Posts Tagged ‘Open global rights’

Positive communication is the (only) way forward for effective human rights work!

May 30, 2019

For a human rights movement dedicated to exposing abuses, positive communication does not come naturally. But to make the case for human rights, we need to promise a brighter future” says Thomas Coombes – head of brand and deputy director of communications at Amnesty International – in a piece in Open Global Rights of 19 February 2019. I have perhaps also contributed to the gloom with many posts about the decline of the international guman rights regime [with some more constructive posts e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/26/barbara-von-ow-freytag-argues-well-for-a-new-communication-based-approach/ ]. I think rightly Thomas argues: “to break this cycle and sell hope to the media, we need two things: challenging ideas and surprising stories“. Please read the full (short) piece:

For a human rights movement dedicated to exposing abuses, positive communication does not come naturally. We in the human rights community are driven by a desire to make known the suffering and injustice we see in the world, yet what people need from us is not information about what is going wrong, but hope and a means of making it better.

To make the case for human rights, we need to promise a brighter future. At Amnesty International we have a saying: better to light a candle than curse the darkness. But in the human rights movement, we spend a lot more time cursing the darkness. We want to expose terrible suffering so that people are shocked into action. But when we only show the abuses, people start to believe that we live in a world of crisis with no alternative. They accept that reality, give up, or turn to people who preach division, fear and a false sense of safety.

While the human rights movement will always have to expose abuses, we also need to give people a chance to unite behind a cause, challenge governments to live by their values and build support for our way of seeing the world. Hope-based communication is simply a smart strategy for shifting public opinion not by saying what is popular, but by making popular what needs to be said.

Hope-Based Communication is about illustrating what we want to see, not just what other people are doing. Because the human mind adapts easily to bad news, every dose of shock that we administer to the global conscience inoculates people. Without a tangible, believable alternative vision of how things should be, we risk reinforcing current rights abuses as a regrettable but inevitable reality.

Constant stories of crisis create an alarming picture of the world in our minds. When news is all about negative, sensational and exceptional events, it skews our view of other people, cultivates distrust and blinds us to important but unsurprising developments, as Rob Wijnberg, has argued in his manifesto for constructive news outlet The Correspondent. To break this cycle and sell hope to the media, we need two things: challenging ideas and surprising stories.

The environmental movement has already made that first step from dire warnings to big ideas that convince people that another world is possible. For example, in This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein writes about how promises of a bright green future offered a way forward: “What this part of the world has clearly shown is that there is no more potent weapon in the battle against fossil fuels than the creation of real alternatives.

The human rights movement must now do the same thing, and new research offers us a way to completely reframe the way we talk about human rights. For example, Amnesty International Australia now says “Bring them here” of refugees, rather than asking the government to stop treating them like criminals. Anat Shenker-Osorio’s linguistic analysis of how advocates in Australia, the UK and USA make the case for human rights shows that we talk about human rights as an object that is given to individuals, rather than a tool for people to improve their communities and live together. It encourages us to be more specific about power relations and use the language of journeys instead of war.

We want to take society on a journey to a better place, but when we lean heavily on the language of conflict: we fight, recruit, mobilise, resist, defend, protect and counter. We build coalitions. We wage campaigns. We seek to win battles. We ask people to take sides. This language is divisive—it won’t power a constructive, unifying movement. Instead, we need to talk about building, growing and sticking together.

Research from the Common Cause Foundation shows that altruism is as great a motivator to good causes as self-interest, if not more. Successful movements are propelled forward by enthusiasm and passion. While Donald Trump united his base with the simple red baseball cap, ordinary people demanding women’s rights queued for hours to buy “Together for Yes” buttons in Ireland and thronged the streets wearing green scarves in Argentina.

More and more research points to the fact that fear and pessimism triggers conservative and suspicious views, while, hope and optimism tend to more liberal views. Joyful, inspiring content like Planned Parenthood’s Unstoppable campaign serves not just to inspire, it creates political momentum. Anger mobilizes, hope organizes.

New approaches to stories about people seeking refuge highlight not what they flee but what they create in their new home, how the act of welcome transforms the host, or the power of friendships that face adversity and politics.

