Freedom from Poverty: NGOs and Human Rights Praxis

Freedom from Poverty: NGOs and Human Rights Praxis

Freedom from Poverty: NGOs and Human Rights Praxis

Freedom from Poverty: NGOs and Human Rights Praxis

Synopsis

Human rights advocacy in the West is changing. Before the turn of the century, access to goods such as food, housing, and health care--while essential to human survival--were deemed outside of the human rights sphere. Traditional human rights institutions focused on rights in the political arena that could be defended through legal systems.

In Freedom from Poverty, Daniel P. L. Chong examines how today's nongovernmental organizations are modifying human rights practices and reshaping the political landscape by taking up the cause of subsistence rights. This book outlines how three types of NGOs--human rights, social justice, and humanitarian organizations--are breaking down barriers by incorporating access to economic and social goods into national laws and advancing subsistence rights through nonjuridical means. These NGOs are using rights not only as legal instruments but as moral and rhetorical implements to build social movements, shape political culture, and guide development work. Rights language is now invoked in churches, political campaigns, rock concerts, and organizational mission statements. Chong presents a social theory of human rights to provide a framework for understanding these changes and defending the legitimacy of these rights.

Freedom from Poverty analyzes new trends in the evolution of human rights by combining constructivist and postpositivist legal approaches. This book provides valuable concepts to human rights practitioners, political scientists, antipoverty advocates, and leaders who are serious about ending widespread privation and disease.

Excerpt

The research for this book began with a set of simple questions. If basic needs such as food, housing, and health care were so central to human survival and dignity, why were they discredited for so long in the West? Why, aft er all these years, were nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) beginning to accept the validity of freedom from poverty as a basic human right? Does this new trend have the potential to change the practice of human rights and our approach to extreme poverty?

Although existing studies regarding human rights and social movements provided some attempts to answer these questions, I was largely dissatisfied with the answers they suggested. Traditional human rights theory asserted that economic and social rights were inherently distinct from civil and political rights, a difference that resulted in their nonjusticiability or incompatibility with human rights methodologies. However, a number of human rights scholars dissented from the mainstream view, and I remained undecided entering my research. Constructivist theory argued that universalistic norms dealing in clear terms with vulnerable victims and physical harm were more likely to be effective; yet if these characteristics of subsistence rights remained constant, why did the historical acceptance of these rights vary? (Throughout the book, I use the term “subsistence rights” and “freedom from poverty” interchangeably, as a subset of all economic and social rights. See Chapter 1 for a more detailed definition.) Social movement theory explained that the political opportunity structure was hostile to subsistence rights in the West during the Cold War, but it was not immediately clear why subsistence rights advocacy has reemerged in the United States in a political environment that continues to be hostile. Finally, social movement theory suggested that issue framing is an important component of successful campaigns, but the details of how framing processes and contests operated in this case remained to be elaborated.

So in 2003 I embarked on a journey engaging with dozens of NGOs, using participant observation, interviews, and reviews of primary and secondary . . .

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