SOAS University of London

Centre on Conflict, Rights and Justice

Individual and Collective in the Response to Mass Atrocity

Professor Mark Osiel

Date: 22 June 2015Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 22 June 2015Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: MB116

Type of Event: Lecture

The Centre for the International Politics of Conflict, Rights and Justice present a lecture from Professor Mark Osiel, University of Iowa, titled 'Individual and Collective in the Response to Mass Atrocity.'  This talk will be chaired by CCRJ member Kevin Heller, Professor of Law at SOAS.


Mark Osiel's several books seek to show how we may improve the law’s responses to mass atrocity by better understanding its origins and organizational dynamics. He has served as consultant to prosecutors of both Gen. Augusto Pinochet and the Rwandan genocidaires. Osiel has also advised the Department of Defense on recent anti-terrorism prosecutions and was Director for International Criminal and Humanitarian Law at the T.M.C. Asser Institute, in The Hague. Osiel regularly addresses international organizations and governments in post-conflict societies on issues of transitional justice. His writings have inspired scholarly conferences and are assigned at many leading universities throughout the world, in a number of fields.


Though it’s never raised explicitly, a single question is central and distinctive to all efforts at understanding and redressing mass atrocity: whether to regard the dramatis personae—perpetrators, victims, and beneficiaries—chiefly as individual persons or instead as collectivities, such as sovereign states, racial groups, non-state organizations, and criminal enterprises. The tension between these two approaches finds acute expression within every prevalent form of atrocity response today: truth commissions, personnel screening, criminal prosecution, civil redress (i.e., monetary compensation and injunctive orders), official memorialization, trade sanctions, findings of “state responsibility,” and counter-terrorist uses of force. Within each such method of response, and certainly in our choice between them, we alternate between individualizing and collectivizing, in ways that may seem morally arbitrary, indeed almost random. Yet this tacking back and forth has profound, life-altering consequences for whom we will blame and benefit. I argue that there is nonetheless an implicit yet coherent order to what we do through these several modes of atrocity response.

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Organiser: Centre for the International Politics of Conflict, Rights and Justice