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The dilemma of a liberal human rights lawyer is this: one both believes in and doubts human rights. No wonder, for human rights are ambivalent. As positive legal enactments, they are the result of political bargaining that speak the concrete and verifiable language of rules; yet they also hold an intangible promise of universal good that is not reducible to a particular political community, time or place, but reaches beyond the text of enacted rules, evoking their cosmopolitan purpose. This dual nature makes human rights strong and accounts for their extraordinary appeal. But it also makes the practice of human rights a fundamentally liberal exercise in irresolution.
This new work seeks to offer a critical, albeit sympathetic, exploration of the conditions for practising and enforcing human rights in a world steeped in ambivalence. Through an historical narrative it first unravels the liberal tension that inheres in rights, and then moves on to examine the case law of the European Court of Human Rights to illustrate how the tension compels a choice in the exercise of rights. In the final part, the tension and the choice in rights is analysed within the realm of humanitarian violence. This is the realm of the tension - and the choice - between the hope and the fear of the liberal world.