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The promotion of human rights in international politics
Author: M. Anne Brown

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.

M. Anne Brown

injury. That large-scale human rights abuse is not something that happens only ‘somewhere else’ – perpetrated by other peoples or at other times, or in societies with authoritarian political structures or poverty-stricken economies, underdeveloped legal systems or immature ‘civil societies’ – is a simple point that can nevertheless prove extraordinarily difficult to grasp in practice. This case study thus considers some of the limitations of those dominant understandings of rights that mark both international rights promotion and the constitution

in Human rights and the borders of suffering
M. Anne Brown

East Timor in the creation and perpetuation of a pattern of severe and embedded abuse. That failure to pay attention to concrete circumstances marked the ‘realism’ of the prevailing international attitudes on East Timor; to what extent might it also characterise the current liberal approaches? The third case study, which looks at the ‘place’ of Indigenous Australians within Australian political life, returns to a liberal rights focus – in this case not involving the language of international rights talk but rather concerning the ideals

in Human rights and the borders of suffering
Open Access (free)
M. Anne Brown

active respect. Running through human rights practices and approaches, however, particularly in internationalrights talk’, is the dominant model, or family of models, of rights, discussed in chapter 2 . In this model, rights have been classically constructed in terms of the legally defined relationship between the individual and the state – the notional contract. Rights fulfil, in this construction, two functions. They stand as the fundamental (political) expression of the subject; and they act as those mechanisms that constrain infringements

in Human rights and the borders of suffering
M. Anne Brown

attempt to ‘solve’ the case studies it considers, it nevertheless takes as its model the possibility of incremental work across many fields that can shift abuse by reconstituting fundamental social relationships. The following two chapters explore some of the theoretical questions that have been touched upon in this introduction. Chapter 2 considers the Lockean account of human rights, as a leading model in international rights promotional activities, focusing on its construction of the categories ‘human’ and ‘community’. Discussion then moves

in Human rights and the borders of suffering
Dominant approaches
M. Anne Brown

for open-endedness, for movement into unknown or unpredictable territory, a potential that seems little considered by utilitarian traditions. Despite these strengths, however, liberal approaches seem deeply constrained by the character and the pervasive dominance of the models of ‘the person’ and ‘the community’ within which they operate. Claims to universality for human rights covenants provide one way of reflecting on these limitations. International rights machinery is regularly celebrated by the assertion that effectively universal

in Human rights and the borders of suffering
Open Access (free)
M. Anne Brown

generally); they have also been prominent in the politics of international rights promotion and in the effort to understand what we do when we pursue human rights in the international or the domestic arena. Yet while it seems impossible to avoid direct engagement with questions of universal versus relative truth, or of the presence or absence of ontological grounds for knowledge, and impossible to escape positioning on those trajectories, no position on those trajectories seems entirely satisfying. This chapter is written tentatively then, in the hope that working with

in Human rights and the borders of suffering