Spotlight on Human Rights

Spotlight on Human Rights

(New group/book/video added regularly)

  • Human Rights Book: Enlightenment Now: How to Resist with Optimism! (9-2018 Spotlight on Human Rights). Review by Bob Groves.
    • My biggest surprise in reading Steven Pinker’s new book was how good it was for my mental health! Searching for a bit of hope in these challenging times, I emerged with a clearer view and more strength to work for human rights. Pinker is a vigorous counter point to those who like to say “nothing has changed”.Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress (2018) takes the reader on a global tour of human progress over centuries to our present day. He assesses inequality, education, health, violence, human rights, the environment and other factors with the best data available. In my view, how could our optimism NOT increase if we take a little time to consider the very positive trends he describes?

      In his chapter on “Progressophobia”, Pinker presents us with two “shockers”: “the world has made spectacular progress in every single measure of human well-being” and “almost no one knows about it”. For example, 83% of the world’s population is now literate, including 91% of those age 15 to 24. The overall rate in 1900 was less than 20% and in 1975 just under 60%. Average life expectancy worldwide today is 71 years. In 1900 it was around 31 and in 1960 about 52.  Among recent successes he notes the UN led work on the Millennium Development Goals (2000—2015) and the importance of the successor Sustainable Development Goals (2016-2030). His view is that far from resting on our laurels and just congratulating ourselves, we should identify the causes of progress so we can do more of what works!

      Enlightenment Now devotes significant space to current threats to progress. Two of the greatest, in Pinker’s view, are climate change and nuclear war which “…will require immense effort and ingenuity to mitigate”. The book offers cogent ideas on addressing these and other challenges to future progress.

      Pinker notes he was pressured by early reviewers of his draft to end each chapter with “But all this progress is threatened if Donald Trump gets his way.” While acknowledging the Trump/authoritarian populist threat (and offering an insightful critique), Pinker gives us clear reasons and more strength for fighting back. He shows us humanity’s incredible success in the past overcoming ignorance and making enlightened progress. Why in the world would we stop now?!

      Watch Pinker make his case in this TED Talk from April 2018: https://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_is_the_world_getting_better_or_worse_a_look_at_the_numbers.  For an additional book review see https://democracyjournal.org/magazine/48/its-not-as-bad-as-all-that/

  • Fund for Global Human Rights (6-2018 Spotlight on Human Rights). A fund that has awarded over $85 million in grants to more than 650 on-the-ground human rights groups.
  • US Human Rights Network (4-2018 Spotlight on Human Rights). Building a people-centered movement.
  • Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) (3-2018 Spotlight on Human Rights.) A nationwide advocacy group that seeks justice and mutual understanding between Muslims and the rest of American Society
  • Human Rights Book: In the Midst of Winter (2-2018 Spotlight on Human Rights) – Book review by Bob Groves.
    • In the Midst of Winter, published in 2017, is at once a mystery, love story and revelation of human rights tragedies by Chilean author Isabel Allende. Ms. Allende, who is now a U. S. citizen, is a cousin of Salvador Allende, the President of Chile who died as a result of the 1973, U.S. supported, military coup against his democratically elected government. This latest novel, Allende’s 23rd work of fiction, explores the complexities of human relationships alongside both historical and present day struggles of Central and South Americans. There are some clear autobiographical elements in the bumpy love story that unfolds between two of the main characters, Lucia and Richard, who live and work in Brooklyn. The third main character, Evelyn, is a young woman from Guatemala who makes it to the U.S. in precarious ways due to threats to her life at home. Evelyn winds up in an exploitative household in Brooklyn and is confronted with the challenge of dealing with the death of another women working in the same household. In spelling out the tale, Allende reveals to readers the current perilous conditions faced by many Central Americans who are forced to migrate. In addition, we are transported to both 1970s Brazil and the upheaval in Chile. The realities of human rights abuses, and the courage required to face them, are inescapable in the novel. Along the way Allende offers insights, sometimes humorous, on romantic relationships between older adults in today’s world. This provides a nice balance to what are, at-times, life-threatening challenges faced by the characters.
  • Human Rights Book: Evidence for Hope: Making Human Rights Work in the 21st Century (1-2018 Spotlight on Human Rights) – Book review by Bob Groves.
    • Katherine Sikkink has made a valuable contribution to human rights scholarship with her book, Evidence for Hope (2017). Sikkink, a Professor of Human Rights Policy at Harvard, is also associated with the university’s Carr Center for Human Rights https://carrcenter.hks.harvard.edu. She offers an excellent primer for both the academically inclined as well as activists. For academics she provides an interesting history of how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was developed and challenges those who believe the document, and rights in general, reflect only so-called Western values. She outlines the strong role the global South played in the UDHR’s early phases and the development of new institutions such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. She also shows the connection between the human rights movement and successful struggles against Apartheid and colonialism in Africa. Sikkink discusses how rights advocacy efforts, laws and institutions can be evaluated, offering insights on measuring effectiveness and recommendations for future initiatives. This analysis might be useful to activists who would like to feel more grounded in determining if their passionate efforts are having an impact. Sikkink is an optimist on the future of human rights. Her book is a welcome resource. It includes extensive references and suggestions for further reading.
  • American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) (12-2017 Spotlight on Human Rights): a Quaker organization that promotes lasting peace with justice, as a practical expression of faith in action.
  • The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (11-2017 Spotlight on Human Rights): Independent, non-profit media organisation that holds power to account.
  • The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (10-2017 Spotlight on Human Rights): The Nation’s Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition.
  • Brennan Center for Justice (7-2017 Spotlight on Human Rights): a nonpartisan law and policy institute that seeks to improve our systems of democracy and justice.
  • Freedom House (5 and 6-2017 Spotlight on Human Rights):  an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world.
  • Global Citizen (4-2017 Spotlight on Human Rights): All about people who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. 
  • National Immigration Law Center (3-2017 Spotlight on Human Rights): one of the leading organizations in the U.S. exclusively dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of low-income immigrants.