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Lecture | Contemporary History and International Relations Research Seminar

The Problems of Genocide: Permanent Security and the Language of Transgression

Date
Thursday 6 February 2020
Time
Series
Contemporary History and International Relations Research Seminar (CHIRRS) year 2019-2020
Location
van Wijkplaats
Van Wijkplaats 2
2311 BX Leiden
Room
002

This paper contends that genocide is a problem: not only the terrible fact of mass death, but also how the relatively new idea and law of genocide organises and distorts our thinking about civilian (that is, non-combatant) destruction. Taking the normative perspective of civilian immunity from military attack that international law and norms ostensibly prioritize, this book argues that their implicit hierarchy, atop which sits genocide as the “crime of crimes,” blinds us to other types of humanly caused civilian death, like bombing cities and the “collateral damage” of missile and drone strikes. It also contends that mass civilian death caused by genocides, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and even by the bombing of ostensibly military targets permitted by international law, are the consequence of “permanent security” imperatives. The argument casts doubt on the belief that adjustments in the international system can solve the problems of genocide. Given the popularity of the comparison between the campaigns to abolish slavery in the nineteenth century and to banish the “scourge of genocide” today, I address those who believe in the right of (usually Western) intervention to effect the latter: in other words, many liberal and conservative political scientists, legal scholars, politicians, and activists. To them I say: if we want to promote the norm of “never again”—namely, stopping the killing of lots of people—then we need to think about the problems of genocide above and beyond genocide prevention activism.

About the speaker

Dirk Moses is a senior fellow at the Lichtenberg-Kolleg at the University of Göttingen and professor of modern history at the University of Sydney. He is the author and editor of publications on genocide, intellectual and global history, and memory studies. His book, The Problems of Genocide, will appear in late 2020. He is senior editor of the Journal of Genocide Research.

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