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The Divided World

Human Rights and Its Violence

Randall Williams

Publication Year: 2010

Taking a critical view of a venerated international principle, Randall Williams shows how the concept of human rights—often taken for granted as a force for good in the world—corresponds directly with U.S. imperialist aims. Citing internationalists from W. E. B. Du Bois and Frantz Fanon to, more recently, M. Jacqui Alexander and China Miéville, Williams insists on a reckoning of human rights with the violence of colonial modernity.
Despite the emphasis on international human rights since World War II, Williams notes that the discourse of human rights has consistently reinforced the concerns of the ascendant global power of the United States. He demonstrates how the alignment of human rights with the interests of U.S. expansion is not a matter of direct control or conspiratorial plot but the result of a developing human rights consensus that has been shaped by postwar international institutions and debates, from the United Nations to international law. Williams probes high-profile cases involving Amnesty International, Nelson Mandela, the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission, Abu Ghraib, and Guantánamo, as well as offering readings of works such as Hotel Rwanda, Caché, and Death and the Maiden that have put forth radical critiques of political violence.
The most forceful contradictions of international human rights discourse, he argues, come into relief within anticolonial critiques of racial violence. To this end, The Divided World examines how a human rights–based international policy is ultimately mobilized to manage violence—by limiting the access of its victims to justice.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title Page, Copyright, Quote

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-11

In a certain sense, this is the most difficult part of the book to write. So many people have done so much to make this work possible that I cannot begin to acknowledge them in any adequate manner. But here it goes: Rosaura Sánchez and Lisa Lowe for their unwavering...


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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: The International Division of Humanity

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pp. xiii-xxxii

In October 1944, amid a flurry of intense lobbying efforts leading to the signing of the United Nations Charter in San Francisco, Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois received a letter from Judge Joseph Proskauer of the American Jewish Committee asking the distinguished scholar to sign on to the committee’s draft of a “Declaration...

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1. Conscience Denied: Amnesty International and the Antirevolution of the 1960s

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pp. 1-23

On May 28, 1961, a small group of British lawyers, writers, and publishers, headed by Peter Benenson, launched a public campaign for the release of eight prisoners from around the world. The campaign began with the article “The Forgotten Prisoners” published in the Observer (England) and...

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2. Who Claims Modernity? The International Frame of Sexual Recognition

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pp. 24-42

The year 1978 saw the establishment of the first “international” gay organization at a conference of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality in Coventry, England. An activist group, the International Gay Association (IGA), was formed when conference participants called on Amnesty International...

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3. A Duty to Intervene: On the Cinematic Constitution of Subjects for Empire in Hotel Rwanda and Caché

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pp. 43-68

In his classic work The Wretched of the Earth, anticolonial theorist Frantz Fanon argued that the international recognition of repression and brutality in the colonies was largely determined by the presence or absence of imperialist competition in a given area at a particular time. Where these geopolitical turf wars...

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4. Expiation for the Dispossessed: Truth Commissions, Testimonios, and Tyrannicide

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pp. 69-93

In his 1996 Wellek Lectures at the University of California at Irvine, French philosopher Étienne Balibar argued that “history is the means by which violence is converted into nonviolence and is transferred into political institutions.”1 One of the benefits of this formulation is to foreground the...

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5. Combat Theory: Anti-imperialist Analytics since Fanon

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pp. 94-110

In a pivotal scene from Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 anticolonial epic The Battle of Algiers, Ali La Pointe, petty criminal-cum-revolutionary, ascends the stairs of one of the many safe houses of the Algerian quarter with Ben M’Hidi, a leader of the ALN forces (the armed wing of the FLN) in Algiers....

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Coda: The Transition from Dumb to Smart Power

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pp. 111-115

At the January 2009 U.S. Senate confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out her ideas for how to advance U.S. interests in the post-Bush era. At the center of her proposal was what she called “smart power”: “We must see what has been called...


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pp. 117-150


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pp. 151-158

About the Author

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pp. 159-192

E-ISBN-13: 9780816673506
E-ISBN-10: 0816673500
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816665426

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2010