Politicizing human rights (using international law)

Anat Biletzki*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Human rights – in theory, discourse, and praxis – may be questioned as to their political nature; one instinctive answer claims that politics is the natural home of the human rights endeavor, whereas a more standard and institutional reply insists that human rights are, almost by definition, apolitical. This latter option usually turns to international law as the underpinning of human rights, presupposing thereby that law itself is, indeed, apolitical. The former, seemingly more natural, stance may also recognize the essential nonpartisan aura of human rights but still maintain their usefulness for political agendas. The following exercise is an attempt to meld together these opposing positions on human rights by, on the one hand, acquiescing to their politicality but, on the other hand, locating it precisely – even if not only – in the use of international law. In a sense, we are putting our foot down in the human-rights-are-political camp; the surprising element here is the justified exploitation of international human rights, humanitarian, and criminal law for such political purposes. Because, however, the tension between the political and the universal (i.e., the apolitical) cannot be shrugged off, especially not by human rights workers and organizations themselves, we suggest a philosophical angle to mitigate it: Using the constructs of “identity” and “victim” to identify both the political and the universal, and their simultaneous presence in human rights, can lead to a different understanding of the political workings of human rights based on international law.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Criminal Law and Philosophy
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9780511642265
ISBN (Print)9780521191517
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2009


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