Scoop Review of Books

Freedom from Our Social Prisons

By Anthony Ravlich

My book, ‘Freedom from our Social Prisons: the Rise of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’, which aims to empower the poor and marginalized with a uniting belief system –core minimum obligations – is due to be released in June, 2008 (see below).

Throughout history the poor and enslaved, unlike the elites, have often lacked a belief system I consider that it will be the fully independent grassroots organizations that will determine whether this proposed belief system gains international acceptance. If successful it has the potential to unite the interests of the most disadvantaged world-wide and ultimately have a world order under the umbrella of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with the right to development for all, rather than the present divisive, elitist, neo liberal ideology which, in my view, if it gains complete global dominance, will result in a liberal elite enslaving the great majority of humanity.

The above-mentioned minimum obligations reflect the human rights requirement to emphasis the most serious violations e.g. those without shelter, insufficient food and water, lack of basic health and education. The latter are usually top-down in nature i.e. to be provided by the State. However, the addition of the empowering rights (i.e. from the bottom-up) of human rights education, a voice in society and the right to development for the most disadvantaged will enable these NGOs, acting on the behalf of the most disadvantaged, to peacefully seek to achieve core minimum obligations (and ultimately higher levels of both sets of rights) which, it is envisaged, will be eventually included in human rights law . This can be done by making use of the democratic process to advance human rights, so people can chose political parties which stand for the rights they want, rather than in some countries having recourse to terrorism and riots or, as is often the case in liberal democracies individuals and groups having to seek justice without the support of the law. For example, in New Zealand, such rights in human rights law would have ensured that the severe benefit cuts, market rentals for State houses, and student fees and loans of the 1990s did not take place and consequently an underclass would not have been created.

These NGOs, operating under the umbrella of both civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights, would also support a much wider domain of development. Financial assistance could be gained by the use of micro loans, using monies from lotteries, arranging casual employment in addition to the State benefit or perhaps the NGO can operate some suitable business enterprise, however, simply moral support is important in such a hostile environment. This would provide a space in society for individuals who wish to pursue their dreams and where the truth is not crushed by the excessive fear and hostility generated by the enormous social control needed to pursue neo liberalism. The latter discriminates against classes by strongly focusing development at the middle class, corporate level. Eventually, it is envisaged, it will be the small social and business enterprises which will employ the underclass and take society into the future rather than simply perpetuating the problems of the present.

The above empowering rights will enable the human rights agenda to be driven from the bottom-up rather than the top-down. The international and national human rights and political establishment will be held to account. I see this belief system as the only credible challenge to neo liberalism in today’s world. If implemented it promises to considerably civilize neo liberalism. These ideas could be considered as being ‘before their time’ however given the increasing global uncertainty and increasing injustice some people may, in the near future, be wanting to understand the prevailing system and seek solutions to national and international problems.

My view is that the middle classes have the liberal ideology (particularly its variant, neo liberalism), the workers have had the socialist ideology (although largely in the past) so a human rights emphasis on core minimum human rights obligations would enable the poor and the marginalized to fight to have their interests emphasized without losing sight of the human rights of others in society and the world. Economic, social and cultural rights, as with civil and political rights, can be manipulated to conform to the neo liberal ideology by ignoring the rights of the most disadvantaged. This has been the case with past the human rights instruments which were ratified. They failed to protect the underclass whose numbers increased dramatically e.g. the covenant on civil and political rights did not give a voice for the poor, the conventions with respect to women and race did not help the most disadvantaged women or Maori, in fact, their numbers greatly increased. The core minimum obligations in human rights law, if implemented, would curb the excesses of the market as evidenced by the present global food price crises It is considered that core minimum obligations should apply to civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights (according to the equal status principle regarding both sets of rights found in the Vienna Declaration and Limburg Principles). This would give intellectuals and policy-makers a more realistic, though still principled, human rights perspective able to accommodate the curbs that are taking place with individual freedoms, a consequence of terrorist attacks. However while it is considered that at the core level both sets of rights require immediate implementation (or at least the covenants should not be treated differently) above this level the rights are aspirational and progressive. However any retrogressive measures regarding rights already attained e.g. such as individual freedoms, should be subject to a high democratic standard e.g. a super majority in parliament/congress or a referendum by the people.

I have been fighting for economic, social and cultural human rights in New Zealand since 1991 and have been forced to live in poverty throughout because of my beliefs. As you might be aware forging a new path has enormous pitfalls. It is hoped this book will make it an easier path for others wishing to promote the above rights.

My book focuses on liberal democracies (which have stood in the way of economic, social and cultural rights and the poor since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948) and includes a significant New Zealand content. The book cover includes an endorsement by Professor William F. Felice, professor of international relations and global affairs, Eckerd College who states: “This informed study will be of great use to all concerned with social justice.”

Chapter 5 discusses the major flaws of the Optional Protocol for the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which fails to include the core minimum obligations devised by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights or the rights to human rights education and development (the latter rights have yet to be defined by the Committee in terms of core minimum obligations), dealt with by the UN Human Rights Council in early April, 2008.

Anthony Ravlich,
Human Rights Council Inc. (New Zealand),
New Zealand

(To order for discount: Google Lexington Books and enter title i.e. see The book is hardcover but it is hoped that it will eventually be released as a paperback.)