University of Wisconsin Press

Critical Human Rights

Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

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Critical Human Rights

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The Politics of Necessity

Community Organizing and Democracy in South Africa

Elke Zuern

The end of apartheid in South Africa broke down political barriers, extending to all races the formal rights of citizenship, including the right to participate in free elections and parliamentary democracy. But South Africa remains one of the most economically polarized nations in the world. In The Politics of Necessity Elke Zuern forcefully argues that working toward greater socio-economic equality—access to food, housing, land, jobs—is crucial to achieving a successful and sustainable democracy.
    Drawing on interviews with local residents and activists in South Africa’s impoverished townships during more than a decade of dramatic political change, Zuern tracks the development of community organizing and reveals the shifting challenges faced by poor citizens. Under apartheid, township residents began organizing to press the government to address the basic material necessities of the poor and expanded their demands to include full civil and political rights. While the movement succeeded in gaining formal political rights, democratization led to a new government that instituted neo-liberal economic reforms and sought to minimize protest. In discouraging dissent and failing to reduce economic inequality, South Africa’s new democracy has continued to disempower the poor.
    By comparing movements in South Africa to those in other African and Latin American states, this book identifies profound challenges to democratization. Zuern asserts the fundamental indivisibility of all human rights, showing how protest movements that call attention to socio-economic demands, though often labeled a threat to democracy, offer significant opportunities for modern democracies to evolve into systems of rule that empower all citizens.

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Remaking Rwanda

State Building and Human Rights after Mass Violence

Scott Straus

In the mid-1990s, civil war and genocide ravaged Rwanda. Since then, the country’s new leadership has undertaken a highly ambitious effort to refashion Rwanda’s politics, economy, and society, and the country’s accomplishments have garnered widespread praise. Remaking Rwanda is the first book to examine Rwanda’s remarkable post-genocide recovery in a comprehensive and critical fashion. By paying close attention to memory politics, human rights, justice, foreign relations, land use, education, and other key social institutions and practices, this volume raises serious concerns about the depth and durability of the country’s reconstruction.

            Edited by Scott Straus and Lars Waldorf, Remaking Rwanda brings together experienced scholars and human rights professionals to offer a nuanced, historically informed picture of post-genocide Rwanda—one that reveals powerful continuities with the nation’s past and raises profound questions about its future.
 

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The Social Origins of Human Rights

Protesting Political Violence in Colombia’s Oil Capital, 1919–2010

Luis van Isschot

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The Soviet Union and the Gutting of the UN Genocide Convention

Anton Weiss-Wendt

After the staggering horrors of World War II and the Holocaust, the United Nations resolved to prevent and punish the crime of genocide throughout the world. The resulting UN Genocide Convention treaty, however, was drafted, contested, and weakened in the midst of Cold War tensions and ideological struggles between the Soviet Union and the West.

Based on extensive archival research, Anton Weiss-Wendt reveals in detail how the political aims of the superpowers rendered the convention a weak instrument for addressing abuses against human rights. The Kremlin viewed the genocide treaty as a political document and feared repercussions. What the Soviets wanted most was to keep the subjugation of Eastern Europe and the vast system of forced labor camps out of the genocide discourse. The American Bar Association and Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, in turn, worried that the Convention contained vague formulations that could be used against the United States, especially in relation to the plight of African Americans. Sidelined in the heated discussions, Weiss-Wendt shows, were humanitarian concerns for preventing future genocides.

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Torture and Impunity

The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation

Alfred W. McCoy

Many Americans have condemned the “enhanced interrogation” techniques used in the War on Terror as a transgression of human rights. But the United States has done almost nothing to prosecute past abuses or prevent future violations. Tracing this knotty contradiction from the 1950s to the present, historian Alfred W. McCoy probes the political and cultural dynamics that have made impunity for torture a bipartisan policy of the U.S. government.
    During the Cold War, McCoy argues, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency covertly funded psychological experiments designed to weaken a subject’s resistance to interrogation. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the CIA revived these harsh methods, while U.S. media was flooded with seductive images that normalized torture for many Americans. Ten years later, the U.S. had failed to punish the perpetrators or the powerful who commanded them, and continued to exploit intelligence extracted under torture by surrogates from Somalia to Afghanistan. Although Washington has publicly distanced itself from torture, disturbing images from the prisons at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are seared into human memory, doing lasting damage to America’s moral authority as a world leader.

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Trauma, Taboo, and Truth-Telling

Listening to Silences in Postdictatorship Argentina

Nancy J. Gates-Madsen

Argentina’s repressive 1976–83 dictatorship, during which an estimated thirty thousand people were “disappeared,” prompted the postauthoritarian administrations and human rights groups to encourage public exposure of past crimes and traumas. Truth commissions, trials, and other efforts have aimed to break the silence and give voice to the voiceless. Yet despite these many reckonings, there are still silences, taboos, and unanswerable questions.
            Nancy J. Gates-Madsen reads between the lines of Argentine cultural texts (fiction, drama, testimonial narrative, telenovela, documentary film) to explore the fundamental role of silence—the unsaid—in the expression of trauma. Her careful examination of the interplay between textual and contextual silences illuminates public debate about the meaning of memory in Argentina—which stories are being told, and, more important, which are being silenced. The imposition of silence is not limited to the military domain or its apologists, she shows; the human rights community also perpetuates and creates taboos.

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