Discursive alignment of trafficking, rights and crime control

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Since the 1990s, human trafficking has become the battleground for competing discourses on human rights and penality. While rights solutions are generally presented as in opposition to crime-control measures, in the context of anti-trafficking interventions, rights-based initiatives and criminal governance are often linked together both discursively and in practice. Drawing on the findings of Discourse Analysis of 120 texts about trafficking, this paper explores how dominant discourses and alternative voices construct the relationship between human rights and penality. It is contended that penality is framed as a crucial tenet of human rights. Dominant discourses (the ‘law enforcement’ and the ‘victims first’ discourses) link human rights to state coercive action, seen as a necessary component of their effectiveness. Alternative voices (the ‘incompatibility’ and the ‘transformative justice’ discourses) reject the appropriateness of penal intervention, but they end up preserving what they denounce.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)122-142
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Law in Context
Issue number2
Early online date27 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023

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© The Author(s), 2022.

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