The mass killing of women activists in Latin America: making political violence visible

An important part of academic feminist work continues to be to make the gendered aspects of theoretical concepts and tools of ‘mainstream’ academic thought visible. Often, gaps, silences and deliberate omissions become evident only through the lens of empirical research and analysis.

In 2017, Latin America was described by the UN as the world’s most violent continent for women. The assassinations of women activists and community leaders have continued across the region in 2018. While the killing of Marielle Franco, a favela community leader, and the unraveling of government-private enterprise collusion in the 2016 killing of Berta Cáceres, an environmental activist in Honduras, have been portrayed as political murders by international media, there is substantial academic work to do with respect to theorizing the gendered aspects of these types of killings.

In their influential edited volume Violent Democracies in Latin America (2010) Arias and Goldstein argue that the ‘evolutionist’ democracy theory’s understanding of disorder as a failure of institutions fails to grasp Latin American politics in the context of proliferating violence. They offer the concept ‘violent pluralism’ as a prism for interrogating and understanding the co-existence of structural and personal, political and social violence and democracy in contemporary Latin America. Violent pluralism is defined as ‘states, social elites, and subalterns employing violence in the quest to establish or contest regimes of citizenship, justice, rights, and a democratic social order’. However, as a theory on violent democracies, the theory of violent pluralism is silent on the gendered realities of this violence as it plays out in Latin America. Considering the success of this concept, it is important that the concept has the capacity to help make visible how much of the political violence in the region takes the shape of violence against women involved in grassroots mobilization.

In this blog post, building on collaborative research with internally displaced (IDP) women’s organizations in Colombia between 2010–2014 but also reflecting wider developments in the region, I unpack this concept as a three-pronged relationship between political organizing and gendered violence. I suggest the need to conceptualize how gendered violence works as an obstacle to organizing; how political organizing is a response to gendered violence; and finally, how political organizing is a cause of further gender-based violence.

As a consequence of massive internal displacement from the late 1990s, and supported by the Colombian Constitutional Court’s progressive decisions, the Colombian feminist and peace movement (broadly conceived) and a significant international humanitarian response, a large number of IDP women’s organizations emerged from around 2004. Over the course of a 4-year research project, a joint Los Andes-PRIO research team led by myself and Julieta Lemaitre (S.J.D HLS 2007) examined how mobilization helped these organizations gain access to their constitutionally mandated rights as citizens of Colombia – first as IDP organizations, and later within the transitional justice frame. Very quickly, however, the project became focused on how these organizations navigated a highly precarious security context.

Gendered violence as an obstacle to organizing

Drawing on the findings of this project, I suggest that gendered violence can be an obstacle to organizing in a social field consisting of non-violent women’s organizations that overwhelmingly deploy peaceful tactics and strategies. By emphasising violent civil society actors, the violent pluralism framework risks erasing not only the efforts of non-violent actors, but also their vulnerability and the impact of violence. Gendered violence can deter or end mobilization because women are not able to take advantage of political opportunities or harness necessary resources. Fear of violence or actual violence can undermine the collective action frame.

In the deeply unequal Colombian context, physical and symbolic violence work together as a deterrent to women’s activism. Physical violence and state repression can undermine and destroy ongoing activism, for example, by very literal ‘leadership-decapitation’. The rising lethal violence against activists across Colombian civil society combine with a political economy of symbolic violence arising from the way messages, icons, or signs transmit messages of domination of or aggression against women. The impact of these threats depends on their nature, context and whether they are addressed to individuals or collective entities.

Political organizing as a response to gendered violence

Second, I call for a conceptualization of political organizing as a response to gendered violence. The many forms of political organizing undertaken by IDP women should be scrutinized in order to better understand how collective feminist political subjectivities are construed through gendered violence as a mobilizing factor. Such scrutiny can shed light on this form of violence-mediated political consciousness as a contribution to democracy

Here, I want to highlight the role of consciousness raising and credible documentation of threats. For grassroots organizations, a key element is the harnessing of a feminist consciousness among rank and file members. Many of the organizations we mapped came into being because IDP organizations commonly excluded women from leadership roles and were rife with discrimination and sexual harassment, providing an initial barrier to IDP women’s political activism. When activists harness and visibilize insecurity, threats and violence through multiple forms of documentation and registration, they do so in order to gain local, national and international credibility, but also as a mode of co-constituting a shared consciousness about the cause for and nature of their activism, and its place in the broader struggle for social justice.

