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Human Rights for Martians

by Costas Douzinas • 3 May 2016
The human rights movement can be
seen as the ongoing but failing struggle
to close the gap between the abstract
man of the Declarations and the
empirical human being. Has it
succeeded? Yes and no.

Young migrants and refugees at a fence
in the Moria detention center on the
Greek island of Lesbos, on April 16,
2016 (AFP Photo/Aris Messinis) SRC

2015 and 2016 have been marked by the
heart-breaking images of a moving
humanity of refugees and immigrants
who leave the battlefronts of Syria,
Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya to come to
Europe, their imaginary Arcadia. More
than one million people have braved
the rough waters of the Aegean and
Libyan seas with the bulk landing on
the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios, Kos,
Agathonissi, Farmakonissi and
On the way to the islands, thousands
have lost their lives. Photographs of
drowned dead bodies lying on the
beaches of Greece and Turkey have
been published daily. The image of
dead three-year-old Aylan Kurdi on a
Turkish beach in early September went

around the world and became the
image of the refugee crisis.
Britain’s chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis
interviewed on radio stated that “for far
too long, we have related to these
suffering individuals as if they are
people who are living on Mars. Thanks
to that image, that desperately sad and
tragic image, it’s moved out hearts …
It’s an image of that boy that has
brought us to our senses and we must
respond adequately.”
Yet the first known refugee casualty of
2016 was an unnamed two-year-old boy
who drowned on January 1 when the
crowded dinghy he was travelling in
broke in the rocks off Greece’s
Agathonissi island. “Nothing can
prepare you for the horrific reality of

what is going on. Today we came face
to face with one of the youngest
victims of this ongoing refugee crisis. It
is a tragic reminder of the thousands of
people who have died trying to reach
safety in miserable conditions,” said
Christopher Catrambone a migrant
support NGO officer.
Between the first and the second dead
infant thousands braved the sea and
hundreds drowned. The island of
Lesbos has run out of burial space.
Many graves are unmarked as the
name and nationality of the buried are
unknown. Refugees are the unmourned
and ungrievable victims of the latest
humanitarian catastrophe.
As Antigone knew, the dead must be
honoured at all costs. Those who

cannot, who do not deserve to be
mourned, form the most extreme case
of bare life, life outside the protection
of law and state, as Judith Butler
reminded us.
The image of the little dead body
floating on the waves and then lying on
the beach was powerful. It was
published and copied again and again
around the world. Yet Aylan’s death
image did not have the same effect on
European politicians as on the Rabbi.
Greece is a transit place on the way to
Northern Europe for people fleeing the
wars of the Middle East.
Over a million refugees entered Europe
in 2015 with some 820,000 landing on
Greek islands and some 250,000 in
early 2016. Germany temporarily

opened its borders receiving a large
number of asylum seekers. But when
the political climate started turning the
borders were closed again. Hungary
built a fence on the border and
declared that it cannot accept the
moral blackmail of Germany which
initially welcomed immigrants. Croatia
and the Former Yugoslav Republic of
Macedonia built fences too.
Poland declared that it would only
accept Christian refugees. Finally and
after Austria stopped receiving refugees
the so-called Western Balkans route
was sealed with soldiers patrolling the
border between Greece and FYROM.
Unilaterally and against international
and European law duties, the European
Union declared itself closed to

according to all calculation. An EU Summit meeting in September 2015 agreed that around 160. is not safe. a number of states including Hungary and Poland have and rejected participation and refused to take any refugees. Immediately after the agreement. one of the most . Denmark. At the time of writing fewer than 1000 have been relocated.000 refugees would be relocated from Greece and Italy to the 28 EU states in numbers proportionate to their size and population.The European Union has become physically a ‘Fortress Europe’. . It has externalised migration control and with the recent agreement with Turkey it has delegated the control and security of its borders to a third country which.

passed a law authorising the confiscation of the pitiful valuables of refugees to cover the cost of offering basic services to them. against wishes. In November. I explained that the Greek position was to welcome the migrants. in a meeting at the European Parliament to discuss migration flows in the Western Balkans. expectations and predictions. In September 2015. start the asylum . register them. As the President of the Defence and Foreign Relations committee of the Hellenic Parliament. I have to attend various inter-parliamentary conferences and meetings.wealthy nations of the European Union. I was elected a Syriza MP for the port of Pireas.

A Northern European MP retorted by stating that the Greek port police should “push back” the ramshackle refugee dinghies.determination process for those who do not wish to leave immediately and let the others go while doing everything possible to make their lives bearable while in the country. My interlocutor response was that the patrol boats should allow refugees to . something that the Greeks would not do. The help of ordinary citizens and the solidarity of Greek and foreign NGOs has made this huge task for a small and economically devastated country possible. I explained that “pushing back” could only work if these vessels are rammed or sank.

Moreover the separation of asylum-seekers from economic migrants in rough waters is impossible even if some inhumane administration were to adopt the plan. give a succinct answer to the Northern European politician. two failed asylum seekers living in the London shadows. Jami and Barzo. Jami who . In a video accompanying coverage of a report by the refugee charity Parfras. which details the life of an underground humanity without shelter. I explained that the Greek government is not prepared to tolerate more deaths in the Aegean. Again. food or the right to work and survives in our cities on less that one-dollar a day.reach the islands but should turn back “illegal” migrants.

human rights. homelessness and despair quietly addressing people like us who. two eyes. But where are the human rights for the asylum seekers?” In haunting and halting sentences echoing suffering humanity from Shylock to Primo Levi. They are human like me”. two legs. these natural philosophers state an indisputably realistic truth: we may all be human but humanity has always excluded. . Barzo ends his heart-rending description of destitution. from our comfortable houses.sleeps in parks. keep proclaiming “human rights. quietly contrasts himself to his friends who have “papers” and implicitly to the rest of us. “We both have two hands.

Split humanity How can we understand this paradox that not all humans have humanity in a human rights world? The inflation of rights-talk has obscured the terms. The refugee crisis version distinguishes between refugees and migrants.despised and degraded some of its parts. as if there is any human being who is “illegal” because of who they are. To understand what Jami and Barzo tell us . Humanity is not one: it has always been split between full and lesser humans. placing the former in a precarious position of rhetorical protection while abandoning the “illegals”.

Private property and contractual rights were introduced in early modernity. As human rights refer to a type of morality and to the treatment individuals expect from public and private powers. They were both the . which introduces a number of paradoxes at the heart of society by bringing together law and morality. Human rights are a hybrid category. Legal rights have been the building block of western law since early modernity. the part that really counts in power’s treatment of people.and Aylan proves we need to start again. Let me start with legal rights. “Human rights” is a term combining law and morality.

Culturally. These rule experts have propagated a . Because the capitalist society of individualism and free will lacks a universal moral code. tort and legal rights achieve precisely that. Crime. it is the business of lawyers and judges to resolve them. rights were precipitated by what Alasdair McIntyre has called a “moral catastrophe”: the destruction of premodern communities of virtue and duty.result of the emergence of market economy and contributed to its victory. The law empowers individuals to enforce their rights but also limits their exercise so that in theory we can all have an equal amount of rights. When disputes arise. restraints on private egotism must be external.

.commonly held view that laws and rights are like facts: they have ‘objective’ meaning. Most rights disputes involve at least two contradictory but plausible legal and cultural meanings. They must be interpreted to be applied. This is where the available discursive frameworks analysed in this volume become all important. which opens most bills of rights and human rights treaties. Take the “right to life”. Human rights provisions are commonly general and abstract. which can be discovered by the professionals. Legal rights turn social and political conflict into a technical problem about the meaning of rules. Legal rules and rights however do not come with their meaning on their sleeve.

health care or the safe passage to a place of asylum. . In most cases. which have become so important after the Paris terrorist attacks. involves assumptions about the way a democratic society works. a human rights claim is the beginning rather than the end of a dispute about the meaning of the right or its relative standing vis-à-vis conflicting rights. moral. shelter. At this point. political or ideological considerations unavoidably enter legal argumentation. Deciding conflicts between liberty and security.Its statement does not answer questions about abortion. and euthanasia or indeed about whether this right protects the necessary prerequisites for survival such as food. the death penalty.

open. Removing them from politicians and giving them to lawyers (with their usual homogeneous outlook) does not change this basic fact. political or moral views. But the repressed “subjectivism” always returns: rights adjudication is ambiguous. A Chinese dissident who asserts the right to free political activity or an asylum- seeker who claims the right to secure . whether recognised or not by law “human rights” are moral claims.These depend in part on decision- makers’ ideological. and potentially radical. We should not forget that law’s main job is to provide order not to support morality. Secondly. Rights and law are supposed to use reason and precedent to make the exercise of power neutral and objective.

Human rights confound the real and the ideal. while the statement that people are born equal flies in the face of huge disparities in the world. The dissident’s “right” does not refer to an existing legal entitlement but to a claim about what morality (or ideology.passage to a place of safety are both right and wrong. In this sense. But as Jeremy Bentham noted first. the morality of human rights is always in potential conflict with their legal status. . or international law or some other higher source) demands. newly born infants depend for survival on their carers. Take Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal of right”.

as argued above.Biological and social nature distribute their wares unequally. the standing and economic (dis)advantage of family and community largely determine our lives. Equality on the other hand is unnatural and must be fought for. Depending on the political. an unavoidable result of the accidents of birth and history. ramming a dinghy may be interpreted as a criminal act and a violation of the refugees’ rights or a necessary protection of national interests. does not create an indefeasible expectation of survival. Similarly. legal or cultural discursive framework adopted. the asylum-seeker’s claim to the right to life. . Heredity.

Human rights statements are therefore prescriptions: people are not free and equal but they ought to become so. Human rights are a subcategory of legal rights protecting important goods and activities. people do not have a right to life. The standard claim is they are given to people on account of their humanity rather than membership of narrower categories . Equality is a call for action not a description of a state of affairs. Their success depends on political will and the social conditions within which the equality and life maxims are to be fought for. Moral or legal philosophy no longer deserves the adjective ‘moral’ when they forget this simple fact. they ought to be granted the necessary means for their survival.

community or class. opens with the statement about free and equal rights which the Universal Declaration repeated replacing “men” with human beings. genocide. From that point on statehood. sovereignty and territory follow nationhood and its pathologies. nationalism. The gap between universal “man” and national citizen is inhabited . And yet this assertion is disproved by the history of natural and human rights. The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. ethnic wars and cleansing.such as nation. The Declaration proceeds to bestow these rights to French citizens only. the political and legal foundation and manifesto of modernity.

The “man” of the “rights of man” has no concrete characteristics. . colour. gender or history. white. except for free will. reason and soul. He condenses the abstract dignity of humanity and the privileges of the powerful. These universal elements secularised the Christian belief in the sacredness of life and endowed humanity with dignity and respect. as Hegel. But this “man” is an abstraction without body. Burke and Marx agreed. urban male. Christian. Yet the empirical man who actually enjoyed legal rights was literally a man — a well-off.by foreigners – they do not have rights because they are not citizens and as a result they are not fully human.

religion. full ‘humanity’ is constructed against a background of conditions of inhumanity (citizenship. belong to the wrong . race. refugees. But they have none – they are just bare. Every historical age has used its (philosophical or empirical) definition of humanity to separate between rulers. share our religion. unprotected life. gender. sexuality). they construct a graded “humanity”. ruled and excluded. Human rights do not belong to humans. Those who don’t speak our language. class.Ever since. sans papiers immigrants or the Guantanamo Bay detainees who have no country to protect them should have humanity’s entitlements. If rights are universal.

