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Human rights and root causes

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The human rights movement has traditionally focused on documenting abuses, rather than attempting to explain them. In recent years, however, the question of the 'root causes' of violations has emerged as a key issue in human rights work. The present article examines this new (or newly insistent) discourse of root causes. While valuable, it is shown to have significant limitations. It foreshortens the investigation of causes; it treats effects as though they were causes; and it identifies causes only to put them aside. With these points in mind, the article counterposes an alternative approach in which the orienting concept is not root causes, but 'planned misery'.

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