Op-Ed: True Democracy is actually ‘The’ Delivery System of Human Rights

Dear Capitalism its not you - large

Democracy was born at the local level, and that is where we can win it back. (Barcelone en Comú)

Human rights violations are not an unfortunate stain on an otherwise clean democracy. It is terribly normal

Human rights: Food for a thought to be delivered – Human Rights Reader 455

1. Democracy does not mean that the majority is right, but instead it means that it gives the majority the right to govern. (Umberto Eco) This is why elections are eventually important episodes. But democracy additionally requires that, in the exercise of its mandate, the government can be controlled (i):

The power of the state cannot be at the whim of the governors even if duly elected. (Arturo Illia) Why? Because in our fiduciary democracies elections are equivalent to the selling and buying that goes on in supermarkets in which candidates offer all kinds of products to their clients in exchange for them buying their promises and showing up at poling day.(ii) (Rafael Gumucio) This is also why, furthermore, we ought to fear as much those from outside who want to ‘buy us’, as fear those from inside who want to ‘sell us’. (A. Illia )

There are governments systems in which the least capable to govern are elected by the least capable to discern –including discerning about the key role of human rights (HR). Is this an over-statement? Beware: ‘Low intensity democracy’ leads to populism! (Albino Gomez)


(ii): It is a myth spread by the Establishment that votes equal democracy! Democracy is about ordinary people having control over the means of production and over the decisions that affect their lives. To choose between alternatives, none of which you want, is not democracy. Few citizens believe voting gives them any say in how their country is run. Governments are assumed to be working to eradicate poverty, but most often are simply not.


2. Democracy is voided of any content when it is used to cover the real intentions of authoritarian leaders and corporations. The calls for ‘welfare for the people’ and ‘respect HR’ are in reality only a fake icing on the cake when funded programs ultimately rob the public coffers. Employment generation and the ‘fight against poverty’ are in reality ploys of Establishment economists to justify the curtailing of minimum wages.

Sacrificing HR in the altar of efficiency, these economists favor private enterprises taking over public services by presenting this as a quantum jump towards efficiency. The obscene concentration of wealth in just a few hands is justified by them saying that investments by the rich will provide jobs for those rendered poor (…and allow the former to become yet richer). Unfortunately, as often is the case, only taking a historical perspective allows us to clearly see to what extent the ruling political class has done and does nothing but serve the interests of the dominant class. (Louis Casado)

3. As Noam Chomsky has pointed out, historically, there has always been only so much democracy the wealthy have been willing to put up with. Our Constitutions are so often works of fiction and of mediocre content since they ignore that, in this world, injustice, like democracy, HR and wellbeing, are a privilege of the rich. (Eduardo Galeano, Apuntes para Fin de Siglo)

Power with impunity is the most addictive drug (Isabel Allende, Mas Alla del Invierno. Penguin Random House Grupo editorial S.A.U., May 2017)

4. You see? The 1% richest implements their political strategies enveloping different constituencies in the ideological fog of neoliberalism. It is only too easy to pit different constituencies against each other by exploiting insecurities and distrust associated with religion, poverty, race and ethnicity. The persistence of patriarchal ideologies, institutions and practices plays a powerful role in this obscuring of the power options of the disadvantaged 99%. This cleverly disperses opposition efforts.(iii) (David Legge)

(iii): As an example, in 1993, the World Bank released a major report on ‘Investing in Health’ that argued that, with proper prioritization and extensive use of the private sector, the structural adjustment programs could have a positive effect on population health and on the right to health. While Investing in Health did not restore global confidence in the health benefits of structural adjustment, it has served as the cornerstone of WB assistance for health in the succeeding decades thus literally ignoring the centrality of the right to health.


5. Bottom line here, I argue that democracy has not ended, but only that it has historically peaked. There is a patent downward trend now. Interests of society’s lower strata, including HR, are increasingly neglected in the public discourse. The activism of many public interest CSOs working on HR is not (yet) a substitute for truly militant mass organization(s) that can exert the needed counter-power. (Colin Crouch) In Rosa Luxemburg’s words, liberty will always be the liberty of the dissenters.(iv)

(iv): In 1938, President Roosevelt warned that “the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism.” What Roosevelt knew has been forgotten by those in power –including powerful journalists. but not by the victims of the too-long-prevailing unfair system. (George Monbiot)


