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Introduction: Understanding the Multiplicity of Justice

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Abstract

Since the end of the Cold War twenty years ago, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of international and transnational institutions for which “justice” has become a central ideological ordering principle, an implicit goal, or, in the case of the International Criminal Court (ICC), a formal basis for institutional action. At the same time, there has been a corresponding rise in the prevalence and cross-cultural resonance of justice as a framing discourse, a transnational normativity that gives shape to, but is not coextensive with, the modalities of international law, human rights, and preexisting cultural and moral imperatives. The problem, we might say, of justice is of course an old one indeed: Its complexities have formed the staple of debates within political philosophy for centuries if not millennia; within both theology and international law the centrality of justice has made it an iconic, if shifting, symbol that has at times come to represent the particular system itself. Justice has served as the illusive endpoint of any number of political and social teleologies, the utopian goal toward which movements of ideas and people have been hurled with sometimes tragic, sometimes heroic, consequences. More recently, however, the withering away of the logics of the bipolar postwar system provided an opening for the actual building and implementation of both international and transnational systems that had existed as either idea or unrealized possibility, including the international human rights system, the interrelated system of international criminal law, and the more diffuse networks of transnational actors that came to constitute what Eleanor Roosevelt, the chair of the commission that produced the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, called the “curious grapevine.
Introduction
Understanding the Multiplicity of Justice
Mark Goodale and Kamari Maxine Clarke
Since the end of the Cold War twenty years ago, there has been a dramatic increase
in the number of international and transnational institutions for which “justice” has
become a central ideological ordering principle, an implicit goal, or, in the case
of the International Criminal Court (ICC), a formal basis for institutional action.
At the same time, there has been a corresponding rise in the prevalence and cross-
cultural resonance of justice as a framing discourse, a transnational normativity
that gives shape to, but is not coextensive with, the modalities of international law,
human rights, and preexisting cultural and moral imperatives. The problem, we
might say, of justice is of course an old one indeed: Its complexities have formed the
staple of debates within political philosophy for centuries if not millennia; within
both theology and international law the centrality of justice has made it an iconic,
if shifting, symbol that has at times come to represent the particular system itself.
Justice has served as the illusive endpoint of any number of political and social
teleologies, the utopian goal toward which movements of ideas and people have
been hurled with sometimes tragic, sometimes heroic, consequences.
More recently, however, the withering away of the logics of the bipolar postwar
system provided an opening for the actual building and implementation of both
international and transnational systems that had existed as either idea or unrealized
possibility, including the international human rights system, the interrelated sys-
tem of international criminal law, and the more diffuse networks of transnational
actors that came to constitute what Eleanor Roosevelt, the chair of the commis-
sion that produced the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, called the
“curious grapevine.” Most of the transcendent aspirations of the postwar settlement
were almost immediately smothered by the constraints of realpolitik that character-
ized the Cold War. Even though the Manichean struggle between the nation-states
of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact actually
brought together ideological and political configurations that superseded the individ-
ual nation-states that comprised them, the fact remained that great power sovereignty
1
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2Mark Goodale and Kamari Maxine Clarke
and supposedly antithetical national security interests formed the backdrop against
which the trans- and postnational expressions of postwar optimism were rendered
practically irrelevant (although not meaningless).
Beginning in the 1990s, a series of historical and discursive moments marked a
decisive shift in this postwar narrative. Following on the heels of the relatively abrupt
implosion of the Soviet Union and the authoritarian regimes of the rest of the Warsaw
Pact, the racist ancien r´
egime of South Africa crumbled with similarly stunning
speed. As the anthropologist Richard A. Wilson describes in his authoritative study
of the early years of South Africa’s postapartheid transition, the efforts to build a “civic
state” based on the revived language of human rights and universal justice were part of
a wider historical movement. As he explains, “[t]he quest to build a ‘culture of human
rights’ in South Africa ...needsto be understood in the context of a sea-change in
global politics, and the rise of human rights as the archetypal language of democratic
transition . . . Since 1990, nearly all transitions from authoritarian rule have adopted
the language of human rights and the political model of constitutionalism ...”