The stories we tell become our reality, so we need stories of humanity and compassion, reinforcing the idea that human rights are about people standing up for each other

How do we talk about hope and opportunity when human rights defenders are under attack and we need to defend ourselves, to fight back? How can we be positive when it is our duty to document despair?

Human rights defenders have “long been on the front line”, as Kathryn Sikkink argues in Dejusticia’s Playbook for Human Rights Actors. She warns that the frame of crisis and peril inadvertently harms perceptions of the movement’s effectiveness and legitimacy.

The most urgent challenge is to rebrand what it means to do human rights. The space that we most need to create for civil society is a conscious space apart from today’s struggles in which we allow ourselves to envisage bold possibilities of a better world. Human rights should take pride in being the “slow change” movement, that brings about generational attitudinal and societal progress, offering the path out of the darkest times.


Check out this virtual guide for how you can make a shift towards hope based communications in your human rights work.


There is still a place for anger and sadness, if we balance them with a sense of how we make things better. For no matter how dark the story, there is always some glimmer of hope. And it is our job to kindle that flame. The darker the crisis, the more people exhausted by fear and anger will turn to extreme options. So, we have to give people what every human needs: hope. After all, you light a candle when it gets dark. Hope, like a candle, shines brightest in the dark.

the-future-of-human-rights-must-be-hopeful/

Plea to see labour rights defenders as human rights defenders

May 21, 2019

Appropriately on  Labour Day, 1 May 2019, Ana Zbona and Sanyu Awori (at the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre). wrote in Open Global Rights “When space closes for labour rights defenders, the situation is far worse for those at the margins. Labour rights are human rights and must be protected“.

Photo: SolidarityCentre/Flickr


…..Several recent examples of human rights movements that have been led and supported by labour rights groups include: coalitions to rebuild democracy in Honduras after a coup; the mobilizing of workers in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain during the Arab uprisings; and the pro-democracy movement in Zimbabwe, led by the country’s labour federation…

Distinctions are often made between labour rights defenders and human rights defenders, but as former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and Association Maina Kiai expressed: these distinctions are artificial. Labour rights are human rights, and any person or organisation defending them is a human rights defender.. As Sharan Burrow, the Secretary General of the ITUC, put it: “Workers and their unions are the defenders of rights and freedoms.” We must be vigilant to any distinctions that try to separate our struggles”.

Labour rights defenders regularly experience violence and restrictions on their rights in various ways, including clamp downs on unions where governments and employers obstruct them from functioning freely and independently, laws that limit collective bargaining, and dismissals. In the past year, the International Trade Union Confederation reported an increase in violence, especially to prevent unionizing, and the safety of trade union leaders remains precarious. In Colombia, 19 trade unionists were killed in 2017; in Cambodia, trade union leaders are criminalized; and in Zimbabwe trade union leaders are regularly harassed by government authorities. With respect to laws that limit labour rights, 81% of countries deny some or all workers the right to collective bargaining and 65% of countries exclude some groups of workers from labour law, such as domestic, agricultural and contract workers, up 5% from 2017. Peaceful protests by workers are often met with heavy handed policy or army responses. In addition, the most common reprisal workers face for speaking up about violations are dismissals, a tactic used by employers to stifle civic action. As one example, over 12,000 garment factory workers in Bangladesh were fired for their protests in December 2018 and January 2019 over wages.

The Business & Human Rights Resource documents attacks against defenders working on corporate accountability, and our database shows that agriculture, food and beverage, and apparel are the most dangerous sectors for labour rights defenders. The most common forms of violence against individual union leaders and workers are arbitrary detentions and lawsuits, followed by intimidation and threats, and killings.

A particularly concerning trend is the use of defamation lawsuits to silence labour rights defenders. As one example, since 2016, Thammakaset Company Limited, a Thai-owned poultry company, filed more than 13 civil and criminal lawsuits against former workers who denounced labour rights violations, as well as against the activists and journalists supporting them. Governments and companies, including international brands, need to ensure such judicial attacks do not happen. As Sutharee Wanasiri, a labour rights defender from Thailand, and one of the people sued by Thammakaset, said: “It is also the responsibility of international brands that buy from Thailand to make sure the companies they are sourcing from are not engaged in judicial harassment that creates a chilling effect on whistle blowers and other defenders. They should establish mechanisms that allow workers and defenders to communicate with the brands directly and ensure that they are protected from any retaliation from suppliers during the investigation. The results should be made public and bring accountability for the abuses.

