Human Rights and the Borders of Suffering: The Promotion of Human Rights in International Politics

By M. Anne Brown | Go to book overview

1
Opening up conceptions of rights

THIS BOOK’S ARGUMENT takes as its point of departure the question of how to promote human rights observance in international life. The whole complex business of international human rights promotion is not approached here as a particularly ‘innocent’ enterprise. On the contrary, the various philosophical and ethical claims of rights promotion, its actual as well as proclaimed political functions, outcomes and implications – what could be summed up as the ‘virtue’ of the enterprise in entirety or in part – can be readily questioned from many directions. Nevertheless, for this work the aim of questioning human rights promotion is ultimately practical and the standpoint of the question ‘committed’. This commitment, however, is not to advocacy of the idea of human rights per se, when that idea refers to either a universal transcendental attribute thought to be inherent in individuals or to a sociolegal attribute considered essential to the proper functioning of states. The commitment is rather to human rights, and its crucial category of abuse, as an available language and tool for articulating suffering in a political voice, for asserting the value and the vulnerability of people, and for grappling with the on-going question of how we value each other in the complex circumstances of our different and interwoven lives.

For reasons that will become clearer as the argument progresses, the understanding of human rights emphasised and explored in this work is an open-ended one. Rather than aiming for definitional clarity – often a valuable goal – the concern here is to open out discussion by stepping aside from some of the categories and models that dominate much promotion of human rights, particularly in the international arena. Ways of talking about human rights and systems for defining and implementing them have their own complex histories and particularity. The argument here, however, proceeds from the understanding, or the presumption, that questions of human rights are also part of the much broader context of people’s repeated efforts to work against the systemic infliction of suffering in political life and to

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Human Rights and the Borders of Suffering: The Promotion of Human Rights in International Politics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • I - The Question of Human Rights 1
  • 1 - Opening Up Conceptions of Rights 3
  • 2 - The Construction of Human Rights- Dominant Approaches 19
  • 3 - The Pursuit of Grounds 56
  • II - Case Studies 90
  • 4 - China – The Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989 93
  • 5 - East Timor 128
  • 6 - The Status of Indigenous Australians 162
  • 7 - Conclusion 198
  • References 212
  • Index 221
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