Monday 28 April 2008

Member Care and Human Rights--1

How is member care (MC) related to human rights (HR)?

I was recently in Colorado Springs USA, teaching a one-week seminar on Helping Staff Stay Healthy/Effective in Difficult Places. It was wonderful to interact closely with so many fascinating people in various mission/member care roles and organisations.

Prior to actually teaching, I participated in a mid-Sunday morning consultation with myself at the local Starbucks, sipping my favourite beverage in both terrestrial and celestial spheres--an iced coffee venti--and making it last, as was my habit, for two plus hours. I spent my entire time scrutinizing the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) including the Preamble and its 30 Articles (principles), engrossed in serious reflection on just how much human rights seemed to be foundational for good member care. It was amazing! But was this merely a transient caffeine-induced "revelation"? Or had I, along with a myriad of other competent member care practitioners, missed this central and possibly self-evident truth over the last two decades, I wondered? Well...see for yourself!

For me, the more I explored the MC-HR relationship, the stronger my convictions grew of the ubiquitous role of HR for the member care field. With pen in hand I began to annotate the document, filling the margins with ideas on how to relate MC in HR terms.

So with this anecdote in mind, I want to share some of my thinking now and over the next few weeks. Let's consider two broad areas of the MC-HR connection in light of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As stated in the Preamble, a core integrative tenet is that we recognise "the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family."

1. How does HR provide a foundation for our responsibility to manage and support our mission/aid staff?

2. How does HR provide a foundation for our responsibility in mission/aid work to help vulnerable populations who have experienced human rights abuses?

I believe that international human rights principles can and should inform our practices in member care. Up until now they largely have not been in any discussion that I am aware of within the member care field. Rather, principles from Christian Scripture and professional ethics/good practice codes have been the main influences and standards. I thus believe that it is necessary to also include human rights principles into the core rationale for member care and for its practice. How will this all work out, and what grid can help guide it? I don't know yet!
To get a better idea for what I am getting at, consider this quote from the Foreword by David Little (Harvard University), in John Nurser’s book, For All Peoples and All Nations: Christian Churches and Human Rights (2002).

"Human beings are held to possess human rights, and to be accountable and to live up to them simply because they are human, not because they are Muslim, or Christian, or Buddhist, or Jewish, or Hindu, or a member of any particular religious or philosophical tradition. The whole point of human rights is that they are taken to be binding and available, regardless of identity or worldview. This does not mean, of course, that people are not free to harbor their own personal reasons--religious or otherwise--for believing in human rights. It only means that such views may not be taken as "official" or in any way binding on others who do not share them" (xi).

Next week: We'll look at key principles in the Preamble of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Reflection and Discussion
**We provide member care to humans because of their intrinsic worth, not simply because of their strategic worth. Discuss this assertion.

**Member care helps mission/aid workers to support the human rights of the people they are serving. Discuss this assertion in terms of the belief in the "inherent dignity" of all people.

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