Political organizing as a cause of further gender-based violence

Third, I argue that political organizing is a cause of further gender-based violence, but the connection between organizing and violence remains contested: political violence is often reframed as private and/or interpersonal. Being outspoken or even being organized can create risk. An important observation is that violence persists despite assuming a low profile or the activist’s own systematic efforts to obtain government protection – and suspicion of the government’s motives or the adequacy of protection mechanisms remains rife. Moreover, acts of violence against women grassroots activists also seem to set in motion specific sets of contestations between civil society and the state over the recognition of gendered violence as political – the recognition that the violence comes in response to the organizing, and that the violence itself is a deliberate, political act – and not as an act of ‘private’, domestic violence or as a result of criminal activities, typically drug or gang related.

There can and should be many theories on the gender of violent pluralism. My specific ambition in this blog post has been to point to an analytical path whereby the systematic violence against women activists in Latin America can be incorporated into discussions about violent pluralism. Opening up this analytical pathway will also contribute to making violent pluralism a more sophisticated theoretical concept.


Kristin Bergtora Sandvik (Doctor of Juridical Sciences, S.J.D Harvard Law School 2008) is a Research Professor in Humanitarian Studies at PRIO, and a professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Oslo. Her current work focuses on displacement, gender and the technologization of humanitarian space. This post is based on the article Gendering violent pluralism: women’s political organising in Latin America” published in the special issue “Gendering (in)security” in  Third World Thematics: A TWQ Journal in 2018. A previous version of this blog was posted  here at the LAPJ blog


Dead male bodies: a challenge for feminist legal thought

The scholarship on law, conflict and suffering has for the past two decades been dominated by a moral and analytical concern with “women and children” and sexual violence. However, when we look up and do the body count out in the physical and political world – in the city and along the borderlands – those bodies by a large majority belong to a specific subset of males. Battle deaths, torture, unlawful imprisonment, disappearances and extrajudicial killings overwhelmingly affect young poor men of non-Caucasian ethnicity.

These dead male bodies constitute a challenge for feminist legal thought. In this blog post, I raise the following question: How can/should we critically reflect differently on this type of gendered suffering in war and conflict situations? I argue that a greater scholarly acknowledgement of the scale and nature of this gendered form of social suffering is ethically important for feminist legal scholars.  Thinking about male suffering does not undermine the feminist project of critically exploring the world women live in, or of identifying injustice against women; neither is it in competition with or at the expense of attention to how women suffer in war. Rather, a consideration of male suffering and dead male bodies provides another/an important critical angle on the social, cultural and political structures that produce and sanction suffering through indifference, the deliberate infliction of harm or, increasingly, through data-driven driven human sorting exercises.

Using data-driven practices of human sorting as a point of departure, I consider the role of technology in co-constituting male suffering and reflect on what this means for law and the recognition of men as ‘targetable’ or ‘protectable’. To illustrate my argument, I point to examples of targeting practices in drone strikes and data-driven screening practices in refugee protection.

The broad contemporary turn to Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) in humanitarian and conflict settings is informed by sweeping progress narratives regarding technology’s ability to effect social change. ICTs are now a standard part of humanitarian aid, being employed for evidence collection, risk assessments, protection work, and aid distribution by NGOs, international organisations, governments, and the private sector. This includes smartphones, satellites, surveillance drones, biometric technology, and social media and data aggregation platforms. These ‘humanitarian technologies’ perform remote sensing analysis and crowd mapping; individual identification through cell phone tracking, finger prints, iris scans, or facial recognition; vulnerability, needs, and risk assessments; and serve as conduits for aid delivery in the form of cash-based interventions. In the context of conflict, many of the problems codified as ‘human rights violations’, ‘humanitarian crises’, or ‘security threats’ are currently portrayed as amenable to technological solutions. The blending of humanitarian and military objectives and practices is well illustrated by the figure of the weaponized ‘humanitarian drone’.

