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Open Access Publications from the University of California

What Could Human Rights Do? A Decolonial Inquiry


It is one thing to consider what human rights have been and another to inquire into what they could be. In this essay, I present a history of human rights vis-à-vis decolonization. I follow the scholarship of Samuel Moyn to suggest that human rights presented a “moral alternative” to political utopias. The question remains how to politicize the moral energy around human rights today. I argue that defending what Édouard Glissant calls a “right to opacity” could politicize the ethical energy around human rights today. Glissant’s right to opacity outlines a blueprint for the praxis of human rights to shift from a “functional model” to a “critical model,” to use Enrique Dussel’s distinction. My ultimate aim is to show how social movements around human rights and decolonization could converge today.

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