Charlotte Bunch, Executive Director,
Center for Global Women’s Leadership, Rutger’s University
Felice Gaer, Director,
Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights
Armstrong Wiggins, Director, Central and South America Programs,
Indian Law Resource Center
This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.
ARMSTRONG WIGGINS, Director, Central and South America Programs, Indian Law Resource
Center: Human rights has to be dynamic. Human rights cannot be isolated and a lot of
governments, some governments are pushing to make like human rights is just for one country and
should not work for other countries. We look at it as the opposite. I think it has to be global.
KEITH PORTER, Producer: This week on Common Ground, globalization and the human
CHARLOTTE BUNCH, Executive Director, Center for Global Women’s Leadership, Rutger’s
University: Our future is really dependent on our ability to see ourselves as both part of
the problem and part of the solution in working for a different kind of world situation. Where
people in the United States would have our human rights respected in this country as well as have
policies of our government that promote and help to build respect for human rights around the
PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape
events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter. Globalization means that
sectors of human activity once carried out on a national or even local level are now affected by
global pressures. Capital, resources and manufactured goods fly around the globe and social,
political and cultural structures and concepts often seem to often follow the lead or get
trampled in the stampede. Where do human rights and the movement to protect human rights fit into
this globalization trend? We’ll discuss that with our guests today on Common Ground. First
is long time human rights activist Felice Gaer.
FELICE GAER, Director, Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights: I
am… I do lots of things but I am paid to be the director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for
Human Rights, which is an endowed institute within the umbrella of the American Jewish Committee.
The Jacob Blaustein Institute is engaged in trying to narrow the gap between the universal
declaration of human rights and reality and does so by trying to clarify human rights concepts,
strengthen international human rights mechanisms and empower human rights organizations with new
strategies and techniques. In the course of that, I spend a lot of my time around the United
Nations and on those kinds of issues, but we’ve learned that the human rights community worldwide
is very active and very effective on the national level, not just at the international level.
That provides an added legitimacy and sometimes empowerment to them vis-à-vis their own
leaders, but in fact the bulk of the work that’s done by human rights organizations is done in
their countries. And we try to work with such groups as well on a variety of issues, covering
everything from religious freedom to women’s rights to traditional issues of torture and Indian
rights and land rights and complicated questions. So we have a very broad mandate and try to do
something to advance the issues.
WIGGINS: Indian Law Resource Center was founded in 1978. We raised our own money to do
PORTER: This is Armstrong Wiggins. He’s the director of Central and South American
Programs at the Indian Law Resource Center.
WIGGINS: We do not get money from any federal government or any money that goes from
federal government monies like World Bank, we cannot accept because most of the time we are
fighting governments and we don’t want money should be used to interfere with our work on
defending Indian rights and human rights. I am a Mosquito Indian, I joined them in 1981 after I
came out of jail. I think it’s interesting coincidence that Felice Gaer’s on my side. She was one
of the persons that supported our work in UN as NGOs that was interested in Indian issues. It
started in 1977. I was the youngest ?? leader that went there representing the Mosquito Indians.
That’s how I get to know the director of Indian Law Resource Center and so when I was in jail,
the only one that really make a campaign to get me out of jail and join them and then work with
Felice Gaer and others to promote Indian rights question within the UN and started the Indian
working group in 1982.
And I must say until today, beside the women’s movement, that’s one of the most dynamic working
groups within the UN system and because of Indian Law Resource Center bringing the experience of
the legal struggle within the United States, we were able to explain and debate those issues from
legal side of it in Geneva and other Indian leaders that came from within the America—Central
and South America—Alaska and beyond. You know, like the Maori people, the Australian, become
friend of us because we speak the same language as far as we talk about land is one of the most
important issues in our mind because Indian without land is a bad Indian and therefore these are
issues that the United Nations should really come to grips with and deal with and try to help us
overcome the problems. So we believe strongly that if we develop positive international, legal
mechanism, maybe we might be able to change some of the domestic policies in the inter-American
PORTER: Charlotte Bunch, tell us about your work and the international aspect of it.
