Human Rights in the Shadow of Colonial Violence: The Wars of Independence in Kenya and Algeria

Human Rights in the Shadow of Colonial Violence: The Wars of Independence in Kenya and Algeria

Human Rights in the Shadow of Colonial Violence: The Wars of Independence in Kenya and Algeria

Human Rights in the Shadow of Colonial Violence: The Wars of Independence in Kenya and Algeria


Human Rights in the Shadow of Colonial Violence explores the relationship between the human rights movement emerging after 1945 and the increasing violence of decolonization. Based on material previously inaccessible in the archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations Human Rights Commission, this comparative study uses the Mau Mau War (1952-1956) and the Algerian War (1954-1962) to examine the policies of two major imperial powers, Britain and France. Historian Fabian Klose considers the significance of declared states of emergency, counterinsurgency strategy, and the significance of humanitarian international law in both conflicts.

Klose's findings from these previously confidential archives reveal the escalating violence and oppressive tactics used by the British and French military during these anticolonial conflicts in North and East Africa, where Western powers that promoted human rights in other areas of the world were opposed to the growing global acceptance of freedom, equality, self-determination, and other postwar ideals. Practices such as collective punishment, torture, and extrajudicial killings did lasting damage to international human rights efforts until the end of decolonization.

Clearly argued and meticulously researched, Human Rights in the Shadow of Colonial Violence demonstrates the mutually impacting histories of international human rights and decolonization, expanding our understanding of political violence in human rights discourse.


The focus of research in the area of decolonization—undoubtedly one of the most influential fields in twentieth-century international history—was centered for a long time on depicting the course of events and particularly on analyzing the causes for the end of colonial rule after World War II. This field of research produced only a small number of comprehensive surveys, as opposed to a vast number of individual studies on certain regions and various colonial empires. Ever since the pioneering studies of the British historian John Darwin, one explanatory model for the end of colonial empires has emerged to link together various existing theoretical approaches and has thus become the model generally accepted by most historians. According to this model, decolonization is the result of developments within the ruling metropoles (metropolitan theory), the growth of anticolonial national movements (peripheral theory), and decisive shifts in power relations within the international system (international theory).

Although there is evidence of a growing trend in research that examines transnational factors of decolonization more intensively, the significance of international organizations is still given little attention. Very few studies emphasize the key role of the United Nations as an anticolonial forum where the colonial powers were diplomatically pilloried before the eyes of the world and foreign policy pressure exerted against them. A similar development is observable with regard to the international discourse on human rights. Only the most recent literature on the historiography of the human rights idea has linked decolonization with the debates on universal fundamental rights. Particular mention should be made here of the work by the American historian Paul Gordon Lauren. In his two books Power and Prejudice: The Politics and Diplomacy of Racial Discrimination and The Evolution of International Human Rights: Visions Seen, Lauren explicitly addresses for the first time the importance of the human rights discourse for the end of colonial rule.

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