(Wilson, 2001:1).
At the same time, but more ambiguously, the multiple languages of justice shaped
the emergence of new national, international, and transnational regimes in ways that
at times intersected with, but at other times diverged from, the more actualized –
if still embryonic – “culture of human rights.” Justice coexisted on the post–Cold
War’s global-discursive terrain as the normative partner of “human rights” even
as it was fractured into any number of different conceptual, political, and ethical
variations: local justice, popular justice, social justice, transitional justice, economic
justice, and others. The empirical pluralizing of justice, however, did nothing to
clarify important questions that had been exhaustively pursued by theorists from the
pre-Socratics to Rawls: What, exactly, is justice? What is the relationship between
justice and natural/human rights? Does justice reflect a particular social or moral
orientation, or is it better understood as an ideal political good? Can we give a
legitimate account of justice in the abstract at all? What is the relationship between
justice and law? and so on. Instead, empirical reports from the post–Cold War’s
discursive frontlines revealed these to be the wrong questions.
As a response, political philosophers themselves began to explore the implications
of justice as social practice and, in the process, offer an alternative to the traditional
politico-epistemological dichotomy between the normative and the descriptive. Will
Kymlicka, for example, drew on case studies from debates over the political and legal
rights of First Nations and other minority Canadians to develop a theory of justice
that is at least in part derived from the historical and political realities of multicul-
tural Canada (see, e.g., Kymlicka, 1995,2007). Likewise, the political philosopher
Duncan Ivison (2002) offered a theory of “postcolonial liberalism” to illuminate the
“mutual recrimination and misunderstanding” that characterize the contentious
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Introduction 3
debates between indigenous and nonindigenous Australians. His argument is that a
truly postcolonial Australia will be based on a new social contract that is constituted
by what he calls “both ways” learning, in which indigenous notions that challenge
existing and hegemonic assumptions about “public reason, citizenship, and justice”
are fully integrated into a new political and cultural settlement. Drawing in part
on the work of the political theorist William E. Connolly, Ivison explores the pos-
sibilities of what he calls the “conversation of justice, the framework within which
claims of justice are made, and more importantly, recognized and understood by
others . . . ” (2002:46). This is not just another, perhaps Habermasian, account of jus-
tice, one that simply redirects the analytico-deductive lens from the Platonic ether to
the (still abstract) constitutiveness of the public dialogic encounter. Rather, Ivison is
genuinely concerned to anchor both the conceptual and political analysis of justice
in the “particular [cultural] idiom” in which the meanings of justice emerge as part
of a wider dynamic through which “claims and social movements are propelled
(ornot)upwards...”(2002:46).
Also, it was not only, or most importantly, political theorists who realized that
the changing landscapes of the post–Cold War world demanded new approaches to
the perennial problems of justice. The Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, Luis Moreno-
Ocampo, sought the engagement of a range of academics and practitioners as he
labored to establish a workable normative framework within which the Court could
initiate and successfully prosecute cases in a manner that was sensitive to local cul-
tural and political realities without sacrificing the Court’s essentially universalizing
mission. As Moreno-Ocampo soon realized, what was needed was an ICC that was
both committed to the prosecution of crimes that violated a universal sense of right –
that is, “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a
whole,” as Article 5of the Rome Statute puts it – and responsive to the open, shift-
ing, and often contestatory normative terrains in which the Court was forced to
operate.