These categories of exclusion are still active. colour or sexuality have always been left outside locally defined “humanity”. the rejects of global neoliberal capitalism.class. Barzo and Aylan teach us. the “human waste”. They have been joined by the “bottom billion”. The human rights paradox The human rights movement can be seen as the ongoing but failing struggle to close the gap between the abstract man of the Declarations and the empirical human being. gender. however. that there is nothing sacred about any definition of humanity and . Has it succeeded? Yes and no. Jami. The concept of a common “humanity” introduced the vocation of universal dignity.

Despite the claims of liberal philosophers however bare humanity offers no protections. They help construct who and how one becomes human. . In their case. the paradoxical relationship between law and morality has been resolved through the elimination of the moral command. While they bleed and hurt like the rest of us. Refugees who have no state. recipients of the consolations of humanity. nation or law to protect them should be the prime beneficiaries of human rights. Barzo and Aylan have no rights at all. Human rights. Jami.nothing eternal about its scope. they are not fully human. do not belong to humans. we could conclude.

the law includes a principle of self-transcendence. human rights become the latest expression of a human urge to resist domination and oppression and . In this sense. When human rights are part of the law.The ideological power of human rights lies precisely in their rhetorical ambiguity. A legal system that includes human rights is paradoxically not equal to itself. the oscillation between real and ideal. between humanity and national citizenship. since human rights call the whole of law to account everywhere not just in totalitarian states. which pushes against the law’s settled state. as with the British Human Rights Act which the Conservative government has pledged to repeal. the only provider of legal rights.

Barzo and the thousands who arrive daily in the Greek islands belong to this tradition and redeem the value of human rights. enslaved or exploited. in the post-WWII “never again” declarations. which started in the West with Antigone’s defiance of unjust law and surfaces in the struggles of the despised. They are part of a long and honourable tradition. in popular uprisings against fascist and communist rule. This was the case in the great revolutions of the eighteenth century. Those who defend Jami. Those who use human rights rhetoric to defend the “human” rights of powerful companies in the developing .to dissent from the intolerance of public opinion.

expanded and turned into a vernacular touching every aspect of social life. rights recognition is the main tool and target of politics. This atrophy paradoxically follows the triumph of rights. virtue and duty on the other hand have been confined to backwardness and fanaticism. Rights have become ubiquitous at the cost of their specificity and significance. Claiming rights is the main form of morality. Similarly. Group claims and ideological positions. Responsibility.world contribute to the banalisation and eventual atrophy of rights. sectional interests and global . Human rights have mutated. politics and subjectivity. They are seen as key concept in morals.

This linguistic inflation weakens the association of rights with significant human goods. society starts breaking up into a collection of atoms indifferent to the common good.campaigns are routinely expressed in the language of rights for individuals. allegedly to support the liberty of the individual. Both liberty and security suffer. In postmodern societies. A government minister recently argued . “I want X” or “X should be given to me” has become synonymous with “I have a right to X”. This way politics is depoliticised. rights are the main tools of identity politics. But when rights become a ‘trump card’ that defeats state policies and collective priorities.

Take a workers’ strike. Rights talk has become an easy and simple way of describing complex historical. The right to choose our kids’ school or our mobile phone is as important as the right to be free of torture or to have food on the table. social and political situations. When every desire can be turned into a legal right nothing retains the dignity of right. When . But this has nothing to do with the Enlightenment tradition of emancipation and self-development or with the radical tradition of dissent both represented in human rights. a type of “cognitive mapping”: particularly useful for media coverage.that we have a human right to properly functioning kitchen appliances. There is more.

It unites the North and the South. first world liberals and third world revolutionaries. . a complicated set of relations. traditions and communities is reduced to a simple calculus of right versus right one of which must be wrong.presented as a conflict between the right to strike and the right to work (as is often the case). Human rights are used as a symbol or synonym for liberalism. histories. As the scope of rights increases their inherent absolutism makes the antagonists intransigent. globalising imperialists and anti- globalisation protesters. Finally. This translation hinders both understanding and resolving the conflict. human rights have become the last universal ideology globally.

social justice or peace by others.capitalism or individualism by some and for development. London and Lahore? It is a comforting idea. In the South. rights are seen as primarily collective rather than individual. If there is something perpetual about our world. it is the increasing wealth gap between the metropolitan lands and the rest. daily denied in news bulletins. the . Does the victory. associated with social justice rather than liberty. universality and ubiquity of rights indicate that they transcend conflicts of interests and the clash of ideas? Have rights become a common horizon uniting Cardiff and Kabul. social and economic rather than civil.

If anything. But as morality is not one and the law is not a simple exercise in reasoning. refugees and undesirables. those pockets of “third world” in the midst of the first. our world looks increasingly more hostile and dangerous and the administration of justified or imagined fears has become a major and common tool of governments. moral conflict enters the legal archive and legal strictures regiment and control moral .yawning chasm in income and chances between the rich and the poor. the ever new and strictly policed walls which divide the comfortable middle classes from the “underclass” of immigrants. Human rights introduce morality into law and offer limited legal enforcement to moral claims.

Costas Douzinas is a Member of the Hellenic Parliament. Barzo and Aylan remind us what the purpose of human rights is. University of London. Jami. . Their sad soliloquies attest to the fact that when seen as alien Martians they are turned into sub- human without humanity or rights. and were a scandal and an affront to the law from the very start. Why we should worry about the theoretical foundations of human rights law and practice by Bill Bowring • 11 February 2015 Human rights claims are always scandalous. a Professor of Law and the Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities.responsibility.

the former Essex Vice- Chancellor. There is more than a grain of truth to this ironical jibe. aimed at his .Eug ne elacroi : Liberty Leading the People Ivor Crewe. and a political scientist. used to compare contemporary human rights activists to 19th century Christian missionaries. spreading the gospel to less enlightened peoples.

and through my EHRAC project I take many cases to the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg against Russia and other countries of the Former Soviet Union.colleagues in the Human Rights Centre. Late last year I was invited to make presentations on behalf of the Council of Europe in Bosnia and in Macedonia. What is the legitimacy of this practice – what word is it precisely that I am spreading or seeking to vindicate? What right do I have to pass judgment on the governments of states which . I have just been twice to Russia. I am about to go and do human rights work in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan for the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

On the other hand. especially the world of movements such as Amnesty International – for example Stephen Hopgood’s Keepers of the Flame: Understanding Amnesty .have such different culture and histories from ours? In what way can the people I meet benefit from what I have to say as a human rights expert and practitioner? One “true believer” in human rights is my LSE colleague Francesca Klug. The titles of two of her books are Values for a Godless Age (2000) and A Magna Carta for All Humanity: Homing in on Human Rights: Time for a New Enlightenment? (2015). there is a growing literature expressing deep scepticism in the human rights project.

state reports. and individual complaints actually makes very little difference to suffering humanity. committees. thus far. not social change.International (2006) and The Endtimes of Human Rights (2013). has been moral authority.” The controversial Chicago scholar Eric Posner has recently published The Twilight of Human Rights Law (2014). And there is now a highly influential ‘revisionist’ account of human rights by the Harvard historian Samuel Moyn. in which he concludes that the complex and growing structure of UN human rights treaties. Hopgood says that Amnesty is “much more like a Free Church whose main product. in his The Last Utopia: Human Rights in .

” Indeed.History (2010) and Human Rights and the Uses of History(2014). not so unusually: When people hear the phrase “human rights. It is a recognisably utopian programme. 1977. his most controversial claim is that “The year of human rights. and bringing about a new one in which the dignity of each individual will enjoy secure international protection. However.” they think of the highest moral precepts and political ideals… The phrase implies an agenda for improving the world. he argues that “The drama of human . He starts by saying. which put ‘human rights’ in front of the viewing public for the first time in American history. began with Carter’s January 20 inauguration.

is that they emerged in the 1970s seemingly from nowhere. but are rather about the “politics of the state” — the creation of the nation of France. that is a puzzling claim. then.rights. but was guillotined). in the French Revolution. with the Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen (Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen — Olympe de Gouges drafted a Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen. He pours similar scorn on the Right to .” For me. and in particular in 1789. since I th would start in the late 18 century with the American Bill of Rights. Moyn argues that the Déclaration did not really concern “human rights” as he understands them.

human rights are rather different from domestic law.Self-Determination and the national liberation struggles after World War II. Human Rights Watch. All of them share a lack of internal democracy and accountability. However. and the rise to prominence of Amnesty International. They are answerable only to morality and the grandiose structure of international human rights law. FIDH. Moyn is quite right to identify the 1970s as the period of the explosion in the use of human rights language by world leaders. and do not have their origins in the . for me. and other international human rights non- governmental organisations. Of course. especially President Jimmy Carter.

Human rights are not “the command of the sovereign” (in the words of the English positivist John Austin) and cannot be ascertained by a “rule of recognition” (H. I argue that human rights claims are always scandalous. Burke and Marx on the Rights of Man (2014). I recommend to my students a great collection: Jeremy Waldron’s Nonsense upon Stilts: Bentham. and were a scandal and an affront to the law from the very start. A. they do not have their origins in legislation. L. Nor are human rights part of the law as a whole (law as integrity) on the basis of which Judge Hercules always comes to the right answer (Ronald Dworkin). That is. Hart). All three subjected human rights as set out in the .international treaties post WW II.

And Karl Marx saw these civil and political rights as the rights of the egotist. rhetorical nonsense — nonsense upon stilts. saw the Déclaration as embodying terrorist language which would blow up all hard-won freedoms and venerable institutions. who does not want to participate in society. one of the fathers of English liberalism. I have sketched a materialist and historicised account of the genesis and significance of human rights. “Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights.French Déclaration to severe criticism. This . In my 2008 book The Degradation of the International Legal Order: The Rehabilitation of Law and the Possibility of Politics.” said Jeremy Bentham. the father of English conservatism. Edmund Burke.

author most recently of Law. founder and chair of the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC). social and economic rights in the aftermath of WWI I and the Bolshevik Revolution. Bill Bowring is Professor of Law at Birkbeck College. Rights and Ideology in Russia: Landmarks in the . Working this out in detail is my current preoccupation.account focuses on the concretisation and recognition of each “generation” of human rights in the context of revolutionary events — civil and political rights in1789. and third generation rights of interdependence starting with the right of peoples to self-determination. Fellow of the Essex Human Rights centre. Barrister.

which also occurs in other areas. Follow Bill on Twitter at @BillBowring On Human Rights: Two Simple Remarks by Jean-Luc Nancy • 10 April 2013 Key Concept First remark Today. 2013). political correctness demands that we say in French droitshumains [human rights] when we used to say droits de 1 l’homme [rights of man]. like . is made because the French homme. This demand.Destiny of a Great Power(Routledge.

However. differentiating between Mensch and Mann. The adjective ‘human’ in French has a value that corresponds to the usual meaning we now give to the term ‘humanist’ and. more generally. does not distinguish between the human race and the male gender. The English language attributes this value to the . Greek between anèr and anthropos. Latin distinguishes between virand homo. ‘compassion’ or ‘charity’. etc. it is also important to note the introduction of another ambiguity. German is better equipped.‘man’ in English. We could discuss the reasons for this. to the moral qualities of ‘care’ (a word which has recently been imported unchanged from English into French).

cultivated and dominant. who . Now philanthropy — which was actually a secular displacement of the ostensibly all too Christian charity — is based upon a more or less hidden axiom of condescension: it is the act of the rich. has taken on the meaning of a ‘love of mankind’ or ‘friendship’ (in French. in its currently impoverished and rather ridiculous sense. human rights can be seen as rights basking in the aura of humanity. and Humanität as terms of ethical evaluation. ‘humane’. German has introduced. this is the meaning frequently ascribed to philia).word ‘human’. the words human. further ascribing to it a more specific term. In other words. humanitär. along with menschlish. since this term.

philanthropists have never sought to challenge the social order.feel benevolence. which appears at the beginning of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 (hereafter referred to as ‘ eclaration’) and is repeated further on. selfish and gushing with sentimentality. it is necessary to draw attention to the extent of its . For all that. Without arguing against the use of the term ‘human rights’. It can even be said to represent an interpretation of dignity that is conservative. Philanthropy contains an implicit negation of the respect for the unconditional dignity of all human beings. except in minor ways. compassion and pity for the social misfortune of others.

