Neglect of Social and Economic Rights

Paul Farmer provides a compelling argument in his analysis of current efforts to pursue human rights through a legal framework. While civil rights are of vast importance, it is easy to neglect basic social and economic rights. He talks about Haiti and the abandonment of basic entitlements, such as food, medical care, and education while other human rights violations were being committed. “And although human rights groups were among those credited with helping to restore constitutional rule in Haiti, this was accomplished, to a large extent, by sacrificing the struggle for social and economic rights” (Farmer, 222). Its unfortunate that basic rights such as food and medical care can be sacrificed, implying that all human rights are not actually indivisible.


(Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at NYU)

Farmer also provides another example—the “dirty war” in Argentina during 1976-1983, a source of major violence and violations of human rights. This website talks about the series of events in more detail, but essentially the government was responsible for the disappearance of suspected dissidents and subversives. The article talks about the restoration of basic civil liberties after the military regime in 1982, yet I find it interesting that the article fails to mention anything about the restoration of social or economic rights…


Poverty. Alcohol. Violence.

“It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you’re poor because you’re stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you’re stupid and ugly because you’re Indian. And because you’re Indian you start believing you’re destined to be poor. It’s an ugly circle and there’s nothing you can do about it.” (Alexie, 13).

While reading “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie, it was interesting noting how many times Junior attributed his negative situation to being Indian, or more specifically, not being white. As an Indian, he felt less than human, and a loser in a society built for winners. He believes that white people have hope of a bright future, while Indian’s are left to face a “bone-crushing” reality.

What really stuck out to me was how often he spoke about alcohol and poverty on the reservation. He says things like, “I know only, like, five Indians in our whole tribe who have never drunk alcohol,” (158) or “I was crying because I knew five or ten or fifteen more Spokanes would die during the next year, and that most of them would die because of booze” (216). I decided to look further into the link between alcohol and poverty, which is addressed by the World Bank in this fact sheet. “Alcohol-related mortality is often highest among the poorest people in a society…and a significant part of family expenditure” (World Bank).



Alcohol usage is also linked to higher rates of violence. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that, “Not only may alcohol consumption promote aggressiveness, but victimization may lead to excessive alcohol consumption.” There tends to be a two-way association between alcohol use and violence. It is interesting how often Junior talks about the commonality of violence on his reservation…perhaps this is further linked to the frequent use of alcohol as a result of poverty. Causality cannot be implied, but the correlation between these different factors, and the social structures creating them are very interesting.

“Cacophony of Voices”

Feldman-Savelsberg, Ndonko, and Schmidt-Ehry demonstrate that the imposition of Western ideology can often backfire, even when intentions are noble. What started out as an attempt to help vaccinate an “unprotected” population in Cameroon, resulted in various rumors, suspicion, and ultimately a vast number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions. One concept I found particularly interesting was Geertzian’s “cacophony of voices,” defined as “the miscommunications emerging from a clash of perspectives and interests” (Feldman-Savelsberg). Public health officials believed they were introducing a necessary technology and hoped to attain their goal of 80% vaccination by the end of 1980, but the local population was very suspicious. Why were Westerners offering free vaccines when the local clinic recently implemented fees for their services? Why were only women forced to get the vaccine with very little background information? These were only a few of the various suspicions they possessed.

The girls and women also faced various traumas after being mandatorily vaccinated. They attributed their experience as one of submission to authority, leading to extreme fears of sterility. These two quotations describe how traumatic the experience was for a couple teenage girls:

“I heard the news from students that the vaccine was to stop delivery. My heart was bubbling and I was afraid.” (Eusekia, 21 years, Kumbo)

“I was very annoyed. I could not eat for a day because I was afraid. I was thinking that maybe in future I won’t be able to deliver.” (Eurika, 22 years, Bali)

This article talks about a similar incident in Nigeria, where the local population was also convinced polio vaccinations were part of a Western conspiracy to sterilize Nigerian girls. It is interesting how this idea of “cacophony of voices” is present in many different places, one example of the many of paradoxes of aid.

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Inaccessibility of healthcare due to the conflict in Syria

[Extra Credit Post]

Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers set up an aid station in a mosque in Homs, Syria. Photo by I. Malla/Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

The United Nations has reported that in the last year, nearly 7,500 people have been killed due to the political unrest in Syria. I was recently listening to a story on NPR titled, “Red Cross Restricted As Killing Continues In Syria”, talking about the inability of the Red Cross to enter Baba Amr, which has been a target of attack by the Syrian government. I thought the story was very relevant to this class, as we have studied various underlying factors that lead to inadequate health care. The obvious obstacle in this situation is war and violence. The Associated Press states, “activists have said residents face a humanitarian catastrophe in Baba Amr and other parts of Homs, Syria’s third-largest city with a population of 1 million. Electricity, water and communications have been cut off, and recent days have seen frigid temperatures and snowfall. Food was running low, and many are too scared to venture out.”

