Skip to main content


Metaphors can help advocates and scholars to understand the complicated practice of claiming human rights. So far, drawing on studies from related literatures–from critical rights scholarship, critical race theory and the socio-legal study of public interest lawyering – metaphors have helped to describe and celebrate human rights advocacy. They have also provided a trenchant critique. The “rights as myths” metaphor endures for its shorthand description of how rights beguile socially disadvantaged groups with the false promise of a legal remedy for their grievances, if only they articulate them as rights. The “double-edgedness” and “dark sides” of rights are also metaphors, which highlight the ability of rights claims to be pursued by many different and opposing interests. The dark side of rights results in the demobilization of some groups, and the crowding out of the perspective of others. Finally, the compound-metaphor of the “savage/victim/savior” highlights the Western origins and colonial heritage of human rights. These critical metaphors help us to predict the missteps and errors of human rights advocacy, in the United States and elsewhere.


File nameDate UploadedVisibilityFile size
11 Nov 2022
218 kB



  • Subject
    • Human Rights Law

  • Journal title
    • Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights

  • Volume
    • 9

  • Issue
    • 1

  • Pagination
    • 27-58

  • Date submitted

    11 November 2022