What Is the Primary Human Rights Challenge in the World Today?

Americas Quarterly, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

What Is the Primary Human Rights Challenge in the World Today?


FELIPE AÜERO

Over the last few decades, major strides have been made in enshrining human rights into international law, in creating accountability mechanisms and, to some degree, in encoding these laws and mechanisms into national policy. Despite this progress, however, the lives of the most vulnerable people in societies around the world remain much as they were. For these individuals and groups, the integration of human rights into the law books has changed very little in their day-to-day struggles. Closing this "implementation gap" and making these rights real for people is the challenge that all of us who work to advance human rights must address.

Statistics showing the disproportionate suffering of vulnerable and marginalized groups abound. Crime and violence, irresponsible environmental policy, favoritism in public spending, imbalanced urban development, and bold-faced discrimination are burdens borne by those whose access to rights and justice is tenuous at best. We know who they are: the poor, those who are socially and politically excluded and those marginalized on account of racial or ethnic origin, gender or sexual orientation.

The very laws and policies that-in education, health, labor, housing, land, and other areas-could and should address this discrimination are precisely those that aren't framed or addressed as human rights. This is the challenge of implementation: translating high-level commitments into everyday legislation, policy development, enforcement, and adjudication.

It will not be easy. Weak institutions, lack of political will, corruption, powerful economic interests, and entrenched cultural norms hinder the full realization of human rights for all.

But real progress is possible if we tackle these challenges with long-term commitment. Some areas where the field must focus its attention are as follows:

>> As a movement we must help governments focus on overcoming institutional weakness, enhancing their capacity for implementation and increasing the effectiveness of their follow-through. Governments need to embrace the fact that human rights can form the basis for law enforcement and other public services and that they do not obstruct, but, rather, further the effectiveness of government in the long run-leading to better outcomes in the lives of the most vulnerable. Transparency and accountability in government should be seen as crucial to better governance and a healthier society, as should a judiciary that is independent, knowledgeable and sensitive to the consequences of inequality and discrimination.

>> Create a more agile and creative human rights movement that grows and strengthens itself through innovation. To succeed in a new generation, the movement must devise new approaches to ensure that states meet their obligations. It must consolidate its independence while also creating opportunities to work with governments to strengthen institutions and carve out rights perspectives in policy, and it must renew its broad constituency of support by adapting to and addressing the concerns of the public, such as corruption, crime and public safety. Finally, the movement must integrate more fully its international, national and local facets, ensuring that efforts to tackle the implementation gap are strategically linked and mutually reinforcing.

>> Build a new leadership for human rights. To succeed we must inspire a zeal and commitment to human rights far beyond our movement and its government interlocutors. We must cultivate new, diverse leadership for human rights across all sectors and at all levels. Such widespread leadership is needed to sustain efforts to displace entrenched inequality, exclusion and discrimination.

>> Engage young people. Renewed and specific efforts are needed to educate younger generations about the achievements of the movement and the benefits to human welfare that accrue from expanding the promise of human rights and dignity to all people.

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