[Top] [All Lists]

[afro-nets] Food for a newly prioritized thought

Food for a newly prioritized thought

Human Rights Reader 94

A characterization of the current stage of human rights work.

1. At this stage of our shift to a human rights-based approach
(RBA) to development, the questions we now hear have changed
from 'What is this RBA?' and 'Why do we have to adopt it?' to
'How do we adopt a RBA?' and 'What practical differences will
the RBA make?'. People are also asking for proof that programs
that use the RBA have an increased impact on reducing poverty
and promoting social justice. All these questions are being an-
swered by a steadily growing number of experiences that are com-
ing from the field.

2. What is clear though is that rights-based initiatives can
only be sustainable if they focus on creating, widening and/or
taking advantage of the political space inside which marginal-
ized groups can (and do) claim or assert their rights them-
selves. A development agenda that seeks to encourage active
citizenship requires an understanding of the political economy
of the specific localities in which one works-in, as well as the
larger (global) context within which the same is embedded. Even-
tually, human rights (HR) activists have to come to understand
the entrenched patron-client nature of social relationships that
govern nearly every aspect of rural life in the Third World.
Strengthening local democratic processes and steering clear of
actors that use force to achieve their means is what the RBA
really promotes.

3. Working with a human (people's) rights perspective requires
that projects re-orient their existing organizational structure
and that their staff actively engages in the complex day-to-day-
politics of the localities where they work. Projects have to re-
interpret their logical frameworks (if they have them) so they
get actively involved in addressing the basic causes of social,
political and economic marginalization --and challenge these
causes as the partners of choice of the poor. A quarterly inter-
nal project newsletter can be of help to further such a cause.

4. Given what is expected today, civil society organizations
(NGOs included) need to appoint rights-and-social-justice-
coordinators, need to prepare ad-hoc training modules on HR,
need to organize 'think tank-type' working groups on HR issues
who have to get involved in research and analysis of existing
policy guidelines, as well as laws and regulations pertaining to
HR. In short, a realignment of staffing is fundamental and a
system-of-mentoring-and-guiding has to be put in place in the
areas of rights and social justice, both for professional and
field staff. Ultimately, staff members have to become facilita-
tors-of-HR-processes and not mere implementers of projects.

5. Objectives related to HR and advocacy have to be incorporated
into the annual operation plans of these organization; the job
descriptions of all staff have to be rewritten to include new
responsibilities pertaining to their rights work. This will re-
quire a dialogue centered on the questions 'Who are we?' and
'Who should we be' in our work? In the end, staff members have
to analyze the relevance of what-they-are-working-towards and to
build their confidence as they dispel the fear that the RBA can-
not be implemented. They also have to be prepared and commit
themselves to take their rights work into uncharted political
territory --and this should define the behaviors they should
take up in everything they do, i.e., promoting empowerment,
working in partnership with others, ensuring accountabil-
ity/promoting responsibility, opposing discrimination and vio-
lence and seeking sustainable results.

6. Because of this, staff should, from now on, also, actively
work to locate influential local persons who are open and will-
ing to support the poor to exercise their rights; the process
needs these strategic allies as much as it needs joining the
global people's rights movement (e.g., the People's Health Move-

7. To make sure that the needed learning happens, 'learning
goals' must be established and progress tracked; mistakes have
to be critically and collectively analyzed; a constant check
that what is being applied is congruent with the core principles
of universal HR also needs to be assured; adaptations to local
contexts are OK, but principles are never to be compromised.

8. All the above has to lead to a reprioritization of civil so-
ciety organizations' work. A deeper engagement with local con-
texts is now needed, one that puts them in touch with the basic
causes of poverty and injustice --even at the cost of taking
risks when responding to conditions on the ground. Their goals
have to be clear and transparent in all debates and their mes-
sages consistent with a strong identity with the RBA. They sim-
ply have to behave differently, calling for changes in the in-
terplay of deep-seated forces that are resulting in local situa-
tions detrimental to the rights of the poor and the marginal-
ized. On all these, civil society has to take a public stand.

9. Civil society has to be prepared to sometime say 'no' to do-
nors and to engage the latter on the new RBA. For this, only
creating alliances and networks with like-minded change agents
and organizations will give the needed clout for joint strategic

Claudio Schuftan
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Mostly taken from Promoting Rights and Responsibilities Newslet-
ter, September 2003, CARE International.

<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>
  • [afro-nets] Food for a newly prioritized thought, Claudio Schuftan <=