SOAS University of London

School of Law

Anatomy of a Human Rights Emergency: Case Study of Darfur

Module Code:
Taught in:
Term 2

This module, formerly one term of the full year Human Rights in the Developing World class, is an in-depth case study of a major human rights crisis with significant international dimensions: Darfur, in Western Sudan. Darfur is in many ways the exemplary human rights crisis of the age and throws into stark relief the complexities and paradoxes of global engagement with a local emergency. Darfur has become a byword for human rights catastrophe and a touchstone for human rights activism and engagement in the first decade of 21st century, much as crises in Ethiopia and Yugoslavia did in the last two decades of the 20th.

The purpose behind the term’s immersion in Darfur is not to make everyone a Darfur expert or specialist, even were that possible. Whilst Darfur and the Sudan might be remote from some students’ area interests or experience, a close study of the nature of the Darfur crisis as it has developed over much of the last decade is an excellent way for all students to formulate, confront, consider, and analyse the wide range of issues which come up when a developing world crisis arises, comes to global awareness and is accorded full-spectrum human rights engagement (the international and national norms and system, the discourse, the movement, the local, regional, international and institutional politics):

• human rights emergencies and human rights protection in general
• international, regional, and national politics of human rights agenda-setting
• competing human rights agendas
• role of Human Rights NGOs and advocacy groups
• fact-finding, monitoring, and reporting in the global age
• media, civil society, and human rights mobilisation
• selective invocation and application of human rights norms
• the use and abuse of the genocide label
• human rights issues as cause, concomitant, and consequence of conflict
• militarisation of human rights protection
• human rights and peacekeeping
• human rights as discourse against power and as discourse of power
• human rights and peace negotiations/peace agreements
• human rights and international criminal law
• human rights and humanitarian relief
• regional (African) vs international human rights protection and intervention
• bilateral vs multilateral human rights protection
• gender-based violence
• human rights and European/non-European difference in a post-colonial world

The module material is challenging in every way—politically, legally, emotionally. The aim in the face of this material is to retain judgement and objectivity, and to develop and apply rigorous analytic methods. Darfur has elicited an extraordinary response from a multitude of actors from diverse practical and scholarly fields—from professional diplomats and soldiers to critical sociologists and Hollywood actors. The course brings to bear a human rights perspective on all the diverse responses. Many extra-legal sources are considered but submitted to what is in the end an informed legal analysis. Students are encouraged to think as lawyers, not as crusaders or journalists, even as they engage productively with them.

The module relies as much as possible on primary source materials: resolutions, decisions, and reports of the international bodies; briefing materials and position papers from the peace negotiations; bulletins and reports of NGOS; testimony of victims; and government proceedings and publications, as well as front-line reports from the major human rights NGOs, and print and electronic journalism.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • appreciate the manner in which historical/structural/long-standing claims and grievances (perceived and articulated by relevant actors not solely victims) are transposed into/subsumed under human rights norms
  • understand the interrelationships and tensions among human rights, humanitarian law, criminal law, economic law, and the right to development
  • understand the multiple contingencies and complexities governing international intervention to protect human rights and the roles, strategies, modes and aims of relevant actors (bilateral (military and civilian), multilateral, non-governmental, insurgent/counter-insurgent, etc)
  • distinguish human rights issues as cause, concomitant, and consequence of conflict
  • discern and evaluate the relevance of extra-legal judgements (political, economic, security, cultural, gender) and assessments in the invocation and application of human rights protection norms and measures

Method of assessment

  • Oral Presentation: 10% (Weekly Panel Presentations)
  • Coursework: 90% (4000 words)

Suggested reading

  • Julie Flint and Alex de Waal, Darfur: A New History of a Long War, revised and updated, Zed Books: London 2008
  • Mahmood Mamdani, Saviours and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror, London, Verso, 2009
  • War in Darfur and the Search for Peace (Studies in Global Equity), Harvard University Press: Cambridge 2007,
  • Carol Cohn, ed., Women and Wars, Polity


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules