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Partitions, Population 'Transfer' and the Question of Human Rights and Genocide in the 1930s and 40s

Thursday May 17, 2012, from 14:00 to 16:00
Room Fred Halliday - IBEI (1st Floor)
Research seminar
Dirk Moses (European University Institute)

The substantial literatures on decolonization, the partitions of the later 1940s—India, Palestine, and Germany—and the so-called “human rights revolution” have not intersected in the manner that their simultaneity suggests they should. These unfolded during the United Nations deliberations about human rights and genocide, the trials of Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg, the negotiations for the Fourth Geneva Convention and refugee convention. In effect, they renegotiated the old Eurocentric “standard of civilization” by involving Eastern European and non-European states, some of which were complicit in and effected by the population expulsions. How high or low were they to set the threshold of what “shocks the conscience of mankind,” as the 1946 UN General Assembly declaration on genocide phrased the test of barbarism? Bringing in population “transfers” and partitions into the frame allows these deliberations to be seen in a new light because they attest to divergent humanitarian norms and to internal tensions within the emerging human rights regime. For the interwar discourse on population “transfers” proposed them as a humane solution to seemingly intractable nationality conflicts and as a precondition for social and economic development. This paper analyzes the conjuncture of these partitions, population “transfer” and the “human rights revolution.”