In this sense. freedom prevails over social justice through the resonance.’ One can and must think that freedom (of speech and belief) does not limit . For whatever the term used. tone and emphasis of the text. human rights are marked by a certain degree of philanthropy mixed with a promise of ‘social progress’.ambivalence. which is always linked to a ‘larger freedom’. the Declaration affirms that ‘the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people. Moreover.’2 But what is proclaimed here and cannot be challenged should not be considered the ‘highest aspiration.

relations — things that are larger. there are other stakes that lie beyond any human freedom. considered ‘freedom’ to only exist as the freedom of the entire world (which he called ‘nature or god’). It would not be wrong to say that the people can expect and want different things — engagements. or . The independence and autonomy of persons has a long way to go before it reaches its limits. if limits exist.the aspirations of the common people [hommes]. collaborations. than freedoms. Autonomy should be conceived in relation to the sense of existence. who can hardly be accused of being inhuman or an enemy of freedom. Being ‘free from fear and want’ is not the only reality of freedom. Spinoza. for example. infinitely larger and more.

if not for dreams or speculation. Some will object. ‘What do you e pect from a declaration of rights? You’re not considering the extent to which your words go beyond the predetermined sphere that constitutes a kind of minimum necessary to free humanity from oppression.’ My response is that it is indeed necessary to enter a philosophical register since the text of the Declaration — and the huge body of texts inspired by it and by the defence of ‘human’ rights — carry an implicit or latent ideology that should be brought . of all and of the world as sense.more exactly. in relation to existence itself — of each. You’re departing the realm of right for philosophy.

all these references are written off. Pascal was a Christian. Heidegger. which one must always remember ‘does not think the humanitas of man high enough’. . this is the price to be paid in order to avoid the self- righteous inanity of such ‘rights’.to light. and human rights float more or less on the surface of the ‘icy 3 water of egotistical calculation’. In fact. Pascal. Today. The self-righteousness here is that of a ‘humanism’ of European origin. said the same thing much earlier but in a different way: ‘Man infinitely surpasses man’. on the contrary. as Heidegger wrote. another European. believed that he could find the force of re- foundation in an anti-Christian direction.

The French text reads: Considérant qu’il est essentiel que les droits de l’homme soient protégés par un régime de droit pour que l’homme ne soit pas contraint. en suprême recours.Second remark The Declaration is based — as a declaration of rights. to rebellion against tyranny and oppression. as a juridical production or juris-dictio — on the following sentence: Whereas it is essential. . that is to say. This is the third of seven ‘considérants’ (‘whereas’) after which the te t proceeds with the actual declaration. if man is not to be compelled to have recourse. that human rights should be protected by the rule of law. as a last resort.

ignominiously signify. We will pass quickly over the complex and fragile character of a proposition that seeks to avoid a resort to rebellion.à la révolte contre la tyrannie et l’oppression. somehow nebulously. over a long period. the Declaration is part of the general movement that. fosters the condemnation of ‘fascism’ and what this word would. .’ In 1948. It is clear that this resort is seen as something ‘compelled’ and that this compulsion can engender ‘tyranny and oppression. in a te t drafted by a committee of nine members whose political and intellectual composition calls for lengthy 4 analysis. tyranny and oppression focused on the fascisms that had just been defeated. In a sense.

There is. . I was careful above to write. There is no examination. again. no opportunity to consider other possibilities of oppression — and consequently of rebellion — like those represented by the abominable figure of a Head of State or Leader flanked by party apparatus. of what could have facilitated or even caused the emergence of fascisms. police and mythology. some will protest. The preceding sentences will be criticised for being unacceptably suspicious of the virtuous words of the Declaration.However. any questioning of the underlying reasons for the rise of fascisms is relegated to the background. if not even further. ‘in a sense’. therefore. from the perspective of democracy and 20th century capitalism. Here.

techno-scientific development and . I am not trying to construct a machinery of denunciation. It is a road that passes through the other collapse of so-called ‘socialisms’ and. according to different views. nothing more. today. through the various tensions in religious and/or communitarian movements. Yet it is difficult to dispute that the question of ‘humanism’ has been continually refined or deepened. This has occurred along the road from the defeat of fascism to the unbridled expansion of capitalism. which is undermining human rights in an increasingly obvious way. ‘Humanism’ is strictly coeval with mercantile civilization. In all sincerity.and to limit myself to pointing out the absence of examination.

it is here that we must consider the other clause of this ‘whereas’. as their prehistory in Roman law [droit] after a certain period already shows. The French version provides a striking statement: Human rights must be protected by the rule of law [régime de droit]. Perhaps the . the same term. Greek or German) repeat.democracy. They derive from Roman legal culture. Now. ‘Human rights’ are not absolutely pristine. the Italian distinguishes diritti and norme giuridiche. transported first out of Roman civil religion and then out of Christianity to fertilise the spirit of modern law [droit] and especially so- called ‘natural’ law [droit]. whereas other languages (e. like the French.g. The English distinguishes rights and law.

If we leave aside the well-known American and French antecedents that paved the way. This is much more than a linguistic curiosity.Latin translation best clarifies the distinction in stating that: hominum jura civitatis forma quae justa est tegi (human rights must be covered by a just civil form). Repeating a single term (droit) or distinguishing two terms (rights and law). indicates the same difficulty: do rights [droits] exist that have not been established by law [droit]? Here the Declaration declares its own necessity: it is not just a formulation. The Declaration is the legal institution of the rights it declares. prior to the Declaration only factual rights and not legal rights . words solemnly declared.

At most.[droits de droit] existed. But what are ‘factual’ rights or national rights with regard to international law? These two distinct questions are in part intertwined. Yet we have invoked a . We have sought to dismiss the idea of ‘natural rights’. some of these rights pre-existed as rights of certain States. the United Kingdom. These questions share a concern about the foundation of a right in general. The idea of ‘human rights’ brings to light the extraordinary difficulty of founding right. if not the impossibility of such a foundation. which represents an internal contradiction because their non- positive (in the legal sense) character prevents legal enforcement and sanction. the USA and France in particular.

This is no less lacking in foundations. technical.‘minimum norm’ (Rawls) which is necessary for the constitution of a just State or of the State under the rule of ‘law’ [Etat de ‘droit’] as it is popularly 5 called today. Undoubtedly. Hannah Arendt also showed how the national appropriation of ‘human rights’ gave rise to categories of persons without rights (refugees. It follows from these analyses that forms of non-right have not stopped imposing their iron law within positive rights. with the help of economic. as Arendt formulated it. in the fullest sense of the word. is plain to see: we can recognise neither the quality of . displaced and stateless persons). the ‘right to have rights’. and political chaos. than ‘natural’ rights.

that of the existent in general.the human being. But as Hegel says. nor. this again says nothing about the nature of this singular ‘right’ or about the possibility of its recognition. what is well known is not known at all. It is well known that the powerlessness of international law [droit] — of what passes under this name — or perhaps the basic impossibility of such a law [droit] (yet called for. What remains here . perhaps. which should be universal and prior — if not superior — to any determined legal institution. without the involvement of this right. However. desired and proclaimed by philosophical humanism for more than two centuries and formally declared in the 20th Century) impedes its effective implementation.

unknown is nothing other than the absence of foundation of right in general. it is not a question of right. political. This absence is not temporary or contingent: it is constitutive. Indeed. In such a case. whatever that may be. cultural and spiritual — to which it must respond. transformation and re-creation in the various practical circumstances — technical. Both the history of legislated rights of the Roman type as well as the customary rights of the Anglo-Saxon type clearly show that an essential plasticity of right exists within the . right can only exist or be guaranteed by a divine authority. I would even say that it is ‘constituent’ of right. if something worthy of this name requires the continuing possibility of recovery.

And it is not by seeking a categorical legal imperative that we can hope to found such a justice since the universal can be found neither here nor in a Kantian imperative. where it is reduced to the representation of ‘nature’ as a ‘type’ or nondeterministic model of morality. Right can only be exposed to such a passage. no less essentially. in other words of justice in the non-legal sense of the word.fixity that the law. it is by nature the institution of what cannot be instituted. the right to exceed right. converge towards a passage to the limit. requires. . Both the interminable ascent to the ‘basic norm’ in a pyramid of norms (Kelsen) and the recourse to an ultimate power to decide the exception (Schmitt).

This is not ‘to render the justice’. given back. returned to any X.In a sense.6 But what does each X deserve? Each X deserves an infinite recognition of its singularity. This justice must be effectively rendered. Justice must be done to X and . which itself passes on to the limit of sense. work. In other words. justice consists in rendering justice. the justice that must be rendered to X is a justice whose nature and extent or non-naturalness and incommensurability only X can determine. any form of existent — deserves. This is rendering to someone or something the justice that this person or thing — event. This justice must be recognised for every X. which assumes a determined or instituted justice.

yet it is not it — whatever it is. On the certainty. right can only fall back into . for without an appeal or a sign towards it. that it is just that the world exists even though nothing can justify its existence. From this infinity and to this infinity. This perspective must remain present beyond the horizon of right. therefore. tree or man [homme] — that can produce its due and present it as ‘justice’ or as ‘right’. 7 Unjustifiable justice. far from founding any kind of rights — as extensive as these may be — opens up instead an infinite perspective that exceeds all possibility of right. This justice rests on the unfound-able certainty that it is just that that exists. all things and every singularity proceed and return.

arbitrariness. relativity or rigidity. to draw attention to this. The greatest merit of ‘human rights’ is to bring out all these difficulties and all of these exigencies. Jean-Luc Nancy The Bias of Human Rights Watch by Garry Leech • 21 March 2013 Human Rights Watch’s selective and biased application of the human rights norms enshrined in the UN Declaration not only undermines its credibility. The aim of these two simple remarks was.its inevitable fragility. it also promotes injustice. . within their narrow limits. whether of impotence.

