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International human rights have become an important global norm that has increasingly been incorporated into international law and global conventions. Human rights are a key reference point of mobilizations by diverse groups and international nongovernmental organization (INGOs) in global publics and global civil society. And human rights are also often critically appropriated by domestic and transnational political struggles of political activists and dissidents. Yet human rights are also used and abused by regimes, global (legal, economic, and political) institutions, and powerful corporate interests stabilizing a profoundly injust global social order. Drawing from Frankfurt School theorizing and critically examining more recent discussions among theorists partly indebted to this tradition (Benhabib, Forst), this chapter reflects on contemporary human rights debates and their meaning for critical cosmopolitan theory and politics today. It is argued that contemporary critical theory offers an important lens to situate human rights in global and local social and material conditions while recognizing human rights as a tool in struggles for political freedom and global social justice.
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