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The Divided World

Human Rights and Its Violence

2010
Author:

Randall Williams

The Divided World

Examines why some people are deemed worthy of human rights and others are not

Taking a critical view of a venerated international principle, Randall Williams shows how the concept of human rights—often taken for granted as a force for good in the world—corresponds directly with U.S. imperialist aims. The Divided World examines how a human rights–based international policy is ultimately mobilized to manage violence—by limiting the access of its victims to justice.

This brilliant book examines the colonial legacy that haunts international human rights, demanding an understanding of justice that does not reproduce the colonial divisions of human society, but would thoroughly transform them.

Lisa Lowe, University of California, San Diego

Taking a critical view of a venerated international principle, Randall Williams shows how the concept of human rights—often taken for granted as a force for good in the world—corresponds directly with U.S. imperialist aims. Citing internationalists from W. E. B. Du Bois and Frantz Fanon to, more recently, M. Jacqui Alexander and China Miéville, Williams insists on a reckoning of human rights with the violence of colonial modernity.

Despite the emphasis on international human rights since World War II, Williams notes that the discourse of human rights has consistently reinforced the concerns of the ascendant global power of the United States. He demonstrates how the alignment of human rights with the interests of U.S. expansion is not a matter of direct control or conspiratorial plot but the result of a developing human rights consensus that has been shaped by postwar international institutions and debates, from the United Nations to international law. Williams probes high-profile cases involving Amnesty International, Nelson Mandela, the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission, Abu Ghraib, and Guantánamo, as well as offering readings of works such as Hotel Rwanda, Caché, and Death and the Maiden that have put forth radical critiques of political violence.

The most forceful contradictions of international human rights discourse, he argues, come into relief within anticolonial critiques of racial violence. To this end, The Divided World examines how a human rights–based international policy is ultimately mobilized to manage violence—by limiting the access of its victims to justice.

The Divided World

Randall Williams has taught at the University of California in San Diego and Riverside in the Departments of Ethnic Studies, Film and Visual Culture, and Literature. He has been involved with various social movements from ACT UP to the recently formed Teachers Against Occupation.

The Divided World

This brilliant book examines the colonial legacy that haunts international human rights, demanding an understanding of justice that does not reproduce the colonial divisions of human society, but would thoroughly transform them.

Lisa Lowe, University of California, San Diego

Anyone who is interested in justice, social welfare, global maneuvering, semantics and the power of the written word will be fascinated by this volume.

M/C Reviews

It is hard to imagine how even the most ardent supporter of a human rights framework could fail to be challenged by Randall Williams’s erudite portrayal of the epistemic violence of a liberal international human rights discourse.

Radical Philosophy

Randall Williams ... links human rights to the colonial project and highlights the difficulty of
challenging the given coordinates of political and social power within contemporary human rights discourse, of getting beyond The Divided World.

The Disorder of Things

William’s book is very well written and it is important for understanding current human rights issues.

Righting Wrongs