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International Human Rights Law as Power/Knowledge

From: Human Rights Quarterly
Volume 27, Number 3, August 2005
pp. 1046-1068 | 10.1353/hrq.2005.0035


It is often noted that the modern human rights discourse is predominately a discourse of international law. Interest groups, nongovernmental organizations, major international organizations, and states all accept that the global human rights regime is a legal construct. Scholarly work on human rights also adopts a predominately legal approach, as shown by several surveys of the literature and the human rights curriculum at the university level. This article places international human rights law within the context of critique in an effort to explain the hegemony of law within the human rights discourse. It begins with a discussion of the nature of human rights discourse as it is practiced in the current world order. It then moves to introduce the idea of discipline in world order, in particular "market discipline," which provides the dominant set of values upon which international action is undertaken. An additional section looks at the tensions between international human rights law and the norms that describe "market discipline." Finally, the conclusion is that international human rights law offers a discourse of both freedom and domination.

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