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REMINDER CHECKLIST – WRITTEN DEBATE REFLECTION – HUMAN RIGHTS
*PLEASE CHECK OFF THE FOLLOWING ITEMS AND MAKE CHANGES AS NECESSARY.*
O – This debate reflection is 300 or more words (excluding your name, date, etc. and the bibliography).
O – All quotations and/or text representing other people’s information or ideas have been cited and are
accompanied by page numbers, and these sources have been listed in the bibliography.
O – This document is double-spaced with normal margins, and the font is 12-point Times New Roman.
O – Quotations over three lines (or 45 words) are indented on both sides within the body of the text. Only
one indented quotation is allowed per reflection.
O – The first paragraph has a summary of the main positions or arguments presented by the authors,
scholars, or activists engaged in the debate. The second paragraph includes analysis of their positions
or arguments – addressing the question, for example, “What makes one of these more convincing than
the others?” The third paragraph is a reflective conclusion in which you offer your opinion, analysis,
or preferred approach or alternative to said debate.
O – Please use “who” when referring to people and “that” when referring to things, places, or ideas. For
example, the sentence “The man that made this cheesesteak goes to my college” is technically
incorrect. It should read “The man who made this cheesesteak goes to my high college.”
O – Do not use third-person plural pronouns when the third-person singular is more appropriate. Words
such as “China,” “the United Nations,” “the government,” or “the LGBT community” take the it
form, not they. E.g., the sentence, “Switzerland is known for their winter sports,” is incorrect.
O – Do not use the adjective “huge” to describe something important or significant. For example, the
sentence “WWII was a huge human-rights crisis” is colloquial and inappropriate for this assignment.
O – Please use “quotation marks” when referencing articles and chapters, and italics for books and
publications. For example, “The Gulf Art Wars” by Negar Azimi; The Last Utopia by Samuel Moyn
O – Please sort out the differences between it’s & its and apart & a part. “Alot” is not a word.
O – Please verify that there are no spelling mistakes. These look particularly sloppy on the final draft.
I am submitting my assignment in stapled hard copy and via Blackboard. I have carefully proof-read the
enclosed document, for I know any non-professional writing will result in a grade reduction.
WRITTEN DEBATE REFLECTION – GRADING RUBRIC
FORMATTING – 30 POINTS TOTAL, OF WHICH…
__ / 5 points
This final version includes 1) a checklist with the boxes checked off and 2) a reflection
of 300 words or more. The checklist and the reflection have been stapled together.
__ / 5 points
This reflection has been uploaded to Blackboard via the appropriate link (in the folder
for the session when the assignment is due).
__ / 5 points
This document is double-spaced with normal margins, and the font is 12-point Times
__ / 5 points
All quotations, data, and/or text representing other people’s information or ideas have
been cited and are accompanied by page numbers, and these sources have been listed in
If the following are not completed, I will take off another five points for each:
1. Quotations over three lines (or 45 words) are indented on both sides. Only one indented quotation
is allowed per reflection.
2. Use “quotation marks” when referencing articles, reports, and chapters, and italics for books and
the names of publications. E.g., “The Gulf Art Wars” by Negar Azimi; The New York Times
CONTENT – 50 POINTS TOTAL, OF WHICH…
__ / 10 points Please cover the following items:
The first paragraph has a summary of the main positions or arguments presented by the
authors, scholars, or activists engaged in the debate.
The second paragraph includes analysis of their positions or arguments, addressing the
question, for example, “What makes one of these more convincing than the others?”
The third paragraph is a reflective conclusion in which you offer your opinion, analysis,
or preferred approach or alternative to said debate.
GRAMMAR – 20 POINTS TOTAL
__ / 10 points Please carefully proof-read the enclosed document, for any sloppy or non-professional
writing will result in an immediate 10-point grade reduction.
__ / 5 points
Please use “who” when referring to people and “that” when referring to things, places, or
ideas. For example, the sentence “The man that made this cheesesteak goes to my
college” is technically incorrect. It should read “The man who made this cheesesteak
goes to my college.”
