Editor’s note: As the IMAXI Cooperative and friends are currently ‘all active’ on the All Aboard research project on meaningful participation in global health governance, the post below from Claudio Schuftan rings a timely bell. With our severe lack of capacity and resources, the bell resonates loudly.
Human Rights Reader 287
by Claudio Schuftan
In human rights work, it is the highly unequal relations of power that severely limit the terms of citizens’ active participation and representation.
1. Oppressed people that lack the capacity for collective action are historically doomed. That is where empowerment comes-in in human rights (HR) work. Actually, for us, the very meaning of participation is empowerment. It pursues a significant input in decision making processes rather than mere consultation. In our case, among other, empowerment implies that, to make progress, claim holders have to use tools such as legal* and political action, i.e., we see participation as exercising a painstakingly earned political right.
As someone said, the problem is that: “Part of being powerless is that people are always speaking on our behalf”. Are we those “people”…?
*: Seeking a redress for HR violations, access to justice and justiciability constitutes one of the tools for strengthening community empowerment initiatives; another is organizing the de-facto, vocal expression of community demands through active mobilization.
2. As the Occupy Movement around the world has shown, the voices of protest become insignificant and devoid of power when they are contradicted by the media and the computers of officialdom (…and of the secret service). As Amartya Sen rightfully reminded us, some of the real progress that has happened in recent years has come from public discussion –and from agitation.
3. From a HR perspective, a country can be doing well or bad. But in order to be doing well it has to want to do well. Do most countries want to do well? I have my doubts. If they do not really want to (beyond the lip service of their too often undemocratic leaders), it shows, because community efforts in them are thwarted and vanish before becoming a-political-force-to-reckon-with. Social cohesion, pragmatic solidarity across social classes and ultimately moral and political power are key ingredients to see change materialize in any society.
Participation as exercising a political right