Compromising Human Rights


It is happening all around us. The most recent is the notorious episode of the Democrats' decision to not only continue, but increase funding for abstinence-only programs in the United States. In other parts of the world, progressive parties are forming coalitions with "moderate" conservative parties in order to gain power in government. These coalitions are now interpreting international treaties' ideals of universal ARVs (antiretroviral drugs) coverage to a fixed number of beneficiaries or a frail "as many as possible." What is this all about?

Compromise. Compromise, compromise, compromise. The word is being used by our leaders in a way that shames their understanding of the limits of compromise. Human rights are defined as universal and indivisible precisely because they cannot be subject to any kind of compromise without it being a violation. They represent legitimate demands grounded in the dignity of all persons. Demands that are not negotiable. The word "compromise," used against respect for the rights to the highest attainable standard of health, education, life, forming a family, and all other human rights does not have the meaning "finding a common ground," but the meaning "making concessions that are not supposed to be made."

Let's rephrase what is happening right now with the true understanding of what the word compromise means in these situations. Politicians accepting education programs that are not based on evidence, but do in fact go against evidence are compromising the lives and health of young people. This sentence is what politicians should acknowledge in the news when they smile smugly showing their capacities of negotiation. They should receive a pat in the back from someone actually affected by their ability to locate the non-existing middle ground in human rights that tells them "thank you for compromising my life."

Progressive parties forming coalitions with conservatives have compromised their integrity. Every time they parade out of closed meetings holding hands like best friends, smiling at the result of their negotiations, they should say "We have reached a compromise. We just traded our values for a few years in power."

What happens in the end? Those of us who are progressive not because of political affiliation, but because of our common values and a morality that appreciates justice, autonomy and solidarity have nowhere to go. We realize sometimes too late that our leaders have been compromised.

At least I can say that it is not too late yet. Not too late for sexual and reproductive rights. We still have a strong civil society movement, and our roots are deeply grounded in human rights. We must not let the labels of "progressive" being worn by some of our leaders deter us from showing them the miserable work they are doing when they compromise human rights. We must show them that even if you were progressive once, it doesn't mean you are progressive now, and if you are not acting in a progressive way, either you are not acting at all or you are moving backwards.

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