Human Rights Watch has become one of the most recognized non-governmental organizations in the world due to its global promotion of human rights.Over the past thirty years. it routinely judges nations throughout . As a result. Human Rights Watch repeatedly focuses on political and civil rights while ignoring social and economic rights. But despite its claims to be an advocate of international human rights law. the reports issued by Human Rights Watch over the past decade have increasingly exhibited a bias towards certain rights over others. More precisely.

executive director of Human Rights Watch. It is this bias that lies at the root of Human Rights Watch’s scathing attacks on the government of Venezuela and its recently deceased president Hugo Chávez. “Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world” and in order to achieve that objective “We challenge governments and those who hold power to end . According to Human Rights Watch’s mission statement. This bias was also evident in comments made in 2012 by Ken Roth.the world in a manner that furthers capitalist values and discredits governments seeking socialist alternatives. when he declared that Venezuela is “the most abusive” nation in Latin America.

abusive practices and respect
international human rights law.” The
international human rights law
referred to by Human Rights Watch is
rooted in the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, which was passed by
the UN General Assembly in 1948. The
Declaration encompasses political,
civil, social, economic and cultural
Capitalist nations, particularly the
United States, have never been
comfortable with the articles of the UN
Declaration that require governments
to guarantee the social and economic
rights of their citizens. Among the
social and economic rights that
contravene capitalist values are the
right to “food, clothing, housing and
medical care and necessary social

services” (Article 25) as well as the right
“to share in scientific advancement and
its benefits” (Article 27). In a capitalist
society, responsibility for obtaining
food, clothing, housing and medical
care rests with the individual not the
state. Likewise, it is not the state’s
responsibility to ensure that all citizens
share equally in the benefits of
scientific advancements developed by,
for example, pharmaceutical
The United States does support those
articles in the Declaration that
promote civil and political rights.
These rights ensure that “All are equal
before the law and are entitled without
any discrimination to equal protection
of the law” (Article 7) “Everyone has
the right to own property alone as well

as in association with others” (Article
17); “Everyone has the right to freedom
of thought, conscience and religion”
(Article 18); and “Everyone has the
right to freedom of opinion and
e pression” (Article 19). Basically, these
are the individual rights that are
enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and
that lie at the root of the liberal
democratic concept of the “rule of law.”
And while Human Rights Watch
professes to defend the human rights
enshrined in the UN Declaration, in
reality, its work focuses exclusively on
the civil and political rights recognized
by the U.S. government.
A vivid example of Human Rights
Watch’s bias against economic and
social rights is the report the
organization issued immediately

Human Rights Watch had long had an antagonistic relationship with the Venezuelan leader. Under the title. “Venezuela: Chávez’s Authoritarian Legacy. The report clearly reflected the view of the organization’s e ecutive director Ken Roth that Venezuela (along with Bolivia and Ecuador) is “the most abusive nation” in Latin America. One only need take a quick look at Human Rights Watch’s reports on Colombia to illustrate the ludicrousness of such a statement. social and .following the death of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez. which was touched upon in the report.” the report contains a litany of violations of civil and political rights and not a single mention of the country’s impressive achievements in economic.

all of which constitute guarantees of economic.cultural rights. social and cultural rights. The report opens by stating.” The latter part implies a basic disregard for all human rights. . but the report goes on to focus solely on issues related to civil and political rights. If the Chávez government had indeed disregarded all basic human rights as suggested by Human Rights Watch. then how does one explain the country’s remarkable successes ensuring that all citizens receive adequate food and housing as well as free healthcare and education. “Hugo Chávez’s presidency (1999-2013) was characterized by a dramatic concentration of power and open disregard for basic human rights guarantees.

49 million in Latin America and the Caribbean. There are 800 million people in the world who suffer from hunger. have resulted in the country becoming an “illiteracy- free” nation and post-secondary enrolments doubling over the past decade.Not only does Venezuela now provide free education—including at the university level. a recent report issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) stated. And as for the basic right to food. but not one of them is Venezuelan. where students can learn the country’s various indigenous languages—but its programs. according to UNESCO. “We analyze hunger statistics all over the world.” Perhaps the government’s most impressive overall .

implemented and evaluated at the community level by more than 16. or with regard to the political rights enjoyed by the millions of citizens participating in the . But Human Rights Watch does not make a single reference to any of these achievements in social and economic rights. from 55 percent of the population when Chávez was first elected in 1998 to 18 percent in 2011.achievement with regard to social and economic rights has been the astounding decline in the number of Venezuelans living in poverty. These achievements have resulted from state-funded projects. called “missions.000 communal councils in what constitutes an impressive example of participatory democracy.” that are devised.

However.” Venezuela is far from perfect and. for the first time. violations of human rights do occur. enjoying economic. This approach obscures the fact that the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans are now. Human Rights Watch’s selective highlighting of a handful of cases related only to civil and political rights implies widespread human rights abuses perpetrated against the population. as is the case with all other nations. All of these examples contradict Human Rights Watch’s claim that the Chávez government was “characterized by a dramatic concentration of power and open disregard for basic human rights guarantees. social and cultural .communal councils.

judicial independence and human rights scrutiny. but it does so by approaching human rights from the perspective that all things globally are equal. it does not account for the grossly unequal power dynamics that exist in a global society dominated by wealthy imperialist nations in the global North. In other words.rights to a degree that few citizens in the world have ever experienced. press freedom. Among the alleged civil and political rights violations in Venezuela addressed in the Human Rights Watch report are issues related to the persecution of political opponents. Not only does Human Rights Watch focus solely on civil and political rights. .

In March 2010. As Human Rights Watch noted.One of the cases Human Rights Watch highlights to illustrate the Chávez government’s persecution of the political opposition is that of Osvaldo Alvarez Paz. Alvarez Paz was arrested for statements he made during an interview on one of the country’s largest privately-owned television networks. Alvarez Paz stated that “Venezuela has turned into a center of operations that facilitates the business of drug trafficking” and then accused “Chavez of being a subversive element and having direct links with FARC and ETA [groups viewed as terrorists by much of the international community]. spreading false .” Alvarez Paz was charged with conspiracy.

” It was precisely this sort of incendiary . Alvarez Paz called on Venezuelans to oust the Chávez government as soon as possible by emphasizing the need “to be clear about the indispensable objective. While there are legitimate concerns related to the arrest of Alvarez Paz. In his op-ed piece. one of Venezuela’s largest daily newspapers. Human Rights Watch’s biased portrayal of the issue ignored the broader context by failing to mention that Alvarez Paz made his agenda clear to all a couple of months after the television interview in a column he wrote in El Nacional.information. and publicly inciting violation of the law. To replace the current regime with as little delay and as little trauma as possible.

rhetoric disseminated through the elite-owned private media that played an instrumental role in the military coup that temporarily overthrew Chávez in April 2002. However. Human Rights Watch’s depiction of the Alvarez Paz case suggested that there was little space for high-profile political opponents to criticize the government. Human Rights Watch also failed to note that the opposition used Chávez’s own constitution against him by organizing a recall referendum in 2004 . the report failed to mention that opposition presidential candidates Manuel Rosales (2006) and Henrique Capriles (2012) repeatedly verbalized harsh criticisms of Chávez during their electoral campaigns without facing any repercussions.

But Human Rights Watch failed to point out that RCTV was directly involved in the military coup that temporarily ousted Chávez in 2002 and that this act of subversion was the reason the station’s broadcast license was not renewed. And. Furthermore. it is evident to anyone who has spent any time in .without being persecuted. most private media outlets. both print and television. The organization’s report highlights the case of the privately-owned television channel RCTV because the government refused to renew the network’s broadcast license upon expiration. openly backed the opposition. Nevertheless. in all of these cases. Human Rights Watch also slammed the Chávez government for restricting press freedom.

which sounds rational and fair in . Human Rights Watch ensures that the wealthy have the same rights as the poor. And herein lies a fundamental problem that illustrates how Human Rights Watch’s approach is incompatible with a socialist alternative to capitalism.Venezuela that there is no other government in the world that endures the intense criticism—and blatant slander—that routinely emanates from the private media in Venezuela. By prioritizing civil and political liberties. Human Rights Watch views the Venezuelan government’s refusal to renew RCTV’s broadcast license as a violation of the civil rights of the private individuals who own the station.

not only are they among the wealthiest people in Venezuela. the defense of the civil and political rights of a minority of elites is inextricably linked to violations of the economic and social rights of the poor majority. And in the case of the wealthy owners of RCTV. but they were using their grossly disproportionate degree of influence over the population that resulted from owning a major television network in an effort to bring down the .theory. they result from violating the economic and social rights of the poor. in other words. but is seriously problematic in reality. the financial gains made by the wealthy directly result from the exploitation of the poor. Therefore. From a socialist perspective.

And this has been the modus operandi of most private media outlets in Venezuela—a context that Human Rights Watch willfully ignores in its condemnation of the Chávez government. not to inform the population.government in order to preserve their privileged status. In capitalist nations. Human Rights Watch’s report failed to note the influence of powerful foreign imperialist forces. But in a socialist nation. which was revealed . Furthermore. wealthy owners of private media have little motivation to challenge a government that defends their privilege. but to defend their own personal privilege by undermining the government at every opportunity. such owners use their vast media resources.

government provided $4 million in funding to anti-Chávez journalists and media outlets between 2007 and 2009.S. a pattern that has also. One of these . State Department documents showing that the U. “e panded the number of government-run TV channels from one to si .” But this claim by Human Rights Watch is disingenuous because most of those state-owned channels have been made available to community-based media cooperatives so they have an outlet to broadcast their perspectives on what is happening in the country.S.in declassified U. Human Rights Watch argues that the government’s crackdown on RCTV is part of a pattern of behaviour that undermines “pluralism” in media coverage. according to the report.

Avila TV. by extension. homophobia and indigenous and Afro-Venezuelan rights. regularly broadcasts programs that address issues related to gender. Ultimately.” and not the “social” rights enjoyed by Venezuelans throughout the country whose voices can now be heard through community-based media. Human Rights Watch only views the individual “civil” rights of wealthy Venezuelans who wish to dominate broadcasting and.television channels. Such an approach to human . the molding of public opinion as relevant to media “pluralism. Apparently. Human Rights Watch’s prioritization of civil and political rights means that everyone’s human rights are not equally protected.

But the decision to increase the number of sitting Supreme Court justices in 2004 was implemented according to the country’s constitution. and to steal bread. As Anatole France stated in reference to the rule of law being equally applicable to all. “The law. .rights inevitably has the same consequences as that of the “rule of law” in a liberal democracy: it defends an unjust status quo. in its majestic equality.” Human Rights Watch also accuses Chávez and his “followers” in the National Assembly of “packing” the Supreme Court with their allies. to beg in the streets. forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges. which itself was ratified by an overwhelming majority of voters in a national referendum.

Human Rights Watch slammed the Chávez government for “preventing the Inter- American Commission on Human Rights from conducting in-country monitoring of human rights problems. With regard to human rights monitoring in Venezuela. two-term presidents in the United States appoint Supreme Court justices that reflect their political views. which has . as president. Similarly.Furthermore. Chávez served two terms in office and. but Human Rights Watch does not accuse them of “packing” the Supreme Court for political gain. had the rights to appoint Supreme Court justices. Human Rights Watch ignores the broader international context. The Commission is part of the Organization of American States (OAS).” Again.

S. particularly from the United .S.longed served U. The United States had Cuba expelled from the OAS in 1962 because. Chávez. as the leader of a nation that is transitioning to socialism. Human Rights Watch’s report went on to criticize a ruling by Venezuela’s Supreme Court restricting foreign funding. as the resolution stated. which is precisely why the country withdrew its membership from the Inter-American Court and Commission. imperialism and did not recognize its legitimacy to judge a sovereign nation such as Venezuela. viewed the OAS as a tool of U.” Not surprisingly. socialism “is incompatible with the principles and objectives of the inter-American system. interests in Latin America.

whose primary objective was .S.States and Europe.S. whose democratically-elected government was eventually overthrown by the U. In recent years.S. Human Rights Watch willfully ignored the international context in which the U. government has a long history of funding only those sectors of civil society opposed to governments it does not like. to Venezuelan Non- Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Once again. The United States has a similar history of funding Venezuelan NGOs. such as Súmate. such funding was provided by the U. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to NGOs in Haiti that opposed President Jean Bertrand Aristide. military in 2004.

” Human Rights Watch’s report also criticizes the Chávez government for expelling from the country two Human Rights Watch employees who had . Such actions constitute blatant interference in the internal politics of a sovereign nation.to remove Chávez from office. an interference that is possible only because of the unequal distribution of global political power that provides wealthy nations with sufficient wealth and power to intervene in the internal affairs of poor nations under the guise of providing “aid. The aforementioned declassified State Department documents revealed that Washington provided $40 million in funding to Venezuelan opposition groups between 2007 and 2009.

