Abstract: There is something distinctly ritualistic about the Preamble in international human rights instruments: in its repetitiveness both within and across legal instruments; in its logical ordering of the universe, connecting what has gone before (‘whereas’: human nature, crisis, recognition) with what must follow (‘therefore’: the law, this law); in its very style and representation. This suggests that the Preamble is more than a literally useful passage at the start of the text for lawyers to get to the law, but also something like a rite of passage, a performative calling-forth of ‘what goes before’ so that universal human rights might follow. This paper examines what such a reading of the Preamble in international human rights law as a ritual might reveal about universal human rights, and what it might reveal about the ‘problem’ of human rights ritual/ism.
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In our new issue we feature Joseph Massad’s piece arguing against self-determination. Also in this issue are essays on human rights and promise making, colonial officials and international development, humanitarian neutrality, and Catholic human rights doctrine. The issue rounds off with a review essay on archives, memory and dictatorship.View entire issue >
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