With another quarter under my belt, I feel that I am a few steps closer to understanding the multitude of issues surrounding the human rights regime and its attempt to target violations around the world. A particular topic that caused controversy in one of my classes is the role of the human rights advocate and the potential for harm each advocate carry with him or her.
I believe that to think of the human rights movement as a panacea that in and of itself will resolve all the issues in the world causes more problems. Believing that it will work just as long as everyone accepts it promotes the misconception of homogeneity and aggravates the fight for human rights. As David Kennedy warns, responsibility should not be taken from the shoulders of activists and organizations that purport to promote and fight for human rights. The blame should not be on some evil people who refuse to accept the human rights regime. Refusing to acknowledge the potential issues with transferring the human rights regime and the extras it is accompanied by in new contexts harms not only the idea of human rights, but it also has negative effects on those the activists claim to assist. Advocates should be professionals but never at the level of complete arrogance and conviction that what the advocate knows will always, under any circumstances, work. Rather, the advocate needs to focus on a local issue and even though armed with universal ideas and tools, s/he must realize that those will work differently across different contexts.
Change comes and should come from within, not from the outside. Advocates should think globally with human rights as universal, but they should focus on acting locally. They should choose their battle and educate themselves on one particular area with human rights abuses, become immersed in the culture of that area, adapt to their way of life, understand truly where they come from and why they are in this condition. Most importantly, the advocate will be able to see the situation from these people’s point of view and determine, as one of them, what they need to improve their condition. An outsider will always be an outsider. The idea of outsiders as the ones who could help reinforces the establishment of certain groups labeled as victims, refugees, weak, abused, the powerless. These labels do not help with the distinction between those who need help and those who do not. Rather, they further exacerbate the problem by placing the so-called victims on a negative level and expecting them to elevate themselves to a positive one. After all, we cannot start with placing people as completely unable to defend themselves and then expect them to easily become fully independent, productive, and self-confident that they can provide for themselves and can fight for their own freedom.
Ultimately, human rights advocates are not superheroes with super powers and the ability to always bring about positive change. Rather, they are human beings with their own biases, beliefs, and downsides that if unaccounted for, could lead to more problems instead of solutions. Personally, I believe in everyday human beings as heroes who fight the injustices in the world. These are the true heroes, but they are heroes not because they have good intentions and always bring about positive outcomes, but because they acknowledge their humanity, and thus vulnerability and faultiness, and are prepared to face failures and learn from them.
On that note, I just recently saw a movie with a song in its soundtrack that truly made an impression on me. I, of course, could not help but post it here.