Can We Identify with a Perpetrator?: Reading Deogratias
Georgia College and State University, United States of America
Deogratias, a graphic novel about a Rwandan Hutu boy by the same name, is unique among comics. Written explicitly for Western audiences, the story invites readers into the life of a morally grey character who is struggling to come to terms with his complicity in the Rwandan genocide. The novel operates on a fractured timeline, moving between present-day (post-genocide) Rwanda and flashbacks to the periods just before and during the genocide. The comic uses these temporal shifts to bring to the fore the question of Deogratias’s identity; the flashbacks allow the reader to see him as both a sympathetic character, swept up in circumstances and events much more powerful than himself, but also as a person complicit in the most horrible acts against his fellow human beings. At the moments when the horror of his memories overwhelms him, Deogratias believes that he is no longer human but a dog. His destabilized identity plays out visually on the pages as he shifts between human and animal form. This paper argues that the reader is forced to confront questions of identity because the text encourages them to identify and empathize with Deogratias, but also forces them to acknowledge the distance between their own experiences and his. Furthermore, the text is important because it forces readers to confront the experiences of a perpetrator and to acknowledge that morally grey areas sometimes accompany genocides. This paper therefore explores both the stakes of Deogratias’s identity in the comic, and the way in which the reader must be cautious and question their own identity and authority.
The Child Soldier as a Signifier: Afro-Pessimism in Select African Child Soldier Works
University of Manitoba, Canada
The plights of children caught in mass atrocities as victims and/or perpetrators have compelled strong attention from the international community, more commonly as constituted by the United Nations (David Rosen 2015; Katrina Lee-Koo 2011). This overwhelming interest overlaps with a vast growth in pop-cultural productions of films, novels, memoirs, and autobiographies based on experiences of child soldiers in recent ethno-political conflicts across different African contexts. As Rosen submits, “the contemporary literary gaze” on children in atrocities “remains firmly fixed on Africa” (47). In several such pop-cultural expressive forms one encounters the African child soldier as an affective figure serving in different ways to offer insight into the toll of African wars on children. Although there are robust critical receptions of these works, relatively not much focus has been accorded to child combatants as both signifiers reifying an Afro-pessimism that conceives of Africa, the setting of these stories, as unlivable, dangerous to children, and given to purposeless wars.
In this paper I will engage Emmanuel Dongala’s Jonny Mad Dog and Uzodinma Iweala’s Beasts of No Nation as representative child soldier narratives which do more than portray the complex image of African child soldiers. I will analyze these works and their filmic adaptations to show how they participate not only in pathologizing African wars as meaningless, greed-driven, and lacking in ideology, but also reinforcing longstanding Afro-pessimism that synonymizes the continent with disease, poverty, violence, and backwardness. My paper will demonstrate that the iconographies of both childhood and child soldiers in the selected texts serve to signify the African child soldier lived space as an immature, chaotic, and troubled child in need of an adult’s this being the West) intervention. Additionally, I argue that these works frame Africa in a Conradian sense and thus decontextualize and de-historize what has made child soldering possible.
Social Processes on Trial
Rhode Island College, United States of America
This presentation will explore the idea that in the process of putting former child soldiers on trial, we are adjudicating socialization processes—the ways through which we learn what it is to be and exist as social beings and internalize norms. Motivated by discussions surrounding what weight should be given to the previous experiences of Dominic Ongwen, the first former child soldier to be charged by the International Criminal Court with acts of which he himself had been a victim, this paper questions assumptions regarding learning norms in particular contexts; the social roles of rebel organizations like the Lord's Resistance Army; and how both relate to the proffered trial defenses of duress and mental defect. As the judgment on Ongwen’s case has been scheduled (currently set for early February), I will also speak to the trial outcome and possible implications for law and a more complicated understanding of victimhood as we go forward. While largely a theoretical endeavor, I pull from field research and interviews undertaken in Uganda and at the International Criminal Court at the Hague, as well as analysis of trial transcripts. The proposed presentation comes from a book currently in progress.
“Do Actual Communists Have Human Rights?”: Using art to address a half century of genocidal propaganda and policies in Indonesia
Michigan State University, United States of America
The 1965-66 genocide in Indonesia was accompanied by policies and propaganda that continue to influence current political and social life. The visceral power of propaganda endures consciously and unconsciously even after it has been factually challenged and its official broadcast discontinued. One result is the lack of dissonance between the idea of valuing human rights and dehumanizing communists. In human rights discussions and presentations, students asked me if actual communist had human rights. The logic and apparatus of stigmatization is not limited to communists, but extended to sexual and religious minorities in the present. Examining ongoing public protests demanding an end to impunity for genocide and subsequent authoritarian era violence as well as recent artistic and creative works probing unanswered questions about the genocide, I argue that the use of performance, visual art work, and music has slowly started to undermine practices of dehumanization and stigmatization. I explore how creative works are performed in public and circulate across the archipelago on social media to open a new space for discussion of the past that engages affective rather than legalistic sensibilities. This new digital space has provided a powerful form of intergenerational transmission of knowledge and regeneration of a youth movement for justice.