” While Human Rights Watch was busy portraying itself as a victim of repression.flown in from the United States to publicly launch the organization’s 2008 report. the lead author of the report and one of the two expelled. Upon his arrival in Venezuela. “We did the report because we wanted to demonstrate to the world that Venezuela is not a model for anyone. it remained oblivious to the arrogance of its actions. which constituted a particularly harsh attack on Venezuela for violations of human rights. citizens of a country in the global South were supposed to tolerate representatives from an institution based in a wealthy nation of the global North entering their country to render . Once again. stated. Jose Miguel Vivanco.

signed a letter criticizing the report’s blatantly biased critique of Venezuela. government.judgement on their government. Wall . including Noam Chomsky. or credibility. accuracy. impartiality. The letter stated that the report “does not meet even the most minimal standards of scholarship. it is not surprising that a socialist country like Venezuela would view such an organization as aligned with the interests of the U. It was not only the Venezuelan government that took issue with the Human Rights Watch report. more than 100 scholars from throughout the Americas.S.” Given Human Rights Watch’s emphasis on civil and political rights and willingness to completely ignore social and economic rights.

Street and corporate America.” Clearly. Venezuela’s closest ally was Cuba. Chávez identified Fidel Castro—who headed Cuba’s repressive government until his health deteriorated in 2006— as his model and mentor. Marxists in particular. to dismiss the western human rights paradigm as a promoter of capitalism’s individualistic values—and as another tool of imperialism. Human Rights Watch attempted to . It is this emphasis on political and civil rights emphasized by many international human rights organizations that leads some leftists. “Under Chávez. the only country in Latin America that systematically represses virtually all forms of political dissent. The Human Rights Watch report on Venezuela concludes by stating.

discredit Chávez by linking him to Fidel Castro. the degree of correlation between the U.S. government. Cuba has succeeded in providing free healthcare and education to all of its citizens as well as ensuring that everyone’s basic housing and food . Nowhere in its Cuba reports does Human Rights Watch acknowledge the country’s huge achievements in guaranteeing economic and social rights.S. government’s emphasis on civil and political rights in Cuba and that of Human Rights Watch is uncanny. In order to achieve this. In spite of being subjected to an inhumane decades-long economic blockade by the U. And again. Human Rights Watch again had to limit its definition of human rights to civil and political rights.

S. such an argument does not hold up when the organization’s reports on the United States are analyzed. Nowhere in its reports does Human Rights Watch accuse the U. Some may argue that Human Rights Watch focuses primarily on violations of human rights rather than on achievements. the provision of these economic and social rights to all Cubans is ignored by Human Rights Watch. However.needs are met. and this is the reason that its reports do not reflect the remarkable successes of Venezuela and Cuba in guaranteeing economic and social rights. government of e hibiting an “open disregard for basic human rights guarantees” due to gross . But as with its analysis of Venezuela.

housing and healthcare for its entire population. The study also noted that people without health coverage had a 40 percent greater chance of dying than those with medical insurance.000 people die annually in the United States due to a lack of medical coverage. Meanwhile. According to a 2009 study published by researchers from Harvard Medical School. The fact that Human Rights Watch routinely ignores these violations of the economic and social rights enshrined . there are more than half-a-million homeless people and.violations of economic and social rights resulting from not ensuring adequate food. some 45. 17 million hungry children in the United States. according to the non-profit Feeding America.

in the UN Declaration highlights the
blatant bias in the organization’s
In conclusion, the repeated failure of
Human Rights Watch to prioritize
economic, social and cultural rights on
par with civil and political rights, along
with its refusal to contextualize human
rights within the grossly unequal and
imperialist power structures that
dominate global politics, has reduced
the organization to little more than an
advocate of capitalist values. Human
Rights Watch refuses to recognize the
ways in which a human rights
paradigm rooted in capitalist values
(i.e. only civil and political rights) may
not be suited to countries searching for
a socialist alternative in their struggle
to liberate themselves from centuries

of imperialism. After all, countries such
as Venezuela and Cuba are forced to
exist in a global context in which the
most powerful nation on earth is using
all of its resources to undermine them,
not in the name of democracy or
human rights, but because they dare to
challenge the hegemony of the United
States by promoting alternative
The point here is not to suggest that
Venezuela does not violate human
rights, obviously it does; as does every
government. The point is to illustrate
how Human Rights Watch’s bias
dramatically distorts the human rights
reality in Venezuela where every
Venezuelan enjoys economic and social
rights to a greater degree than virtually
everyone else on the planet. It is only

through the callous ignoring of these
particular rights that Human Rights
Watch can label Chávez as
“authoritarian” and accuse his
government of e hibiting an “open
disregard for basic human rights
guarantees.” In actuality, the Chávez
government’s focus on economic and
social rights has resulted in the
emergence of a thriving grassroots
democracy in Venezuela that is rooted
in the concepts of participation and
equality—in other words, a socialist
vision of political and civil rights.
Ultimately, Human Rights Watch’s
selective and biased application of the
human rights norms enshrined in the
UN Declaration not only undermines
its credibility, it also promotes

Historically. Beyond Bogota: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia (Beacon Press.Garry Leech is an independent journalist and author of numerous books including Capitalism: A Structural Genocide (Zed Books. 2012). Seven Theses on Human Rights: (1) The Idea of Humanity by Costas Douzinas • 16 May 2013 Thesis 1: The idea of ‘humanity’ has no fixed meaning and cannot act as the source of moral or legal rules. 2009). the idea has been used to . and Crude Interventions: The United States Oil and the New World Disorder (Zed Books. 2006). He is also a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Cape Breton University.

If ‘humanity’ is the normative source of moral and legal rules. and the inhuman. they . Let me have a brief look at its history. Romans or Carthaginians. Pre-modern societies did not develop a comprehensive idea of the human species. Free men were Athenians or Spartans.classify people into the fully human. do we know what ‘humanity’ is? Important philosophical and ontological questions are involved here. the lesser human. but not members of humanity.

the educated Roman who was conversant with Greek culture and philosophy and was subjected to the jus civile. a teleologically determined human nature distributes people across social hierarchies and roles and endows them with differentiated characteristics. According to classical philosophy. but not humans.were Greeks or barbarians. The Romans inherited the concept from Stoicism and used it to distinguish between the homo humanus. It was defined as eruditio et institutio in bonas artes (the closest modern equivalent is the German Bildung). The word humanitas appeared for the first time in the Roman Republic as a translation of the Greek word paideia. and .

humanitas implies generosity. For Cicero as well as the younger Scipio. “Only those who conform to certain standards are really men in the full sense. Humanity enters the western lexicon as an attribute and predicate of homo. who included the majority of the uneducated non- Roman inhabitants of the Empire.’” Hannah Arendt puts it sarcastically: ‘a human being or homo in the original meaning of the word indicates someone outside the range of law and the body politic of the citizens. . as a term of separation and distinction. and culture and is opposed to barbarism and 1 animality. politeness. civilization. and fully merit the adjective ‘human’ or the attribute 2 ‘humanity.the homines barbari.

and classify people into rulers. captured in the St Paul’s statement. free man or slave (Epistle to the Galatians 3:28).as for instance a slave – but certainly a 3 politically irrelevant being. All people are equally part of humanity . that there is no Greek or Jew. man or woman. ‘Humanity’ acts as a normative source for politics and law against a background of variable inhumanity. and e cluded.’ If we now turn to the political and legal uses of humanitas. This strategy of political separation curiously entered the historical stage at the precise point when the first proper universalist conception of humanitas emerged in Christian theology. The concept ‘humanity’ has been consistently used to separate. distribute. ruled. a similar history emerges.

Pope. because they share the attributes of humanity now sharply differentiated from a transcended divinity and a subhuman animality. The divisive action of ‘humanity’ survived the invention of its spiritual equality.because they can be saved in God’s plan of salvation and. both carried and imprisoned by the body. For classical humanism. on the other hand. Emperor. For Christian metaphysics. entered the western world as a combination of classical and Christian metaphysics. The new idea of universal equality. unknown to the Greeks. is the mark of humanity. the immortal soul. and . secondly. Prince. reason determines the human: man is a zoon logon echon or animale rationale.

The classical separation between Greek (or human) and barbarian was based on . Christ’s spiritual law of love turned into a battle cry: let us bring the pagans to the grace of God. let us impose the message of truth and love upon the whole world. people will be saved in Christ only if they accept the faith. the sub- jecti or sub-diti. these representatives and disciples of God on earth were absolute rulers. This radical divide and exclusion founded the ecumenical mission and proselytizing drive of Church and Empire.King. let us make the singular event of Christ universal. Their subjects. since non-Christians have no place in the providential plan. More importantly. take the law and their commands from their political superiors.

The meaning of humanity after the conquest of the ‘New World’ was vigorously contested in one of the most important public debates in history. They became ‘enemies within’ to be appropriately corrected or eliminated if they stubbornly refused spiritual or secular salvation. the frontier was internalized and split the known globe diagonally between the faithful and the heathen. In April 1550. In the Christian empire. The . The barbarians were no longer beyond the city as the city expanded to include the known world. Charles V of Spain called a council of state in Valladolid to discuss the Spanish attitude towards the vanquished Indians of Mexico.clearly demarcated territorial and linguistic frontiers.

debated on opposite sides. who had just translated Aristotle’s Politics into Spanish. argued that “the Spaniards rule with perfect right over the barbarians who. The Indians could be enslaved and treated as barbarian and savage slaves in order to be civilized and proselytized. virtue. Sepulveda. in prudence. humanity are as inferior to the Spaniards as children to adults. I might say as monkey 4 to men. . two major figures of the Spanish Enlightenment.” The Spanish crown should feel no qualms in dealing with Indian evil.philosopher Ginés de Sepulveda and the Bishop Bartholomé de las Casas. the savage and cruel to the mild and gentle. women to men. talent.

and are waiting to be converted. they value prudence and have the ability to govern and organize families and cities. The Indians have well-established customs and settled ways of life. wrote las Casas in his Apologia. generosity. .” His arguments combined Christian theology and political utility. They have the Christian virtues of gentleness. they are ‘unwitting’ Christians. simplicity. that is that they are rational … Thus all races of humankind are 5 one. peacefulness. They look like our father Adam before the Fall.Las Casas disagreed. humility. and patience. In an early definition of humanism. he argued. las Casas argued that “all the people of the world are humans under the only one definition of all humans and of each one.

Respecting local customs is good morality but also good politics: the Indians would convert to Christianity (las Casas’ main concern) but also accept the authority of the Crown and replenish its coffers. if they were made to feel that their traditions. He repeatedly condemned “Turks and Moors. An “empirical” universalism of superiority and hierarchy (Sepulveda) and a normative one of truth and love (las Casas) end up being not very different. But las Casas’ Christian universalism was. the veritable barbarian outcasts of the nations” since they cannot be seen as “unwitting” Christians. laws. As Tzvetan Todorov pithily remarks. and cultures are respected. there is “violence in the conviction that one . like all universalisms. exclusive.

and colonialisms. naïve. imperialisms.possesses the truth oneself. and even annihilation as strategies of the civilizing mission. occupation. At one end.” The conflicting interpretations of humanity by Sepulveda and las Casas capture the dominant ideologies of Western empires. whereas this is not the case for others. and forceful conversion are strategies of spiritual or material development. At the other end. . undeveloped others into the main body of humanity. the (racial) other is inhuman or subhuman. and that one must furthermore impose that 6 truth on those others. conquest. atrocities. This justifies enslavement. of progress and integration of the innocent.

cruel.” At the other end. “there is a kind of passive exposure to an overwhelming . As Slavoj Žižek puts it. These unfortunates are the infants of humanity. they are rescued by the West who helps them grow. we know what his interest is and impose it “for his own good.These two definitions and strategies towards otherness act as supports of western subjectivity. passivity. victimizing others are projections of the Other of our unconscious. Because the victim is our mirror image. and inferiority of the “undeveloped” others turns them into our narcissistic mirror-image and potential double. develop and become our likeness. They are victimized and sacrificed by their own radical evildoers. the irrational. The helplessness.

