Concept note on Human Rights

Brief Concept Note with regards to the mission and scope of the “Human Rights and Social Justice Committee”

Vasilios Ioakimidis

July 2015

  1. As part of its strong commitment to human rights, IASSW established a human rights committee several years ago. Lynn Healy the previous chair of the committee contributed significantly and proactively toward highlighting the relevance of human rights to social work education. This approach helped furthering IASSW’s commitment to human rights and offered tangible examples of how human rights could be operationalized and utilized as part of social work pedagogy. A number of very important resources for teaching materials were developed during this period and were eventually uploaded onto our website. Much of this material was developed for the workshop presented by the IASSW Human Rights Committee at the world social work conference in Stockholm in July 2012. This included:
  2. A Brief Bibliography on Human Rights and Social Work
  3. Powerpoint slide presentations prepared for the IASSW/KAKI Human Rights Pre-Conference Workshop held in Stockholm in July 2012.

a)Teaching and Training for Human Rights

  1. b) Implementation of Human Rights Treaties in Hong Kong
  2. c) Protecting the Rights of Older Persons
  3. Discussion Vignettes:  Challenges in Teaching Human Rights

IASSW’s human rights committee has so far focused primarily on social work education. Although, the previous mission of the committee also included a campaigning dimension, this did not receive similar attention. A couple of issued that were considered by the committee as potential campaigning themes included the “Social Protection Floor” and “Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights”. These campaigns, although highlighted in the committee’s website, weren’t followed up and it is unknown how and if our members engaged with them. Therefore, a more proactive way of coordinating, disseminating and monitoring campaigns needs to be identified and developed.

  1. IFSW estimates that between 1995 and 2005 more than 40 social workers were murdered, imprisoned or kidnapped in countries where freedom of speech and political activism are suppressed. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this number is much higher and it also includes social work educators and students. Over the last five years the international social work community mobilized to support social workers whose activist work and vocal commitment to social justice put them at risk. A notable example of internationalism in defense of social work values and human rights was this of Norbert Ferencz, Hungarian Social Worker, who was prosecuted because of his activist work exposing the criminalization of homeless people. Norbert Ferencz was acquitted as a result of the international mobilization, which included social work organisations at a global, regional and local level. This example offers a very useful model of how the international social work community (IASSW, IFSW, regional associations etc) can mobilize affectively in order to defend social work academics, practitioners and educators facing violation of their human rights.
  2. Nevertheless, we need to be appreciative of the fact that human rights violations affecting social worker practitioners and academics is only part of the extensive, violent and large scale violations that engulf whole communities and countries, within which social work exists and operates. Therefore, the human rights committee should not lose sight of the broader structural and endemic human rights’ breaches and social inequalities affecting our communities. It should be part of the committee’s mission to communicate with our membership, liaise with the Board of Directors and appreciate the Association’s strategic priorities in order to identify campaigns that need to be prioritized.
  3. The broader and asymmetric character of challenges affecting communities often goes beyond the human rights discourse. There is a very relevant debate within social work academia highlighting some of the inherent limitations of the human rights “tool-kits”, especially in absence of a broader focus on social justice. Although, it is not the intention of this concept note to critically interrogate these complex debates, there is certainly value in avoiding narrow interpretations of human rights and adopt wider, more universal and politically relevant approaches rooted in the social justice tradition. This could help us reframe human rights violations as social justice issues where structural concerns don’t escape our attention. It is for this reason that I have suggested the inclusion of the concept of “social justice” in the title and mission of this group. Moreover, the current mission of the committee could be enriched through the inclusion of the following objectives:
  4. Encourage, promote and facilitate opportunities for Human Rights and Social Justice informed curricula.
  5. Monitor and record human rights violations affecting social work educators, practitioners and students.
  6. Identify and co-ordinate broader campaigns, petitions, coalitions promoting social justice, in line with the strategic priorities of our Association and the recommendation of our membership.