. The Paris Climate Agreement teaches us something I purport illustrates how states ignore the people’s mandate. Delegates in Paris said: “It is true the agreement is not sufficient to meet climate’s long term goals, but we were able to put-in a so-called ‘ambition mechanism’. Starting in 2020, countries have to update their climate pledges every five years and make new pledges that are more ambitious”. We can switch ‘climate change’ for ‘HR’ and this is precisely what we find in the SDGs in relation to HR, namely ambitions, aspirational language. A real shame –ambition mechanisms simply push boundaries to avoid binding commitments.

2. Whereas the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ phrasing is similar to the one found in declarations about HR enacted after the liberal revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries (i.e., stating that Everyone Has The Right To…), its twin International Covenant, the one on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights affirms the States’ acknowledgement of specific rights (i.e., stating that States Parties Recognize The Right Of Everyone To…). This is an important difference! Moreover, while the UN’s Civil and Political Rights (CPR) Committee has a long catalogue of decisions taken on individual complaints, the first equivalent decision taken by the UN’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) Committee happened only in September 2015, regarding a case in Spain. There are enough elements to clearly assert that ESCR instruments do impose people-mandated-binding-obligations as-enforceable-as those from CPR instruments. There is the wrong assumption that the difference in language used by CPR and ESCR statutes is explained by a hierarchical relation of the first over the second. Shattering this false assumption requires broad efforts to move beyond the ideological dispute that caused the political and legal discourses on the CPR and the ESCR covenants to grow apart for several decades. Part of the effort should be made in the United States where, let us not forget, social welfare and freedom were once, not so long ago, rightly considered to share the very same importance. (D. Cerqueira)

*What loosely using the concept of ‘mainstreaming human rights’ does not do to respect the mandate given by the people*

When it comes to mainstreaming human rights, vaguely grand-visioning them is not enough; mainstreaming human rights must mean actively incorporating them into concrete political processes!

3. Questions to ask here include: Does mainstreaming HR result-in or bring-about the ‘integration of the core HR values’ and an alignment of core HR values across UN and other development organizations? Does it bring about an enhanced collective effort and increased literacy of staff thereof on HR values and skills in order to incorporate these in their respective strategic planning and daily work? Experience shows that *the incorporation of HR needs to be a deliberate and integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programs in all political, economic and social spheres.**

4. **Mainstreaming is not about adding a HR component** or even an equality component **into an existing activity. Mainstreaming needs to** go beyond and **increase people’s participation** and this means bringing the experience, knowledge, and interests of women, men and children as claim holders to bear on the development agenda.

5. What is ultimately required is: **changes must be made in the goals, strategies, and actions** of these plans **so that claim holders** (can) de-facto actively participate-in and **influence**, as well as benefit from all **development processes**.

6. The goal of truly **mainstreaming HR thus is equivalent to the transformation of unequal social and institutional structures into equal and fair structures.* For this, strong citizens and claim holders engagement are key. Most important is for them to review all existing major policies and measures specifically for the purpose of achieving the fulfillment of HR and of equality. Attention needs to be paid to issues of implementation and sustainability if the journey from-idea-to-reality is to be comprehensive and complete.

Claudio Schuftan (Bio), Ho Chi Minh City
Contact Claudio / Comments

-Only those who have to struggle daily for their liberty and rights ultimately deserve them. (Goethe)
-The difficulty we face lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones. (John Maynard Keynes)
-Money is always available for war, but scarce for peace. The fact is that there are many more interests in military expenses than there are in poverty, injustice and HR. (Roberto Savio)
-Compassion is not just feeling with someone, but seeking to change the situation. Frequently, people think compassion and love are merely sentimental. No! They are very demanding. If you are going to be compassionate, be prepared for action! (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)


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