BUNCH: Well I direct the Center for Women’s Global Leadership which is at Rutgers
University in the international State of New Jersey. And the Center’s work is primarily around
women’s human rights and in particular, we work to put women’s human rights issues onto the
international policy agenda, both in the human rights world and also within the areas of
development and within women’s projects, particularly at the United Nations but also with the
U.S. and other governments. And the second part of our work really has been the development of
women’s leadership for this vision of women’s human rights and we do every year an annual
leadership institute with grassroots women from around the world where we do training and
strategy building around how to bring women’s human rights into the mainstream of the human
rights thinking and movements around the world. And the third area, which is where we do most of
our work in the U.S., is around what we call global human rights education, which is to really
bring to the United States a better understanding of what are the global trends and how we in the
U.S. need to see ourselves as part of the world. That we are not separate and isolated from
what’s happening in the rest of the world and in fact, that our future is really dependent on our
ability to see ourselves as both part of the problem and part of the solution in working for a
different kind of world situation where people in the United States would have our human rights
respected in this country as well as have policies of our government that promoted and helped to
build respect for human rights around the world.
PORTER: This phrase, globalization of the human rights movement, what does it mean for
one thing? And secondly, is this a concept that’s being embraced across the broad cross section
of the human rights movement?
BUNCH: Well I think that the globalization of the human rights movement means several
things. In the first instance, to me, it means that the human rights movement, in the last decade
in particular, has really become more of a global movement, which is to say that the movement at
the grassroots level of human rights in every country among movements for social justice, has
grown enormously in the last ten or fifteen years, so that it isn’t just international human
rights organizations who care about human rights. It really is a grass roots movement. For
example, our work has been with grass roots women’s groups, and that exists all over the world,
who have embraced human rights as a movement they care about and are reshaping what we think of
as human rights as a consequence. So that the movement itself has become much more global and not
just the sort of leading international organizations that people often think of, like Amnesty, as
the only part of the movement. Now there’s a very vibrant grassroots movement.
And secondly, I think there’s the globalization of the rest of the world. The globalization of
the economy, the increasing globalization of issues of governance, of how we work, so that as a
human rights movement we also have to recognize that the issues we face are more global than
ever. And so we don’t really have so many nation state solutions. We have to begin to build
solutions that work through the nation states, but recognize that each country is affecting what
happens in another country. And in many ways, this is a fulfillment of the vision of human rights
anyway, that we should care about what happens in other countries was always, I think, one of the
human rights principles. But even more so, we now see how what happens in one country affects
what happens in another, including the United States. And so a global movement that must deal
with global issues has to be the response.
PORTER: Felice Gaer, anything you want to add on this globalization topic?
GAER: Well, Charlotte said in the ten or fifteen years and Armstrong spoke about
beginning his advocacy in 1977, I think in fairness really once Jimmy Carter put human rights
onto the international agenda, there has been an enormous growth of domestic-based human rights
groups. There has been considerable outside support, private foundations, European institutions,
U.S. government and others, to build those organizations. And one of the things that’s really
been dramatic, for obvious reasons, since 1990, 1991, has been also the enormous growth of these
movements in the countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, former Soviet Union, Russia,
where they didn’t exist before. And so there is, an addition to the grassroots movements that
were springing up among environmentalists and indigenous groups and economic groups and lawyers
groups in many parts of the world, you have this new add-on now which has made it truly global.
PORTER: Armstrong Wiggins? Anything you want to add on globalization?
WIGGINS: Yes, I think that as Charlotte said, that since 1977 until now, it’s been of
tremendous interest within the grassroots community, especially in Indian communities, because in
the past, most of the time the church is the non-Indian human rights group used to speak for
Indian people, but many of the messages and many of the suffering that used to take place in the
jungle was not told the way it was happening by some of these groups because they had a limited
political agenda sometimes by church groups or by other non-Indian human rights groups. I think
Nicaragua and Guatemala was a very interesting case, one from the left and one from, and
Guatemala from the right, and the church involvement both from Catholic and also the Fundamental
church that get involved in there and confuse the issue, push indigenous peoples to really get
interested in human rights area also and try to learn to get training in that area, to learn
from, just not from Indian groups, human rights groups in Central and South America but globally.
And we learn a lot from the experience from for instance, Indian problem facing these issues in
Alaska and United States and Canada, Central and South America, and that experience bring a lot
of wealth and information to deal with these issues. And now we have, what we dealing with today
is the communication system. Now we can come to this and talk about these issues and five, ten
years ago, if something happened in the jungle of Nicaragua, we didn’t get to find out until
after a month or maybe six months. Now you get it right away because of the kind of system we
developed to communicate with our Indian brothers and sisters that are dealing with this. And
that’s true with women’s movement also. Indian women, they’re very much now involved in that
activism and very dynamic and we are still looking for help from other women movement to try to
create that bridge so that we can get more support.
