Last Monday, January 25, the Julien J. Studley Graduate Program in International Affairs celebrated the recent publication of three books on the theories and practices of human rights and development. SGPIA Professor Sakiko Fukuda-Parr co-authored two of the books titled Food Security in South Africa: Human Rights and Entitlement Perspectives and Fulfilling Social and Economic Rights. Alicia Yamin, Director of the JD/MPH program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, also launched the book Power, Suffering and the Struggle for Dignity – Human Rights Frameworks for Health and Why They Matter.
Additional speakers at the event were: Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and Extreme Poverty and Professor at New York University School of Law; Mary Watson, Executive Dean of The New School for Public Engagement; Manjari Mahajan, Professor of International Affairs at The New School; and Sanjay Ruparelia, Associate Professor of Politics at The New School for Social Research.
The event offered the opportunity to explore why human rights framing of health and security matter, but why they are not being incorporated into mainstream development policy. A common thread throughout many remarks was that all three books aim to engage a broader audience rather than specifically target human rights professionals. Alicia Yamin shared that she intentionally used a personal tone to “broaden the circle” of readers.
“The stories are meant to engage people personally because I believe that understanding the particularities of human beings can help us understand the universality of why human rights are important,” Yamin remarked. “Not all suffering out there is a human rights violation. But there is suffering, needless suffering, that is caused by discrimination, that is caused by indifferent government institutions, that is caused by unjust economic policies—and that is the suffering that the book is really about.”
Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, meanwhile, explained that her books were motivated by a concern with the role of public policy in fulfilling social and economic rights. “I do see human rights not as law, but as an ethical claim,” Fukuda-Parr explained. “I see the denial, or the more commonly used term ‘violation of human rights’, as basically a failure of social institutions and a realization as a primary policy objective, or public policy objective. And governments do have this obligation to fulfill these human rights by taking proactive measures to actually realize them.”