First Anniversary of hhr-blog

It is exactly one year ago that we have started our blog on the history of humanitarianism and human rights. In our first blog post we wondered where our idea will lead us…




Ever since we have invited academics around the world to join us in creating this kind of online network to articulate ideas, to exchange information, to present perspectives from different backgrounds, and to share the same interest in these prospering fields of historical research.

We have received an overwhelming positive response from our colleagues and thanks to their manifold contribution hhr-blog has attracted so far the interest of more than 22000 people around the world. At the moment over 2500 readers are visiting hhr-blog every month!

On this occasion we would like to say thank you very much to all of your contributions and your interest in reading our blog.

We will keep on posting and hope you will stay with us!

Best regards,

Fabian Klose and Johannes Paulmann

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Film Presentation and Discussion: “NUR LEICHTE KÄMPFE IM RAUM DA NANG” (1970), by HANS-DIETER GRABE

The Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz is organizing a public presentation of the documentary “NUR LEICHTE KÄMPFE IM RAUM DA NANG” (1970) by Hans-Dieter Grabe on Tuesday, 15th April 2014, at 05:00 p.m.



This award winning documentary focuses on the suffering of civilians and the humanitarian aid campaign of the German hospital ship “Helgoland” during the Vietnam War. The film presentation will be followed by a discussion with Hans-Dieter Grabe, the director of the film and a former editor of the ZDF (German Television Broadcasting), about the visualization of human suffering and the manifold relations between media, humanitarian aid, and crisis in the 1970s.

The entrance is free and guests are welcome!

You find additional information at the IEG website:


Dr. Bernhard Gißibl


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Dutch Imperial Past Returns to Haunt the Netherlands

Paul Doolan
University of Zurich and Zurich International School

Cross-posted from


In July 2012 a Dutch national newspaper, de Volkskrant, published two photos on its front page showing Dutch soldiers brutally shooting and killing unarmed victims in a mass grave. The images were shocking to a nation that prides itself as being upright and humanitarian. Never mind that the photos were nearly 70 years old. Found in a rubbish tip, they were, in fact, the first ever photos to be published of Dutch soldiers killing Indonesians during a war of decolonization that is still euphemistically referred to as a “Police Action.”

De Volskrant

Photos in De Volkskrant, 10 July 2012.

Why did it take so long for such images to reach the public?

Just a month earlier Dutch TV news, as well as national newspapers, had reported that three leading Dutch historical research institutes were calling upon the Dutch government to allocate funds in order to initiate a major research project to uncover what had happened in the Dutch East Indies during the period of decolonization, 1945-1949. The government decided, perhaps not all that surprisingly, to do no such thing. In an interview in December 2013, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Frans Timmermans, had to defend his change of heart, because as a member of Parliament he had supported the call for a full-scale investigation into Dutch atrocities. However, once appointed minister, he quickly changed his mind. He now claimed that such research would “bring harm to our relationship with Indonesia. And that is not in the Dutch interest.”[1] In other words, business comes before coming to terms with Dutch decolonization.

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United Nations History Project and Human Rights

The United Nations and international organizations in general are a growing field of historical interest and research. The United Nations History Project coordinated by Heidi J. S. Tworek, Lecturer on History and Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies at Harvard University, provides a great starting point for every scholar who wants to research in UN archives and seeks to find online materials related to the United Nations. The website collates various research guides concerning the United Nations, offers syllabi and teaching material on UN topics as well as timelines, bibliographies and various sources on thirteen major UN history themes. The project seeks to connect scholars and archivists as well as to list existing academic networks for those working on similar topics. Thus, the project explicitly welcomes “contributions relating to archives, scholarly networks, and syllabi in English and other UN languages.”


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Writing Human Rights into the History of State Socialism

Ned Richardson-Little

Associate Research Fellow, University of Exeter

Cross-posted from


The collapse of the Communist Bloc in 1989-1991 is viewed as one of the great triumphs of the human rights movement. But this ignores how socialist elites of the Eastern Bloc viewed themselves: not as the villains in the story of human rights, but as the champions.

