Posts by: Bridget Conley

I spent ten years working on issues related to contemporary genocide at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, including developing an exhibition on genocide that presented brief histories of Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Darfur, Sudan. Needless to say, I have seen a lot of images and video of the impact of violence on the human body. What […]

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In November 2013, I attended a meeting in Dakar, Senegal that addressed how to memorialize slavery as part of an African Union Human Rights Memorial. The trip included a visit to Gorée Island, the notorious site from which untold numbers of African were sent to the Americas against their will as part of the […]

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Joshua Oppenheimer’s film, The Look of Silence, seems to argue that the kind of speech capable of social change shares much with silence. The film provides a companion reflection to how post-conflict or transitional justice is often conceived of as official speech. In transitional justice, the power of change is envisioned as working its […]

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Twenty years ago today the policy of the “safe havens” in Bosnia’s war collapsed, not in the hills of eastern Bosnia, but in a meeting in London.While it is more important to mark the anniversary of genocide at Srebrenica, today should not be forgotten. Nor should the shift be simplified into a redemption story for […]

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The real dilemma concerns what must be excised from international genocide and mass atrocities agendas in order to produce the kind of lessons learned that are palatable to powerful international actors. When truth telling aligns with the interests of power, it invariably softens its demands. If you bring together people from key international decision-making institutions to discuss a historical event that can only be deemed a colossal failure, the lessons will inevitably be focused on how the different actors did not coordinate their efforts behind a single, guiding ethos or policy. This is invariably true and it evenly distributes blame. It is also invariably true of many international failures, mistakes and faux-pas: it may even describe the “international community” rather than a problem within it.

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But in the circumstance of deaths at sea, too often the “perpetrator” is able to masquerade as natural phenomenon–it is storms, waves and rocks that cause death. Mass atrocities, we assume, require intent, focused violence, and usually a gun. When the seas become mass graves, the trail back to a source of violence or outrageous inequity is frequently an abstraction. “Traffickers” or “immigration policies” are to blame–a “perpetrator” as nameless as its victims.

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