Savages, Victims, and Saviors: The Metaphor of Human Rights

46 Pages Posted: 19 Dec 2009

Date Written: 2001


This article critically looks at the human rights project as a damning three-dimensional metaphor that exposes multiple complexes. It argues that the grand narrative of human rights contains a subtext which depicts an epochal contest pitting savages, on the one hand, against victims and saviors, on the other. The savages-victims-saviors (SVS) construction lays bare some of the hypocrisies of the human rights project and asks human rights thinkers and advocates to become more self-reflective. The piece questions the universality and cultural neutrality of the human rights project. It calls for the construction of a truly universal human rights corpus, one that is multicultural, inclusive, and deeply political.

Keywords: Savages, victims, saviors, metaphor, culture. Non-Western, ideology, barbarism, liberalism

Suggested Citation

Mutua, Makau, Savages, Victims, and Saviors: The Metaphor of Human Rights (2001). Harvard International Law Journal, Vol. 42, No. 1, pp. 201-245, 2001, Available at SSRN:

Makau Mutua (Contact Author)

SUNY Buffalo Law School ( email )

626 O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States
716 645-2311 (Phone)

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