In recent years, the rapidly expanding field of human rights history has done much to complicate triumphalist narratives of inevitable victory for Western liberal democracy over the forces of tyranny. Recent collections including those edited by Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, Jan Eckel and Samuel Moyn, have opened up new lines of inquiry exposing not only the contingency of these ideas, but also the conflicts amongst those claiming the mantle of universal human rights. On this blog in recent weeks, Fabian Klose has examined the important role of decolonization and post-colonial states in shaping the development of human rights politics, and Robert Brier has interrogated the idea of human rights as a product of neo-liberalism in the context of the Polish opposition. Here, I want to look beyond the human rights campaigns of dissident Eastern Europeans to that of the states they fought against.

                        Stamp 1

One of a number of East German postage stamps commemorating International Human Rights Year 1968. The hammer and anvil represent the right to work.

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CfP: Human Rights and Emergency Law in Independence Era Africa

Call for Papers from Meredith Terretta, University of Ottawa:

This proposed panel for the African Studies Association Conference, taking place from 20 to 23 November 2014 in Indianapolis, USA, takes up one of the conference themes: Histories and ethnographies of human rights, humanitarian intervention, and social movements. It explores the ways in which African activists from throughout the continent used human rights talk as political and legal expression before and after official independence. Conversely, it examines the ways in which colonial and/or postcolonial regimes used exceptional legislation (such as state of emergency, preventive detention, or anti-subversion laws) to circumvent human rights principles as they became applicable to African territories under European rule in the postwar era. Colleagues and advanced graduate students who have worked in the Migrated Archive (UK), in recently declassified files in other colonial holdings, in human rights NGOs records or in UN archives are especially invited to participate. Continue reading

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Latest Issue: Journal of Genocide Research

The latest issue is out with articles of relevance.



Have a look @:

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Human Rights Day 1973: The “Liberation” of the Universal Declaration

While the 1970s have been, properly, identified by recent scholarship as a moment of efflorescence for universal human rights, the picture, at least in the earlier part of the decade, was less than radiant.  The Universal Declaration’s twenty-fifth anniversary was, for the most part, submerged – much more thoroughly so than it had been at ten, or even at twenty.  The occasion was instead the platform to launch the International Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination.   At the Plenary meeting which ratified the decision in October 1972, a few minutes were devoted to the agenda item on a “Programme for the observance of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” – which was concluded rapidly, to allow for hours of rhetoric on national liberation, racial discrimination, and the importance of armed struggle in southern Africa and, on Cuba’s insistence, Puerto Rico. It was the most striking symbolic representation of the relationship between universal human rights, anti-racism, and violent insurrection.  The struggle against racial discrimination, a sub-set of a much broader human rights concept, had almost consumed the parent category.  1948 was cited insofar as it underwrote the crusade, rarely much further. Continue reading

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Human Rights, “Neoliberalism”, and 1989

“1989” has become shorthand both for the triumph of human rights over state-socialist dictatorship and the subsequent implementation of a “neoliberal” reform agenda. Yet the coalescence of these two phenomena in Eastern Europe twenty-five years ago is quite surprising once we focus on the prehistory of 1989. Following the crooked paths that led to the annus mirabilis is thus a great opportunity to assess the transformation of human rights discourses during the 1980s.

Twenty five years ago, on 6 February 1989, representatives of Poland’s government and of the illegal democratic opposition began negotiations on political and economic reforms. Inaugurating their meetings at a round table that had been crafted specifically for this occasion, they set events in motion that became a major catalyst for the collapse of the “Soviet bloc.” As we look ahead to a series of events celebrating “1989,” Samuel Moyn’s post from December—urging us to think about connections between the rise of human rights and of “neoliberalism”[1]—may thus prove timely because few events exemplify the coalescence of these two discourses more clearly than the end of the Cold War.

On one hand, “1989” meant an enormous boost for human rights: The collapse of the state-socialist regimes in Central Europe seemed to vindicate the so-called “dissidents”—embattled intellectuals who had spent the 1970s and 1980s in and out of prison, working unskilled jobs and drafting human rights petitions or learned essays on totalitarianism at night. The dissidents, to be sure, did not cause the collapse of Communism, but they did become the figureheads of the protest movements that toppled the regimes in Central Europe. The subsequent expansion of international human rights treaties, the democratization of many post-communist countries and their later EU accession all have dramatically increased the respect and protection of individual liberties in Europe and worldwide. Continue reading

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Imperial & Global Forum, University of Exeter

You may have already noticed that from time to time we cross-post contributions of the Imperial & Global Forum. This is the excellent blog of the Centre for Imperial and Global History at the History Department of the University of Exeter, which comprises of one of the largest groups of imperial and global historians currently working in the UK. Edited by Marc-William Palen the blog connects in a significant way historians working in this research field and offers a dynamic exploration of imperial history.