6. Interestingly, the ‘champions of democracy’ fervently refuse the democratization of global economic governance. They de-facto resist the democratic redesign of global economic governance. In practice, this means that our call for global governance democratization meets the obstinate rejection of developed countries –let alone calls for giving central stage to HR in global deliberations. (Stefano Prato, Aldo Caliari)


7. Compared to the UN, where the growth in the number of developing country members allows them to have greater influence under a one country-one vote system, rich countries feel more comfortably in control at the Bretton Woods Institutions where the capital-laden voting structures give them the advantage. (A. Caliari)


8. But if we take individual UN agencies, what is occurring is that these multilateral agencies are being sponsored by large corporations rather than being supported solely by nations as was the case before 1980. This has generated the change from ‘the inter-national’ to ‘the global’, the latter being understood in terms of markets. A market-led economy is bringing alongside a ‘market-ruled’ governance as the new and future institutional framework. Yet this generates deep contradictions when global public goods that need to be protected are at stake. The multilateral system of governance is reshaping into a bilateral and private governance system that can hardly address the challenging problems facing global public goods in the new century. (Oscar Ugarteche)


9. Under these circumstances, a contemporary world global democracy is unfeasible. But it would be wrong to close off the possibility of a democratic governance mechanism eventually developing on a global level. (Remco van de Pas) What we are saying is that if global governance does not work, implementing progressive global public policies remains a pipe dream. This truth cannot be put on hold until the dream of true global-public policy making finally comes along. (Hans-Jochen Luhmann) And never forget: HR are only one instrument for embedding strong values in our governance; politics is the other. (Wiktor Osiatyński)


10. As a corollary, without an appropriate global governance system, the SDGs Agenda is bound to fail. Moral authority without citizen pressure is clearly not sufficient. We cannot assume that all states are up to the task. Therefore, it is mobilizing citizens’ means what is needed to hold authorities accountable. Resources transfers for Agenda 2030 have not started to flow nearly at the levels needed. This is why, additionally, there is a need to establish a legitimate institution for coordinating the SDGs at global level. (Belay Begashaw)

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Min City

Your comments are welcome at schuftan@gmail.com


-How can we forget: “Society does not exist; there is only the individual”. (Margaret Thatcher)

-Joseph Stieglitz calls the economy of ideas, knowledge, and information ‘the weightless economy’. He claims it will account for a growing share of output in developed and developing economies alike. The rules relating to the governance of global knowledge must simply change to reflect these new realities.

An intellectual property (IP) regime dictated by the advanced countries more than a quarter-century ago, in response to political pressure by a few of their powerful actors, makes little sense in today’s world. Maximizing profits for a few, rather than global development and welfare for the many, did not make much sense then either –except in terms of the power dynamics at the time.

That dynamic is changing and emerging economies should take the lead in creating a balanced IP system that recognizes the importance of knowledge for development, governance, and well-being and is compatible with people’s rights.

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About the author:

Claudio Schuftan, M.D. (pediatrics and international health) was born in Chile and is currently based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam where he works as a freelance consultant in public health and nutrition.

He is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of International Health, Tulane School of Public Health, New Orleans, LA. He received his medical degree from the Universidad de Chile, Santiago, in 1970 and completed his residency in Pediatrics and Nutrition in the Faculty of Medicine at the same university in 1973. He also studied nutrition and nutrition planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA in 1975. Dr. Schuftan is the author of 2 books, several book chapters and over fifty five scholarly papers published in refereed journals plus over three hundred other assorted publications such as numerous training materials and manuals developed for PHC, food/nutrition activities and human rights in different countries .  He is currently an active member of he Steering Group of the People’s Health Movement and coordinated PHM’s global right to health campaign for 5 years

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About the Human Rights Reader:

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About the editor:

Eric Britton
13, rue Pasteur. Courbevoie 92400 France

Bio: Founding editor of World Streets (1988), Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher, occasional consultant, and sustainability activist who has observed, learned, taught and worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. In the autumn of 2019, he committed his remaining life work to the challenges of aggressively countering climate change and specifically greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the mobility sector. He is not worried about running out of work. Further background and updates: @ericbritton | http://bit.ly/2Ti8LsX | #fekbritton | https://twitter.com/ericbritton | and | https://www.linkedin.com/in/ericbritton/ Contact: climate@newmobility.org) | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

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©2018 Claudio Schuftan | 121 38 St BTT D2, Saigon, Vietnam

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