Introduction: States of violence

Sally Engle Merry

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingForeword/postscript


    How does the human rights framework deal with violence? Asking this question from the perspective of human rights practice rather than human rights principles means focusing on how principles are translated in everyday situations. The argument of the book is that understanding the practice of human rights requires attention to the people who translate documents into social situations and situations into human rights violations. The people in the middle are activists, movement leaders, academics, and those who speak for victims, including some victims themselves. These are the people who construct human rights cases, transform them in ways that will increase their appeal, and try to mobilize pressure behind the principles. A key dimension of this process is defining and naming problems as human rights violations. As they define problems as human rights issues and generate support for them, these intermediaries confront the question of what constitutes violence. Violence is a fundamental aspect of many human rights violations, yet only some kinds of violence are considered human rights offenses. Physical injury and death are often viewed as violations, but other forms of violence are not, such as economic violence, environmental degradation, or the violence of development. Moreover, on closer examination even the violence of injury and death is very ambiguous. The meaning of injury or death depends on cultural assumptions about how and why it occurred, whether it was justified, whether it was the product of malice or accident, and whether it served the good of the country.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Title of host publicationThe Practice of Human Rights
    Subtitle of host publicationTracking Law Between the Global and the Local
    PublisherCambridge University Press
    Number of pages8
    ISBN (Electronic)9780511819193
    ISBN (Print)9780521865173
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2007

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Social Sciences


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