Human rights, political discourse, hegemony, US foreign policy


Official US discourse claims US leadership and benevolence in promoting human rights worldwide. But US action on human rights is more complicated and paradoxical. My aim is to problematize “human rights” in particular discursive contexts in order to discover what is encompassed by this set of concepts and how the discourse about human rights exposes the relations of ruling (Smith 1990). I examine the discourse of the powerful, i.e., the US State Department in its Annual Country Reports on Human Rights. The repetition of facts, assertions, and ideas by a hegemonic institution constructs a reality that is difficult to counter. Several overarching themes run through State Department discourse that reflect core national ideologies of the United States: 1) American values as universal values; 2) the United States as a benevolent member of the human rights community; and 3) the United States as a world leader in human rights. The US stance on human rights is frequently a servant to its own security and strategic interests, including the neoliberal global project.