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Job opening

Readers of this blog may be interested in this position at the University of Manchester:

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Human Rights in the Romanian Orthodox Church After 2008

The human rights issue is meanwhile a familiar theme for the Western Christian Churches such as the Roman-Catholic and the Protestant Churches. After the problematic relation during the 18th and 19th century concerning the human rights affirmations of the American ‘Declaration of Independence’ (1776) and the French Revolution (1789 or 1791) the Roman Catholic Church succeeded to relax its attitude towards human rights and to assimilate the pattern in its own social ethics, of course underpinning it with theological and biblical argumentations in its attempt to de-secularize this discourse. The Protestant Churches demonstrate a broad and differential approach to the social, political and ethical function of human rights, despite their apparent congruity exhibited by the statements of the Lutheran or Reformed World Federations (1970) (as shown by Christopher Voigt-Goy in his previous post). Continue reading

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Human Rights and Modern Christianity – Historical Perspectives

Christianity has its own rather difficult history in relation to modern human rights. While reluctance to the ideas of ‘human rights’ and ‘human dignity’ dominated the theology of the main church bodies well into the 20th century, the situation drastically changed after 1945. Since the 1970’s, then, the debate on ‘human rights’ and ‘human dignity’ is at the core of theological ethics. The conference  ‘Difficult Tolerance. The Dealings with Dissidents and Dissenters in the History of Christianity’ (‘Schwierige Toleranz. Der Umgang mit Andersdenkenden und Andersgläubigen in der Christentumsgeschichte’, held from 6th to 8th May 2010 in Fribourg/Switzerland) devoted a whole section to this significant shift. The attitudes to the notion of human rights and human dignity in Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism are presented in the section of the resulting edited volume:


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Workshop “Human Rights in Global History”, University of Warwick

Charles Walton, Global History & Culture Center of the University of Warwick, is organizing an international  Workshop on “Human Rights in Global History” on 29 January 2014.

Human Rights

The programme includes:

  • Olivier Grenouilleau (University of Paris IV-La Sorbonne):

“Abolition of Slavery and International Rights for Humanitarian Reasons”

  • Fabian Klose (Leibniz Institute of European History, Mainz):

“Enforcing Humanity – The Emergence of Humanitarian Intervention”

  • Saul Dubow (University of London, Queen Mary):

“The Problem of Rights for Apartheid and Anti-Apartheid South Africa”

  • Jenny Raflik-Grenouilleau (University of Cergy-Pontoise):

“Human Rights or Peoples’ Rights: Some Reflections”

  • Charles Walton (University of Warwick):

“Rights, Reciprocity and the Politics of Obligation: 18th-20th Centuries”


For more detailed information see:


024 7652 3350 Email:

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France in Africa – Imperialist Humanitarian?

Martin Thomas

Director, Centre for the Study of War, State and Society, University of Exeter

Cross-posted from


As the UN warns of an impending humanitarian disaster in the Central African Republic (CAR), what should we make of France’s recent back-to-back interventions in sub-Saharan Africa? Is there an echo in this of the clientalist politics pursued by France in Africa in the years after formal decolonization?

François Hollande, a Socialist president flagging in domestic opinion polls as France languishes in recession, has been credited with exceptional decisiveness in international affairs. The French President’s willingness to restore France’s role as a global policeman became apparent soon after he took office. He lent unflinching support to the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi, for which France, like Britain, contributed combat aircraft (although maintaining their strike capability was substantially down to the Americans). He made no secret of his disappointment at the successive refusals of London and Washington to endorse missile strikes against President Assad’s Syrian regime in the aftermath of its proven chemical weapons attacks. And French nuclear negotiators among the team that concluded November’s transitional deal with Iran were, it transpires, especially hawkish over monitoring and inspection regimes. Continue reading

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