” the “bogus refugee.” or the “illegal” migrant. which is the very basis of being human … [the inhuman] is marked by a terrifying excess which.” We have called this abysmal other lurking in the psyche and unsettling the ego various names: God or Satan. although it negates what we understand as ‘humanity’ is inherent to 7 being human. They are contemporary heirs to Sepulveda’s “monkeys. A comparison of the cognitive strategies associated with the Latinate humanitas and the Greek anthropos is instructive. in psychoanalysis the death drive or the Real. The . barbarian or foreigner.Otherness.” epochal representatives of inhumanity. Today they have become the “a is of evil.” the “rogue state.

on the other hand. These peoples emerged out of and became the object of observation and study through discovery. and emotions. or in the peripheries of Europe. Asia. the material supports of life. and colonization in the new world. As Nishitani Osamu puts it. but not the human species in its essence or totality. humanity and anthropos signify two . Physical anthropology examines bodies. societies. Social anthropology studies diverse non-western peoples. and cultures. The anthropos of physical and social anthropology. Africa.humanity of humanism (and of the 8 academic Humanities) unites knowing subject and known object following the protocols of self-reflection. conquest. senses. is the object only of cognition.

concrete.asymmetrical regimes of knowledge. based on a false conception of humanity. The gradual decline of Western dominance is changing these hierarchies. because ‘humanity’ has no fixed meaning. the disquiet with a normative universalism. Similarly. it cannot act as a source of norms. the minor literatures of anthropos are examined by comparative literature. Its meaning and scope keeps changing according to political . In conclusion. which compares “civilization” with lesser cultures. In our globalized world. and context- bound normativities. anthropos is outside or before civilization. Humanity is civilization. indicates the rise of local.

Seven Theses on Human Rights: (2) Power. Morality & Structural Exclusion .and ideological priorities. The continuously changing conceptions of humanity are the best manifestations of the metaphysics of an age. University of London. Perhaps the time has come for anthropos to replace the human. Costas Douzinas is Professor of Law and Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities. Perhaps the rights to come will be anthropic (to coin a term) rather than human. expressing and promoting singularities and differences instead of the sameness and equivalences of hitherto dominant identities.

The religious grounding of humanity was undermined by the liberal political philosophies of early modernity.by Costas Douzinas • 21 May 2013 We will explore the strong internal connection between these superficially antagonistic principles. Human nature has been . The foundation of humanity was transferred from God to (human) nature. at the point of their emergence in the late 18th century here and in the post-1989 order in the next part.

a normative value. humanity remained a strategy of division and classification. We can follow briefly this contradictory process. Science has driven the first approach. The mark of humanity has been variously sought in language. or both. with legal humanism at the forefront.interpreted as an empirical fact. at the heart of humanism. Man as species existence emerged as a result of legal and political innovations. reason or evolution. Indeed the great 18th century revolutions and declarations paradigmatically manifest and helped construct modern universalism. The idea of humanity is the creation of humanism. And yet. which both proclaims the universal and excludes the local in the text of the French .

Article 1. And yet the Declaration is categorically clear about the real source of universal rights.’ . epochal. Article 2 states that ‘the aim of any political association is to preserve the natural and inalienable rights of man’ and Article 3 proceeds to define this association: ‘The principle of all Sovereignty lies essentially with the nation. the manifesto of modernity. and local factors. states that ‘men are born and remain free and equal of right’ a claim repeated in the inaugural article of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Equality and liberty are declared natural entitlements and independent of governments.Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. the progenitor of normative universalism.

In a paradoxical fashion. came into existence and became the beneficiary of rights. If the declaration inaugurated modernity. the declaration of universal principle established local sovereignty. it also started nationalism and its consequences: genocide. the national citizen.” However these rights do not pre-exist but were created by the Declaration. statehood and territory follow a national principle and belong to a dual time. A new type of political association.‘Natural’ and eternal rights are declared on behalf of the universal “man. ethnic cleansing. the stateless. refugees. From that point. ethnic and civil war. minorities. the sovereign nation and its state and a new type of ‘man’. The spatial principle is clear: every state and territory should have its .

unique dominant nation and every nation should have its own state – a catastrophic development for peace as its extreme application since 1989 has shown. which allegedly spread the civilizing influence through conquest and occupation . which promised the future suturing of humanity and nation. the first alternative appeared in the Napoleonic war. The new temporal principle replaced religious eschatology with a historical teleology. This teleology has two possible variants: either the nation imposes its rule on humanity or universalism undermines parochial divides and identities. Both variants became apparent when the Romans turned Stoic cosmopolitanism into the imperial legal regulation of jus gentium. In France.

while the second was the beginning of a modern cosmopolitanism. From the imperial deformation of Stoic cosmopolitanism to the current use of human rights to legitimize Western global hegemony. The split between normative and empirical humanity resists its healing. The universal humanity of liberal constitutions was the normative ground of division and exclusion. A gap . every normative universalism has decayed into imperial globalism. in which slavery was abolished and colonial people were given political rights for a limited time after the Revolution.(according to Hegel. Napoleon was the world spirit on horseback). precisely because universal normativity has been invariably defined by a part of humanity.

. The alien is the gap between man and citizen.” the ontological principle of modernity. its political instantiation and the real beneficiary of rights. One is a man to greater or lesser degree because one is a citizen to a greater or lesser degree.was opened between universal “man. The modern subject reaches her humanity by acquiring political rights of citizenship. The nation-state came into existence through the exclusion of other people and nations. and national citizen. which guarantee her admission to the universal human nature by excluding from that status others. The alien as a non-citizen is the modern barbarian. He does not have rights because he is not part of the state and he is a lesser human being because he is not a citizen.

In our globalised world, not to have
citizenship, to be stateless or a refugee,
is the worst fate. Strictly speaking,
human rights do not exist: if they are
given to people on account of their
humanity and not of some lower level
group membership, then refugees,
the sans papiers migrants and prisoners
in Guantanamo Bay and similar
detention centers, who have little if any
legal protection, should be their main
beneficiaries. They have few, if any,
rights. They are legally abandoned,
bare life, the homines sacri of the new
world order.
The epochal move to the subject is
driven and exemplified by legal
personality. As species existence, the
“man” of the rights of man appears
without gender, color, history, or

tradition. He has no needs or desires,
he is an empty vessel united with all
others through three abstract traits:
free will, reason, and the soul (now the
mind) — the universal elements of
human essence. This minimum of
humanity allows “man” to claim
autonomy, moral responsibility, and
legal subjectivity. At the same time, the
empirical man who actually enjoys the
‘rights of man’ is a man all too man: a
well-off, heterosexual, white, urban
male who condenses in his person the
abstract dignity of humanity and the
real prerogatives of belonging to the
community of the powerful. A second
exclusion therefore conditions
humanism, humanity and its rights.
Mankind excludes improper men, that
is, men of no property or propriety,

humans without rhyme and reason,
women, racial, and ethnic sexual
minorities. Rights construct humans
against a variable inhumanity or
anthropology. Indeed these “inhuman
conditions of humanity,” as Pheng
Cheah has called them, act as quasi-
transcendental preconditions of
modern life.1
The contemporary history of human
rights can be seen as the ongoing and
always failing struggle to close the gap
between the abstract man and the
concrete citizen; to add flesh, blood
and sex to the pale outline of the
‘human’ and e tend the dignities and
privileges of the powerful (the
characteristics of normative humanity)
to empirical humanity. This has not
happened however and is unlikely to

be achieved through the action of rights. University of London. This major instability is contributing to its demise. . Seven Theses on Human Rights: (3) Neoliberal Capitalism & Voluntary Imperialism by Costas Douzinas • 23 May 2013 Thesis 3: The post-1989 order combines an economic system that generates huge structural inequalities and oppression with a juridico-political ideology promising dignity and equality. Costas Douzinas is Professor of Law and Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities.

From Adam Smith’s ‘hidden hand’ to the assertion that unrestrained egotism promotes the common good or that beneficial effects ‘trickle down’ if the rich get even bigger .Why and how did this combination of neoliberal capitalism and humanitarianism emerge? Capitalism has always moralized the economy and applied a gloss of righteousness to profit-making and unregulated competition precisely because it is so hard to believe.

Over the last 30 years. human rights and their dissemination are not simply the result of the liberal or charitable disposition of the West. Similarly. The predominantly negative meaning of freedom as the absence of external constraints — a euphemism for keeping state regulation of the economy at a minimum – has dominated the Western conception of human rights and turned them into the perfect companion of neoliberalism.tax breaks. Global moral and civic rules are the necessary companion of the globalization of economic production and consumption. we have . capitalism has consistently 1 tried to claim the moral high ground. of the completion of world capitalism that follows neoliberal dogmas.

trade. which increasingly emphasise good governance. they must open themselves up to the interference of international organisations and foreign states. If states wish to benefit. without much comment. one acceptable to a world . Robert Cooper has called it the voluntary imperialism of the global economy. including rules on investment.” Cooper concludes that “what is needed then is a new kind of imperialism. aid. the creation of global legal rules regulating the world capitalist economy.witnessed. “It is operated by an international consortium of financial Institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank … These institutions … make demands. and intellectual property.

While universal morality militates in favour of reverse flows. neoliberal model of good governance and limited rights will inexorably lead to Western economic standards. Historically. the successive crises and re-arrangements . the Western ability to turn the protection of formal rights into a limited guarantee of material. This is fraudulent. economic. and social rights was partly based on huge transfers from the colonies to the metropolis.of human rights and cosmopolitan 2 values. Indeed. Western policies on development aid and Third World debt indicate that this is not politically feasible.” The (implicit) promise to the developing world is that the violent or voluntary adoption of the market-led.

and Spain have been subjected to the rigours of the neoliberal “Washington Consensus” of austerity and destruction of the welfare state. the bottom billions. Greece. status. despite its failure in the developing world. More than half the young people of Spain and Greece are permanently unemployed and a whole generation is .of neoliberal capitalism lead to dispossession and displacement of family farming by agribusiness. to forced migration and urbanization. the waste-life. Ireland. Portugal. This neo-colonial attitude has now been extended from the periphery to the European core. or the basics for existence. They become human debris. These processes expand the number of people without skills.

to coin a term. has not generated a human rights campaign.being destroyed. As Immanuel Wallerstein put it. then we cannot maintain the kind of inegalitarian system that the capitalist world economy has always been and 3 always will be. Spanish soldiers met the advancing Napoleonic armies shouting “ own with freedom!” Today people meet the ‘peacekeepers’ of the new . But this gene-cide.” When the unbridgeability of the gap between the missionary statements on equality and dignity and the bleak reality of obscene inequality becomes apparent. and all the peoples have equal rights. human rights will lead to new and uncontrollable types of tension and conflict. “if all humans have equal rights.

promote neoliberal capitalist penetration. Under a different construction. human rights are the perfect candidate for this role. . In the new world order. their abstract provisions could subject the inequalities and indignities of late capitalism to withering attack. Their core principles. interpreted negatively and economically.world order with cries of “ own with human rights!” Social and political systems become hegemonic by turning their ideological priorities into universal principles and values. But this cannot happen as long as they are used by the dominant powers to spread the ‘values’ of an ideology based on the nihilism and insatiability of desire.

episodes in the same drama. There is little difference between imposing reason and good governance and proselytizing for Christianity and human rights. The claim to spread Reason and Christianity gave western empires their sense of superiority and their universalizing impetus. colonialism and the human rights movement form a continuum. They are both part of the cultural . which started with the great discoveries of the new world and is now carried out in the streets of Iraq and Afghanistan: bringing civilization to the barbarians. The urge is still there. the ideas have been redefined but the belief in the universality of our world-view remains as strong as that of the colonialists.Despite differences in content.