I see this as a clear violation of human rights. Under the UDHR, all humans are to be guaranteed food, and adequate health care, which is being hindered by this ongoing conflict and refusal to led the Red Cross provide aid.

An Intersectional Look at the 1942 Mosquito Invasion

The interconnectedness of war, disease, and agriculture in the 1942 mosquito invasion is interesting, and extremely relevant as we have looked a lot at the importance of intersectionality in this course. In his article titled, “Rule of Experts”, Timothy Mitchell talks about a mixing of the natural and social worlds that contributed to this disaster. First was the creation of a dam, which was beneficial agriculturally and demonstrated the strength and progressiveness of a state; however, it was also an ideal breeding place for mosquitoes carrying malaria. The production of synthetic chemicals used as fertilizer helped agriculture flourish; yet fertilizer plants were also used to manufacture explosives.


A health worker inspecting a village pool for Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes, Egypt

Because of our group’s topic on violence, I am particularly interested in the effect the war had on the epidemic. Because of globalization and the major flow of people during the conflict (due to trade, migration, and conflict), it was much easier for mosquitoes to travel, transporting malaria with them (both by airplane and boat). The war also decreased the supply of synthetic fertilizer, severely harming agriculture and making people more at risk of contracting a parasite. The war was also directly correlated to malnutrition.

Similar to the effect of the Egyptian conflict in the malaria epidemic, was the effect of World War I in the Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Outbreaks of the flu spread through Europe, Africa, North America, Asia, Brazil, and the South Pacific via human carriers. The rapid diffusion of men during the war who were in the army and on ships helped the flu to spread quickly and broadly. Fortunately, modern technology today, like vaccines and antibiotics have helped solve this problem to a certain extent. But it is still important to look at the possibly detrimental effects of globalization in the spread of disease, especially during times of war when flows of people often increase dramatically.

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Return to Darfur Offers Hope

[Extra credit post]

Our group podcast looks at the trauma and violence experienced by Darfuri refugees living in camps along the Chad/Sudan border. The future has looked bleak for many of these refugees, many of whom have lost any hope of returning to their homes in Darfur. So I was very encouraged when I recently read this New York Times Article, explaining the return of over 100,000 refugees to Darfur. As Gettleman articulates, “people who have been victimized and traumatized are sensing a change in the air and acting on it, risking their lives and the lives of their children to leave the relative safety of the camps to venture back to where loved ones were killed.”


Sven Torfinn for The New York Times

The violence experienced by the Darfuri refugees in the beginning of the conflict was, and continues to be devastating. The janjaweed raided villages, killing tens of thousands of civilians, entire villages were burnt down with a single match, and families were forced to flee in hopes of preserving their lives. While conducting our podcast interviews, it was saddening listening to recounted stories of these refugees, many of whom were raped by militia groups or experienced the killing of a loved one. The trauma of these experiences have left many scars, but this return to Darfur and a decline in major violence brings hope. United Nations officials state that the voluntary return of the refugees offers “one of the most concrete signs of hope this war-weary region has seen in years.”

Violence via Desperation

In Phillip’s article titled, “Hunger, Healing, and Citizenship in Central Tanzania,” she explores the negative consequences of food scarcity during the East African Food Crisis of 2006. Because food aid was so scarce, tribe leaders of Langilanga were forced to distribute food according to the village’s three-tiered grouping of households. Households who could buy grain were given no aid, the poorest households were given a limited amount of grain, and everybody else could buy a small amount of grain. This distribution of aid led to much public protest, as the people demanded their right to food.

As demonstrated in past case studies that we have looked at, scarcity of any kind can lead to political turmoil. For example, the water crisis in Baja led to public protest as well. In Langilanga, guards were forced to watch over the food storage over night because the situation had become so grave. One chairman stated, “But right now a person can be killed for just one bucket of grain. In Nyaturu we say ‘The year of the lions does not loan doors.’ You cannot trust anyone with food when it is the time of hunger” (Phillips 28). It appears that conflict is nearly unavoidable during times of resource scarcity. And as Phillips points out, it seems that people are beginning to classify famines of this sort as less of a natural disaster, and more of a political and economic issue. Clearly underlying structures need to be addressed in situations similar to this.

I thought this videoclip clearly demonstrates the turmoil that can result from food scarcity, especially during the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake.



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Resocializing Ethics

We, as a collective humanity, have a moral obligation to ensure that all humans are ensured their basic human rights, particularly adequate health care. Yet we are often ignorant and forget about our duty. In Paul Farmer’s chapter titled, “New Malaise,” he asks, “how often have we challenged the chicanery that leads us to forget that we are part of the same world?” (211). Farmer talks about the need to “resocialize the way we see ethical dilemmas in medicine” (210). Ethics are an essential part of Western medicine; yet here lies the issue: medical ethics are often limited to industrialized nations. Care is greatly individualized in the U.S, and there is nothing wrong with this. Yet the opposite is true in many developing countries, where effective technology and treatment is withheld from the sick because it is not “cost-effective” or “feasible.” I found one of Farmer’s anecdotes very ironic, and it illustrates this issue well:

“In Haiti I am called to explain, to those who come begging for assistance, that effective treatments for HIV are not ‘cost-effective,’ whereas in Boston I spend much of my time begging patients with AIDS—some of them originally from Haiti—to take these same medications” (204).