In the end, the Chief Prosecutor found an opening in Article 53 of the Statute,
which outlines the conditions under which the Court can decline to begin a prose-
cution. Among these conditions, the Article creates an ambiguous limiting condition
around the “interests of justice.” Its ambiguity derives in equal measure from both
parts of this provision: The Statute neither specifies what kind of interests the Court
should consider, nor the kind of justice on whose behalf these unarticulated inter-
ests should be working. Whereas some commentators have analyzed Article 53 as
an international legal form of prosecutorial discretion (see, e.g., Lovat, 2006), in
fact – as the Chief Prosecutor himself recognizes (see Moreno-Ocampo, 2006) – its
nuances and institutional potential are much greater. The provision “in the interests
of justice” has developed through the opening of four investigations into events in
Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and
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Darfur as a complicated mechanism through which the tensions can be potentially
mediated between an abstract discursive universality and the actual contingencies
and normative multiplicity that characterize the contexts in which the ICC must
investigate and (eventually) prosecute its cases.
This volume is in part a product of the efforts of the Chief Prosecutor to draw
on a range of different perspectives to understand – and, for purposes of the ICC,
operationalize – the multiplicity of justice as it is constituted and reconstituted
discursively, legally, and politically within the emerging geographies of the post–
Cold War. As the former state prosecutor from Argentina who had the most success
in prosecuting members of the Argentine political and military establishment for
crimes and corruption committed during the military dictatorship of 19761983,
Moreno-Ocampo had previously pursued justice as both the enactment of formal
public rituals of punishment and reparation, and the development of procedural
mechanisms through which these public rituals took place. For a civil law prosecutor
like Moreno-Ocampo, justice had always been a more ambiguous synonym for the
rule of law: Are there transparent rules in place? Are they being followed? If not,
is there a system for punishing transgressors and redressing victims? Is this system
fairly and nondiscriminately mobilized? Finally, are there ways in which the system
itself can be dispassionately evaluated and, if necessary, reformed? As the Chief
Prosecutor of the ICC, Moreno-Ocampo discovered from early on that it was simply
not possible to merely adapt this jurisprudential understanding of justice to the
current and emerging sites of ICC engagement.
As part of the collaborative process of reconceptualizing justice in light of the
dilemmas and potentialities of a post–Cold War international criminal justice regime
committed to prosecuting gross violations of human rights and, in the process,
fostering – or, as it were, compelling – the formation of a particular transnational
normative sensibility, the Chief Prosecutor turned to what he describes as the “global
university” (Moreno-Ocampo, 2006). By this he does not necessarily mean actual
institutions the profiles, student bodies, and influence of which extend beyond
national boundaries or particular regional intellectual traditions. Rather, what he
means is that any formal operationalization of a new understanding of justice by the
Court must be preceded by a diffuse but systematically critical engagement, one that
brings together scholars, practitioners, and even potential (or actual) litigants within
auniversitas, or integrated intellectual community, one bound together by its desire
to bring the tools of reflection and critical inquiry to bear on problems that go to the
heart of the Court’s emerging mission. As the particular sliver of this broader global
university that is represented in this volume discovered, however, a paradox looms
over any effort to reimagine the meanings of justice in terms of the growing body
of empirical data on postconflict reconstruction projects, truth and reconciliation
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Introduction 5
commissions, and the interplay between more established transnational normative
regimes like human rights and patterns of local legal and moral practice.
On the one hand, the evidence from the history of the post–Cold War demon-
strates a growing acceptance – including by traditionally recalcitrant actors – of the
relevance and legitimacy of international moral–legal regimes and a willingness
by state actors to ratify and implement international norms at the national level.
Moreover, this recent history also provides evidence of those more ambiguous col-
lective shifts in moral consciousness that mark the globalization of a “culture of
human rights.” Yet within this history, justice continues to serve as a signifier with
more discursive resonance than meaning. It hovers always in the background, appar-
ently framing, for example, the promotion of human rights as a sociopolitical goal,
as a description of a still-unrealized global landscape in which universal human
rights provide the set of superordinate norms that both define and circumscribe
ideal human relationships. Also, because the recent emergence of an expanding
global cultural sphere of human rights represents the historical actualization of at
least a part of the post–Second World War’s utopian project, it is not difficult to
find either the will or intellectual energy to likewise try and reestablish the mean-
ings of justice and newly examine their normative potentialities. In other words,
the kind of “global university” for which the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor has devoted
so much of his own good will and energy is one that many scholars are eager to
develop.
