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

By M. Anne Brown | Go to book overview

II
Case studies

Introduction to the case studies

The approach taken to human rights and rights promotion in the following case studies flows from the themes raised in Part I. Two simple ideas here are primary. The first is that notions of human rights, at their most fundamental level of significance, are one way of dealing with the perennial problems of the systemic infliction of suffering, particularly gross suffering, as a mechanism or a function of political organisation. That is, human rights practices are one way of articulating and working against the harm we do each other, and of encouraging political contexts of non-injury and mutual respect. We account for and recognize harm in different ways – notions of human rights are not a metalanguage, but they can operate as a way into the complexities and confusions of particular cases and broader patterns of injury as well as, in very general terms, asserting the value of people. The second idea informing the approach taken in the case studies is that ‘dialogue’ or ‘conversation’ – paying people and the pattern of their lives the fundamental respect of listening to them and being engaged with them – is at the core of both respecting and promoting human rights.

A number of themes follow from these two simple points of beginning. To take part in serious exchanges on difficult social and political problems often involves a preparedness to look at yourself and your tools differently. Thus, critical reflection on the methods, outcomes and assumptions of the human rights models and practices that are being promoted is essential to this approach – not in order to abandon traditions of rights practices but to recognise that they do not constitute a fixed or necessarily emancipatory truth. One of the purposes of the earlier chapters, in this context, is to provide some critical distance from the ways we tend to think about and work with human rights in the international domain. In stepping back from human rights as a definitive model of state and individual we meet again the complexity of rights as a series of questions about patterns of injury which are recurrent as well as embedded in and given meaning by concrete circumstances of time and place.

Thus, rather than being primarily an evangelical task of ‘truth-bearing’, or an assertion of the inevitable ‘rightness’ of a particular model of government, the promotion of human rights may demand long-term engagement with particular institutions or knots of social practice – with mechanisms for constructing community – across and between cultures. Response to abuse is part of a long and slow conversation between and across cultures on the nature of political community and the place of injury within it. In practical terms, efforts to change violent or injurious social practices require that cultural cosmologies not be dismissed wholesale as incompatible with the emergence of a working rights practice but be taken seriously as means of working against abuse or as potential grounds for the evolution of such practices. Moreover, it may be that

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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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