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Human And Ethnic Rights In Democratic Transition, Vol. 7 - 2000, No. 1

Human Rights in Transition: Violence and Universalism after Kosovo

, pages: 71-80

The legitimisation of the intervention of the west in Kosovo by references to human rights has brought to the surface an inherent problem of universal human rights: the tension between the intention to reduce violence and the claim to universality. This legitimisation of violence on the basis of a universalistic ethical code meant that there was no space from which an effective opposition to the intervention could be argued. The Kosovo war has therefore strengthened the view that violence is in some cases "inevitable," while the disappearance of the opposition has created a new type of "total war." This could mean that human rights are losing their power of de-legitimising violence, and are being transformed into a coinage of power politics. The paper discusses how human rights could be re-thought in such a way that they can de-legitimise violence even when a new strong and "universal" foundation is no longer possible. Referring to the work of Gianni Vattimo, the paper discusses the problem of violence as a manifestation of the metaphysical tradition of western thinking and its quest for secure foundations. It argues that human rights as a reduction of violence must be thought post-metaphysically and proposes an understanding and practice of human rights located between the nihilistic hermeneutics of Gianni Vattimo and the neo-pragmatism of Richard Rorty. This understanding of human rights could de-legitimise the new type of organised violence born during the Kosovo war, and allow an understanding of democratic transition beyond the model of a "catching-up process."

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