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Human Rights: Moral or Political?$
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Adam Etinson

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198713258

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198713258.001.0001

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The Politics of Humanitarian Morality

The Politics of Humanitarian Morality

Reflections on “The Hazards of Rescue”

(p.429) 12.1 The Politics of Humanitarian Morality
Human Rights: Moral or Political?

Vasuki Nesiah

Oxford University Press

Coady speaks compellingly of the hazards of humanitarian moralism. Coady’s corrective to those hazards calls for attending to the immediate political context but neglects how human rights (HR) not only engages with a political context external to it, but is itself deploying and negotiating power. Thus his discussion of the HR/humanitarianism merger renders this confluence as background to, rather than constitutive of, those hazards. From the 1990s the international community paid less attention to routine HR, and focused increasingly on HR in the context of humanitarian crisis. This shift’s impacts include: inflecting HR in those contexts with a depoliticizing humanitarian morality; treating HR engagements as episodic injections in moments of disaster with politics displaced by the moral urgency of catastrophe, rather than as engagements with the routine and structural; translating HR into an export product with engagements activated not by our rights but “theirs” — thus intervening in, even disregarding, local populations in name of their HR. If we don’t take into account these larger stakes re. the politics of HR and humanitarianism, the prudence that modifies moralism functions to complement rather than counter, with ethics and expertise travelling hand in hand to couple moralism and prudence to rescue “better”.

Keywords:   human rights, humanitarianism, politics v. political realism, politics v. morality, structural v. catastrophic

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