On the other hand, many of the magistrorum et scholarium of this global university
are committed to the reestablishment of justice on grounds that are at least partly
suffused with the lessons of the empirical. Indeed, this has been the most important
and radical dimension to the Chief Prosecutor’s desire to incorporate the academic
voice into the ongoing development of the ICC’s vision: the emphasis on contri-
butions from scholars and practitioners whose reflections on justice are anchored
in the contradictions and contingencies of normative practice. It is no coincidence,
therefore, that anthropologists comprise a majority of the contributors to the cur-
rent volume. Anthropologists have been tracking the multiplicity of justice on the
post–Cold War terrain with sensitivity and ethnographic care; nevertheless, we must
emphasize that this book is not an assertion of disciplinary prerogative. In fact, it is
the epistemological privileging of normative practice that makes the broader effort
to reconceptualize justice so paradoxical. To draw out implications is to generalize,
to go beyond the case studies that form the heart of this book. As we will see, much of
what is to be learned here casts doubt on any overly abstracted notion of justice. The
task, in other words, is to find a way beyond this paradox, to envision a framework for
understanding justice that is theoretically substantive enough to serve as a basis for
institutional action, but which does not do conceptual violence to what the growing
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body of ethnographic research on normative practices reveals to persons – like the
Chief Prosecutor of the ICC – who take it seriously.
In the next sections of this Introduction, we develop the book’s main theoretical
claims. We use the metaphor of the mirror to explain the different ways in which jus-
tice must be understood in part reflectively, as a discursive category that both repro-
duces and shapes cultural, political, and ideological imperatives at the same time it
distorts – or refracts – them. In demonstrating both the reflective properties of justice,
the book’s chapters are subdivided along axes that show how the ethnographic and
otherwise empirical encounter with justice’s multiplicity leads to three key points
of conceptual emphasis: the importance of international law and legal practice –
including human rights – in constituting a reflective understanding of justice; the
interplay between international and transnational normative regimes for which jus-
tice is a primary objective, and the more localized processes from which the all-
important narratives of everyday life emerge; and, finally, the ways in which the new
multiplicities of justice shed light on the importance of memory and the politics of
history in the wake of the post–Cold War “sea-change in global politics” and the
instances of profound disrupture that it engendered.
MIRRORS OF JUSTICE
In her analysis of the “disjunctures between global law and local justice” (2006a),
Sally Engle Merry captures the essential predicament for those interested in recon-
ceptualizing the meanings of justice in light of what we have learned over the last
twenty years from empirical studies of postconflict reconstruction processes, the
emergence of human rights as “the archetypal language of democratic transition”
(Wilson, 2001:1), and the creation and functioning of an international legal system
that is playing an increasingly important social role within many of the contemporary
world’s most significant sites of collective trauma and reconciliation. As she explains,
the presence of international legal and human rights institutions is structured by “a
particular vision of social justice [that is] based on a neoliberal privileging of choice
rather than alternatives that could be more community-based or focused on socialist
or religious conceptions of justice. These gaps between global visions of justice and
specific visions in local contexts create a fundamental dilemma . . .” (2006a: 103).
Merry goes on to show in rich ethnographic detail the ways in which the partic-
ular normative visions that motivate the activities of international institutions and
their transnational collaborators are “vernacularized” by legal and political actors
in the course of ongoing battles over cultural or national identity, the control over
economic resources, and efforts to redefine gender relations. To vernacularize in
this sense does not mean to simply translate dominant international normative con-
ceptions into local cultural and linguistic terms. Rather, as she develops more fully
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Introduction 7
elsewhere (2006b), the encounter between international and transnational normativ-
ities and local legal and moral visions – an encounter that takes place in a discursive
space she calls “the middle” (see also Goodale, 2007) – is essentially constitutive.
What is produced, in the case of the vernacularization of a treaty like the Convention
on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), is
a new but necessarily contingent account of human rights that bears the traces of
multiple, cross-cutting, and often disparate discursive influences, including interna-
tional human rights law, the more allusive human rights advocacy of transnational
actors, national human rights legislation, and the often intentionally essentialized
self-representations associated with particular cultural traditions.
