Civil War and Genocide: Conceptual Confusion and Mass Violence against Civilians

When:11 Apr 2017, 12:30pm - 1:45pm
Venue:Morven Brown 309 (map ref C20)
Who:Professor Dirk Moses, University of Sydney
Professor Dirk Moses

History Seminar Series


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 Dirk Moses

Dirk Moses is Professor of Modern History at the University of Sydney. He researches and writes about the genocide and postwar Germany. He is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Genocide Research.

View Past Events