chapter  9
10 Pages

Commentary: The piggy-in-the-middle


This volume represents a serious critique of the human rights discourse, drawing on a variety of empirical work. In that sense, it is a little like a turkey facing Christmas or Thanksgiving, for such a critique verges on the heretical, when one considers that human rights standards have been totemic in creating a vision of Utopia. The discourse is at the forefront of Western programmes to developing countries, and has been the dominant ideology penetrating practices of both Western states and non-governmental organizations. Its benign protagonists can rarely be criticized for their intent. However, not all recipients of aid under the human rights motif may regard it as a bearer of benefits. In particular, those entrusted with the duty of delivering on its promises, the street-level functionaries of transitional/developing societies,1 as well as the local communities to whom they are obligated, may be correctly suspicious of human rights impositions. As each chapter in this volume demonstrates, those functionaries face major dilemmas when everyday work practices cannot deliver formally on the human rights manifesto.