Posts Tagged ‘equality’

Has the Human Rights Movement failed? A serious critique.

April 25, 2018

The last year or so there has been a lot soul-searching within the broader human rights movement, questioning its relevance or even survival at a time of resurgent ‘anti-human rights’ attitudes in the superpowers (regression in China, USA, and Russia, with the EU vacillating between careful diplomacy and trade interest). A number of smaller countries have also taken enthusiastically to human rights bashing (just to mention Turkey, Philippines, Hungary, Venezuela and Burundi). In all these cases the leadership seems to imply that human rights are niceties that no longer have the support of the majority of their population, which could well be true due to the extent that their control over the media and relentless whipping up of populist feelings make this self-fulling.This blog has tried to monitor – at least illustrate – this phenomenon on many occasions [too many to list]. Now comes along an interesting piece written by professor Samuel Moyn of Yale university under the provocative title “How the Human Rights Movement Failed” (published on 23 April 2018 in the New York Times). The piece is a must read (in full) and I give the text below in green. Even if I disagree with some important parts, it remains a coherent and thought-provoking article (once you get over feeling offended by the idea that you are a plutocrat).

The key notion is expressed in the following quotes:

“.those who care about human rights need to take seriously the forces that lead so many people to vote in majoritarian strongmen in the first place.”

and

The truth is that the growth of international human rights politics has accompanied the very economic phenomena that have led to the rise of radical populism and nationalism today. In short, human rights activism made itself at home in a plutocratic world.

Where I most disagree with the author is that there is lot more going on in the human rights movement than the defense of civil and political rights or playing along with elites. Either he does not know it or ignores it on purpose. The thousands of human rights defenders working in their own countries are fully aware of the realities on the ground and are often prioritizing social, economic, cultural and community rights [just a cursory sample of blog posts on environmental activists will show this: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/environmental-activists/]. International and regional NGOs mostly help and protect them! Also, the author seems to underestimate the potential attraction of the human rights cause in civil society (especially victims and young people), whose mobilization is still patchy. If the human rights movement can overcome its fragmentation and use media better this potential could turn tides. Say I!.

Here the piece in full/ judge for yourselves:

The human rights movement, like the world it monitors, is in crisis: After decades of gains, nearly every country seems to be backsliding. Viktor Orban in Hungary, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and other populist leaders routinely express contempt for human rights and their defenders. But from the biggest watchdogs to monitors at the United Nations, the human rights movement, like the rest of the global elite, seems to be drawing the wrong lessons from its difficulties.

Advocates have doubled down on old strategies without reckoning that their attempts to name and shame can do more to stoke anger than to change behavior. Above all, they have ignored how the grievances of newly mobilized majorities have to be addressed if there is to be an opening for better treatment of vulnerable minorities.

“The central lesson of the past year is that despite considerable headwinds, a vigorous defense of human rights can succeed,” Kenneth Roth, the longtime head of Human Rights Watch, contended recently, adding that many still “can be convinced to reject the scapegoating of unpopular minorities and leaders’ efforts to undermine basic democratic checks and balances.” 

That seems unlikely. Of course, activism can awaken people to the problems with supporting abusive governments. But if lectures about moral obligations made an enormous difference, the world would already look much better. Instead, those who care about human rights need to take seriously the forces that lead so many people to vote in majoritarian strongmen in the first place.

The truth is that the growth of international human rights politics has accompanied the very economic phenomena that have led to the rise of radical populism and nationalism today. In short, human rights activism made itself at home in a plutocratic world.

It didn’t have to be this way. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was promulgated in 1948 amid the consolidation of welfare states in Europe and North America and which formed the basis of the human rights agenda, was supposed to enshrine social protections. But in the 1970s, when activists in the United States and Western Europe began to take up the cause of “human rights” for the victims of brutal regimes, they forgot about that social citizenship. The signature group of that era, Amnesty International, focused narrowly on imprisonment and torture; similarly, Human Rights Watch rejected advocating economic and social rights.

