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Sovereign Emergencies

Book description

The concern over rising state violence, above all in Latin America, triggered an unprecedented turn to a global politics of human rights in the 1970s. Patrick William Kelly argues that Latin America played the most pivotal role in these sweeping changes, for it was both the target of human rights advocacy and the site of a series of significant developments for regional and global human rights politics. Drawing on case studies of Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, Kelly examines the crystallization of new understandings of sovereignty and social activism based on individual human rights. Activists and politicians articulated a new practice of human rights that blurred the borders of the nation-state to endow an individual with a set of rights protected by international law. Yet the rights revolution came at a cost: the Marxist critique of US imperialism and global capitalism was slowly supplanted by the minimalist plea not to be tortured.


'In this lucid, informed, and clear account, Kelly shows how a succession of regimes in the 1960s, 70s and 80s chose the human body as their staging ground for ideological warfare, and how out of these nightmares the defense of what came to be known as human rights was born. An indispensable history of modern Latin America.'

Alma Guillermoprieto - former journalist for The Guardian, the Washington Post, and The New York Times, and author of The Heart that Bleeds: Latin America Now

'This book is an important contribution to the history of human rights discourse and activism from a transnational perspective that documents and analyzes an important process that took place in the 1970s regarding the way Latin American exiles and those concerned about the wave of repression in South America responded to reports of arrest, torture, and the disappearance of political activists.'

James Green - Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Professor of Modern Latin American History, Brown University, Rhode Island

'Finally, a careful and thoroughly researched study on the contributions of Latin America to the international human rights canon. The last few decades have greatly expanded the substance of what we consider rights, and incorporated the 'language of rights' into all areas of public policy. In that recent history, Latin American advocates, jurists and human rights defenders have created models that break barriers of cultural relativism and contribute to the universality of human dignity from the lessons of tragedy and triumph that are so eloquently described in these pages.'

Juan E. Méndez - American University, Washington, DC, and Commissioner, International Commission of Jurists

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