How Human Rights Can Create Social Change

22nd March 2016

Login / Signup to Save for Later


We’re very pleased here at The Four Corners of the Land to introduce the first in a series of posts sharing the insights and practical know how of applied human rights champion, Desmond Donnelly, aka Dessie.

Dessie is the Director of Development at the award winning human rights NGO, PPR - Participation and the Practice of Rights. He has a wealth of experience working with impoverished communities to build power and realise tangible social and economic change.

Four Corners: Thank you for talking to us, Dessie. We hope that these posts will be a valuable resource for community workers and people wanting to create social change here in the UK and further afield.

Our first question for you is how do you work with communities to use Human Rights to bring positive change?

Desmond Donnelly: Thank you for the warm welcome. Well the first thing you need to look at is the disparity between the international human rights standards, the letter of the law and the reality in communities, particularly some of the most marginalised communities in our society.

The human rights based approach needs to be, in the first instance, realistic about the status of human rights among marginalised communities. To be relevant the human rights based approach needs to allow communities to use human rights standards, human rights tools, as a way to hold the state accountable to international domestic obligations.

So really PPR would see the human rights based approach as a practical tool to address social and economic inequality (view Resources) ; to redress underlying power imbalances by challenging the democratic deficit which produces a lack of accountability, participation and transparency in governing systems. It needs to be relevant to all those sorts of issues which fail to meet the mark in terms of the state’s international obligations.

What we have found is there’s a lot of work around applied human rights or human rights education which is interesting but not very useful for communities. If a human rights based approach is not relevant to the lives of people experiencing severe inequalities, if it is not providing a practical tool to enforce or create remedies and hold power to account – then who exactly is it being ‘useful’ to?

So we would see the litmus test of the value of human rights as being whether they can be of practical use to the person who’s living in a homeless hostel, someone whose going through mental health services or destitute asylum seekers. The question in the back of your mind must always be “will this be of actual, tangible use to assist them to improve their situation – and in turn set precedents for others to avail of?”

Leave a comment

Why not share some reflections with us here?

Please login or sign up to comment