University of London. Seven Theses on Human Rights: (4) Universalism & Communitarianism are Interdependent by Costas Douzinas • 30 May 2013 Thesis 4: Universalism and communitarianism rather than being opponents are two types of humanism dependent on each other. They are confronted by the ontology of singular equality. aggressive and redemptive at the same time. Costas Douzinas is Professor of Law and Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities. .package of the West.

if there is one moral truth but many errors. Communitarians start from the obvious observation that values are . it is incumbent upon its agents to impose it on others. The universalist claims that cultural values and moral norms should pass a test of universal applicability and logical consistency and often concludes that.The debate about the meaning of humanity as the ground normative source is conducted between universalists and communitarians.

can find everything that resists them expendable. celebrating a historic defeat). Both principles.000 feet in order to defend the rights of humanity. when they become absolute essences and define the meaning and value of humanity without remainder. The proud Serbians killed and ‘cleansed’ ethnic Albanians in order to protect the integrity of the ‘cradle’ of their nation (interestingly.context-bound and try to impose them on those who disagree with the oppressiveness of tradition. NATO bombers killed people in Belgrade and Kosovo from 35. Both positions exemplify. the contemporary metaphysical urge: they . Kosovo is a good example. like most wild nationalisms. perhaps in different ways.

To paraphrase Emmanuel Levinas. They are the contemporary expressions of a humanism that defines the ‘essence’ of humanity all the way to its end. Every human is a singular being. The individualism of universal principles forgets that every person is a world and comes into existence in common with others. expectations. unique in her existence as an unrepeatable concatenation of past encounters. that we are all in community. to save the human we must defeat this type of humanism.have made an axiomatic decision as to what constitutes the essence of humanity and follow it with a stubborn disregard for alternatives. as telos and finish. Every single person forms a . and plans. desires. and dreams with future projections.

in relations of desire conversation and recognition with others. the other is part of the intimacy of self.” Indeed being in community with others is the opposite of common being or of belonging to an essential community. history. always turned toward an other and faced by him or her never facing 1 myself. My face is “always e posed to others. Communitarians. and culture. the various past crystallizations whose inescapable weight determines present possibilities. .phenomenological cosmos of meaning and intentionality. Being in common is an integral part of being self: self is exposed to the other. it is posed in exteriority. on the other hand. define community through the commonality of tradition.

Both universal morality and cultural identity express different aspects of human experience. Their comparison in the abstract is futile and their differences are not pronounced. the point of ‘absolute communion’ with 2 dead tradition.The essence of the communitarian community is often to compel or ‘allow’ people to find their ‘essence’. it will interpret and apply them. all the way till death. When a state adopts ‘universal’ human rights. We have to follow traditional values and exclude what is alien and other. common ‘humanity’ now defined as the spirit of the nation or of the people or the leader. if at . Community as communion accepts human rights only to the extent that they help submerge the I into the We.

making the universal the handmaiden of the particular. rights carry the seed of the dissolution of community and the only defence is to resist the idea of rights altogether. according to local legal procedures and moral principles. have become uneasy allies. In this sense. The reverse is also true: even those legal systems that jealously guard traditional rights and cultural practices against the encroachment of the universal are already contaminated by it. rather than standing opposed in mortal combat. share the universalizing impetus of their form.all. All rights and principles. whose . even if parochial in their content. The claims of universality and tradition. something impossible in global neoliberalism.

fragile liaison has been sanctioned by the World Bank. Humanity is not a property shared. Humanity has no foundation and no end. humanity cannot act as a normative principle. Its function lies not in a philosophical essence but in its non-essence. in the endless process of re-definition and the necessary but impossible attempt to escape external determination. it is the definition of groundlessness. From our perspective. It is discernible in the incessant surprising of the human condition and its exposure to an undecided open future. Costas Douzinas is Professor of Law and Director of the Birkbeck Institute .

ruled. and excluded. Rights form the terrain on which people are distributed into rulers. Power’s mode of . Seven Theses on Human Rights: (5) Depoliticization by Costas Douzinas • 31 May 2013 Thesis 5: In advanced capitalist societies. human rights depoliticize politics. University of London.for the Humanities.

property. They were used to take out of political challenge the central institutions of capitalism such as religion.operation is revealed. but they were at the same time a powerful weapon in the hands of the rising capitalist class. human rights both conceal and affirm the dominant structure of a period and help combat it. Natural rights emerged as a symbol of universal emancipation. In this sense. if we observe which people are given or deprived of which rights at which particular place or point in time. securing and naturalizing emerging dominant economic and social relations. Marx was the first to realize the paradoxical nature of rights. thus providing the best . contractual relations and the family.

As Giorgio Agamben argues. Ideologies. As Marx inimitably put it. normal.protection possible. they “simultaneously prepared a tacit but increasing inscription of individuals’ lives within the state order. 1 property and Bentham. private interests. “freedom. with its proliferating .” In late capitalism. equality. thus offering a new and more dreadful foundation for the very sovereign power from which they wanted to 2 liberate themselves. and egotistical concerns appear natural.” Early human rights were historical victories of groups and individuals against state power while at the same time promoting a new type of domination. and for the public good when they are glossed over by rights vocabulary.

politics is the terrain of routine political life. the endlessly multiplying rights paradoxically increase power’s investment on bodies.biopolitical regulation. If classical natural rights protected property and religion by making them ‘apolitical’. lobbying. According to Chantal Mouffe. the main effect of rights today is to depoliticize politics itself. refers to the way in which the social bond is instituted and concerns deep rifts in society. and horse-trading that takes places around Westminster and Capitol Hill. the activity of debating.3 The ‘political.’ on the other hand. Let us introduce a key distinction in recent political philosophy between politics (la politique) and the political (le politique). The political is the expression and articulation of the .

in . function. they are invisible. When they succeed.irreducibility of social conflict. where every group has its role. a new political subject is constituted. normalizing social co-existence in the context of conflict provided by the political. and what Jacques Ranci re calls “the part of no part. and place. Politics organizes the practices and institutions through which order is created. Politics proper erupts only when an excluded part demands to be included and must change the rules of inclusion to achieve that.” Groups that have been radically excluded from the social order. outside the established sense of what exists and is acceptable. This deep antagonism is the result of the tension between the structured social body.

excess to the hierarchized and visible group of groups and a division is put in 4 the pre-existing common sense. his actions abandon the original . The role of law is to transform social and political tensions into a set of solvable problems regulated by rules and hand them over to rule experts. whose task was to change the overall design of the law. What is the role of human rights in this division between politics and the political? Right claims reinforce rather than challenge established arrangements. To this extent. The rights claimant is the opposite of the revolutionaries of the early declarations. The claimant accepts the established power and distribution orders and transforms the political claim into a demand for admission to the law.

have been replaced by social and identity groups seeking recognition and limited redistribution. and military means.commitment of rights to resist and oppose oppression and domination. prisoners of the war on terror. or rather dying. the sans papiers. Economic migrants. at the same time. these ‘one use humans’ are the indispensable precondition of human rights but. legal. who stand for the universal from a position of exclusion. Successful human rights struggles have undoubtedly improved the lives of people by marginal . they are the living. inhabitants of African camps. The ‘e cessive’ subjects. In the new world order the right-claims of the excluded are foreclosed by political. refugees. proof of their impossibility.

We can conclude that human rights claims and struggles bring to the surface the exclusion. lead to small individual improvements and a marginal rearrangement of the social edifice. . they conceal the deep roots of strife and domination by framing struggle and resistance in the terms of legal and individual remedies which.rearrangements of social hierarchies and non-threatening redistributions of the social product. at the same time. if successful. But their effect is to depoliticize conflict and remove the possibility of radical change. and inescapable strife that permeates social and political life. But. domination and exploitation.

But only just. (religious) transcendence.Can human rights reactivate a politics of resistance? The intrinsic link between early natural rights. the closing of the divide between ideal and real. The metaphysics of the age is that of the deconstruction of essence and meaning. Economic globalization and semiotic monolingualism are carrying this task out in practice. the subjection of the universal to the dominant particular. its intellectual apologists do it in theory. It is still active in parts of the world not fully incorporated in the biopolitical operations of power. and political radicalism opened the possibility. . The political and moral duty of the critic is to keep the rift open and to discover and fight for transcendence in immanence.

University of London. human rights become strategies for the publicization and legalization of (insatiable) individual desire.Costas Douzinas is Professor of Law and Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities. . Seven Theses on Human Rights: (6) Desire by Costas Douzinas • 3 June 2013 Thesis 6: In advanced capitalist societies.

Liberal theories from Immanuel Kant to John Rawls present the self as a solitary and rational entity endowed with natural characteristics and rights and in full control of himself. and property are presented . liberty. Rights to life.

We use this natural patrimony as tools or instruments to confront the outside world. to defend our interests. they belong to humans precisely because they are humans. The social contract (or its heuristic restatement through the “original position”) creates society and government but preserves these rights and makes them binding on government. goes into the world and acts according to pre- . and to pursue our life plans. This position is sharply contrasted by Hegelian and Marxist dialectics. once formed. Rights and today human rights are pre-social. The human self is not a stable and isolated entity that. hermeneutics and psychoanalysis.as integral to humanity’s well-being.

Hegel’s basic idea can be put simply. Self is created through constant interactions with others. Law is a tool and effect of this dialectic. The self is both separate from and dependent upon the external world. and traits as mine. both the object and the other person.arranged motives and intentions. My identity is constructed in an ongoing dialogue and struggle for recognition. makes the . the subject is always inter- subjective. helping create my own sense of self. attributes. Identity emerges out of this conversation and struggle with others which follows the dialectic of desire. in which others (both people and institutions) acknowledge certain characteristics. Dependence on the not-I. human rights acknowledge the constitutive role of desire.

A human being is someone who can successfully claim human rights and the group of rights we have determines how “human” we are. Survival depends on overcoming this radical split from the not-I. they construct humans. I am in ongoing dialogue with others.self realize that he is not complete but lacking and that he is constantly driven by desire. a conversation that keeps changing others and re-drawing my own self-image. Human rights do not belong to humans and do not follow the dictates of humanity. while maintaining the sense of uniqueness of self. always on the move. our identity depends on the bunch . Life is a continuous struggle to overcome the foreignness of the other person or object.1 Identity is therefore dynamic.

Jus vitam institutare. we now move to the much darker territory of Freudian psychoanalysis. love. and care. states a Roman maxim.of rights we can successfully mobilize in relations with others. rights must be linked with deep- seated psychological functions and needs. It introduces us into the social contract leaving behind the family life of protection. For psychoanalysis it remains true. But this first ‘symbolic castration’ must be supplemented by a second that makes us legal subjects. the law constitutes life. The symbolic order imposes upon us . We become independent. From the heights of Hegelian dialectics. speaking subjects by entering the symbolic order of language and law. If this is the case.

Rights by their nature cannot treat the whole person. representing an omnipotent and unitary social power. This second entry into the law denies. like symbolic castration. the name of the Sovereign turns us into legal subjects and citizens. In law. ritual or theatrical mask. according to Jacques Lacan.the demands of social life. God. If. that hides his or her face under a combination of partial . King. which places us in the social division of labor. the perceived wholeness of family intimacy and replaces it with partial recognitions and incomplete entitlements. a person is never a complete being but a persona. or the Sovereign act as universal fathers. the name of the father makes us speaking subjects.

