The Feminist Expansion of the Prohibition of Torture: Towards a Post-Liberal International Human Rights Law?
Cornell International Law Journal (2019 Forthcoming)
30 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2018 Last revised: 20 Aug 2018
Date Written: July 17, 2018
International human rights law (IHRL), discourse and activism have been the subject of well-known critiques. Two categories of critique are closely linked to the liberal ideology underlying the human rights project, and point to the project's limited ability to further profound change. The "critique of justification" exposes the field's formalist argumentative practices, which struggle to justify proposed normative solutions. The "critique of representation" highlights the narrow ways in which injustice and violence are portrayed, denounced and addressed in international human rights discourse. These weaknesses are all the more troubling in the contemporary populist authoritarian era. Yet contrary to many critical scholars who advocate abandoning the human rights discourse, this article argues that it is possible to transform the discursive practices of IHRL so as to be more convincing and better address structural inequalities. It does so by analyzing the discursive practices of the feminist campaign to frame domestic violence as a form of torture, an explicit attempt to release the prohibition of torture, a central norm of IHRL, from the constraints of liberalism. While the discourse of domestic violence as torture reproduces some of the problematic features of better-known feminist engagements with international law, it also suggests IHRL's potential for profound reform, both at the level of justification and representation.
Keywords: international human rights law, torture, feminism, domestic violence, critique of human rights
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