__ / 5 points
Do not use third-person plural pronouns when the third-person singular is more
appropriate. Words such as “China,” “the United Nations,” “the government,” or “the
LGBT community” take the it form, not they.
Back to article page
moral advice, and they offer a robust critique. ‘It’s not that your arguments are invalid, they
just don’t apply in a Singaporean context,’ says the Seni0r Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan
Yew. (Bell bases Lee’s arguments on his published writings and speeches, which he skilfully
edits into a debate with an imaginary American interlocutor.) Lee may have an insalubrious
human rights record, but the point he makes needs to be taken seriously. As do the voices of
Lee’s victims and critics.
The Moral Solipsism of Global Ethics Inc
Human rights is an activity as well as a theory; it is an exercise in power. It’s not possible to
Alex de Waal
private organisations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (the US
do more than sketch out this activity or the institutions involved in it. At the centre, there are
brand leader), intergovernmental bodies such as the UN High Commissioner for Human
Like Water on Stone: The Story of Amnesty International by Jonathan Power
Allen Lane, 332 pp, £12.99, May 2001, ISBN 0 7139 9319 7
Rights, and a range of intermediaries, such as the International Commission of Jurists. In the
Future Positive: International Cooperation in the 21st Century by Michael Edwards
Earthscan, 292 pp, £12.99, September 2000, ISBN 1 85383 740 7
encompasses not only the old-style campaigns against manifest injustice, torture and political
East Meets West: Human Rights and Democracy in East Asia by Daniel Bell
Princeton, 369 pp, £12.50, May 2000, ISBN 0 691 00508 7
last ten years the discourse of human rights has widened considerably and the activity now
detention, for example, but the promotion of democracy, conflict resolution, ‘good
governance’, humanitarian principles and the increasingly fashionable notion of ‘civil society’.
This last is a catch-all term, about which Edwards says that ‘among writers and politicians
‘Uhuru has a new name’, an advertising billboard for mobile phones announces in Dar es
doubly disenchanted with the ideologies of Left and Right, civil society has assumed the
Salaam. ‘Uhuru’ – Swahili for ‘freedom’ or ‘liberation’ – is a sacred word throughout most of
status of a “solution” writ large.’ Development agencies of all kinds, from Oxfam to Unicef,
sub-Saharan Africa. It is an ideal for which Africans sacrificed much in their collective
from Britain’s Department for International Development to the World Bank, have all
struggle against colonialism and racism. But almost two years after the death of Tanzania’s
embraced programmes that affirm the importance of civil society. Once inspired
former President, Julius Nyerere, in the city that once hosted the OAU Liberation Committee,
overwhelmingly by economics, overseas aid departments and multilateral lenders now
advertising of this kind passes without comment. In a globalised world, ideals become
recognise that ‘development’ is a social concept. Edwards summarises: ‘It’s the polity, stupid.’
commodities along with everything else. The manufacture and dissemination of global ethics
Universities teach postgraduate courses on one or another branch of ‘human rights’; research
is a neglected strand of globalisation. We are all familiar with the core values embodied in
institutes produce reports and analyses; and many of the major foundations, from established
human rights, democracy, ‘civil society’ and ‘governance’ – an aseptic word that seems to
giants like Ford and Rockefeller to relative newcomers such as George Soros’s Open Society
mean government minus politics. We also know the core institutions: the organisations,
Institute, have committed themselves to the new agenda. Much of Amnesty’s recent
foundations and institutes that teach the world how to implement democracy and human
campaigning has focused on international corporations, and it has succeeded in persuading
rights. But do we, or the people who staff them, understand what they are up to?
several, including Shell, BP, Rio Tinto Zinc and British Telecom, to sign the Universal
The global ethical enterprise begins in moral solipsism. Most accounts of the human rights
Declaration of Human Rights, though exactly what that amounts to remains to be seen.
