“We Target the World's Worst Crimes”: Creating Symbols of Justice in Human Rights Watch's Annual Report 2012

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 3:30 PM
Room: 418
Oral Presentation
Benjamin AUTHERS , Centre for International Governance and Justice, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
This paper examines how evocative and emotive images and text are deployed in human rights reporting as symbols of rights violation and protection, and considers how Human Rights Watch (HRW) locates itself in that figurative order as a necessary intermediary between wrongs and their redress. In its Annual Report 2012, HRW focuses on its involvement in “the international justice movement.” Images and textual descriptions of atrocity sit next to depictions of the work of law in the Report, of human rights abusers subject to adjudication in international courts and tribunals. Linking violation and justice in the Report is HRW, represented in words and visuals as “an effective force for justice.”

Through an interdisciplinary methodology that brings a critical analysis of the Report’s rhetoric into dialogue with interviews with HRW report writers, this paper examines how the Report creates a narrative in which HRW symbolises an effective response to human rights violations. The Report employs a human rights aesthetic to create visual and textual symbols that denote the work of justice in a legalised, global form. Framing the organisation as part of an international justice movement, the Report positions HRW as exemplary within that movement, an actor who has proven to be indispensible in bringing about justice through its research into, and witnessing of, rights violations. My analysis will demonstrate how the Report’s creation of a symbolic lexicon of justice is co-constitutive with HRW’s own self-representation, a self-fashioning that produces the organization as an ideal NGO within the international human rights regime.