The Beginning of Human Rights: The Ritual of the Preamble to Law

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.

This content is restricted to site members. If you are an existing user, please login. New users may click here to subscribe.

Existing Users Log In