This book argues for greater openness in the ways we approach human rights and international rights promotion, and in so doing brings some new understanding to old debates. Starting with the realities of abuse rather than the liberal architecture of rights, it casts human rights as a language for probing the political dimensions of suffering. Seen in this context, the predominant Western models of right generate a substantial but also problematic and not always emancipatory array of practices. These models are far from answering the questions about the nature of political community that are raised by the systemic infliction of suffering. Rather than a simple message from ‘us’ to ‘them’, then, rights promotion is a long and difficult conversation about the relationship between political organisations and suffering. Three case studies are explored: the Tiananmen Square massacre, East Timor's violent modern history and the circumstances of indigenous Australians. The purpose of these discussions is not to elaborate on a new theory of rights, but to work towards rights practices that are more responsive to the spectrum of injury that we inflict and endure.
THE IDEA OF humanrights covers a complex and fragmentary terrain. As R. J. Vincent comments near the beginning of his work on humanrights in international relations, ‘humanrights’ is a readily used term that has become a ‘staple of world politics’, the meaning of which is by no means self-evident (1986: 7). After glossing the term as the ‘idea that humans have rights’ (1986: 7) – a deceptively simple approach – Vincent notes that this is a profoundly contested territory, philosophically as well as politically. This is not surprising, as
An Interview with Celso Amorim, Former Brazilian Foreign Minister
As we began discussing international affairs and strategy, Amorim’s speech assumed a
calm, professorial cadence. ‘Global disorder’ undermines international cooperation,
he suggested soberly. And there is a need to rescue humanrights discourse, despite the hypocrisy
and selectivity of its liberal proponents.
Amorim leant forward when I brought up Brazil’s recent withdrawal from the world stage.
As foreign minister throughout the two presidential terms of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva,
from 2003 to 2011, he guided
it). This is the same foundational commitment that animates humanrights work. The humanist core
to both of these forms of social practice is a similar kind of belief in the ultimate priority of
moral claims made by human beings as human beings rather than as possessors of
any markers of identity or citizenship.
What differences exist between humanitarianism and humanrights are largely sociological
– the contextual specifics of the evolution of two different forms of social activism. I
have argued elsewhere, for example, that
Beginning in 1990, the small Central African country of Rwanda was shaken by a pro-democracy movement and a rebel invasion, led by exiled members of the minority Tutsi ethnic group. The government responded to the dual pressures of protest and war by offering political reforms while simultaneously seeking to regain popularity with the members of the majority Hutu group by stirring up anti-Tutsi ethnic sentiments. Both a number of new domestic humanrights groups and international humanrights organisations documented the regime’s repression of
, germane to the issues surrounding situations of extreme violence, which recounts a research discussion entitled ‘Biafra, Humanitarian Intervention and History’ held in January 2020 in Manchester by the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute.
The aim of the Paris conference was to present the investigative approaches used by social science researchers, humanitarian practitioners, humanrights activists and journalists. This issue of the JHA shows that while these groups have different objectives and field practices, there are connections (and in some cases
institutionalised, forming many credible organisations such as the Violations Documentation Center, the Syrian Network for HumanRights, and Lawyers and Doctors for HumanRights (LDHR).
Collaboration between all actors in conflict settings is essential to document their lived experiences in light of these challenges in conducting research. Documenting experiences of humanitarian and public health practitioners is of special importance because, in these settings, they may be the only witnesses to crimes and atrocities. To draw lessons from these resource-limited and extreme
the matter more starkly,
be allowed to continue as currently constituted) than the other elements of that
system. The reason for this should be self-evident: humanitarian action is an integral part of
the system; indeed, it can be argued that for at least thirty years, the actions of relief
agencies, above all the international private, voluntary ones, have served as the moral warrant
for liberal globalisation. Only the humanrights movement has been more central in this
To be sure, the perceived need for relief NGOs to play this
How can we go about our work of saving lives when, in Syria, civilians, the
wounded and their families, medical personnel and aid workers are all targets
– whether in areas controlled by the government or those held by the
Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
(ISIL) or various rebel groups with diverging political agendas? Over the course
of several field missions, the author of this article, a member of
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), sought to decipher the political
and military engagements undertaken in different regions of Syria during the war
years. He also factored into his analysis the endless flow of data, information
and positioning being produced and published over this period, because the war
was also fought every day on the internet where the representatives and
ideologists of warring groups, human rights organisations, Syrian diaspora
organisations and spokespersons of the Syrian central authorities were and still
are a permanent presence. Drawing on all these observations and data, the author
relates and analyses the emergency relief activities carried out by MSF in
Syria, how these activities evolved and the conditions in which choices to
intervene and decisions to withdraw were taken.
prioritised bilateral negotiations. UN
institutions were then often used, and even designed, explicitly as vehicles for the pursuit of
US interests: the World Food Programme, for example, was established in 1961 to channel American
agricultural surplus to the developing world.
Liberal internationalism as we know it today, with its particular political and cultural
associations with the US, is a product of the 1970s. As Samuel Moyn has argued, it was in the
second half of that decade that humanrights had its first breakthrough as a cosmopolitan