“The fact is that believing in human rights does not make them real in our communities.” Tarek Meguid
“Knowledge of the contents of the Universal Declaration will hardly advance their conditions….What they need is a movement that channels their frustrations into articulate demands that evoke responses…” Chidi Anselm Odinkalu
These are only two quotes from the most recent edition of the journal of Health and Human Rights, and they highlight a main theme from this first open-source edition; mere talk of human rights in the usual language of the UN Declaration does not do much to promote health and rights. According to the journal, the realization of human rights and improved health requires a more gritty, “on the ground,” every-day understanding, which the traditional human rights movement and language has been unable to capture.
One author argues that we have to “take suffering seriously” and not merely rely on references to international law or human rights documents. Yamin also argues that we, and human rights organizations, cannot merely act as distant advocates or spokespeople, but rather that we must become actively involved in their suffering discussing with them the mundane issues of life. And, I take it that she means that to “take suffering seriously” means to see the people, to see their lives, to see the context and power struggles in which they live. To take suffering seriously means seeing beyond a statistic and it means realizing that treating the symptom won’t by itself make a person healthy or help them realize their rights.
I find these thoughts compelling. And, I'm reminded again of the importance of the "local" perspective and experience. From a professional perspective, I am reminded of the invaluable role played by local public health/human rights organizations. And, both professionally and personally, I can't help but think about how I can better understand the suffering of the ill and oppressed--what I can do to become more personally involved in the lives of people whose health and rights are marginalized.
As Joseph D'Souza and Benedict Rogers have pointed out in their book, "On the Side of the Angels: Justice, Human Rights and Kingdom Mission," Moses was one of the first human rights activists. He saw "the misery of my people in Egypt" and was "concerned about their suffering." Rather than directly intervening himself, God chose to use Moses. And he works in the same way today. As D'Souza and Rogers also highlight, Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that "...if we want to be Christians we must show something of Christ's breadth of sympathy by acting responsibly, by grasping our 'hour,' by facing danger like free men, by displaying a real sympathy which springs not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of all who suffer."
If you have not taken the time to read the first open-access edition of the Health and Human Rights journal (see link in side bar), I strongly recommend it.