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  • Cited by 4
  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: June 2014

9 - From “human rights” to “life rights”


The limits of the “Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen” and the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”

The 500 years of “rights” (from Rights of the People, to the Rights of Man and of the Citizen to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) is a history entrenched in the imaginary of western modernity. It is, in other words, only half of the story. The other half is the history of coloniality, the darker side of modernity. I have made this argument elsewhere. Here I will focus on the future more than on the past. The strong thesis is that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was not only a Euro-American and North Atlantic invention, it was an invention to correct the errors and mistakes of a handful of Western European states and the United States. I quote:

On September 28, 1948, Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady and delegate of the United Nations, delivered a speech entitled, “The Struggle for Human Rights.” This speech was delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris, to an audience of thousands of French citizens and delegates of the United Nations. “The Struggle for Human Rights” dealt with the struggle toward universal acceptance of human rights from those states that were considered, by the United Nations and Roosevelt, non-compliant. Those non-compliant states consisted of the USSR, Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, and other member states who had refused to accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, thus denying every human being fundamental rights and freedoms. This declaration was written with the intent to unify all nations through common terms and principles surrounding the issues of human rights and freedoms. Roosevelt felt that she must persuade those non-compliant countries to come to an understanding of the fundamental principles agreed upon by the United Nations through the means of establishing unification with her democratic audience.

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Wynter, Sylvia’s canonical text on this issue, “Towards the Sociogenetic Principle: Fanon, the Puzzle of Conscious Experience and What does it mean to be Black,” in National Identity and Sociopolitical Change, (ed.) Mercedes Durán-Cogan and Antonio Gómez-Moriana (Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 1999)
Barreto, J.M., ‘Conquest, Independence and Decolonisation’, in Barreto, J.M. (ed.), Human Rights from a Third-World Perspective: Critique, History and International Law (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012)
Mutua, Mako, Human Rights: A Political and Cultural Critique (Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002)
Grear, Anna, “Challenging Corporate ‘Humanity’: Legal Disembodiment, Embodiment and Human Rights,” Human Rights Law Review 7(3) (2007), 1–33
Douzinas, Costas, Human Rights and Empire: The Political Philosophy of Cosmopolitanism (Oxford and New York: Routledge–Cavendish, 2007)
Williams, Eric, Slavery and Capitalism [1944] (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994)
Sen, Amartya, Development as Freedom (New York: Anchor, 2000)
Rose, Nikolas, The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power and Subjectivity in the 21st Century (Princeton University Press, 2006)
Hinkelammert, Franz, “The Hidden Logic of Modernity: Locke’s Inversion of Human Rights,” Worlds and Knowledges Otherwise, 1(1) (2004), 1–27
Mignolo, Walter, “The Splendors and Miseries of ‘Science’: Coloniality, Geopolitics of Knowledge and Epistemic Pluriversality,” in de Sousa Santos, Boaventura (ed.), Cognitive Justice in a Global World: Prudent Knowledges for a Decent Life (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2007)