industry – including Jonathan Power’s Like Water on Stone, the history of Amnesty
If you belong to the network of private organisations, foundations, institutes and specialised
International, timed for its 40th birthday this year – have a whiff of Whig history about them.
departments in aid agencies and government offices that concern themselves with civil and
It is hard for those driven by conviction and concern to imagine what it might be like for
political liberties worldwide, you will take the virtues of this enterprise for granted. The
those on the receiving end of the moral directives. And the more driven, convinced and
philosophy of the specialist ethics business is overwhelmingly liberal: opposed to censorship,
concerned they are, the more solipsistic they tend to be. They find it almost impossible to
repression and corruption; in favour of tolerance, pluralism, respect for all. The relevant
listen to voices originating ‘outside the Anglo-Saxon intellectual fortress that dominates
activities include training lawyers, monitoring elections, supporting citizens’ organisations
writing on foreign policy and international affairs’. This is Michael Edwards’s formulation,
that campaign for women’s rights or the environment (all these are seen as laying the
and his book, Future Positive, urges them to do better. Daniel Bell rises to this challenge in
foundations for a strong civil society), sponsoring reconciliation between warring
East Meets West, a series of fictional dialogues about human rights in East Asia. Bell’s East
communities and documenting violations of human rights. In some ways, this activity
Asian interlocutors express some of the bewilderment felt by the recipients of America’s
resembles that of a marketplace; in others, it puts you in mind of an intellectual production
Benenson, a British lawyer, that governments could be persuaded to release political
line for the liberal imperium – Global Ethics Inc.
prisoners simply by ordinary people writing letters to them. This remains the core of
In its basic structure, the ethics business is like many global businesses. It has its
headquarters in a handful of Western centres, notably New York, Washington and London. It
Power’s is not an uncritical history. He refers both to the scandal of Benenson’s links with the
acknowledges no boundaries and aims nowadays at the dismantling of the sovereign privilege
Foreign Office (which brought the organisation to the point of collapse) and – glancingly – to
of governments to regulate its product. On this issue, the key battle was won decisively a
the view that Amnesty’s focus on prisoners contributed to the preference of some Latin
decade ago, when the UN Security Council endorsed the principle that national sovereignty
American dictatorships for having their victims ‘disappear’ instead. He charts the ways in
did not entitle governments to abuse the rights of their citizens with impunity. And the
which Amnesty has contributed to the march of human rights, sometimes dramatically but
human rights movement itself crossed a Rubicon when it endorsed the military-humanitarian
mostly modestly and quietly. And it is a truly impressive story, of many small, mostly
interventions in Somalia, Haiti and the former Yugoslavia.
invisible and unattributable victories, in the form of prisoners released or treated better, local
Another watershed was the Pinochet case. The fact that the former dictator, Cold War ally
and friend of Margaret Thatcher, could be arrested on the instructions of a Spanish
magistrate elicited guffaws of delighted disbelief from at least three generations of human
human rights groups founded around the world, and legal reforms, all adding up to slowly
raising the bar on what it is acceptable for a government to do. There are also failures –
prominent among them, the continuing use of the death penalty in the US.
rights activists. The principle of global jurisdiction covering outrageous human rights abuses,
An alternative narrative would have to tell of the co-option of dissent by liberal governance:
and rejecting the defence that raison d’état provides immunity for heads of state, was a leap
human rights work has long ceased to be a marginal, dissenting activity – we can now talk of
forward for universalism. Pinochet ultimately escaped, as did Hissène Habré, former
a real ‘human rights international’. Although Amnesty is a key member of this network, global
murderous ruler of Chad, now living in exile in Senegal. Slobodan Milosevic was not so lucky:
leadership belongs to American organisations. The immediate ancestor of today’s human
the Americans used their economic muscle to ensure that he will be duly tried in The Hague.
rights international was the civil rights movement in the US, a classic case of people
So the global principle now extends far enough to take care of war criminals hostile to the US.
mobilising in pursuit of their rights, legitimately claimed. The movement’s success owed
It is improbable on the other hand that the US will ratify the statute of the International
much to Martin Luther King’s strategy of non-violence, but it also had to do with the co-
Criminal Court, which will have global reach, fearful that its own soldiers (or Secretaries of
ordination between a ‘primary’ mass mobilisation of citizens and a skilful activist leadership,
State) might be called to account. There is no better illustration of the deeply ambiguous
who could channel popular energy into sustained and effective campaigns, and build alliances
relationship between America and the human rights international.
with other civil liberties activists and with independence movements in Africa.