And so human rights has to be dynamic. Human rights cannot be isolated. A lot of governments,
some governments, are pushing to make like human rights is just for one country and should not
work for other countries. We look at it as the opposite, as Charlotte was saying. I think it has
to be global.
PORTER: We’re talking in this edition of Common Ground with Armstrong Wiggins of
the Indian Law Resource Center. Our other guests are Charlotte Bunch, Executive Director of the
Center for Global Women’s Leadership at Rutgers University, and Felice Gaer, Director of the
Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, a part of the American Jewish
Committee. Printed transcripts and audiocassettes of this program are available. Listen at the
end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a
nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs meant to provoke
thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
Is the state still important, Charlotte? I mean, even though there’s globalization, I suppose
sovereignty and states are still important?
BUNCH: Well I think the state is still very important because it still affects people’s
lives in many ways and it is still the vehicle through which most people try to exercise some
kind of influence over what’s happening in their lives. But the state is changing. The state does
not have an extensive control over global economy, which is what affects many people in many
ways. The state has varying degrees of control over immigration and the movement of people,
depending on the situation. So I think that we are in a period of rethinking what is the role of
the state and that’s not to say it isn’t important, those state laws and those actions of the
state still have a tremendous impact on what happens to people in everyday way. But the state
also has to learn how to adapt to this kind of global culture and global economy where states
themselves are not necessarily the final word in the process but simply are a piece along the
way, a part of what’s going on.
PORTER: Armstrong, you spent time in the state’s jail, so I assume that you believe that
states are still important?
WIGGINS: I think it’s very important and I think from Indian point of view, I think
states should embrace these ideas and work with us instead of saying that Indian people trying to
separate or become independent. The easy way of getting out, states used to argue that one of the
reasons it don’t want to give us those rights was because we might separate. But we, our struggle
is to become part of the state, not to separate from the state. We’ve been kind of outcasts and
therefore we do not make decision on our own. They make decision for us. In fact, until 1982,
Brazil ambassador would stand up and said we can’t let the Indians struggle alone because they’re
children. They cannot say that now today. I mean, things have changed. Why? Because of this
PORTER: Felice Gaer?
GAER: Well I’d add two elements of the importance of the state despite the globalization
you spoke about. States insist that they have sovereignty. In the past, they used the argument of
sovereignty as a shield. We have sovereignty, you can’t look into what we do; stay out. The
international community affirmed in 1993 in Vienna at the World Conference on Human Rights and
before that in the Helsinki Accords in the European area, the international community said human
rights monitoring is the concern of the international community and looking into those issues has
nothing to do with sovereignty. It certainly doesn’t impinge upon it. However, repressive states
continue to use the argument and hold up the shield of sovereignty to say, stay out of our
business. That’s a problem, especially when the situation, this gets to my second point, when the
situation is that the state itself is committing the violations.
You say, is the state important? The old paradigm of the human rights movement was the state
committed the crimes. If you put enough pressure on, public pressure, moral pressure, economic
pressure, military pressure, a state would stop it. It had the power to say, okay, let these
people out, stop doing this terrible thing, or something like that. The post-Cold War period is
seen with ever-increasing commonality, a different paradigm. That is, human rights abuse is
taking place that the state has no power to… if the state was not there to start it, it has the
power to do something against it but it can’t always control it. Some of the ethnic violence,
some of the communal violence that has taken place, some of the actions of the international
business corporations. These are things that the state is struggling to find a way to address and
deal with, but it is not the kind of thing that the state can snap a finger tomorrow and say, hey
guys, stop this, and it’ll stop.
PORTER: I’ll start here with Armstrong for my last question. I know you’ve all three done
a lot of work with the United Nations and I want to know if the United Nations is a place that
fosters the globalization of the human rights movement or is it part of the problem?
WIGGINS: Well I think from indigenous point of view, I think, in 1977 was the beginning,
with the help of the NGOs, to bring indigenous people’s voice into the United Nations. Before
that, only government states used to come to the UN and just tell the UN that our kids are fine,
don’t interfere with our indigenous people because they’re our Indians. I think has changed now.
