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Abstract

In his paper, "Narration in International Human Rights Law," Joseph R. Slaughter argues that the prohibitions and entitlements articulated in international human rights law presume and promote an image of the human being as a self-narrating subject. He proposes that human rights law enshrines commitments to the human voice and to the ability of the individual to construct narratives of identity. In this sense, human rights violations can be understood as assaults on the human voice and on the socio-cultural structures that make certain kinds of narratives and narration possible. This narratological reading of the law offers a way to recast, or complicate, the tension between the two poles of universalism and relativism that have dominated the human rights debate for a few decades. To demonstrate the centrality of narration to the human rights regime, Slaughter examines a particularly troublesome historical event that has renewed resonance today: the French practice of torture during the Algerian Revolution. Under torture, the voice is a primary site of repression, but, he suggests, torture is only an extreme example of the ways in which human rights violations generally attempt to disarticulate a free speaking, or narrating, subject.

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