One could argue that global ethics is a largely deregulated business. A globalising liberalism
The men and women who emerged from the leadership of the American Civil Liberties Union
does not function like the old imperium, which kept its ideologues institutionalised in
went on to dominate human rights institutions in the US for a generation, putting their
seminaries or propaganda departments, subject to the strictest control. True, some value-
experience to work in pursuit of an international extension of the civil liberties movement.
manufacturing institutes and academies conduct their affairs under close governmental
But the ‘global’ movement – a combination of creative ad hoccery and universal principles –
scrutiny, but the market leaders – the most successful foundations and advocacy
didn’t get going until 1975, when the part of the Helsinki Accords dealing with human rights
organisations – are independent. It is the logic of their enterprise, and the competitive
and civil society was agreed. At the time, Soviet concessions in this respect were seen as an
market in which they operate, not the hand of government, which causes them to converge on
empty gesture to the West: they turned out to be, in the words of Martin Walker in The Cold
a largely uniform product. Yet this analogy is also misleading: we are dealing with an
War (1993), ‘a time bomb planted in the heart of the Soviet empire’.
apparatus of intellectual and moral production that conforms to no known model in social,
political or market science. The simplest way to understand it is through its history.
The story of the Eastern European dissidents is well known. What is less well known is that
the Helsinki Accords were also a minefield of sorts for the American political establishment.
The juridical and philosophical framework of human rights originated in the European
After Helsinki, the human rights movement in the US operated by ‘mobilising shame’, relying
Enlightenment, but as a practice it owes everything to the second half of the 20th century in
on journalism and advocacy as a short cut to effecting change. This can be characterised as a
Europe and the US. In the official version, virtue has (nearly) triumphed. The story can partly
phase of ‘secondary activism’, which saw the growth of institutions based on professional
be told as an institutional history of Amnesty International, which is how Jonathan Power
skills and institutional funding. There are precedents – the campaign against the colonialist
tells it. Amnesty began in 1961, with the simple and apparently absurd idea of Peter
crimes in the Congo chronicled in Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost (1998) is one –
but never before had such activism been so fully institutionalised or pursued with such
The human rights movement could not find a way to function once so many of its members
and peers were in government. At first, the Democrats got away with policies that would have
Throughout the 1980s, the American movement – exemplified by Human Rights Watch –
continued to gather momentum. It was able to mount a sustained campaign against the
duplicity and adventurism of both Reagan Administrations. It investigated, documented,
exposed and condemned, and was all the more effective for being non-partisan – it also
fiercely criticised abuses in the Soviet bloc. Human Rights Watch pioneered an adversarial
drawn down the wrath of the human rights lobby had they been implemented by
Republicans. But in due course, we began to see a combination of public debate and internal
policy dialogue. The human rights industry has not become a servant of US policy, at least not
in any simple way. At the same time, the values of the movement have permeated the system:
the Bush Administration cannot turn the clock back entirely.
strategy perfectly adapted to the decade, turning the rhetoric of right-wing liberalism back on
Yet, as Bell explains, the viewpoint only needs to shift to the periphery – to Africa or East
itself. The target of the movement’s attention was always the US Administration. Even when a
Asia, or indeed the Balkans – for the modus operandi of the ethics industry to look rather
report addressed its recommendations to, say, the Government of Guatemala, the message
problematic. Do influential activists in the West obey only the dictates of their conscience?
was intended for Washington, and it got through because, during the Cold War, every country
Should this be the case? To whom are they accountable? And even if they proclaim their
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