Saturday, October 11, 2008

Human Rights Relavitism

Recently, considering law school, I sat in on a class discussion of legal ethics. The students largely condemned the ‘ambulance chasing’ lawyer, concluding that it is immoral to search out victims to exploit for personal greed – and many went on to express their desire to be human rights advocates instead.

Which got me thinking about my own job – documenting human rights violations in Darfur, where our strongest tool is often reporting and advocacy. We search out victims to find evidence which can be used to leverage reform, but also, to publicize our own mission, to accrue funding, and to make ourselves feel better.

The same point could be made for some of the great civil rights cases of our time. Jane Doe was not a desperate woman standing up for her rights in court as a last resort. She most probably would have secured an illegal abortion, as she had done at least once before. Instead she was found by a group of lawyers looking for a pregnant woman willing to sign on the dotted line so they could challenge the constitutionality of abortion bans.

Some civil rights activists used to attempt to be discriminated against, so they could bring charges. Is this different from ‘slipping’ on the ice in front of a store to sue for damages? Hmmmmmmm.

I remember my father once told me coming to Africa would be good for me because I would become a relativist. Thios week we heard a humanitarian organization's garbage collection truck was car-jacked in Darfur - which sounds worse that it does when you elaborate that it was car-jacked while dumping waste in the desert outside of town :)

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