Knowledge of human rights is not enough

11th April 2016

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Welcome to the second post featuring, Dessie Donnelly, from The PPR Project in Northern Ireland.

In the previous post Dessie explained that the litmus test for the value of any human rights based approach was whether its tools could be of practical use to communities in addressing real life issues. This post explains some of the limitations of human rights advocacy and some insights into how PPR use human rights to empower marginalised communities.

Dominic: So Dessie, can you explain this so we can get a better grasp of PPR's Human Rights work?

Dessie: Well when trying to place human rights at the service of marginalised groups, one of the first things you learn is that it’s necessary but not sufficient to just tell people what their rights are. Knowledge of human rights does not automatically lead to the enjoyment of human rights. Or to put it another way - human rights abuses and violations do not happen primarily due to a lack of awareness or education among rights holders.

Human rights are abused and violated primarily due to power inequalities embedded in the institutions and practices of democratic participation and accountability. Marginalised groups experience different forms of social and economic inequality because they are not afforded the same levels of transparency as more powerful groups in society, they are denied access to the effective means of accountability, and their priorities devalued and voices excluded from democratic processes around policy development and resource allocation. This has important consequences for how human rights are progressed.

A lot of conventional human rights advocacy focuses on awareness raising and this approach has the tendency to rely on people who do apparently have awareness and are educated about what rights are - legal and academic professionals - as experts in developing strategies to realise and enjoy human rights. This advocacy is indeed necessary and important at times, but it does not build power for marginalised groups – which is essential to making sustainable change.

At PPR we focus on building power with the people we support. We engage them around their own issues and develop strategies with them to challenge abuses and make constructive change on individual and structural levels. One of the main methodologies we developed, which was cited by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as an example of best practice, was developing participatory human rights indicators and benchmarks to support communities in monitoring the state in terms of the progressive realisation of human rights.

 

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