In other words, the particular strand of human rights consciousness that is cre-
ated in the course of, for example, the debate over Fiji’s first country report under
CEDAW, is a discursive hybrid that is both greater and different than its parts. More-
over, the many different vernacularized normativities that Merry tracks within the
ambiguous middle spaces in which the international and transnational discursive
rubber meets the winding local road are both interconnected and dynamic. This
means that the account of human rights that is produced within debates over the
reform of personal laws in India resonates with the account of human rights produced
at roughly the same time in Hong Kong through a campaign by national activists to
revise a domestic violence law (Merry, 2006a). Each of these many interconnected
accounts of human rights is also essentially dynamic: The meanings of their com-
ponent parts shift and recombine depending on the issue for which human rights
is mobilized; movements in the broader political economies within which different
vernacularized accounts of human rights are embedded can diminish or amplify
them; and, perhaps most important, the relationship between a particular account
of human rights in the vernacular and other discursive hybrids that are constituted
and reconstituted in the same social spaces also changes, so that – again, drawing
from Merry – in China human rights and social justice coexist differently at different
moments in China’s contested present.
These lessons from the recent anthropology of human rights are significant for
any efforts to try and understand the multiplicity of justice (see also Clarke, 2009;
Dembour, 2006; Dembour and Kelly, 2007; Englund, 2006; Goodale, 2009; Goodale
and Merry, 2007; Slyomovics, 2005; Speed, 2008;Tate,2007; Wilson, 2001). First, if
it is true that transnational normativities in the vernacular retain what Merry calls a
set of “core” meanings even as they also are constituted within “culturally resonant
packaging” (2006a: 137), it is also true that the expression of these core meanings
in actual legal, political, and moral practice is fundamentally unpredictable. This
lesson is indeed a basic one of intellectual histories of all kinds: As ideas enter the
currents of history, and spread beyond those from which they originally emerged,
they become decontextualized and then unpredictably recontextualized. The new
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8Mark Goodale and Kamari Maxine Clarke
context is not sui generis, however, but the meaning and resonance of ideas like
“dignity,” “liberty,” and “autonomy” open up in practice in ways that show them to
be variations on a core theme the essential meaning of which has been transformed.
A powerful example of this unpredictability can be found in Harri Englund’s study
of human rights in Malawi (2006). As he shows, transnational human rights non-
governmental organizations (NGOs) and their national partners made “freedom” a
framing discourse within ongoing struggles to reform Malawi’s economy and deliver
needed services to its poorest citizens. The problem was both that the commitment to
freedom came to dominate public debate and thus took the place of actual political
and economic reform, and also that the meaning of freedom was recontextualized
within Malawi’s postcolonial history in ways that made it susceptible to strategic
manipulation by the country’s ruling elite.
Second, the study of human rights practices demonstrates how fundamentally
important what we might call moral agents are in the process of vernacularizing
transnational normativities. Despite the concerns by some scholars (e.g, Hern´
andez-
Truyol, 2002) that the post–Cold War has been marked by a kind of “moral impe-
rialism” as the foot soldiers of liberalism take their message of freedom and human
dignity “where governments are not so anxious for it” (quoted in Korey, 1998), in
fact it is the legions of peasant intellectuals, provincial rights activists, jailhouse
lawyers, indigenous political leaders, and others who drive the process of vernacu-
larization. This moral agency is complicated and often ambiguous, and its motives
are as diverse as the agents themselves, but it gives the lie to persons who might view
the normative geographies of the post–Cold War through conventional analyses of
geopolitical power. Take, for example, Shannon Speed’s ethnography of the vernac-
ularization of human rights in Chiapas (2008). Not only do indigenous Zapatista
political and social leaders self-consciously draw from the swirl of prevailing collec-
tive rights discourses in ways that are both strategic and entirely self-aware, they also,
in the process, articulate a self-consciously alternative theory of human rights, one
in which rights are both derived from indigenous cultural practice (not transhuman
universality) and legitimate only to the extent that they can be effectively exercised
within actual political struggles.
