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[afro-nets] Group rights and collective rights are not the sum of individual rights

  • From: "Claudio Schuftan" <claudio@hcmc.netnam.vn>
  • Date: Wed, 15 Nov 2006 21:05:53 -1200

Group rights and collective rights are not the sum of individual rights

Human Rights Reader 146

1. We do not need to define 'group rights' and 'collective rights'. They are already well defined. The Right-to-Development is the best known group right; it sees people-who-are-poor as a group (or as a class some would say?). The debate on whether 'poverty per-se is or is not a violation of human rights' reflects the ideological position colleagues with opposing views take towards people-who-are-poor considering them either as a set-of-individuals or as a group.

2. A 'group right' means that individuals have a right as a result of belonging to a group. Ethnic minorities and indigenous people are the most common examples. Collective rights are rights that are exercised by individuals collectively. Examples include struggles for cultural and religious rights, or for the use of minority languages.

3. It is here contended that this should be extended to the eradication of poverty. The big difference here is that in the latter case one is dealing with majorities.

4. What I see is needed is an international codification that will sanction the right to 'collectively denounce' (or to 'collectively-claim') in the case of violations of the rights of poor people --or of women or of children-- taken as a group (like in USA 'class-action suits').

5. This would legitimize the right of third parties to 'claim-in-the-name-of' groups of claim-holders who suffer from human rights (HR) violations. It would legitimize (legalize?) the right of, for instance, NGOs, UN agencies and others (as opposed to the actual individuals whose rights are being violated) to claim on behalf of poor people as a group. These organizations would then be recognized by international law as legitimate when representing those claim-holders who are powerless and voiceless.

6. In other words, NGOs and UN agencies would receive recognition when they, on their own initiative, respond to violations of the right to food or to health, i.e., when they act and claim on behalf of the alleged victims. Because of their widespread presence, NGOs should be empowered to file such complaints --lest serious violations remain un-rebuked.

7. [It goes without saying that the victims of violations of the rights to food and health are usually from the most vulnerable social strata; people who have no access to information, nor the means required to bring their cases before international legal bodies. They are the victims of 50+ years of priority concern having been given to neglected diseases rather to neglected people! They are not the forgotten.they are those we have allowed to be forgotten. (Milan Kundera)].

8. It is here where NGOs or other civil society organizations (CSOs) have a key contribution to make in forcefully lobbying for such an international codification. For this, they need to more systematically document and denounce the HR violations they encounter. Their monitoring of the application of HR standards in foreign aid in poor countries is crucial for this lobbying. Eventually, this gives HR-activist-NGOs a tactical and strategic advantage in their lobbying, i.e., a powerful bargaining argument --on top of being the ultimate proof of their pro-people political commitment. (D. Banerji)

9. [Instilling a sense of urgency into the HR work of NGOs and CSOs, a prominent HR activist has said: "It is high time that we all agree that people who live in dire poverty are political prisoners, and children who are hungry are on death row". (Shula Koenig)].

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

Adapted from a personal communication from Urban Jonsson and from D+C Vol.33, No.7, July 2006.