This piece looks at a chapter by Hector Gros Espiell from the book The Poverty of Rights (eds. Van Genugten & Perez-Bustillo, 2001). This book was the only book in my university library which attempted to deal with human rights in Latin America.
The fundamental thesis of this piece is that human rights can only be secured when there is an economic basis sufficient to sustain them. The second point flowing from this is that although many countries proclaim support for the idea of human rights, this means nothing if the above condition is not met. The author of this piece cites a wealth of human rights legislation that shows the official support for political, legal, cultural and social rights, but he notes that the actual existence of these rights is patchy in many areas of the world.
The author’s belief of how to achieve this is that the necessary material conditions is through the development of the capitalist state, saying that “…we have to recognise that law, that is to say the law of a democratic state committed to social justice, is the necessary but perhaps insufficient condition to promote the economic and social change necessary for rights to be realised” (pg.139)
But is this self-same capitalist state, which is in existence to represent the interests of the capitalists profits rather than the needs of the working masses, that keeps the present disequilibrium in society that presents such needs from being realised. Of course, this comment is in all likelihood also directed towards indicting the bureaucratic, totalitarian, Stalinist states, and it is fair to say that the spread of workers democracy in those countries would have led to being able to put in place the guaranteed rights that human rights activists crave. But then this is basically the same programme that is needed in the rest of the world to give workers the ability to control their own societies and give the material basis for full universal rights for all.