Finally, the anthropology of human rights provides a framework for understanding
the vernacularization of transnational normativities comparatively: That is, what can
be said about the post–Cold War’s normative terrains at the most general level?
Despite the essential unpredictability of recontextualization, and even with local
moral agents directing the process of vernacularization well beyond anything that
could have been contemplated by the initially directive set of international and
transnational actors, when we survey the contemporary global-normative landscape
we must conclude that it is characterized by a circumscribed pluralism.Bythis
we mean that an entirely different kind of “legal pluralism” has been forged over
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Introduction 9
the last twenty years. This legal pluralism is not the one that anthropologists have
documented and analyzed so thoroughly, in which multiple legal systems coexist
for people in the same social (Moore, 1973,1986) and ideational (Santos, 1987,1995)
spaces, whether because of a weakness of state institutions, because of the presence
of preexisting “customary law,” or because it is in the nature of legal-as-normative
systems within contemporary nation-states to eventually fragment into several “semi-
autonomous” fields of norm-making and enforcement.
Rather, the globalization of human rights and other transnational normative dis-
courses has begun to reconfigure the geographies of law by both compressing the gap
between law and nonlegal normativities (especially morality), and horizontalizing
the relationship between legal orders through the universalizing rhetorics of rights,
equality, and, as this book reveals, justice (see also Clarke, 2009). If the vernacu-
larization of these rhetorics creates, as we have argued, a kind of post–Cold War
normative pluralism that exists in those middle spaces between the global and the
local, it is a pluralism that is circumscribed by the demands of local moral agents as
much as by the transnational norms from which they draw (Clarke, 2009). We must
be clear that we are not arguing here that the normative landscapes of the post–Cold
War are becoming homogenous or “flattened” in the way that globalization gurus
like Jeffrey Sachs and Thomas Friedman (in their respective ways) have argued. As
the comparative study of rights and justice in practice has demonstrated, the actual
ways in which local political and social struggles can be articulated through the
process of vernacularization are constricted by the limited range of logics present
in transnational normative discourse; at the same time, the meanings of “human
rights” and “justice” for local actors take on significance only in the course of actual
political and social struggles, only through the process of vernacularization.
A recent volume of case studies and critical analysis of the practice of human rights
provides particularly compelling support for the idea of a circumscribed pluralism
(Goodale and Merry, 2007). The chapters cover a wide geographical and discursive
range, from the conflict between human rights and citizen security in contemporary
Bolivia to debates over the role of human rights in the drafting of a new constitution
in Swaziland. Yet what emerges from this empirical diversity is the fact that in the
post–Cold War period patterns have emerged in the way grievances are articulated,
collective memory is constructed, and moral identity is constituted (or contested)
(Clarke, 2009). These are patterns that can only be discerned through what is
contingent about each site of normative vernacularization, whether it is the interplay
between Buddhist, western/secular, and nationalist conceptions of the person in
Nepal (Leve, 2007), the tensions between human rights discourse and “indigenous
culture” in Colombia (Jackson, 2007), or the apprehension (and misapprehension)
by activists and victims of major new rights instruments like the 2000 United
Nations (UN) Human Trafficking Protocol (Protocol To Prevent, Suppress And
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Punish Trafficking In Persons, Especially Women And Children, Supplementing
The United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime; Warren,
2007).
