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Genocide: sociological, philosophical and historical reflections

Crossing the Boundaries: the place of human rights in contemporary scholarship
Afternoon panel session:

Chair: Dr Claire Moon
Dr Caroline Fournet Reviving Antigone's myth: philosophical reflection on the law of genocide|
Professor Paul Havemann The long genocide: modernity and the indigenous people in Australia|
Dr William Pickering Should genocide and persecution be differentiated concepts? A sociological response|

Dr Caroline Fournet
Reviving Antigone's myth: philosophical reflection on the law of genocide

The 1948 Genocide Convention has been criticised on several grounds, and notably on its unduly restrictive approach. These criticisms - emanating both from legal scholars and social theorists - have extensively focused on the conventional selective protection of groups and on the potential risk hold therein, namely, the impediment regarding the effective application of the Convention. Such criticisms have so far remained formally limited to the legal debate and to social theory and substantively restricted to the text of the Convention. As a result, both law and social theory have failed to identify the real problem with respect to the enforcement of the law of genocide.

Indeed, the heart of the problem is not the Genocide Convention: it is the word 'genocide' itself as it is based on a misunderstanding. By etymologically and legally referring to the killing of a race or a group, the term 'genocide' presupposes the existence of a 'race' and/or of a 'group', in spite of the fact that both notions are highly questionable, the concept of 'race' having long been dismissed as a fantasy inherited from the past centuries and that of 'group' existing potentially only in the mind of the genociders. Nevertheless, precisely because the specificity of the crime of genocide lies in the racialisation of the members of a group artificially created and arbitrarily defined by the genociders themselves, the legal concept of 'genocide' had to depend upon the concepts of 'race' and of 'group' and to thus find itself intrinsically flawed and necessarily perverted.

Accordingly, the concept of genocide raises a paradox which Law cannot surmount. How can Law take into account the specificity of genocide, the racialisation of individuals, without acknowledging the reality of the 'race' and becoming, literally, 'racist'? Both legal and social theories of genocide have been unable to solve this paradox and this paper proposes to do so by resorting to philosophical theories, and notably to Antigone's myth, according to which morality always stands above the law.  

Professor Paul Havemann
The long genocide: modernity and the indigenous people in Australia

This paper analyses the phenomenon of the genocide of Australia's Indigenous people. The chronic and gross over representation in Australia's health, prison and poverty statistics reflects centuries of state sponsored practices that constitute genocide. The genocide began in 1778 when Britain declared its sovereignty over the 'terra nullius' of Australia and it continues to this day.

This long genocide is attributable, in part, to the absence of recognition of Indigenous People's citizenship and political and civil, economic, social and cultural rights since 1788 and notably in the 1900 Constitution. The long genocide is also partially attributable to what Cohen characterises as official, literal, implicatory and interpretive denial by the state. The paper locates the long genocide in the context what Bauman describes as 'liquid modernity'. Modernity is theorized in dystopian terms as process of life blind economic growth, order building to sustain growth and resulting in wasting of human lives that are redundant to the modernizing project. Colonization it is argued is the paradigm example of this project in action; and one can say that Australia is paradigm example of the paradigm. Law and public policy corroborate the relegation of Indigenous People to the status of placeless and right less homo sacer in their own country.

The paper juxtaposes this dystopian view of modernity with utopian perspective of late modernity characterised by a dominant 'ethic of humanity' reflected by proliferation of human rights. Human rights based governance thus challenges the nautonomy of individuals. In conclusion the paper reflects on the tension between pessimism of the mind and optimism of the heart and stresses human rights as means to empower people 'glocally' to derail the 'juggernaut of modernity' in the forms we have known it since the eighteenth century.  

Dr William Pickering
Should genocide and persecution be differentiated concepts? A sociological response

Today the word genocide has become universally popular in describing mass-killings. Since the late 1980s books, articles and documents by historians and political scientists who use the word genocide have mushroomed. There has also been a changing of terms: for example, what were once called the Armenian massacres or Armenian atrocities have now been re-labelled the Armenian genocide.

By contrast, the older term, persecution, is seldom mentioned nowadays. This is demonstrated by the fact that in reading recently published books on the history of modern Europe and by examining entries in encyclopaedias of various kinds, one finds the word persecution seldom used whereas the word genocide very frequently appears.

The proposed paper attempts to discover the reason for this, and in so doing turns to the root meanings of the words and their historical development. The contemporary definitions are indeed different but they are closely related. Their relationship is then explored.

It is argued that no useful sociological or cross-disciplinary discourse can proceed without defining these terms and seeing at what points they both meet and divide.