Small Intro to Human Rights Activism


Figure 1: A Holistic Approach to Human Rights. Source: Amnesty International. (2010). Haki Zetu ESC Rights in Practice

According to figure 1, adapting a holistic approach to human rights activism includes directly targetting the government, whilst also empowering the local population to lobby the government themselves. The holistic approach follows the logic of the four levels necessary for the universality of human rights: the international community, the state constitution, the community’s rules & customs, and an individual’s sense of right and wrong. A Human Rights organization adapting holistic wisdom will usually (together with departments as Media & Communications) have two departments: an International Advocacy department and an Active Participation and Empowerment department. Those involved with International Advocacy are persuading diplomatic and international partners to convince the government on behalf of a population. Simultaneously, the Active Participation and Empowerment department focuses on enabling the local population to know and exercise their rights. The goal of the latter department is to be active in motivating and strengthening the population’s capacity to improve their own lives.

Human Rights workers in defend or promote human rights and empower others to demand and claim their human rights. People whose rights are denied, violated or abused (rightsholders) try to act by ‘demanding’ their rights or seeking to ‘claim’ them through a complaints mechanism or court. People who advocate for the rights of others are ‘defending’ the rights of others, whilst ‘promoting’ in order to make people aware of their rights.

Mobilising a population starts with a ‘core group of motivators’ and then spreads to others in the (rights holding/ activist) community. The core group of motivators operate on the idea of the ‘multiplier’ effect. Each individual of the small group will learn about Human Rights to then become a multiplier in his/ her specific community/ city/ school and will spread the learned information to many more people.

There are however, a few challenges to ensuring active participation and empowerment. One of the four main challenges is building the population’s understanding of how local government and other institutions operate, in order to influence policy makers. The second challenge is for the community to recognise that everyone has a duty to do their best to improve their community’s situation. Building contact between the community and other organisations working at local, provincial or national levels, poses the third challenge. (Invested fieldwork is important to further this goal). And the fourth challenge is that local, community based, institutions often lack power, resources or political will.

Excited to put this into practice, but not the director of a Human Rights Organization? Then read Thursday’s blog on creating your own Activism Group!

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