Special journal issue on solidarity and transnational activism

Some blog readers may be interested in a recent themed issue of the European Review of History, dedicated to ‘Transnational Solidarities and the Politics of the Left, 1890-1990’ and jointly edited by Charlotte Alston and Daniel Laqua (the author of this post). You can access the contributions via this link. While the emphasis is neither on humanitarianism nor on human rights as such, many of the articles address issues that are connected to these phenomena. As a whole, the contributions raise a number of questions that are highly relevant when analysing humanitarian efforts and human rights campaigns within their wider historical context.

  • How do groups, organisations and individuals frame their transnational campaigns? As many of the contributors to this journal issue show, actors often adopted a language that evoked specific rights or liberties, for instance when denouncing ‘despotism’ abroad. In some instances activists stressed their solidarity with a specific cause while also casting their actions as humanitarian (e.g. West German activists who undertook practical work in the Sandinistas’ Nicaragua).
  • What kind of mechanisms can activists draw upon when seeking to mobilise people and organise efforts across national borders? What communication channels do they use? The contributions cover a repertoire – from pamphlets and letter campaigns to broadcasts – that will be familiar to anyone studying humanitarianism or human rights activism.
  • To what extent was the construction of a specific cause as ‘transnational’ or ‘global’ a constituent element of specific campaigns? In many cases, it is necessary to juxtapose the rhetoric of a ‘solidarity beyond borders’ with their limitations and constraints. For instance, several authors shed light on the ways in which transnational campaigns were tied to local aspirations and desires. Continue reading

Conference Panel “The Congress of Vienna and the Slave Trade – Religion, International Relations and Humanitarianism”

As described in one of my earlier posts the Leibniz Institute of European History Mainz successfully applied for the panel “The Congress of Vienna and the Slave Trade -Religion, International Relations and Humanitarianism” at the international conference “The Vienna Congress and Its Global Dimensions.”, which takes place from Thursday 18th to Monday 22nd September 2014 at the University of Vienna.

Here are the abstracts our today’s panel papers.

Introduction:

When evaluating the Congress of Vienna of 1814/15, historians traditionally concentrate on the negotiations to redraw the political map of Europe and on the establishment of an order meant to ensure peace on the continent in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. However, the implications of the congress went far beyond the European scope and were directly linked to manifold global issues such as the trans-Atlantic slave trade, one of the burning issues of the time. By signing the “Déclaration des 8 Cours, relative à l’Abolition Universelle de la Traite des Nègres” on 8 February 1815 the representatives of the major European powers established for the first time in history a humanitarian norm in international law. The aim of the proposed panel is to investigate the miscellaneous entanglements of this norm-setting process by focusing on the role of religion and religious actors, emerging humanitarianism, international relations and the impact of abolition on the process of Latin-American independence.

Slavetrade

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Leibniz-Journal: Issue on Peace and Conflicts

The Leibniz Institut of European History (IEG) Mainz is member of the Leibniz Association, which connects 89 independent research institutions that range in focus from the natural, engineering and environmental sciences via economics, spatial and social sciences to the humanities.

The recent issue of the Leibniz-Journal focuses on the most relevant topic of peace and conflicts in history, international relations and international law. The articles deal with a broad variety of themes reaching from the First World War and the Versailles post-war order to the culture of commemorating war and to most recent conflicts of the 21st century such as in the Ukraine.

csm_Leibniz_Journal_02_2014_9b23d32a08

Additionally the contribution of Mounia Meiborg discusses critically the concept of humanitarian intervention by referring to research projects at different Leibniz Institutes, including my own about the history of humanitarian intervention here at the IEG Mainz.

If you are interested in reading the article, you will find it @:

http://www.leibnizgemeinschaft.de/fileadmin/user_upload/

downloads/Presse/Journal/14_2_Konflikte/Im_Namen_der_Humanitaet_02_2014_WEB.pdf

The ICRC Archives is Opening its Records from 1966-1975

Dr. Jean-Luc Blondel, Head of the Archives and Information Management Division, International Committee of the Red Cross

Cross-posted from http://imperialglobalexeter.com/

25/08/14

Biafra ICRCNigeria. Biafra conflict. M’Baise province (team 16). Arrival of relief supplies. Public 1969 © CICR / WITH, R.

Since its founding in 1863, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been aware of the importance of keeping a record of its work and of its legacy – in the form of paper and audiovisual archives – to preserve the memories and knowledge of its past and to lay the foundation for its current and future work. Over time, the organization has amassed an outstanding and unique collection that encompasses its own history as well as the history of international humanitarian law and humanitarian action in general.

