Intercultural Managment, and LiveBloggin

I am very happy to report that I’ll be attending the Intercultural Management Institute’s conference on March 13 and 14. I am looking forward to many interesting panels and workshops.I’m also excited to try live blogging for the first time. I’ll be using www.coveritlive.com ‘s application. I hope you join in!

To follow along, click here.

Human Rights and the Election, Part 3: Obstacles and hope

In a recent report, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, found that only 5% of questions posed to presidential candidates were about human rights. A panel was put together to discuss these findings, and in this 3rd installment, I’ll share what Gayle Smith, co-founder of ENOUGH! had to say.

“It is sad, but true,” she started, “that human rights do not make good politics, certainly in a campaign environment.” But, she added this could be changed.

But before we can change anything, we have to understand why we in this situation now.

Impediments

The American public has 2 impediments when it comes to human rights – 1) indifference, 2) they believe it is intractable. The good news is that people are less indifferent that they have been in the past. But the bad news is they still think these problems can’t be changed.

And you won’t find a candidate who will say, “I’m going to solve these problems.” They just can’t risk it.

Time Frame

A second problem is time frame. Human rights crises take a long time to resolve. When you compare that to a administration cycle (4 or 8 years) and especially in a campaign cycle, they are just not compatible. “It’s a process, and its hard to campaign around a process.”

Messaging

Human rights is presented as a stand alone issue, but in reality it is part of many issues:

  • the opinion of the US in the world
  • stability
  • security
  • democracy
  • intervention and the use of power
  • international cooperation
  • engagement with the rest of the world

The human rights advocacy community should work on integrating their messages into other issues, Smith suggested.

Cohesion (lack of)

There is no perception of an articulated constituency. And in the election debate, candidates have to balance between being strong and soft. Human rights is perceived a soft (Carter was often thought of as soft and naive). After 9/11, the pressure for the president to be tough is even higher. The candidates feel that pressure.

Media

“Our media covers human rights in a way that injects it into the debate, but they fail to ask the really hard questions,” Smith says. “Like about the trade-offs between rights and stability.”

What can be done?

So what would it take to change things? Three things:

  1. A change coming from the electorate. “Darfur is as high as it is [in the report] not because of the media or the policymakers, but because Americans have kept it on the agenda.
  2. Soft power/smart power – “the notion that we need a set of tools and approaches in foreign policy that extend beyond the military”
  3. A shift in values – “From values as a matter of personal choice, to values as an expression of solidarity and citizenship.” Some of this, she pointed out, can be seen now in some religious communities.

We used to think of human rights as an issue that other countries had to deal with, but unfortunately, Ms. Smith pointed out, human rights is an issue we now face at home.

Human Rights and the Election, Part 2: Are We Compelled Enough?

Its not likely that you would find a presidential candidate that is against human rights. So why is it that human rights issues take such a backseat in presidential campaigns?

The Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF) found that so far, only 5% of questions posed to presidential candidates were about human rights issues. Earlier this week CAPAF hosted a panel discussion and released reports on its findings concerning human rights issues in the campaigns.

In this second of four postings about the discussion, I’ll focus on the comments of Gary Haugen, President of International Justice Mission. (Click here to read the first post of this series.)

Mr. Haugen started off with a reality check. The typical American voter does not care deeply about these kinds of issues. “It will actually take a long time to shift the thinking of the American people who will do the voting to actually care deeply about these issues. And,” he continued, presidential campaigns are “a reflection of what Americans care about.”

But its not just about caring. Its about caring enough.

“They [human rights battles] are really very much a fight- between those who are perpetrators of these abuses and those who want them to stop. And the most fundamental thing we have to remember is that a fight always comes down to a question of who is most committed. And perpetrators of human rights abuses are extremely committed to what they are doing, and it is an utterly unfair fight if those who are trying to stop the abuses are not equally committed.”

So where does that commitment come from? Mr. Haugen says that in elections, when leaders speak about human rights, they come from one of three perspectives:

-They believe it is a compelling national interest- “this matters because it affects us”

– They believe it is a compelling national value- “this matters to us morally”

-Or, they have compelling personal visions or identities.

These could all be sources of inspiration that would cause us to be committed.

But many politicians are wary of speaking about human rights issues. Especially in an election campaign – to do so could politicize the issue, then they find themselves working against an issue simple because their opponents are working for it.

But, he says, we shouldn’t shy away from asking the candidates questions and bringing up the issues during campaigns. In fact doing so could be helpful in three possible ways:

1) First of all one could get a candidate to promise action. Haugen called this “memorialization of a commitment.” If a candidate promises something during a campaign, they will be reminded of it later in office.

2) Bringing up a human rights issue with a candidate can sometimes reveal a competitive advantage. One might expose a creative idea, or bold approach that distinguishes s/he from other candidates.

3) Conversely, one could expose a political vulnerability. By bringing up an issue and explaining to the candidate that his/her constituency is concerned about this, one can expose a vulnerability that may be significant to voters.

So for Haugen, there is a delicate, but predictable, balance between discussing human rights, and the getting the public will to do something about it.