The Imperialism of Rights: Tracing the Politics and History of Human Rights
Vitus Ozoke

Voluminous scholarship that has followed ever since the advent of human rights has failed to sufficiently undertake a non-essentialist investigation of this seemingly attractive development of human history and progress. Rather than pursue critical tensions inherent in the obvious ambiguities of human rights, both as an ideology and a practice, scholarship has been devoted to the categorization of the colonizer and the colonized without probing the contradictions that beset each category. This essay identifies the otherness of the indigenous cultures in the calculation of the paternalistic, “superior” West as a problem that not only needs a critical probe, but also deserves to be the starting point of a more historically nuanced human rights discourse. It looks at the paradoxes of a human rights regime which touts common, equal, and universal humanity, while at the same time building and maintaining measures of legal and practical differences. As a major theme of this essay, the differential tiers of humanity, determined by civilization, has continued to dictate and dominate contemporary rhetoric of human rights. In discussing human rights, therefore, the different standards of civilization which have one civilization superior to others is a basic contradiction that must be urgently addressed.

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