With long and fragmented supply chains, it is particularly important to ensure that we hear workers’ voices, especially those of the most marginalized at the bottom of economic hierarchies, and guarantee dignified and decent work. This includes people working in the informal economy. Workers and civil society organizations are currently focusing on redefining legal employment terms, and reconsidering union strategy in light of changing labour relations, especially in the gig economy, in which non-conventional workers are not afforded adequate legal protection—either because they do not fall within the definition of a “regular employee” under national laws, or because of gaps in legislation when it comes to regulating new forms of employment. The lack of an applicable legal protection and collectively agreed terms of employment hinders the ability to exercise work-related rights, including the right to organise and collectively bargain.

……..

Labour rights defenders should be seen as critical allies in building equitable and sustainable societies. Several businesses are also beginning to recognise that the protection of human rights defenders and the ability for them to do their work is in their interest, and that an attack on defenders is an attack on responsible business. This is encouraging, as now more than ever we need to be brokering connections and building solidarities across movements and sectors to counter threats to the shared space we all depend upon.

https://www.openglobalrights.org/rising-restrictions-on-labour-rights-threaten-the-heart-of-social-justice/

Human Rights in crisis? – here the last word (before the summer!)

August 1, 2018

This blog (among many other sources) has dedicated quite a few posts to the mood of crisis that has engulfed the human rights movement, especially at international level. The international human rights regime as we have known it for the last decades is indeed under pressure, from autocratic regimes, from populist leaders and – let us be honest – from quite a few ‘normal’ people. Below you find a small selection earlier blog posts on this theme of crisis. On  30 May 2018 the MEA organized in Geneva a public event “Human Rights in a Changing World”. At this 25th Anniversary event, the leaders of the 10 international NGOs on the MEA Jury and several laureates had wide ranging discussions both in private and in public. The MEA has now produced a summary for public consumption which I have published separately earlier this day [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/08/01/report-of-meas-25thanniversary-event-human-rights-in-a-changing-world-30-may-2018/ ]

July 31 July 2018, Kathryn Sikkink published an interesting piece that has some elements in common with findings of the MEA event referred to above. The title is: “Rethinking the notion of a human rights crisis”, with as summary that “The frame of constant crisis has negative implications for human rights, especially when questions of legitimacy arise. But hope—based on empirical evidence of human rights progress—should give advocates the motivation to keep working.

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

There is an epidemic of pessimism surrounding human rights today. To name but a few examples, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has suggested that there has never been so much suffering since World War II, University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner has claimed that there have been no marked decreases in human rights violations in the same time period, and international relations scholar Stephen Hopgood has argued that we are witnessing the “end times of human rights.”

Such a pessimistic mindset is understandable because of the worrisome situations that human rights activists face every day. The idea of peril and crisis, however, points not only to the present moment but also implies some knowledge about trends and change over time; it suggests that human rights were not challenged before, and that the situation is now worse.

I recognize that many alarming human rights situations exist in the world today, and I am particularly worried about the current situation in the United States, but I am not persuaded that the state of human rights globally is now worse than it has been before. Instead, let us consider how the frame of constant crisis itself could have negative consequences for human rights.

My recent book, Evidence for Hope: Making Human Rights Work in the 21st Century, proposes that pessimistic claims need to be submitted to rigorous examination, both historical and statistical. This debate matters because of the inadvertent effects the frame of crisis and peril may have on perceptions about the effectiveness and legitimacy of human rights activism.

Historically, human rights progress has occurred as a result of struggle, and has often been spearheaded by oppressed groups. Where it has occurred, human rights progress has not been at all inevitable, but rather contingent on continued commitment and effort. Some activists and scholars fear that if they admit there has been progress, people will grow complacent and disengaged.

A recent survey of 346 individuals currently or previously working in the field of human rights found that this work is associated with elevated levels of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. One source of this appears to be negative self-appraisals about human rights work. These findings suggest that one of the most difficult parts of being a human rights activist is the doubt about whether you are contributing to positive change. A frame of excessive crisis thus may not only contribute to the impression that the human rights movement has historically been ineffective, but it could also diminish the motivation and well-being of activists.