As you know, and I know, that the international law cannot really tell state government to do, or
tell them what to do. But as you also know that the economy is global. And because of that the
state wants to be on the good side and of course there are a lot of people criticize the United
Nations because of, I agree, there are weaknesses, there are a lot of weaknesses in the United
Nations. I mean, it’s a long process. We’d like to see things happen quicker, but because of the
bureaucracy and because I would like to see United Nations come to the Indians instead of Indians
coming to the United Nations. Because we don’t have the money for Indian people to be traveling
to Geneva. We would like to see United Nations have a consultation office in Ecuador, Costa Rica,
and Guatemala, you know. And things happen more. But unfortunately, I guess, they’re also going
through a difficult economic crisis, so. But yes, more positive than negative as far as
indigenous community is concerned and we should keep supporting that process.
BUNCH: Well I think that the UN is both. It’s both a part of the problem and it’s part of
the solution for the human rights movement. For all of us in terms of the UN, it is the arena
that we have for engaging in this globalization dialogue; it’s the one arena that we have that at
this moment allows for a real coming to accountability of states and it is only as responsive to
those issues as the NGO community can make it be. And so I think that to me, I agree with
Armstrong that the UN presence is very important. The fact that it exists gives us a place to
have this discussion and I think the critics of the UN forget, you need to imagine what it would
be if we didn’t even have the place for this discussion to take place. And should remember that,
of course the UN is only going to be as responsive to this as the governments that we have either
elected or had forced upon us, depending on your country are, and as NGOs are able to work that
arena to bring these demands there. So there are lots of problems. The UN got started in a
western age. There are lots of ways in which it needs to be rethought. There are lots of ways in
which these issues need to be engaged. I’m for a lot of different kinds of reform, but I don’t
think that the UN is at all the problem. I think it is the arena for our engagement in this and
that the changes that have to be made in the UN are like changes we have to make in any
institutions that we need to work with to see that they become more responsive to the needs of
human rights, and in a global era that does require some new solutions.
PORTER: Okay. And Felice Gaer, I’ll give you the final word.
GAER: Well, I’ll try to do the upbeat side of it. I mean, we know that the UN is a body
of states and it’s limited by that and of course, I spoke before about some of the violator
states and some of the problems that they impose on that arena. I mean, you still will not see
the Security Council adopting a resolution about human rights and that’s because of the Chinese
voice there. And though other parts of the system will, where possible, there are problems. Let
me give the up side. The up side is, first of all, the United Nations is essential to the process
of globalization precisely because it is the place where the standards are set. Those standards
are used universally, they are used by human rights activists the world over. They empower those
activists. If they never had any other contact with the UN, the UN would be indispensable. But
they do have other contacts with the UN, and that’s what quite extraordinary. The world
conferences on human rights, on women, other subjects, have brought national NGOs into the UN
process and beginning to think about those issues and have had extraordinary opportunities for
learning, sharing information and pressing their point of view on issues. The United Nations
empowers NGOs in other ways, and recently the committee that governs the participation of
nongovernmental organizations in the UN has adopted a new decree allowing national NGOs to become
consultants to the UN Economic and Social Council, which means they can be in there in their own
voice speaking and acting and pressing concerns.
There’s a whole other area in which the UN is positive in this globalization area as well.
Armstrong spoke of his hope, couldn’t the UN have consultations in these countries and so forth.
In fact, with the creation of a High Commissioner for Human Rights, that agenda is on its way. It
hasn’t gone very far, but the High Commissioner for Human Rights has now established offices here
in half a dozen countries in the world. Those offices are not just there to look good. They have,
in their best instances, field monitors associated with them, they have technical experts, they
have, for example, in a place like Malawi??, people who consult regularly with NGOs and work with
them. There’s going to be one very shortly in Colombia, again working with NGOs, possibly staffed
with NGOs, with the capacity to work both ways. This is in its infancy. It’s in no way anything
like what we would like to see in terms of UN field offices and human rights around the world.
But we’ve broken an extraordinary barrier to a presence of United Nations human rights officials
in individual countries and located in different parts of the world. And so I think that we’re on
a, heading into a new era.
PORTER: That is Felice Gaer, Director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the
Advancement of Human Rights, part of the American Jewish Committee. Our other guests have been
Charlotte Bunch, Executive Director of the Center for Global Women’s Leadership at Rutgers
University, and Armstrong Wiggins, Director of Central and South American Programs at the Indian
Law Resource Center. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security