Universiteit Leiden

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Writing Human Rights in Indonesian Colonial Literature

  • Paul Bijl
9 februari 2017
Kamerlingh Onnes Gebouw
Steenschuur 25
2311 ES Leiden

Human rights are mostly seen as Euro-American gifts to the non-Western world that, if not accepted gracefully, can also be brought with military force. Asian and African thought on human rights is usually neglected. In this lecture, I show that Indonesians living with the Dutch colonial project wrote critically on particularly the racism of Dutch colonial law and imaginatively rewrote conceptions of human rights that were circulating transnationally during the first half of the twentieth century.

Scholarly work on legal history in colonial Indonesia (1816-1942) has focused on the various legal projects — European, indigenous and Islamic — in this Dutch colony and on individual rights struggles by Europeans. Through an analysis of Kartini’s letters (1899-1904) and Sutan Sjahrir’s Indonesian Contemplations (published in Dutch as Indonesische overpeizingen in 1945), this lecture starts to answer a different question, namely how Indonesians living with the Dutch colonial project have themselves written about their legal positioning, and specifically about individual rights. 

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