In January 1996, the ICRC decided to open its archives to the public in broad chronological sections at a time. By shortening the protective embargo on its archives, the ICRC was able to open the 1951-1965 records in 2004, thereby adding to the sources in its collection available for consultation by the public. From January 2015, the 1966-1975 archives will also be open to outside researchers. Continue reading

EGO Article on Decolonization

The age of decolonization is of crucial importance for our understanding of today’s world. By dissolving colonial rule around the world this process led to the emergence of new sovereign states, thereby permanently changing international relations and international law. It is especially the third phase of decolonization which is the one most closely associated with the term “decolonization” in the present and which refers to the end of European colonial rule after 1945. The process of the dissolution of the European overseas empires had a profound effect on the course of international history during the 20th century. This process occurred relatively quickly given that colonial rule had existed in some cases for a number of centuries. Only after just 30 years, from 1945 to 1975, all the colonial empires had disappeared from the global map.

This transformation proceeded by no means linearly or according to a set pattern. There were considerable differences between the various world regions, with cases of peaceful transition as well as extremely violent wars of decolonization. The colonial policies and strategic aims of the colonial powers and the strength of the respective anticolonial movements were the decisive factors. Additionally the Cold War confrontation and the growing importance of international organizations such as the United Nations were central aspects of the international context in which the third phase of decolonization occurred and they had a decisive effect on that process.

Concerning this international context various contributions on hhr has already linked the dissolution of European colonial empires with the debates on universal human rights as well as humanitarianism. Continue reading

The Global Anti-Apartheid Movement, 1946-1994

Dr. Nicholas Grant, American Studies, University of East Anglia

Cross-posted from http://imperialglobalexeter.com/

15/07/14

Last month saw the publication of the Radical History Review’s special issue on ‘The Global Anti-Apartheid Movement’. Appearing on the 20th anniversary of South African democracy, the issue contains articles, roundtables and review pieces that explore a range of transnational connections that shaped political opposition to white supremacy in South Africa. As editors Lisa Brock, Alex Lichtenstein and Van Gosse comment in their introduction, “in seeking contributions to this issue, we made a deliberate effort to give the truly global nature of the movements in solidarity with southern Africa their due.”[1]

Radical History

The Radical History Review Special Issue on ‘The Global Antiapartheid Movement’ No. 119 (Spring, 2014)

Whilst activism in the US and Britain continues to dominate much of the scholarship on the international anti-apartheid movement, this special issue makes an important effort to move beyond this occasionally restricting narrative. The articles within the issue therefore address different forms of activism in a number of diverse geographical contexts. For example, Jerry Dávila examines how black civil rights activists in Brazil were influenced by and drew upon anti-apartheid agitation in South Africa; Alex Lichtenstein’s interview with Sietse Bosgra sheds light on the Dutch anti-apartheid movement and its links to anticolonial liberation movements throughout Africa; whilst Teresa Barnes broadens the definition of the global ‘anti-apartheid’ struggle in her gendered analysis of activist networks forged between American radicals involved in the women’s health movement and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). In addition to this, Scott Laderman adds a fascinating new perspective on the relationship between sport and the anti-apartheid movement by examining the responses of professional surfers from around the world to calls to boycott South African events on the world tour in the 1980s. Continue reading

Why is dignity in the Charter of the United Nations?

Bild 1

Given the current fascination with”human dignity” — which I have canvassed elsewhere – a number of people are interested in why it became canonized in the first place.

It percolates around Western intellectual history from the Greeks (or more accurately Romans) on, and scholars like Michael Rosen and Jeremy Waldron have recently tried to interpret its historical trajectory, and puzzle through its theoretical implications. Christopher McCrudden has devoted a massive edited volume to it, and I have written about its role in recent American constitutional law on this blog.

But it could be that without Virginia Gildersleeve, no one would be talking about it today.

After all, even though it appeared early in the Irish Constitution of 1937, and a series of mainly West European constitutions after World War II, if “dignity” hadn’t been in the United Nations Charter (1945), I seriously doubt it would have been eligible for the current meditation and promotion it is undergoing. Continue reading

Rhetoric of Massacre and Reprisal in Algeria’s War of Independence

Martin Thomas

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

Cross-posted from http://imperialglobalexeter.com/

22/05/14

There has long been agreement among historians of Algeria’s violent decolonization that particular massacres and, more particularly, the retributions they provoked, decisively altered the nature of the conflict. Massacre, it is averred, changed the cultural codes, the military rules, and the permissible limits to mass violence within Algeria’s population and between French security forces and local insurgents.

