The Challenge of Human Rights
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The Challenge of Human Rights

Past, Present and Future

Edited by David Keane and Yvonne McDermott

The Challenge of Human Rights takes a detailed and exploratory approach to topics across the field of human rights, and seeks to map a path for future research and policy development.
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Chapter 10: Third World Approaches to International Law and the Ghosts of Apartheid

John Reynolds


John Reynolds The concept and practice of apartheid was central to the post-war evolution of international law as a site of contestation between imperial interests and anti-imperial discourse, and as a rallying call for the international human rights movement and global solidarity action. This essay glances back at the recent history of international law through the looking glass of apartheid, and argues for the continuing relevance of its prohibition. The prohibition of apartheid serves both as a reminder of the role played by former colonized nations in the development of legal doctrine, and as a potentially valuable normative and analytical framework in situations where segregation and institutionalized racial discrimination persist or re-emerge. 1. INTERNATIONAL LEGAL IMPERIALISM When we as historians, legal scholars or statesmen/women cast our minds back to the beginning of the United Nations era and the new dawn of human rights protection that it aspired to, our accounts tend to be tinged with nostalgia and awe. Nostalgia for the hope and potential of a new and improved global order emerging from the ashes of almighty death and destruction; awe of the visionaries and paragons who would lead us out of the shadows of war and totalitarianism, towards the twin beacons of peace and human rights. The occasions on which we have lost sight of those beacons in the decades that have followed – and there have been many – are put down to various structural obstacles and procedural flaws that festered within: the political permafrost that kept the two dominant...

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