With Double-Binds to Spare

Assuming the Rhetorical Question of Human Rights Language as Such

Authored by: Erik Doxtader

The Routledge Companion to Literature and Human Rights

Print publication date:  August  2015
Online publication date:  July  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415736411
eBook ISBN: 9781315778372
Adobe ISBN: 9781317696285


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Rhetoric has no proper role to play in the creation, advocacy, and protection of human rights. In the name of law, it must be made clear that the integrity, validity, and force of human rights can neither depend on nor devolve to the word. As Mary Robinson, then United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, put it: “Women and men in every region of the world are realizing that human rights is not so much about words or rhetoric, but about holding governments accountable for the legal commitments they have made” (2002: 114). This sentiment is a deeply embedded and fiercely defended article of faith. The contemporary human rights project is a discourse that assumes itself to be otherwise (Annan 2006). It is a project that rests on the assumption of language – a potential to speak that remains beyond question, a self-certain appropriation of the word, a taking of a taken-for-granted power of expression.

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