Each of these insights from the study of human rights practices – unpredictability,
the importance of moral agency, and the emergence of a circumscribed pluralism –
also can be gleaned from the chapters in the current volume and, more broadly,
can be used to help us understand justice as distinct constellations of ideological,
social, and political practices over the last twenty years. Nevertheless, as the chapters
in the volume also demonstrate, there are key differences between justice and other
transnational normative discourses in the post–Cold War, and it is in marking these
differences that the volume’s most far-reaching implications are to be found. First,
justice does not stand in a coequal relationship with human rights as one among
several transnational normativities. This problem is one of the most frustrating for
persons tracking these transnational discourses empirically: How do justice and
human rights exist in relation to each other in comparative practice, and how is
this relationship to be understood theoretically? Transnational actors often promote
justice and human rights as if they were conjoined normative twins, as in “our NGO
works around the world for the protection of basic human rights and justice,” but
equally often, justice is offered as a vague characterization of some future end-state
toward which the present realization of human rights protections under law and a
corresponding diffusion of a “culture of human rights” are the desired means. We
think that on this question the chapters in the volume demonstrate that justice is
functioning discursively in most cases as an ever-receding and ever-shrouded social
ideal, rather than as an alternative normative orientation characterized by a set of
concrete expectations and practices.
Second, the chapters in the volume underscore the ways in which as a discourse
justice is formally contextual. This is obviously not to say that all discourse – nor-
mative or not, transnational or not – is not contextual in some sense, but justice is
contextual in a way that human rights is not, and this difference further distinguishes
the comparative emergence and praxis of justice over the last twenty years. Indeed,
on this point, human rights must be seen as the exact opposite of justice. Human
rights norms are formally universal: Their jurisprudential and social meanings are
initially established and articulated through the identifiable body of international
instruments produced through the international treaty drafting and ratification pro-
cess; human rights norms are highly specific as to form (rights) and content (the right
to life, bodily integrity, etc.); and, most importantly, human rights norms are meant
to be immune from substantive interpretation based on historical, cultural, political,
and other contingent factors. Even though, as we have seen, this formal universality
is profoundly transfigured as it is globalized along the networks of transnational
advocacy and then, most importantly, vernacularized in the course of ongoing social
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... This narrative about Amsterdam's history of openness and diversity is something NGOs seem to have less interest in. Goodale and Clarke (2010) argue that human rights language is often mobilized as a means to articulate grievances, to construct a collective memory and to construe and contest moral identities. I would agree, but add that most actors only focus on some of these points. ...
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This paper discusses local engagements with human rights norms in Amsterdam, in the context of responses to irregular migration. Specifically, the article studies the local government’s development of a human rights agenda and reflects how this aligns with or contradicts (1) the local government’s program for irregular migrants and (2) NGO initiatives in the realm of human rights and irregular migrants. In 2016 the municipality of Amsterdam launched an “Amsterdam Human Rights Agenda” and (irregular) migration is not mentioned, while the local government does have a progressive program for irregular migrants. Simultaneously, several NGOs contest the municipality for their approach towards irregular migrants, at times using human rights language. Analysis of stakeholder interviews, city council meetings and policy documents reveal the conflicting approaches that urban actors have towards human rights. The language of rights gives weight to claims of NGOs, precisely because of its legal dimension. Contrastingly, in the human rights agenda the municipality mainly refers to rights in their moral sense and refrains from legal language. Concrete issues that are already on the political agenda become labelled as human rights problems. Therefore, this article deliberates whether this undermines the possible strength of human rights as an urban governance framework.
... Some of the activists even opposed defi ning their work through the word "rights, " which they associated with "helping the Palestinians, " preferring instead to use terms such as "justice" and even "helping the weak. " As Goodale and Clarke (2010) assert, the concept of justice is more politically evasive than the concept of human rights. Th e activists at Yedid thereby adopted "apolitical social activism, " a deeply rooted concept in Israel that is evident in various arenas in the country (Golan and Orr 2012;Golan and Shalhoub-Kevorkian 2014;Orr 2011;Shenhav 2013). ...
... See, for a different approach to the relationship between law and culture with respect to quotidian life, Sarat, Kearns (1995). 76 See Inoue (2004), Goodale and Clarke (2010), and for further bibliographical references on this topic, . 77 I addressed the difference between hierarchical/top-down approaches and horizontal/intercultural uses of human rights specifically in Ricca (2014a); but see above, too, spec. ...
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