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AFRO-NETS> Food for a mid-summer's night thought-A reader in Human Rights (32)
- Subject: AFRO-NETS> Food for a mid-summer's night thought-A reader in Human Rights (32)
- From: "Claudio Schuftan" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Sun, 19 Aug 2001 12:41:46 -0400 (EDT)
Food for a mid-summer's night thought-A reader in Human Rights (32)
A reader in Human Rights (32)
A CALL FOR SUBSTANCE AND NETWORKING*
I do not know about you. But I have the feeling that not much is hap-
pening in advancing the Human Rights cause in development work. ** We
hear (and write) praises about how this is the right way forward, but
an expanded understanding and concrete steps remain scanty. A lot of
what is said sounds disturbingly progressive, but has not enough sub-
stance to base praxis on.
We cannot continue to blame everything on the global power structure
only. (Lamentations alone do not lead to liberation). Likewise, we
must be critical of our efforts at grassroots level and --in all hon-
We have to stop talking about utopian generalities. It behooves us to
give a clear sense of what might be the next best steps that organ-
ized groups working on Human Rights could and should take. We need to
make practical suggestions on how to convert our dreams into reality.
In short, no more slogans, but a sense of direction, i.e. an inte-
grated framework needs to tie all the main issues into an action
Ultimately, to counter the Human Rights opponents' arguments, the
people's movement fighting for Human Rights needs to be much better
informed and what its members say must be well documented. Just in
terms of awareness creation alone (which is essential in the struggle
for change), we still have a long way to go.
Success will depend on concrete actions and activities our affiliated
groups manage to undertake. Ultimately --let's not lose sight-- this
is a movement struggling to transform current unfair Human Rights
conditions. The question is: What small but significant steps will
each of us take to effectively contribute to this?
Since the recommendations for mechanisms and actions to do this have
not yet been clearly worked out, the "Human Rights movement" many of
us are part of can and has to provide a platform around which people
can organize, mobilize and lobby (or protest) for change. Novel ap-
proaches to solve old problems must be proposed and --as important in
Human Rights work-- solidarity channels must be set up and/or rein-
forced and then sustained. Building such an international solidarity
primarily means giving people a chance to air their grievances and be
exposed to the grievances of others. The usually silenced victims of
Human Rights violations should be the first to be given the chance to
express themselves. Free speech is the path to liberation.
Only the ongoing sharing of critical Human Rights analyses and suc-
cesses will lead us to liberation. or at least has a chance of doing
so. This, because it is these analyses that we need to use for grass-
roots organizing and for the careful planning of strategic actions.
It is no longer enough to clarify and rally around key Human Rights
issues by only carrying out comprehensive analyses of causes and hop-
ing this will awaken dormant "combativity": Collective strategic
planning of how to get where we want to go is the real important
Responses to questions like: Where is all this leading us? and How do
we get there? must be inclusive of practical suggestions for specific
Human Rights-promoting actions that individuals and organizations
can/should take, i.e. a sense of direction must be given. This is
what leadership is all about: A degree of collective guidance and fa-
cilitation is indispensable to give such a sense of direction. People
should have a chance to hear the views and learn from the analysis of
those who are more fully informed and experienced. Therefore, the
'public forum' we ought to aim for should not simply be a 'chat
room', but rather a well moderated educational communications tool
which can help guide people to come to realistic conclusions and to
the formulation of their own practical plans of action. The discus-
sion of an integrated Human Rights framework and of collective, coor-
dinated strategic Human Rights plans can indeed be started and ad-
vanced through such a 'public forum'.
At the base here is more a tactical than a strategic debate; and for
it, I do not necessarily have all the answers. What I do know is
that, in today's world and perhaps more than ever, there can be no
liberation (i.e. respect for Human Rights) without a strategy. and no
strategy without a struggle.
It will thus be a 'facilitated search of direction' based on a unify-
ing analysis (framework) that will lead us to the so much needed host
of workable local plans of action. We can give global general guide-
lines, but only local plans will be realistic. If we fail, people
will come away with a blurred sense of what might be the next step
their group should take in promoting Human Rights. If the direction
is ambiguous, so will the actions!
The only way to do what is proposed above on a scale commensurate
with the current needs is to establish an active Human Rights commu-
nications network, a mechanism whereby groups in different parts of
the world can be supportive of one another in times of crisis and can
be ongoingly exposed to this vital exchange of information on Human
Rights. (The People's Health Assembly is in the process of exactly
setting up such a network. We could all learn from it). It will be
critical then to maintain this channel of information sharing which,
among other, could be used to coordinate inputs from NGOs, other or-
ganized civil society groups or movements and from activists, as well
as from similar coalitions working in other sectors on other re-
The first viable channel that comes to mind is an email list-server.
However, only maximum 10% of the world's population has direct or in-
direct access to computers and less even to the Internet. More tradi-
tional means of communication are thus also indispensable (and could
be linked to and triggered by the email network): We are talking
about newsletters, radio, videos, webs of community workers and union
organizers, and other such channels.
While doing all this, we have to keep the process democratic yet on
track, i.e. advancing! For that, a balance has to be sought between
guided facilitation and open-ended Human Rights discussions. The
presentation of successive drafts of a unifying analytical framework
and of strategic plans for us to discuss on-line is the first step to
focus the discussion and to make steady progress towards agreed upon
I call on you to contribute to fill the gaps I here depict and to en-
courage others to contribute, each in their own way. I thought that
starting this Human Rights Reader was a contribution in the right di-
rection, but it remains desperately academic, and few of you react.
It could evolve into a list-server though as the basis for an ongoing
real multi-centric dialogue. Others among you would have to help by
contributing the 'substance' for the concerted actions that I am
pleading for here.
We will need skilled communicators to help us give simple language,
clear and accurate summaries of the key issues starting from an as-
sessment of where we are and then pointing to what needs to be done
next. They also need to check what people understand of what is being
said in this virtual and face-to-face communications network. Ex-
plicit plans for follow-up action are crucial and all our correspon-
dents should have the mailing addresses of all in the group (or ac-
cess to all through the list-server).
So --as we come out of an always-sleepy summer in the North-- this
is, in short, the challenge I perceive: Would anybody care to com-
Claudio Schuftan, Hanoi
*** Adapted from Werner, D. and Sanders, D. Liberation from What?,
Newsletter From the Sierra Madre #44, March 2001, pp.1-7.
www.healthwrights.org **: A welcome exception is CARE's publication
of the Newsletter 'Promoting Rights and Responsibilities'.
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