Disruptions

By Bergoffen, Debra B. | Philosophy Today, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

Disruptions


Bergoffen, Debra B., Philosophy Today


We never know how our work will be read once it is published and out of our hands. We hope for readers who understand our ideas and for critics who will push our thinking. We cannot, however, be sure that they will materialize. So it is with gratitude and pleasure that I take up the perceptive and challenging readings of this book offered by Falguni and Ann. Though they each focus on different aspects of my phenomenological-feminist analysis of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia's (ICTY) groundbreaking Kunarac judgment, their readings, in speaking to the project of the book, speak to each other and point to the possible future(s) of the verdict.

Their reflections led me to see that if I were asked to give the book a one word title (without worrying about how libraries would index it) that word would be Disruptions. Prompted by a verdict that disrupted legal understandings of rape, it argues for a concept of human rights that disrupts norms of state sovereignty and patriarchal privilege. Appealing to phenomenology to disrupt ontologies of autonomy and invulnerability, it finds that in establishing a human right to sexual self-determination, the ICTY disrupted standard understandings of vulnerability and dignity. I offer the following as a way of clarifying the implications of these disruptions and in the hope of fostering their continued effects.

Establishing A Court: Genocide or Ethnic Cleansing?

The ICTY was created by the UN Security Council after it determined that the phrase "ethnic cleansing," the language used by the Bosnian-Serbs, did not truthfully describe what was happening in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was, the UN determined, a genocide. The shift in language was crucial. As long as the tactics in Bosnia-Herzegovina were called ethnic cleansing the international community could justify not intervening. Once they were called genocide, however, the UN was obliged to act. In creating the ICTY the UN saw itself as fulfilling its obligation. (Whether that was sufficient is another matter.)

The formation of the court, insofar as it depended on marking the difference between ethnic cleansing and genocide, speaks to Falguni's concern that in focusing on genocide we risk ignoring the disaster of ethnic cleansing. I come at this concern from another direction. Those who insist on the distinction between ethnic cleansing and genocide claim that relocation, not decimation, is their aim. They neglect to square this claim either with their relocation tactics or with the fact that a people's identity is closely linked to their place in the world. A close look reveals that ethnic cleansing is a euphemism for genocide. It is not a matter of peacefully separating one group of people from another, but a matter of destroying one people's way of life so that another's will prevail. Though differently expressed, our shared worry reflects the fact that what is called ethnic cleansing is not taken as seriously as genocide because the current image of genocide, despite the nuances of its definition, is so tied to the images of the skeletons and ovens of the Nazi Final Solution that only the most horrific attacks against a people are identified as genocide and attract international attention. As the history of the ICTY's creation shows, only the most visible ways of destroying a people elicit demands for action. One way of addressing our concern is to lower the bar, so to speak, and recognize the Final Solution as the extreme, rather than the paradigmatic, case of genocide. Policies that fall short of the massacres of the Final Solution also need to be seen as genocidal.

Neither Ralph Lemkin, the originator of the term "genocide," nor subsequent UN definitions equate genocide solely with the physical destruction of a people. Lemkin, anticipating Claudia Card, speaks of genocide as a plan aimed at the disintegration of the political and social institutions of the culture, language, national feelings, religion and economic existence of national groups. …

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