This approach began to change after the Cold War, especially when it came to nongovernmental advocacy in post-colonial countries. But even then, human rights advocacy did not reassert the goal of economic fairness. Even as more activists have come to understand that political and civil freedom will struggle to survive in an unfair economic system, the focus has often been on subsistence.

In the 1990s, after the Cold War ended, both human rights and pro-market policies reached the apogee of their prestige. In Eastern Europe, human rights activists concentrated on ousting old elites and supporting basic liberal principles even as state assets were sold off to oligarchs and inequality exploded. In Latin America, the movement focused on putting former despots behind bars. But a neoliberal program that had arisen under the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet swept the continent along with democracy, while the human rights movement did not learn enough of a new interest in distributional fairness to keep inequality from spiking.

Now the world is reaping what the period of swelling inequality that began in the 1970s through the 1990s sowed.

There have been recent signs of reorientation. The Ford Foundation, which in the 1970s provided much of the funding that made global human rights activism possible, announced in 2015 that it would start focusing on economic fairness. George Soros, a generous funder of human rights causes, has recently observed that inequality matters, too.

Some have insisted that the movement can simply take on, without much alteration of its traditional idealism and tactics, the challenge of inequality that it ignored for so long. This is doubtful.

At the most, activists distance themselves from free-market fundamentalism only by making clear how much inequality undermines human rights themselves. Minimum entitlements, like decent housing and health care, require someone to pay. Without insisting on more than donations from the rich, the traditional companionship of human rights movements with neoliberal policies will give rise to the allegation that the two are in cahoots. No one wants the human rights movement to be remembered as a casualty of a justifiable revolt against the rich.

If the movement itself should not squander the chance to reconsider how it is going to survive, the same is even truer of its audience — policymakers, politicians and the rest of the elite. They must keep human rights in perspective: Human rights depend on majority support if they are to be taken seriously. A failure to back a broader politics of fairness is doubly risky. It leaves rights groups standing for principles they cannot see through. And it leaves majorities open to persuasion by troubling forces.

It has been tempting for four decades to believe that human rights are the primary bulwark against barbarism. But an even more ambitious agenda is to provide the necessary alternative to the rising evils of our time.

—–

Samuel Moyn is the author of “Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World.

Six women get posthumous awards for fight against inequality in Indonesia

December 13, 2016

Human Rights Day was the occasion for the Indonesian Government – together with the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) – to honor six women with posthumous Women Human Rights Defenders Awards for their fight against inequality and for the human rights of women. On 10 December 2016 officials from the Law and Human Rights Ministry and the National Development Planning Board handed the awards to the activists’ families, as part of the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence Campaign:

  1. Siti Latifah Herawati Diah
  2. Lily Zakiyah Munir
  3. Zohra Andi Baso,
  4. Mientje DE Roembiak,
  5. Darmiyanti Muchtar
  6. Theresia Yuliawati Sitanggang.Komnas Perempuan chairman Azriana said the awards were presented to remind the nation that these women fought to promote gender equality. “They never once asked to be awarded, but they dedicated their lives to help Indonesian women”.

Source: Six women get posthumous awards for fight against inequality – Sat, December 10 2016 – The Jakarta Post

Pat Ryan, Maine human rights defender, honored for 40 years devotion

November 10, 2014

The Maine ACLU awarded Pat Ryan of Brunswick their annual Roger Baldwin award in October. Roger Baldwin founded the American Civil Liberties Union.

(Pat Ryan (c) Troy R. Bennett | BDN)

Bangor Daily News in Maine reports that Pat Ryan received in October the Roger Baldwin Medal (given in alternating years by the ACLU to US citizens) for her  work in Maine, USA. “For over 40 years, Pat Ryan has been at the forefront of the movement for gender equality in Maine, working to ensure that all Maine women and girls are able to lead lives of dignity, free from violence and discrimination,” said Alison Beyea, executive director of the ACLU of Maine.  The article gives rich details of how Pat Ryan was at the forefront of Maine’s fight for human rights, including 32 years as executive director of the Maine Human Rights Commission.

