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22 Pages

Introduction: repopulating state violence andhumanrights

BySTEFFEN JENSEN, ANDREW M. JEFFERSON

Is there a legitimate political space for the questioning of human rights? How can we understand the relationship between rights-based interventions and (illegitimate) state violence? These are questions that haunt – or should haunt – institutions and agencies engaged in practices of state-violence reform and the prevention of torture and organized violence, as well as scholars engaged in understanding state violence and human-rights interventions. Yet, from our experience and position within a rights-based organization, the immediate answer to the former question seems to be a hesitant no; the questioning of human rights is sometimes construed as tantamount to heresy. However, it would be wrong to make too hasty a judgement on this matter. Whilst it may well be correct that critique of human rights is frowned upon within organizations committed to the eradication of torture and organized violence and the promotion of human rights, it is certainly not entirely proscribed, even within such organizations. In addition, a growing number of scholarly works are engaging critically with rights discourse and practice (e.g. Goodale and Merry 2007; Wilson 2006; Dembour 2006; Rajagopal 2003). This volume resembles such studies, as it endeavours to further open spaces for critical analysis. Our point of departure is that dialogue about the way state practices and reform practices intertwine and are understood is necessary. Scholars, practitioners and policy makers need to understand how, for instance, state officials make sense of their own violent practices and of human rights interventions. Similarly, we need to understand how intervention practices operate in specific, situated contexts.