Why are the poor left with such inferior care? While conducting the interview for our group podcast, my teammates and I had the opportunity to learn about the trauma experienced by Darfuri refugees living in Chad. I asked about the availability of mental health care for victims of sexual violence, children who have witnessed their parents killed, etc. Gabriel Stauring, the founder of an NGO that works with refugees in Chad, stated that mental health care isn’t a priority. Many children are not able to be kids, they rarely smile, and have been greatly affected by the Darfuri conflict. I find this disappointing, as it would be considered critical to provide mental health treatment to American children who have experienced such trauma.


Bredjing, a refugee camp in eastern Chad (The New Yorker)

The mental health care system in Africa as a whole is disheartening. This article about the need for community-based health care in Africa is very interesting. I found this statistic shocking: “In Ethiopia, for example, there are only 18 psychiatrists for 77 million people, and there is no clinical psychologist, no trained social worker and only one 360-bedded mental hospital located in the capital, Addis Ababa.” In contrast, there were approximately 22,690 psychiatrists in the US in 2010, and this doesn’t even take into account the other various mental health care professionals providing care in the US. Clearly we find it a priority to address mental health in the US, and to not fight for equal care in developing countries is unethical.

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In Eric Klinenberg’s article, “Denaturalizing disaster: A social autopsy of the 1995 Chicago heat wave,” one particularly vulnerable group of people is mentioned—the literally socially isolated. Klinenberg seeks to explain the tragedy of the 1995 Chicago heat wave from a sociological perspective, rather than merely attributing it to natural causes. He makes one particularly notable claim, stating, “scientific studies show that the differences in the mortality rates between the 1995 and earlier heat waves are not natural; that is, they are not attributable to the weather” (241). Then what caused this disaster? I would argue that violence was one of the primary factors leading up to this tragedy, and one group of people that were particularly affected by violence were the literally socially isolated.

Klinenberg notes that deaths were generally concentrated in the most neglected urban environments, and the “literally socially isolated made up a significant number of the people it killed” (260). Because of high rates of crime (including homicide and robbery) in these neglected urban communities, the “literally socially isolated” were reluctant to open their windows, leave their apartments, or take the necessary precautionary measures in response to the extreme heat. Because these groups of elderly people were fearful of being attacked, many remained isolated within their apartments, leading to drastically higher rates of death.

What’s interesting is that studies have also demonstrated that higher temperatures are correlated with aggression. It would make sense that with the Chicago heat wave, violence would become more prevalent, only perpetuating the problem of social isolation out of fear.




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Rape-An Act of Genocide

Rape is more often than not a byproduct of war, and it is frequently used as a systematic weapon as well, as demonstrated by Ngwarsungu Chiwengo in her article titled, “When Wounds and Corpses Fail to Speak: Narratives of Violence and Rape in Congo.” Rape is a dehumanizing act, and in the case of the Rwandan genocide, rape was used as a weapon against a specific ethnic group. Tutsi women were targets of this violence—mutilations were ethnic specific and the raping of these women was “also equated with the ‘tasting’ and ‘knowing’ of inaccessible objects of desire” (88). While rape in and of itself wouldn’t necessarily be considered an act of genocide, Human Rights Watch released a report encouraging the International Tribunal to redefine “acts of rape as crimes against humanity, genocide crimes, or war crimes.” In order to classify something as genocide, the intent of a crime (whether it be rape, murder, etc.) must be to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. In an effort to redefine rape in Rwanda, the Human Rights Watch report stated,

the pattern of sexual violence in Rwanda shows that acts of rape and sexual mutilation were not accessory to the killings, nor, for the most part, opportunistic assaults. Rather, according to the actions and statements of the perpetrators, as recalled by survivors, these acts were carried out with the aim of eradicating the Tutsi. Taken as a whole, the evidence indicates that many rapists expected, consequent to their attacks, that the psychological and physical assault on each Tutsi woman would advance the cause of the destruction of the Tutsi people” (Human Rights Watch).


(National Portrait Gallery)

The sexual violence that occurred during the Rwandan genocide was clearly devastating. The trauma experienced by these women often prevented them from accomplishing normal tasks and motherly obligations (88). Yet, the international response was less than adequate. Many reports about the genocide included various ethnological dialogue, seemingly stereotyping the Congolese people, rather than focusing on the individuals affected by sexual violence. In many ways rape was normalized, as cultural explanations were given for these acts of violence and the Congolese female condition was homogenized and oversimplified (90). The response to the conflict is frustrating, and my hope is that we would take a greater stand against these acts of violence, especially because they are a present problem in many countries including Sudan and the DRC.


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