‘The dialogue will continue’: Maine human rights activist looks back on 32 years — Midcoast — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine.

Jimmy Carter’s new book on the rights of woman and how religions have kept them suppressed

April 8, 2014

Former President Jimmy Carter (89 years old!!) has incredible stamina but his latest book – A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power – is remarkable not just because of that high age but because it is incredibly blunt in describing how religions have systematically denigrated women, leading to prejudice, infanticide and horrific violence. The highlights of the interview below with KERA’s vice president of news, Rick Holter, about “the human and civil rights struggle of our time”, in too interesting to try and summarize and the same goes for the long excerpt from the book following: Read the rest of this entry »

First ministerial UN meeting on protection of gay rights held

September 27, 2013

On 26 September 2013 many countries attended the first ministerial meeting held at the United Nations on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals.

(UN Photo/Amanda Voisard)

Foreign ministers attending the meeting, held on the margins of the General Assembly’s annual high-level debate, adopted a declaration pledging not just to protect LGBT rights but also to counter homophobic and transphobic attitudes. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay commended

Read the rest of this entry »

Ford Foundation Grants $6 Million to Seven Organizations to Reshape the Global Human Rights Movement

September 24, 2013

On 18 September the Ford Foundation announced $6.25 million in grants to seven leading human rights organizations that will strengthen and diversify the global human rights movement. The 7 grants focus on human rights organizations that operate in numerous countries and international forums, underscoring the foundation’s long commitment to supporting collaboration. Combined with a five-year, $50 million initiative announced last year to support human rights organizations based outside Europe and the United States, Ford is spurring innovative thinking about the way the global human rights system functions and its capacity to address 21st century issues such as economic and social inequality.

The human rights movement has arguably been the most effective and wide-reaching social movement of our time,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. “But the movement faces a notably different set of challenges today than it did even 15 years ago, along with a new set of opportunities for advancing human rights in today’s world. The grants we make today will enable these institutions to more actively adapt, diversify and retool the way the movement works for all of us.

The seven grants announced today will support: Read the rest of this entry »

Desmond Tutu Chooses Hell Over Homophobic Heaven

July 30, 2013

Back from a long holiday absence I will resume today my blog on Human Rights Defenders and do with a quote from one the most outstanding HRDs, Bishop Tutu, who bettered the new Pope’s more conciliatory tone on gay rights: Speaking at the United Nations launch of its “Free & Equal” campaign to promote fair treatment of LGBT persons on 26 July in South Africa, former archbishop and South African anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu declared that the issue was so close to his heart that : “I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place.” He added, “I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.” Tutu went on to compare his advocacy for LGBT persons to his fight against apartheid, saying, “I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid. For me, it is at the same level.” A video recording of Tutus partial remarks can be viewed on YouTube. The United Nations “Free & Equal” campaign is a year-long effort led by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, OHCHR, to focus “on the need for both legal reforms and public education to counter homophobia and transphobia.”

via Former Archbishop Desmond Tutu Says He Would Choose Hell Over Homophobic Heaven.

 

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/FreeAndEqualCampaign.aspx

 

Statement by Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition on equality in public life

June 4, 2013

women human rights defenders

The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition submitted the following statement to the UN Human Rights Council whose Working Group on women’s equal, full and effective participation in Read the rest of this entry »

Georgian LGBTI NGO Identoba files complaints about harassment and threats

May 31, 2013

A peaceful demonstration in Tbilisi, Georgia, on 17 May 2013, to celebrate International Day Against Homophobia was attacked by thousands of counter-protesters and human rights defenders were injured as you will have seen from the widely disseminated television images. The LGBTI rights rally had been scheduled to begin at 1pm on 17 May 2013, outside the former Parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue. However, an hour earlier, counter-protesters Read the rest of this entry »