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School of Law

Professor Dirk Moses: Civil War and Genocide

31 January 2017

Time: 12:00 - 1:30pm
Venue: Room 313, Law Building, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS

The International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) is a seminar on 'Civil War and Genocide: Conceptual Confusion and Mass Violence against Civilians' by Professor Dirk Moses (University of Sydney) as part of ISCI's State Crime Seminar Series 2016-17.


Widely regarded as a breakthrough in international law and moral consciousness, the genocide concept and United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide (1948), I argue, has been responsible for more blindness than insight. Above all, they have depoliticized the language of atrocity by making genocide—and its sibling, the Holocaust—into the ultimate violations, imagined as massive hate crimes: motivated by ideologically fanatical racisms rather than by the supposedly prosaic imperatives of state security. This depoliticization trivializes much state and para-state violence because states, and those seeking to conquer or found them, claim they kill, deport, and terrorize opponents who are threatening rather than hateful. Anti-racism rather than skepticism about proclaimed national emergencies becomes the misleading lesson of genocide. The good intentions of the UN in 1940s thereby entrenched the virtually untrammelled sovereignty of states in their internal affairs. Civil war became tidily demarcated from genocide, meaning that international intervention to prevent mass killing of civilians is illegal in most circumstances. This paper elaborates the causes and consequences of the fatal distinction between civil war and genocide.

About the speaker

Dirk Moses (PhD, Berkeley, 2000) is Professor of Modern History at the University of Sydney, where he has taught since 2000. He is the author of German Intellectuals and the Nazi Past (2007) and publications on global histories of violence, memory, and intellectual history, including the forthcoming anthologies The Holocaust in Greece and The Nigeria-Biafra War, 1967–1970: Postcolonial Conflict and the Question of Genocide. He is senior editor of the Journal of Genocide Research.


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