Human rights organisations (HROs) are the principal arbiters of the social problems that are documented and decried as human rights issues. They do so, however, within specific contexts, and through lenses that render some social and political problems more visible and amenable to human rights advocacy than others. This article examines the case of a controversial atrocity denial law passed in Cambodia in 2013 to reflect on how rights-based organisations think about and intervene in the social and political worlds that they inhabit. The law was a response to statements from an opposition leader that questioned the authenticity and ‘staging’ of a key site of atrocities perpetrated under the Khmer Rouge (1975–1979), circumscribing the opposition’s ability to tap popular strands of anti-Vietnamese feeling. Rights groups, in theory, were confronted with a classical dilemma within human rights: the curtailment of free expression against the potential harm of hate speech. I situate the responses of HROs in context and explore three questions about the work and worldviews of HROs: the politicisation of human rights techniques and interventions; the (in)visibility of forms of structural violence in relief of abuses by the state; and the solubility of rights-based advocacy within prevailing populisms.
- Civil society
- Human rights
- Khmer Rouge
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science