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Cover Human Rights: Politics and Practice

7. Contemporary Critiques of Human Rights  

David Chandler

This chapter examines contemporary critiques of human rights, focusing on the downside of human rights claims — what is commonly understood by advocates of human rights to be the ‘misuse’ or ‘abuse’ of human rights. It first considers how human rights claims conflate ethical and legal claims because the subject of rights is not a socially constituted legal subject. It then discusses the rise of human rights as well as the relationship between human rights claims and international interventions such as humanitarianism, international law, and military intervention. In particular, it analyses the ethical, legal, and political questions raised by the Kosovo war. The chapter shows that there is a paradox at the heart of the human rights discourse, which enables claims made on behalf of victims, the marginalized, and excluded to become a mechanism for the creation of new frameworks for the exercise of power.