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Human rights: mass or elite movement?


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights seeks to improve the life conditions, dignity, and well-being of society's most oppressed, vulnerable, and impoverished groups. The international human rights machinery, however, is embedded in high-flying international organizations, such as the United Nations, and in extremely elite professions, such as international diplomacy and law.

Are human rights principles, policies, and approaches coming down to earth? Can local civil society groups overcome the international human rights machinery's cultural, educational, and social barriers? Can they develop strong and explicit human rights constituencies among ordinary people? The articles in this section address these questions issues head-on, beginning with a description of new "Human Rights Perception Polls" in Mexico, India, Morocco, and Colombia. The goal is to attract commentary, criticism and reflection from writers and activists worldwide, in multiple languages. Please read through the contributions below, and consider writing your own response of 700-1200 words.


The struggle for a truly grassroots human rights movement

Pilot testing Using cutting-edge human rights perception polls, the authors explore links between social class and domestic human rights movements in Mexico, Colombia, Morocco, and India. Social elites, they find, are better connected to human rights representatives than the masses. Translations: Español, Français, العربية, 中国语文, हिंदी, Português, Türkçe

Latest responses:

Internationalizing the human rights movement: creating a North-South bridge?

Iain Levine

East African rights activists are badly out of touch

Florence Ochango

Activists and elites: connecting the dots

Steve Crawshaw

Doing Orwell proud: “human rights” slogans in Mexico

Barbara Frey

Elites still matter when protecting human rights

Felipe Cordero

In defense of 'professional' human rights organizations

Fateh Azzam

Neither elites nor masses: protecting human rights in the real world

Janice Gallagher

Reforming and transforming: A multi-directional investigation of human rights

Karina Ansolabehere

Human rights for whom? A closer look at elitism and women's rights in Africa

Moiyattu Banya

Speaking with an elite accent: human rights and the "masses"

Ezequiel González-Ocantos

Human rights: a mirror for all

Eilat Maoz

Belief in common humanity is the first principle

Nidal Al-Azza

Fighting abuses in existing powers

Clifford Bob

Civil society, human rights and Jewish-Israeli communitarians

Liora Sion

Where is the humanism in Israel?

Lori Allen

Human Rights, "Human Beings" and Israel

Ian S. Lustick

The 'no grassroots' critique of human rights: fair or misleading?

Geoff Dancy

Making universalism resonate locally

Jessica Montell

Making human rights matter to the marginalised

Nicola Browne and Dessie Donnelly

International NGOs supporting grassroots movements: who talks and who listens?

Kate Nash

The antithesis of elitism

Shaurimoyo

A global human rights movement?

Peter Brett

Other articles from this theme

العنوان: تدويل حركة حقوق الإنسان: خلق جسر بين الشمال والجنوب؟

ملخص المقال: على الرغم من أن منظمة هيومن رايتس ووتش تضع مزيداً من الموظفين بدوام كامل في دول الجنوب، فإن جماعات حقوق الإنسان المحلية في هذه المناطق تثير المخاوف بشأن تنافس المانحين ومزاعم القيادة الشمالية. يمكننا تجاوز الانقسامات القديمة والتركيز على الأهداف المشتركة لرسم جميع مجالات شبكة حقوق الإنسان معا؟ English Español

La internacionalización del movimiento de derechos humanos: ¿crear un puente entre el norte y el sur?

Conforme Human Rights Watch coloca más personal de tiempo completo en el sur global, las agrupaciones locales de derechos humanos en estas regiones expresan sus inquietudes sobre la competencia entre donadores y las pretensiones de liderazgo del norte. ¿Podemos superar las viejas dicotomías y concentrarnos en los objetivos comunes para reunir a todas las partes de la red de derechos humanos? English العربية

Internationalizing the human rights movement: creating a North-South bridge?

As Human Rights Watch places more full-time staff in the global South, domestic rights groups in these regions are raising concerns about donor competition and pretensions of northern leadership. Can we move beyond old dichotomies and focus on common goals to draw all areas of the human rights network together? Español العربية

East African rights activists are badly out of touch

The high-minded words of East African activists are often lost on their intended beneficiaries, many of whom are members of the rural poor. A contribution from Mali to the openGlobalRights debate, “Human Rights: Mass or Elite Movement?”

Los activistas y las elites: ¿uniendo los puntos cabos?

La discusión sobre las élites y las bases populares en el movimiento de derechos humanos es importante; pero a veces puede confundir tanto como aclarar. English العربية

النشطاء والنُخبة: الربط بين النقاط؟

النقاش حول النخبة والمنظمات الأهلية لحركة حقوق الإنسان أمر مهم – ولكن يمكن أن يؤدي أحياناً إلى الإرباك بقدر ما يؤدي إلى الإيضاح. English Español

Activists and elites: connecting the dots

The discussion about elites and grassroots in the human rights movement is important – but can sometimes confuse as much as it illuminates. Español العربية

Orwell se sentiría orgulloso: los eslóganes de “derechos humanos” en México

La familiaridad con el término “derechos humanos” puede causar más daños que beneficios cuando la producción gubernamental de eslóganes se adueña de su significado. Dar a las bases populares el poder para interpretar y utilizar los derechos humanos es la clave para que exista una movilización eficaz. English.

