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Reviewed by:
  • War, Conflict and Human Rights: Theory and Practice
  • Christina M. Morus, 2009 Fulbright Scholar, Assistant Professor of Comparative Genocide Studies (bio)
Chandra Lekha Sriram, Olga Martin-Ortega, & Johanna Herman, War, Conflict and Human Rights: Theory and Practice. London and New York: Routledge Press, 2010, 272 pages, $145.00 hardcover, ISBN 978-0-415-45205-2; $39.95 paperback, ISBN 978-0-415-45206-9.

Taking into account that complex political, cultural, epistemic, and historical assumptions [End Page 1051] are at work in both vernacular and official human rights discourses, Chandra Lekha Sriram, Olga Martin-Ortega, and Johanna Herman's 2010 book, War, Conflict and Human Rights: Theory and Practice, attempts to refrain from a pedagogical repetition of the often unquestioned social and political paradigms that trouble Western understandings of, and involvement in, issues of global conflict. Intended primarily to serve an upper-level undergraduate and Master's-level classroom audience, this synthesis of human rights legislation and critical consideration of its application in a variety of current contexts, makes this book useful to a heterogeneous audience of researchers and practitioners. Thoughtfully designed and utterly thought-provoking, this interdisciplinary text draws on law, the humanities, and politics in relation to conflict management. In so doing, the authors offer a sorely needed practical and theoretical approach to the intricately layered legal and political relationships embedded in armed conflict and the actions taken to prevent, intervene, mediate, or account for the often resulting massive human toll.

Following a short preface, the book is divided into three sections, each with multiple chapters. The concepts introduced in each are thoroughly but clearly explained and economically worded. Part I examines the theoretical and political underpinnings of human rights law as it intersects with armed conflict and introduces some of the key critical debates in which these relationships are entrenched, providing the book's solid foundation. This adept theoretical overview sets up Part II, which moves theory into practice, offering five distinct critical case studies. Part III then flushes out post-conflict implications, bringing together the elements with which the reader is confronted in the first two sections while concluding with an eye to the future of human rights theory and conflict management. These sections work together to make visible and complicate the underlying assumptions that shape even expert perceptions of violent conflict and the politics that affect human rights law and practice.

The structure of each chapter is designed to provoke critical debate and invites the reader to experience the political, cultural, legal, and ethical complexities that underscore the issues at hand. This method begins in Chapter One which starts with a suggestion of how the law and practice of human rights operate and further explains how each is acted upon by a multitude of forces. Next, the chapter provides legal documents and concrete conflict examples which convey the definitional and practical ambiguity of human rights as a concept while further demonstrating how human rights violations and advocacy intersect with local, international, and transnational politics. In each chapter, dense ideas and legal documents, as well as illustrative examples, are set off in boxes within the relevant sections to allow clarity for the less-informed reader. Yet, these boxes are presented in such a way so as not to intrude on those readers already conversant with the subject matter. Still, while the well-versed reader will not likely need these tools early on, as the book progresses, it is likely that even the knowledgeable will appreciate this strategy, as there are many thorny issues to come, and these boxes help the reader keep it all in mental order. Each chapter then concludes with a shaded box reviewing the chapter's main points, followed by a list of discussion questions to ensure conceptual understanding and encourage practical application. Finally, a brief list of further scholarly and practical reading is provided along with a list of [End Page 1052] official documents and sources relevant to the chapter's subject matter.

Maintaining the same basic structure, each ensuing chapter in Part I grows more nuanced. Chapter Two elaborates on the characteristics and causes of violent conflict in the present, analyzing the role of the international community in conflict...


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