Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2011

Publication Citation

18 Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 41 (2011)


After the Helsinki Accords, the collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire, and the collapse of states in Africa and elsewhere, many in the West have come to envisage the enforcement of human rights as a practical matter. Human rights are thus incorporated in normative regimes under the rubrics of either the rule of law or the responsibility to protect to be held against the purveyors of violence. I do not discount the normative underpinnings of the related stands taken today by states and transnational and national civil society organizations. I wish to insist on the futility of envisaging human rights merely as legal standards and norms and on the need to revisit the question of the human on whom rights are bestowed. The present article is an exercise in historical and comparative analysis of what human rights meant to Haitian slaves in the eighteenth century when, as happened in France and the United States, notions of human rights emanated in a constitutional scheme intended to protect the newly freed slaves against violence from the prevailing post- Enlightenment political, economic, and ideological systems-all of which had been integral to the processes of enslavement. It is my contention that, like Haitian slaves, anti-colonialists and some postcolonial entities found liberal human rights schemes to be equally implicated in modern violence and therefore responded by proposing novel grounds for imagining human rights outside of the strictures of liberal constitutionalism.

Human Rights and Legal Systems Across the Global South, Symposium, Indiana University Maurer School of Law, Bloomington, Indiana. 9-10 April 2010.