Doing Orwell proud: “human rights” slogans in Mexico

Familiarity with the term “human rights” can cause more harm than good when government sloganeering co-opts its meaning.  Empowering the grassroots with the agency to interpret and use human rights is the key to effective mobilization. Español.

Elites still matter when protecting human rights

Ron, Crow and Golden argue that human rights organizations should foster grassroots movements worldwide. Elite-focused approaches remain essential, however, especially in highly unequal countries such as Mexico and Colombia. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate, “Human rights: mass or elite movement?”. Español. 

Ni las élites ni las masas: la protección de los derechos humanos en el mundo real

La diversidad de los movimientos de derechos humanos desafía el uso de las etiquetas "de élite" o "de masas". Una respuesta al debate que inició la Encuesta de percepción de los derechos humanos. English.

Neither elites nor masses: protecting human rights in the real world

The diversity of human rights movements defies elite/mass labels. A response to the debate sparked by the Human Rights Perception PollEspañol.

Reformar y transformar: una mirada multidireccional de los derechos humanos.

Los investigadores deberían analizar tanto las relaciones verticales entre los líderes de derechos humanos y sus bases como las relaciones horizontales entre el movimiento de derechos humanos y otros actores. Una respuesta a la investigación de Ron, Crow y Golden y una nueva contribución al debate "masas-elites". English

Reforming and transforming: a multi-directional investigation of human rights

Researchers must analyze both vertical relationships between human rights leaders and their base, as well as horizontal relations between the human rights movement and other actors. A response to Ron, Crow and Golden’s survey research, and a new contribution to the “masses or elites” debate. Español.

Human rights for whom? A closer look at elitism and women’s rights in Africa

The problem of ‘top-down’ human rights work is particularly pronounced among the marginalized women and girls who experience the harshest abuses. These individuals are fully capable of becoming rights bearers, but need more information about international and national law. From the openGlobalRights debate, Human rights: mass or elite movement?

Hablando con el acento de las élites: el movimiento de derechos humanos y su relación con el público

¿Depende la efectividad del movimiento de derechos humanos de los niveles de confianza y apoyo difuso que inspira entre los ciudadanos? No necesariamente. Las estrategias bien diseñadas a nivel de las elites pueden permitir a las ONGs promover reformas progresistas de manera efectiva. English

Speaking with an elite accent: human rights and the "masses"

Does the human rights movement's effectiveness hinge upon the trust and diffuse support of ordinary citizens? Not necessarily. Well-crafted, elite-level strategies can help NGOs effectively promote progressive reform. Español. 

Human rights: a mirror for all

Instead of posing as truth-advocates, Israeli human rights activists should first acknowledge the limitations of their own paradigm to address the source and scope of injustices endured by Palestinians. Then they might realize they are in the same boat as the public they so desperately try to persuade. A response to Jessica Montell. עברית ,العربية

حقوق الإنسان: الانطلاق حتى النهاية

بدلاً من ادعاءات النشطاء الإسرائيليون في مجال حقوق الإنسان بأنهم حماة الحقيقة والمدافعون عن الحق؛ ينبغي عليهم أولاً وقبل كل شيء أن يعترفوا بوجود قيود لنموذجهم لمعالجة مصدر ومدى الظلم الذي يعاني منه الفلسطينيون. حينئذ فقط، قد يدركون أنهم في قارب واحد مع الشعب الذين يسعون لإقناعه بكل الوسائل. رد على جيسيكا مونتيل. Englishעברית

זכויות אדם: ללכת עד הסוף

במקום להציג את עצמם כשליחים נאורים ויודעי כל, על ארגוני זכויות האדם בישראל להתחיל להתמודד עם המגבלות המבניות הקיימות בשיח שלהם עצמם. או אז הם עשויים לגלות כי הם נמצאים באותה סירה עם הציבור הישראלי אותו הם מנסים ללא לאות לשכנע. תגובה לג'סיקה מונטל. English, العربية  

Belief in common humanity is the first principle

The primary challenge facing Israeli human rights organizations is cultivating a shared belief in equality for all among Israelis. A response to Montell, Lustick, and Allen. العربية ,עברית

Fighting abuses in existing powers

Although it is certainly of intellectual interest that elites and masses differ in rights awareness, it is uncertain that mobilizing the masses around rights or further informing elites about them will in fact improve rights in practice. A response to Ron, Crow, and Golden, Neier, Hopgood, and others

Civil society, human rights and Jewish-Israeli communitarians

Many Jewish-Israelis see local human rights groups as traitors, but a boycott will only make things worse. A response to Ron, Crow and Golden, Jessie Montell, Ian Lustick, and Lori Allen.

Where is the humanism in Israel?

Can human rights break past the self-interest of nationalism? A response to Jessica Montell and Ian LustickTranslations: עברית.

The 'no grassroots' critique of human rights: fair or misleading?

The dichotomy set up between elite-driven and grassroots-driven human rights progress might be a false one. A response to James Ron, David Crow and Shannon Golden.

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