Social Justice is Gaining Momentum

The very controversial economic, social and cultural rights …

Linked with Anthony Ravlich – New Zealand.

Published on Human New Zealand, by Anthony Ravlich MA, BSc, Dip Crim (Hons) Chairperson, Human Rights Council Inc., last changements: Oct. 18, 2004 – (c) Anthony Ravlich.

There appears to be a growing global emphasis on social justice however there seems to be a concern by government that widespread knowledge of these economic, social and cultural rights, which envisage a more egalitarian society, may open a pandora’s box. In the past these human rights have been deliberately kept from the people.

The above study is part of the New Zealand Plan of Action for Human Rights launched by the Human Rights Commission on 10 Dec 2002. The final action plan report is due on 10 Dec 2004 and this is expected to be discussed by Cabinet early next year …

… Another criticism is that economic, social and cultural rights are non-justiciable (not amenable to judicial decision making). New Zealand also takes this view. However South Africa (and Denmark) has justiciable economic, social and cultural rights in their constitution. They were applied, for example, in the case of Grootbroom.

In my opinion civil and political rights, the rights to life, liberty, fair trial, freedom of speech, association etc. are only readily accessed in an egalitarian society where there is no great power or economic differences. For instance in liberal democracies it is by and large the professional sector who own and/or control the mass media and the work place.

They have powerful associations, like the Business Roundtable, to influence government and their dominance in parliament has grown over the years. Jack Nagel in the British Journal of Political Science (1998) provided statistics on the occupations of NZ Labour MPs – in 1935 only 17.9% were from a professional, semi-professional background but by 1984 this had risen to 73.2%. Tyson and Aziz Said state: “The model of of the modern democratic state was – and still is – a capitalist, mercantilist, middle-class system and society, emphasising civil and political rights, and arguing that economic, social and cultural rights will come later, that they have to wait, because after all, “these things take time”, as old segregationists in the south of the United States used to say” (Human Rights: A Forgotten Victim of the Cold War, Human Rights Quarterly 15(1993), pp589-604). It is perhaps not surprising that from 1982 to 1996 looking at the decile average of household equivalent disposable income the top income group 10 increased their income 32.4% ($62100 to $82200), income group 9 increased by 2.8% with the other eight income groups taking a decrease some quite large i.e. group 4, -10.8%; group 5, -9.3% (Our Children – the priority for policy, Child Poverty Action Group, 2001, p8). By contrast, the most disadvantaged have little access to their civil and political rights. I am speaking from 13 years experience as a human rights activist working at the bottom end of society. While I have tried to do statistical research in the area there seems to be a reluctance to fund such research. However, I was reliably informed by a Human Rights Commission source that ‘the poor stay away in droves’. Henry Shue maintains: “It is fraudulent, in other words, to promise liberties in the absence of security, subsistence and any other basic rights” (Basic Rights, princeton University Press 1980).

Francis Fukuyama describes liberal democracy as the doctrine of individual freedom and popular sovereignty (i.e. civil and political rights). He adds that in its economic manifestation, liberalism is the recognition of the right of free economic activity and economic exchange based on private property and markets. ( The End of History and the Last Man, 1992, p44). Fukuyama states that the number of liberal democratic countries increased dramatically, from 30 countries in 1975 to 61 countries in 1990 before the collapse of communism in 1989 ( The End of History…pp49-50). This prompted Fukuyama to argue that liberal democracy may constitute the “end point of mankind’s ideological evolution” (The End of History…pxi). Without communist support economic, social and cultural rights became completely marginalised and neo-liberalism increased its global domination. Tony Evans states: “Instead of fulfilling its intention of offering protection to the weak and the vulnerable, neo-liberal interests have co-opted the idea of human rights as a justification for grabbing ‘even more of the world’s (and their own nations) resources than they previously had’ and ‘to steal back the concessions to social democracy that were forced out of them at the end of the Second World War” (The Politics of Human Rights, 2001, p104). In my view while liberalism, during the Cold War, tended to be confined to the state neo-liberalism is essentially imperialistic because it is prepared to use military and structural violence to spread liberal democracy e.g. Iraq. Also the structural adjustment progams of the World Bank and IMF involving cutting back on welfare is structural violence. Ideological and economic globalisation go hand in hand. Limited government ensures large private sectors suitable for corporate control rather than state control of, for example, the Iraqi oil fields.
University students are today faced with a user pays university education however section 13(2) of the covenant on economic, social and cultural rights requires that tertiary education be progressively free. There is also student debt and low paid jobs. With economic, social and cultural rights more prominent student activists could utilise the democratic process to promote these human rights and ensure that political parties indicate where they stand on human rights. This will not only benefit students but New Zealand as a whole. (full very long text).

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