The legal subject is a combination of overlapping and conflicting rights and duties. and ‘real’ aspects. Their symbolic function places us in the social division of labour. Following the standard Lacanian division. Psychoanalysis offers the most advanced explanation of the constitutive and contradictory work of rights. hierarchy. . and exclusion. the imaginary gives us a (false) sense of wholeness while the real disrupts the pleasures of the symbolic and the falsifications of the imaginary. rights have ‘symbolic’. Rights are manifestations of individual desire as well as tools of societal bonding.rights. ‘imaginary’. they are law’s blessing and curse.

formal equivalence and moral responsibility. and sexuality. in . irrespective of individual characteristics. religion. race. they recognize gender. they place people on a grid of distinct and hierarchical roles and functions. which allocates us to a place in a matrix of relations strictly indifferent to the needs or desires of flesh and blood people. At the same time. of prohibitions.The symbolic function of rights bestows legal personality and introduces people to independence away from the intimacy of family. Social and economic rights add a layer of difference to abstract similarity. Law and rights construct a formal structure. Legal rights offer the minimum recognition of abstract humanity. entitlements and exclusions.

characteristics. forehead and chin are reversed. hierarchies of power and contingencies that allocate the necessary resources ignoring and dismissing expectations or needs. It projects a three-dimensional object onto a flat canvas. .part moving recognition from the abstract equality of humanity to differentiated qualities. and predications. eyes protrude on the sides. The face has been replaced by an image in the cubist style. Human rights may promise universal happiness but their empirical existence and enforcement depends on genealogies. The legal person that rights and duties construct resembles a caricature of the actual human self. the nose comes out of the mouth.

at peace with the world. A society of rights offers an ideal place. and self-respect. A legal system that protects rights is rationally coherent and closed (Ronald workin calls it a “seamless web”). respect.The integrity of self denied by the symbolic order of rights returns in the imaginary. Human rights promise an end to conflict. morally good (it has principles and the . a stage and supplement for the ideal ego. I see myself as someone with dignity. social peace and well- being (the pursuit of happiness was an early promise in the American Declaration of Independence). A society that guarantees rights is a good place. peaceful and affluent. As a man of rights. a social order made for and fitting the individual who stands at its centre.

Human rights project a fantasy of wholeness. and the world. moreover. differs from person to person and from community to community.consequent “right” answers to all “hard” problems). imaged and imagined bond. her ideal ego. pragmatically efficient. . It is a beautiful self that fits in a good world. the projected future integrity that underpins present identity is non- existent and impossible however and. a society made for the subject. between the subject. The anticipated completeness. Our imaginary identification with a good society accepts too easily that the language. which unites body and soul into an integrated self. The imaginary domain of rights creates an immediate.

people assert. no employment. in which the law . Billions of people have no food. The right to work. The necessary replacement of materiality by signs. the international Covenants. exists since it is written in the Universal Declaration. no education. of needs and desires by words and images makes people believe that the mere existence of legal texts and institutions. the law. the statements of politicians.signs and images of human rights are (or can become) our reality. affects and completes bodies. with little performance or action. or health care — but this brutal fact does not weaken the assertion of the ideal. the Constitution. The imaginary promoted by human rights enthusiasts presents a world made for my sake.

The world is indifferent to my being. the terminal point of human rights. they are only vague promises. human rights are birth-right and patrimony. on the other hand. fake supports for offering obedience. Morality is not law’s business and peace is always temporary and precarious. This happy identification with the social and legal system is based on misrecognition. is always deferred. The law is not coherent or just. The state of eu zein or well-being. happiness or travails. For the middle classes. Like the .meets (or ought to and will meet) my desires. never perpetual. its promise postponed its performance impossible. For the unfortunates of the world. to be sure. with their delivery permanently frustrated.

heaven of Christianity. the pursuit of collective material welfare has given way to individual gratification and the avoidance of evil. The decolonization struggles. the civil rights and counter-cultural movements fought for an ideal society based on justice and equality. human rights form a receding horizon that allows people to endure daily humiliations and subjugations.” when legal clauses and terms replace food and shelter. The imaginary of rights is gradually replacing social justice. his . The rights imaginary goes into overdrive when it turns images into “reality. Rights emphasize the individual. In the human rights age. when weasel words become the garb and grab of power.

human rights are ideology at its strongest but one very different from that of Michael 2 Ignatieff. practices. they repress the recognition that the subject is inter-subjective and that the economic and social order is strictly indifferent to the fate of any particular individual.” In this sense. According to Louis Althusser. ideology is not “false consciousness” but is made up of ways of living. Finally. and his place in the world.autonomy. It is “the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of e istence. and experiences that misrecognize our place in the world. We hover around the vortex of the . the symbolic and imaginary operation of rights finds its limit in the real. Like all imaginary identifications.

Each time my need for an object enters language and addresses the other. it is the request for recognition and love. The big Other is the cause and symbol of lack. we not only ask the other to fulfill a need but also to offer us unreserved love. Desire is always the desire of the other and signifies precisely the excess of demand over need. needs food but also asks for his mother’s attention and love.real: the lack at the core of subjectivity both causes our projects to fail and creates the drive to continue the effort. The other person . An infant. law. When we make a demand. But this demand for wholeness and unqualified recognition cannot be met by the big Other (language. who asks for his mother’s breast. the state) or the other person.

in addition. that the rejection of a job application amounted to a denial of her human right to non- . a lack that can neither be filled nor fully symbolized. but. When a person of colour claims. for example. we confront lack. In our appeal to the other.cannot offer what the subject lacks because he is also lacking. a much wider demand to have one’s whole identity recognized in its specific characteristics. Rights allow us to express our needs in language by formulating them as a demand. not to suffer in one’s bodily integrity. A human rights claim involves two demands addressed to the other: a specific request in relation to one aspect of the claimant’s personality or status (such as to be left alone. and to be treated equally).

the desire that the claimant be recognized and loved as a whole and complete person. But this object does not exist and cannot be possessed. The subject of rights tries to find the missing object that will fill lack and turn him into a complete integral being in the desire of the other. Every right therefore links a need of a part of the body or personality with what exceeds need. I would be happy’. The rejection is both to an unfair denial of the applicant’s need for a job but also it denigrates her wider identity. she makes two related but relatively independent claims. Rights offer the hope that subject and society can become whole: ‘if only my attributes and characteristics were given legal recognition.discrimination. ‘if only .

Rights always agitate for more rights. the greater the pressure is to legislate for more. No bill of rights can complete the struggle for a just society. Today human rights have become the mark of civility. and .’ But desire cannot be fulfilled. Rights become a fantastic supplement that arouses but never satiates the subject’s desire. society would be just. They lead to new areas of claim and entitlement that again and again prove insufficient. to turn the person into an infinite collector of rights. But their success is limited.the demands of human dignity and equality were fully enforced. to enforce them better. Indeed the more rights we introduce. No right can earn me the full recognition and love of the other.

But there is one right that is closely linked with the real of radical desire: . acquisitions. They become the symptom of all-devouring desire—a sign of the Sovereign or the individual—and at the same time its partial cure. Rights become the reward for psychological lack and political impotence. In a strange and paradoxical twist. The law keeps colonizing life and the social world. and possessions fuels the subject’s imagination and dominates the symbolic world. the more rights we have the more insecure we feel. Fully positivized rights and legalized desire extinguish the self-creating potential of human rights. while the endless spiral of more rights.to turn humanity into an endlessly proliferating mosaic of laws.

except that there is a right to resistance/revolt.the right to resistance and revolt. Taking risks and not giving up on your desire is the ethical call of psychoanalysis. to the repressed call to transcend the distributions of the symbolic order and the genteel pleasures of the imaginary for something closer to our destructive and creative inner kernel. We can conclude that rights are about recognition (symbolic) and distribution (imaginary). the right to resistance forms the void at the heart of the system of law. . In the same way that the impossible and disavowed real organizes the psyche. Resistance and revolution is their social equivalent. This right is close to the death drive. which protects it 3 from sclerosis and ossification.

. University of London. Equality & Resistance by Costas Douzinas • 13 June 2013 Thesis 7: For a cosmopolitanism to come (or the idea of communism). Seven Theses on Human Rights: (7) Cosmopolitanism.Costas Douzinas is Professor of Law and Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities.

we must insist that global neoliberal capitalism and human-rights-for-export are part of the same project. Their promotion by western states and humanitarians turns . The two must be uncoupled. human rights can contribute little to the struggle against capitalist exploitation and political domination.Against imperial arrogance and cosmopolitan naivety.

suffering humanity. Whatever denies this simple truth creates a right and duty of resistance. Liberal equality as a regulative principle has failed to close the gap between rich and poor. equality is not the effect but the premise of action.them into a palliative: it is useful for a limited protection of individuals but it can blunt political resistance. Equality must become an axiomatic presupposition: People are free and equal. Human rights can re-claim their redemptive role in the hands and imagination of those who return them to the tradition of resistance and struggle against the advice of the preachers of moralism. . The equality of legal rights has consistently supported inequality. and humanitarian philanthropy.

Each one is a cosmos but we no longer have . of mondialization we suffer from a poverty of world. irrespective of means.axiomatic equality (each counts as one in all relevant groups) is the impossible boundary of rights culture. The combination of the right to resistance and axiomatic equality projects a humanity opposed both to universal individualism and communitarian closure. It means that healthcare is due to everyone who needs it. that political activities can be freely engaged by all irrespective of citizenship and against the explicit prohibitions of human rights law. In the age of globalization. that rights to residence and work belong to all who find themselves in a part of the world irrespective of nationality.

But we should not give up the universalizing impetus of the imaginary. desires and dreams.a world. of opening up and moving away. This is also the point of ekstasis. immortals in our mortality. the cosmos that uproots every polis. Everyone a world: a knot of past events and stories. disturbs every filiation. . only a series of disconnected situations. the imperialism and empiricism to which every cosmopolitanism falls. contests all sovereignty and hegemony. The cosmopolitan capitalists promise to make us citizens of the world under a global sovereign and a well-defined and terminal humanity. This is the universalization of the lack of world. people and encounters. symbolically finite but imaginatively infinite.

the present foreshadows a future not yet and. one should add. In this sense. this non-place or nothingness grounds our sense of identity. enslaved. According to Ernst Bloch. not ever possible. The future projection of an order in which man is no longer a “degraded.Resistance and radical equality map out an imaginary domain of rights which is uncannily close to utopia.” It disturbs the linear concept of time and. which however will never come to be. abandoned or. in the . the imaginary domain is necessarily utopian. despised being” links the best traditions of the past with a powerful “reminiscence of the 1 future. non-existing. it imagines the present in the image of a prefigured beautiful future. And yet. like psychoanalysis.

state. The cosmopolitanism to come is neither the terrain of nations nor an alliance of classes. The cosmos to come is the world of each unique .same way that utopia helps create a sense of social identity. although it draws from the treasure of solidarity. the principle of its excess. nation. in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol and Athens’ Syntagma Square what goes beyond and against liberal cosmopolitanism. This is the promise of the cosmopolitanism to come – or the idea 2 of communism. which cannot be turned into essential humanity. or state. Dissatisfaction with the nation. We have re- discovered in Tunisia and Tahrir Square. and the inter-national comes from a bond between singularities.

nation. or an unemployed youth is not membership of humanity. law . they nominate what exists and condemn the rest to invisibility and marginality.one. the principle of the polis. excluding others. making them invisible. Law. Law and rights link language with things or beings. the polis. or community but a bond that cannot be contained in the dominant interpretations of humanity and cosmos or of polis and state. As the formal and dominant decision about existence. What binds me to a Palestinian. prescribes what constitutes a reasonable order by accepting and validating some parts of collective life. while banning. the infinite encounters of singularities. state. of whoever or anyone. a sans papiers migrant.

Costas Douzinas is Professor of Law and Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities. on the other hand is the longing for what has been banned and declared impossible by the law. The axiom of equality and the right to resistance prepare militant subjects in the ongoing struggle between justice and injustice. Athens. This being together of singularities in resistance is constructed here and now with friends and strangers in acts of hospitality. Cairo. . University of London.carries huge ontological power. Radical desire. Madrid. what confronts past catastrophes and incorporates the promise of the future. in cities of resistance.