You are not currently logged in.

Login through your institution for access.


Log in through your institution.

Representing Mass Violence

Representing Mass Violence: Conflicting Responses to Human Rights Violations in Darfur OPEN ACCESS

Joachim J. Savelsberg
Copyright Date: 2015
Stable URL:
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Representing Mass Violence
    Book Description:

    How do interventions by the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court influence representations of mass violence? What images arise instead from the humanitarianism and diplomacy fields? How are these competing perspectives communicated to the public via mass media? Zooming in on the case of Darfur, Joachim J. Savelsberg analyzes more than three thousand news reports and opinion pieces and interviews leading newspaper correspondents, NGO experts, and foreign ministry officials from eight countries to show the dramatic differences in the framing of mass violence around the world and across social fields.Representing Mass Violencecontributes to our understanding of how the world acknowledges and responds to violence in the Global South.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96308-5
    Subjects: Sociology
    × Close Overlay

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. (pp. 1-30)

    “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” These famous words, coined by W. I. Thomas (1928), the classical Chicago School sociologist, have particular weight when mass violence and atrocities are at stake. Politicians, diplomats, military leaders, NGO activists, jurists, journalists, and citizens define such situations. Their definitions codetermine how the world responds to events such as those in Cambodia in the 1970s, in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, or in Darfur in the 2000s. It has often been argued for the case of Rwanda that the United Nations’ and the US government’s...

    • (pp. 33-60)

      How do responses to mass violence in Darfur square with theses about a justice cascade in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries? At issue is the massive increase in individual criminal accountability in cases of grave human rights violations. We know that the UNSC and the ICC intervened, supported by social movements, INGOs and national governments. These interventions are in line with notions of a justice cascade, its nature, and its conditions. In the following review of the judicial steps taken on Darfur and the conditions supporting them, I am also concerned with the consequences. Fighters for a justice...

    • (pp. 61-82)

      International actors, including the ICC, do not work in isolation. Others precede and contribute to their interventions and their rights-based representation of mass violence. Turning to those other contributors, located at the periphery of the legal field, this chapter focuses on civil society actors that advocate for human rights. How do they support a criminal law response to mass violence? How do they represent the events in Darfur? Specifically, what is their contribution to advancing a criminalizing frame for the interpretation of mass violence? I examine Amnesty International as a civil society case study. In my interview with her, the...

    • (pp. 83-100)

      In addition to civil society groups, and often tightly interwoven with them, state actors contributed to raising awareness of the mass violence in Darfur and contributed to its representation as human rights crimes. One interviewee from a large European country had worked for his foreign ministry’s human rights division and represented his country on the ICC’s Assembly of States during the period when the UN Security Council referred the Darfur situation to the court. A lawyer by training, he strongly stressed the primacy of human rights concerns ahead of other goals: “You need to give them justice, and once they...

    • (pp. 103-133)

      The human rights field is not alone when it takes positions on mass violence. Other, often more powerful actors have vested interests in situations and places in which such violence occurs. Among them are national governments with geostrategic ambitions and corporations seeking profit. Since 2013, the blockade by at least one permanent member of the UN Security Council against decisive intervention in the Assad regime’s horrendous violence in Syria has provided a particularly striking, but not at all uncommon, example. Accordingly, narratives generated by governments and corporations frequently clash with human rights representations. At other times, these actors may use...

    • (pp. 134-154)

      Aid organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières are not the only entities devoted to the delivery of humanitarian aid. Countries and their governments may also focus on humanitarian aid policies, often in the context of development programs. Such governments may find themselves in a position similar to that of aid NGOs’: they too have to take account of the government of the receiving country. In addition, donor governments often have strong organizational ties with domestic aid-oriented NGOs that may have deep roots in and a strong cultural resonance with the local population. Important for our purposes here, such constellations should...

    • (pp. 157-183)

      “If you want to make peace in Darfur through negotiations, you have to deal with the Sudanese government and you have to deal with the people who hold the power in the Sudanese government, and that includes Omar al-Bashir. If you want to achieve justice through the International Criminal Court, well, then you should stigmatize someone who is indicted. You shouldn’t talk to Omar al-Bashir. Right?”

      One of my interviewees from the world of foreign policy and diplomacy thus succinctly addressed a key difference between the justice field and that of foreign policy, where diplomacy is a central tool. Actors...

    • (pp. 184-202)

      Comparative studies that address representations of mass violence within the diplomatic field are virtually nonexistent. That is regrettable as comparative analysis promises to shed light on the conditions under which diplomats acknowledge atrocities and, more specifically, distance themselves from the criminal justice narrative more or less decisively.

      Political scientist Karen Smith (2010) is a rare exception as she has documented variation for European countries’ responses to genocides. Smith, while agreeing with Power’s (2002) charge of an overly cautious rhetoric in cases of genocide, identifies noteworthy differences between countries, in particular France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. To be sure, the...

    • (pp. 205-221)

      In my interview with an Africa correspondent of a prominent Western newspaper, the respondent said of his paper’s editor-in-chief that he “thought one does not need a great political analyst for Africa, but someone who travels to countries and is capable of writing reports.”

      This editor’s viewpoint certainly does not tell the full story of journalistic work on Africa. Yet it does reflect an important aspect of contemporary journalism: the relative marginality of Africa in the consciousness of Western media. What are the implications of this marginal place for the communication of information about mass violence in an African region...

    • (pp. 222-264)

      Varying degrees of influence come into full view when we examine the relationship between, on the one hand, the human rights, humanitarian aid, and diplomacy fields, with their conflicting representations of the Darfur conflict, and patterns of media reporting, on the other. The link between the judicial or human rights field and media suggests a seeming paradox. Asked about the ICC as a potential source of information, one German Africa-correspondent answered: “Not at all, and I find this really quite regrettable.” A French journalist, speaking about his relationship to the ICC told me that “[t]heir time is not our time.”...

    • (pp. 265-282)

      In this book I have invited the reader on a journey through the competing representations of mass violence in distinct social fields and countries. Examining responses to the violence endured by the inhabitants of the Darfur region of Sudan during the first decade of the twenty-first century, I was especially interested to learn how the interventions of the UN Security Council and International Criminal Court, both part of the justice cascade, colored representations of mass violence. I also examined what distinct images of suffering and of responsible actors arose from the humanitarianism and diplomatic fields. I was, finally, concerned with...

  6. (pp. 283-286)

    Neither the legal case against those charged with the gravest of crimes in the mass violence in Darfur, nor the armed confrontation, nor the humanitarian emergency had ended or been resolved as I was writing the final pages of this book. This text, then, presents not just a history of a recent and devastating past but also a history of a cruel present in Darfur. And, again, what applies to Darfur also applies to many more situations around the globe. In this situation, it is disconcerting, irrespective of the observer’s field, to witness signs of weakness in the very institutions...

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 International
This book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 International.