Why this should be the case remains harder to explain. The demonstrative horror of mass killing intentionally shrinks the middle ground. It destroys the prospects for compromise, denying political and personal space to the otherwise non-committal. Meant to polarize, its violence signifies the ultimate rhetoric of shock. Little wonder that historians of Algeria’s war concur that massacres served as decisive conflict escalators, whether strategically, symbolically, or both.

This escalatory dynamic is something with which analysts of asymmetric warfare, civil conflict and revolutionary insurgencies – not to mention the witnesses to such dreadful events – have long been familiar.[1] Less well understood is the part played by rhetoric in propagating the messages that the perpetrators of such massacres wanted to convey. Did the mass killing of civilians during the Algerian War represent an extreme iteration of what Charles Tilly identified as the ‘repertoire of protest’? Were such actions rendered logical to some because opportunities to influence the actions of the state otherwise were so limited? In the Algerian Revolution as in the French, violence, remained a last resort for the marginalized, not the first.[2]

To follow Tilly’s logic, the repressive action of colonial authorities rather than the FLN’s ruthlessness must be held accountable for precipitating such killings.[3] This was certainly the FLN’s assertion but it was hotly contested by French authorities at the time as their own propaganda sought to prove. (see figure below).

                        Algeria

One of the least gruesome images from a 1957 Algiers government booklet, Mélouza et Wagram accusent showing Berber women grieving over children’s corpses after a village massacre carried out in reprisal for villagers’ support of the FLN’s party rival. Continue reading

Journal of Modern European History (themed issue on humanitarianism)

The latest issue (vol. 12, no. 2) of the Journal of Modern European History is dedicated to ‘Ideas, Practices and Histories of Humanitarianism’.  It comprises seven articles and is guest-edited by Charlotte Alston and Daniel Laqua (the author of this blog post).

If your institution subscribes to the journal, you can access the articles online via this link. As you may gather, the first and final pieces on the site are separate articles – i.e. they are not part of our ‘humanitarian’ cluster.

For the benefit of the HHR blog’s readers, I shall offer a few comments on the content. You are also welcome to download our flyer (JMEH – Humanitarianism issue), which provides you with a handy overview. Although the pieces cover a considerable time span – from the early nineteenth century to the 1970s – they address overarching issues and questions. A particular focus is on European actors and the motivations that underpinned the adoption of specific causes.

Continue reading

The Historical Origins of International Criminal Law

Crystallising a Sub-discipline of the History of International Criminal Law

International Criminal Law, as a relatively young discipline, occasionally still struggles with certain weaknesses in its own theoretical foundation. In an attempt to address this problem the Forum for International Criminal and Humanitarian Law (FICHL) organised an international conference entitled “The Historical Origins of International Criminal Law”. According to the organisers, the intention of the conference was “to pursue the vertical consolidation of international criminal law, by increasing knowledge about its historical and intellectual foundations and its social function, enhancing the quality, independence and viability of criminal justice for core international crimes in diverse and rapidly changing social contexts”.

The two day conference was held at the City University of Hong Kong (CityU) on March 1st and 2nd 2014. The co-organizers of this event included the Centre for International Law Research and Policy, Peking University International Law Institute, City University of Hong Kong, and the European University Institute (Department of Law). The persons mainly responsible for the coordination were Assistant Professor Yi Ping (Peking University Law School), Professor Morten Bergsmo (Peking University Law School), and Assistant Professor Cheah Wui Ling (National University of Singapore).

The conference opened with a round of introductory remarks. Professor Mark D. Kielsgard (CityU) and CityU’s acting dean Professor Lin Feng welcomed speakers and guests as representatives of the host university. One of the distinguished guests of the conference, Geoffrey Robertson QC (Doughty Street Chambers), spoke for the conference participants. Professor Bergsmo, as part of the organizing team, then gave a short introduction to the seminar theme and commented on its relevance for modern international criminal law.

Continue reading

Dutch Imperial Past Returns to Haunt the Netherlands

Paul Doolan
University of Zurich and Zurich International School

Cross-posted from http://imperialglobalexeter.com/

07/04/14

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.

Continue reading

Writing Human Rights into the History of State Socialism

Ned Richardson-Little

Associate Research Fellow, University of Exeter

Cross-posted from http://imperialglobalexeter.com/

24/03/14

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.

  Continue reading

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

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

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