The promotion of human rights in international politics

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.

Dominant approaches

THE IDEA OF human rights covers a complex and fragmentary terrain. As R. J. Vincent comments near the beginning of his work on human rights in international relations, ‘human rights’ 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

in Human rights and the borders of suffering
Open Access (free)

99 6 Dancing human rights We have seen that ever since Isadora Duncan entered the stage of political dance, various instances of sic-​sensuous have been performed on the stage of the argument by bodies contracting into themselves and releasing to other bodies, moving and being moved. Those bodies affirm their equality to other bodies –​whether the dancing bodies they intervene against, or bodies inhabiting other worlds that deem them unequal. From Martha Graham’s audiences who are uninvited spectators to the gumboot dancers in South Africa and the flash mob

in Dance and politics
Open Access (free)

What is the use of having a right of free speech if no one is listening. (Aboriginal artist Sally Morgan, Radio National, 10 November 1995) THE TERRAIN OF human rights is broad and there are many ways of crossing it. Moreover, it is a terrain that is incoherent and contradictory, and full of both vehemence and uncertainty. This reflection on rights has sought to take a particular path across that broad and rocky terrain, particularly in regard to the promotion of human rights practices and approaches in international

in Human rights and the borders of suffering

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

in Human rights and the borders of suffering

and which has a reasonably active record of human rights promotion internationally. Meanwhile, in the conditions in which most Aboriginal Australians live their lives, their ‘life chances’ – understood as access to health, education and employment – are comparable to those of people in a poor Third World economy; for many Aborigines participation in decision making concerning basic control over their own lives and environment has, at least until the mid-1980s, been at a lower level than that routinely available in many highly authoritarian societies, and the extent

in Human rights and the borders of suffering

THIS CHAPTER EXPLORES, through a discussion of one instance, how the principal categories of the Lockean narrative can shape the context for the understanding of and response to political injury. In the case of much Western response to the Beijing massacre the conceptualisation of man and the state is particularly important, as is the related articulation of the realms of ethics and politics. The following discussion of the Beijing killings also questions the adequacy of the terms of the debate between citizenship rights and human rights

in Human rights and the borders of suffering
Open Access (free)

AS THE INTRODUCTION to one of the more recent human rights readers notes, the effort to establish or assert ‘ “some particular ground” upon which right-holders can justify their claim to rights … has framed the dominant discourse on human rights’ (Dunne and Wheeler, 1999: 4). Indeed, any discussion of the broader issues raised by human rights seems condemned to endlessly patrol the beat mapped out by the polarities of universal and communitarian or relative grounds for rights and, as Dunne and Wheeler make clear, the associated

in Human rights and the borders of suffering
Open Access (free)

of East Timor were shaped within a preponderantly realist understanding of international possibilities. The polarisation of pragmatics and principle – a polarisation that shapes much study of international relations as well as much rights talk – was a distinct feature of this approach. To emphasise human rights promotion as grounded in exchange with the actual patterns of social practice involved casts a different light on the apparent self-evidence of that polarisation, as the story of East Timor suggests. Now the territory is administered by the liberal

in Human rights and the borders of suffering

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

in Human rights and the borders of suffering