The Cause of Human Rights: Doubts about Torture, Law, and Ethics at the United Nations

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Although human rights practitioners are often seen as being distinguished by their dogmatic claims or their technical fixations, there is a danger of ignoring the hesitations and confusions that also mark much human rights work. The article focuses on human rights NGOs as they engage with the UN Committee Against Torture. In doing so it examines their doubts about the causal connections that would link their legal interventions with their ethical commitments. However, doubt should not be confused with cynicism or despair. To doubt means to be in two minds. Instead of bringing the whole edifice tumbling down, a sense of doubt means that new avenues are always sought out, as practitioners move between an emphasis on the legal and the ethical. Rather than a source of crippling anxiety, doubt can keep the human rights project moving.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)728-744
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011

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