HUMAN RIGHTS AS MORAL PROGRESS? A Critique

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ABSTRACT

In this article I critically engage the view that the enactment of human rights is the enactment of moral and political progress. Drawing on my research of international and local harm reductionists in Russia, I focus on these activists’ arguments for and suggestions of rights-based legislation. I contend that such arguments are not only made according to the logic of security, prosperity, and normativity, but that the realization of such legislation primarily results in the strengthening of already existing state-government apparatuses. It is argued that such human rights activism is perhaps better understood in terms of post–Cold War democracy building rather than a concern for the health of injecting drug users as such. It is this institution building that the human rights industry calls progress, and it is this notion of progress that is called into question in the article. It will be argued that this human rights practice is best understood in terms of repetition, and such repetition ultimately marks a limit for the political and moral activity possible in the name of human rights.

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