By their very definition, human rights are needed when things are bad. I worked at a small human rights organization, the Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA) in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a time that is now seen by some as the golden age of human rights activism. Yet we never felt like human rights goals were easily within our reach. How could we, when the Argentine government was disappearing thousands of its citizens; the Salvador government, with the heavy support of the US government, was massacring people; and the world had ignored the recent genocide in Cambodia?

Some of the current pessimism also suggests that human rights activists were popular at some point in the past and are now denigrated. But human rights activists have never been popular in the countries where they work. Repressive governments have a long history of attacking and vilifying human rights groups, through smear campaigns and other repressive tactics. Human rights organizations often defend the rights of unpopular minorities such as political leftists in Latin America, the Roma in Europe, and transgender people in the US.

The fact that the fight for human rights has always faced significant opposition should not discourage us. The longer history of human rights offers a positive message that can help sustain us in the context of our current struggles. In Evidence for Hope, I explore what changes have taken place over time, using the best data I can find on what many of us would agree to be good measures of diverse human rights.

Looking at this data carefully, issue by issue, we see that some situations are worsening—such as the absolute number of refugees displaced by war or economic inequality within many countries. Nevertheless, there are many more positive trends, including a decline in genocide and politicide, a shrinking number of people killed in war, decreasing use of the death penalty, and improvements in poverty, infant mortality, and life expectancy, as well as advances in gender equality, the rights of sexual minorities, and the rights of people with disabilities.

So why is it that so many people believe human rights violations in the world are getting worse rather than better? The short answer is that we think the world is worse off because we care more and know more about human rights than ever before. The media and human rights organizations have drawn our attention to an increasingly wide range of rights violations around the world. Their success in doing so sometimes inadvertently causes people to think that no human rights progress is occurring. Discouraging results are also generated because we compare our current situation not to the past but to an imagined ideal world, and thus we always fall short.

My point here is not to suggest that the situation for human rights defenders is improving in the world. I mainly want to remind readers that human rights defenders have long been on the front line, and we should be cautious in suggesting that there was a better period for human rights in the second half of the twentieth century that has now been eroded in the twenty-first century. Some of the threats—particularly those involving invasive laws about registration and funding—are indeed new and threatening, while other challenges have been almost a constant for civil society human rights organizations over time.

Nothing about how new or old these challenges are or about any trends in fundamental human rights detracts from acknowledging the frightening challenges groups and individuals face, nor do they negate the urgent need to strategize about how to respond to these challenges. Yet, what I hope is that some information about historical trends, as well as a more focused look at data, may be useful as part of an action-oriented discussion of promising tactics and how to address these challenges.

The stakes in this human rights debate are high. Anger, hope, and the knowledge that you can make a difference in the world give people the energy to keep working. Knowing more specifically how human rights groups have made a difference can teach us more about effective strategies and tactics to use in the future.

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Another one bites the dust…the future of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

February 13, 2018

David Petrasek, Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa, wrote on 8 February 2018 an interesting piece under the title: “Another one bites the dust—what future for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights?” (Openglobalrights.org) and wondered whether the early departure—yet again—of a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights doesn’t suggests it’s time to re-think the office’s priorities and strengthen its mandate (rather than more activism).

After the announcement in December 2017 by Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein of Jordan that he would not seek a second term as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, I wrote that “while most high level United Nations officials serve as long as their mandate allows, no single Human Rights Commissioner has served a full four-year second term” [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/bound-to-happen-but-still-high-commissioner-zeid-announces-he-will-not-seek-second-term/].

The piece is worth reading and poses well the difficult dilemma:

Petrasek states: Zeid’s untimely departure therefore begs the question—is the job do-able? In fulfilling the mandate, must the UN’s top human rights official so annoy governments that they cut short her or his tenure? Is that a price worth paying? It would certainly strengthen the High Commissioner’s position if they were given a single six or seven-year term, getting out from under the Damoclean sword of renewal at four years.

