"Western liberals were widely perceived as ‘false friends’, as Conor Cruise O’Brien reported from Africa in the 1960s, and liberalism itself as an ‘ingratiating moral mask which a toughly acquisitive society wears before the world it robs’. Distrust of the Western discourse of human rights was likewise constant and deep. The Indonesian thinker Soedjatmoko challenged its presumption of universal morality, pointing to the global inequalities perpetuated by the champions of human rights. Arundhati Roy spoke in 2004 of an ‘alarming shift of paradigm’: ‘Even among the well-intentioned, the expansive, magnificent concept of justice is gradually being substituted with the reduced, far more fragile discourse of “human rights”’ – a minimalist request, basically, not to be killed, tortured or unjustly imprisoned. As a result, she argued ‘resistance movements in poor countries … view human rights NGOs as modern-day missionaries,’ complicit in the West’s attempt to impose an ‘unjust political and economic structure on the world’."

The mask it wears