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The Future of Human Rights: Part 3: Dr Youssef Mahmoud

An event organised by the LIMUN Foundation, on 28th Aug 2020.

The pannel: Birigt Van Hout, Ambassador Jan Eliasson and Dr Youssef Mahmoud

Dr Youssef Mahmoud: Senior Adviser at the International Peace Institute and member of the UN higher level panel on Peace Operations.

His experience

He calls himself a practitioner, he learns what he knows by doing and acting on the field. One of the main lessons he has learned from his long experience in the field of Human Rights is that societies, however devastated they maybe they are not blank pages, and peoples are not projects. He realised that even though he tried to do his best, the results were meagre. Therefore, he states “that instead of telling people what I think ought to be done, I should create an enabling environment to unleash their leadership potential. So that they can diagnose what is not working and come back with their own solution”.

A roadmap to formulate one’s own vision of the future of Human Rights

1- Analyse the state of affairs of Human Rights agenda

Dr Youssef Mahmoud completes this conversation by stating that the crisis of Human Rights may not be “the” crisis. In fact, what led to the Human Rights emergency is a crisis of leadership, and not fully of democracy as Ambassador Eliasson set out. Today the Human Rights agenda is at crossroads, it has various opportunities at its reach. Countries should put a mirror on themselves before critiquing other countries actions surrounding Human Rights, and they should look at the contractions within their own societies.

2- Why did we get here?

Examination of this issue helps to ensure that the consciousness that creates the problem is not used to solve it. If you look at this question in depth, you may find, he adds, that in our behaviour in promoting human rights, we may have gone astray. We can look at a distinct phenomenon that has occurred over the last few decades, that has diverted the international eye away from the initial motif of protecting Human Rights. This is, the proliferation of Human Rights, which may have diluted the power of Human Rights, has led to increasingly diverse meanings and implementations of human rights. This could have alienated the most important entity, the state, which has found ways to hide why they are not the protector and promoter of Human Rights.

3- Look at some trends that are likely to have an impact on HR and find where opportunities may lie.

He informs that crisis can refer both to an opportunity and to a danger. One of the trends Dr Mahmoud refers to is the ICT, the greater access to information as a mean of communication, which seeks to push for greater individual empowerment. Therefore, the growing number of people with access to the internet will have an impact on social changes and mobilization. This will make it more difficult for the people in power to restrict access to a wide range of information. Even today, we notice that some countries have restricted in certain times of internal strife the access to internet to their populations. Thus, in order to restrict the access to information and calm tensions. Recently, the example can be made of India’s internet ban in certain regions to prevent any disturbance of peace and public order, following the farmers’ protest. It is important to assess the risks that such trends, like the wider access to information, will have in the future and on Human Rights.

4- Map what is already existing in terms of solutions

After acknowledging and considering these solutions, he advises adopting an appreciative inquiry. This means that you have to move from lamenting on what is wrong to mapping what is strong, what solutions are working and take this into account when looking for new solutions in the future. Studies have shown that a shift from a deficit-based paradigm of thinking to a strength-based paradigm of thinking is very powerful in advocating for and effecting change. This system of applying a strength-based approach is applicable in the study of Human Rights, but also a more local level to support people with mental health problems. If you implement this approach, change will happen, he argues, the more you build on pre-existing elements the more change you have of achieving a self-sustainable change.

5- What about me? What is my role?

This is the last step before articulating your vision. He adds an experience he had when he was on the ground in Burundi, he asked people there what peace meant for them. Four things came out of these interactions, peace for the people he met meant, to have a roof over their head against the sun or the rain, to have a meal a day, to go to the visit my neighbours without being killed, robbed or raped and finally the ability to connect to other without fear. He emphasises that today’s young generations cannot remain indifferent to the reality of the world and to the basic Human Rights people around the world lack. What is it I need to learn, so I can measure up to the action that is needed one I have defined that vision of Human Rights for the next decade?

-Natalia Vasnier, BA History at King's College London-

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