Zeid has been a prominent and eloquent spokesperson in defense of human rights,..Clearly, this won him few friends among powerful countries, the US included. But it’s less clear that his outspokenness made much difference. It’s worth asking: should the High Commissioner prioritize speaking out even if the cost of doing so is to lose the political support necessary to fulfil her or his full mandate? The High Commissioner is not only the UN’s human rights conscience. She or he is also tasked with co-ordinating the UN’s myriad human rights activities, pursuing an active—and perhaps less public—human rights diplomacy, and leading efforts to reform often overlapping, outdated and cumbersome UN procedures.

The idea for a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was put forward by civil society in the lead up to the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993. Many functions were suggested for inclusion in the High Commissioner’s mandate, but the non-negotiable core demand was simple—the High Commissioner must have an overarching duty to promote and protect human rights anywhere.The High Commissioner was, therefore, a giant leap forward—personified in the post was the UN’s general human rights mandate, grounded in the UN Charter. She or he was now able to act whenever and wherever rights were at risk.

This general protection mandate has produced real results: High Commissioners have put neglected crises on the global agenda; there’s been a much-needed shift to the field of human rights staff, and the High Commissioner has amplified the voices of local human rights defenders.

Yet, today the High Commissioner’s voice is often only one amongst many. There are almost 60 independent human rights monitors (“Special Rapporteurs”) .. in 1993, there were barely a dozen. Similarly, today UN human rights inquiries are investigating crimes against humanity and war crimes in five countries, and eight investigations have concluded in the past decade. The Council regularly meets in emergency session, there is an International Criminal Court, and the UN Security Council often (if inconsistently) includes human rights concerns in its resolutions, a rare occurrence in 1993. The Security Council has also authorized the deployment of over 1,000 human rights staff to UN peacekeeping missions. They too issue reports and statements of concern, as increasingly does the UN Secretary-General.

In short, the gap identified in 1993 has narrowed considerably, at least as concerns the UN pointing a finger at human rights abusers.

But other gaps remain and widen. The growth in UN human rights mechanisms has not been accompanied by an obvious growth in their efficiency or effectiveness. Indeed, multiple and overlapping procedures are weighing down what should be a nimble and responsive system. Further, although at least since the late 1990s High Commissioners have prioritized putting staff in the field, more than half remain in Geneva and New York; in contrast, the UN Refugee Agency has 87% of its staff in the field. This imbalance seriously undermines the Office’s ability to pursue an effective human rights diplomacy. And the relative weakness and underfunding of the High Commissioner’s Office means it is hard-pressed to co-ordinate UN system-wide approaches. It has been over a decade since it has proposed any significant reforms.

The conclusion might seem obvious—the High Commissioner should spend less time speaking out and more time strengthening and reforming both his Office and the UN human rights system. A less public profile, in this view, might produce less resistance to much-needed reform—diplomacy succeeding where activism fails.

Flickr/UN Geneva (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0-Some Rights Reserved)


Of course, it’s not that simple. Many states are reluctant to see the UN’s human rights efforts strengthened, regardless of what the High Commissioner is saying or not. And though a more ‘diplomatic’ approach might suit some states, it will at the same time alarm civil society and activists who look to the High Commissioner for leadership. Even if states might ignore denunciations from Geneva or New York, an activist High Commissioner undoubtedly gives comfort and support to beleaguered human rights defenders.

There are no easy answers to the question posed. Perhaps it’s simply unfortunate but necessary that the High Commissioner’s mandate is a poisoned chalice—do the job well, and you’re unlikely to be re-appointed. However, given the many changes since 1993, it is worth reflecting more deeply on how this mandate might be credibly pursued so that High Commissioners depart when the job is done, not when states determine their time is up.

A single, lengthier term is one proposal, but others might be considered, including better co-ordination between the High Commissioner and the Council’s independent experts to leverage more diplomatic space. The current High Commissioner will depart in August and the key players are already politicking to appoint a successor. If she or he is not to meet a familiar fate, then now is the time to re-think priorities and strengthen the mandate.

 

(David Petrasek was formerly Senior Policy Director and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of Amnesty International. David has worked on human rights and conflict resolution issues with the UN, foundations and NGOs for over 25 years.)

https://www.openglobalrights.org/another-one-bites-the-dust-what-future-for-the-un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights/?lang=English