Mainstreaming colonialism in the history of human rights

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Coombes, Thomas
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History has offered little to the interdisciplinary approach by which the human rights movement seeks to deal with its crisis of conscience over state sovereignty and cultural relativism. If human rights stands accused of colonialism, human rights history should deal with the claim thoroughly. Both combined persuasion with coercion, operated through facts, and intervened in territories where society was seen to have broken down, thus objectifying the colonised 'subaltern' and the human rights victim Reconciliation with colonial history can show the human rights movement that the dehumanising effects of global surveillance carried out through bureaucratic institutions turns life into facts, at the expense of authentic communication and global accountability. The potential for finding facts is endless, but the capacity to mobilise solidarity with them is not: colonialism has already tried, and failed, to use information to unite the world. Preventing tragedy in human relations through global surveillance from a central bureaucratic archival space far from reality is but a source not of solidarity but pathos. The movement has not learned properly from the struggles it claims as antecedents, and must ask what mobilises solidarity, the essence which it cannot know but must practice.
Second semester University: University of Helsinki.
colonialism, cultural relativism, history, human rights, multiculturalism, sovereignty