I argue that such data-driven processes – coding, registration, data gathering, and everyday program execution and maintenance – create male harm and male vulnerability by effectively removing large numbers of undesirable male bodies both from face-to-face encounters with decision makers (military, humanitarian, or otherwise) and from the protection guarantees of international law.

An already well-known instance of data-mediated masculinity concerns how the politics of drone targeting is co-constituted through a conceptualization of civilians that excludes men in targeted communities, but also through the legacy of colonial airpower. Drone targeting builds on but also reinforces the exclusion of men from the conceptualization of who is to be protected, by way of rendering men as legitimate targets because of their gender. We see this in so-called signature strikes, which allow for killing people without exact identification: they target people who fit into the category ‘military-aged males’, who live in regions where terrorists operate, and ‘whose behavior is assessed to be similar enough to those of terrorists to mark them for death’.

However, ‘dead male bodies’ are not produced only through targeting. A less familiar example concerns bureaucratic refugee screening processes. Male refugees are already regularly excluded from full access to durable solutions because of their gender. For example, in 2015, the Canadian government announced that it would only accept unaccompanied men who identified themselves as non-heterosexual for third-country resettlement.  I propose that the adoption of ICT to achieve better results-based management and a higher degree of effectiveness exacerbates this trend towards male exclusion. Data-driven refugee protection mechanisms – in practice representing a significant shift from a legal to a socio-technical protection regime – build on a composite of social, technical, and political problem representations of gendered vulnerability that renders male vulnerability invisible. At the same time, these mechanisms are portrayed by UNHCR, states and tech companies as providing “perfect data” – in stark contrast to the inadequate and overburdened legal and quasi-legal processes of the international refugee regime.

My argument concerns how vulnerability assessments in particular comprise a crucial factor in the digital exclusion of male refugees. According to prevailing understandings of vulnerability among actors in the humanitarian field, women and children are assumed to be ‘the most vulnerable’. These perceptions of gender and vulnerability not only impact directly on program priorities but also shape screening efforts and data generation that in turn legitimize these priorities. This leads to a mutually reinforced notion of women as vulnerable and of men’s specific gendered problems as invisible and irrelevant to vulnerability considerations—and of both as uncontestable. Algorithmic ‘black box decisions’ are hard to unpack, usually impossible to appeal and render aid beneficiaries with little opportunity for understanding how decisions concerning their digital and physical personae were made.

Data-mediated masculinity is produced by large-scale and systematic processes of obscuring, forging, or foregrounding connections between male bodies, between male bodies and cultural signifiers (law in particular), and between male bodies and temporal and geographical space. Targeting of potential ‘extremists’ and screening of refugees are only two examples of such processes. I suggest that these examples illustrate a shifting composite of attention and dis-attention to male vulnerability and intersectionality residing at the heart of the gendered and racialised logic of screening and targeting. This logic produces distinctions between ‘protectable’ and ‘undesirable’ civilian bodies, where data-mediated masculinity emerges as a key attribute of this undesirability. More attention must be given to how binary gender relations as embedded in law and policy documents are inscribed into the algorithms used for targeting and screening. Determinations of vulnerability and risk are typically presented as objective and neutral but are deeply subjective and political.

In particular, close attention must be paid to how the demarcation of legal, political, and cultural boundaries allow different identities and groups to be defined and made visible as subjects of protection, and the ways in which masculinities are being ‘othered’ by way of marking them as ‘problematically different’. There is a rich literature interrogating the construction of non-white men as security threats. At present, of particular relevance is the promulgation of attributes of masculine anti-sociality, irrationality, violence, savagery, and hypersexuality associated with ‘a misogynistic Arab culture and archaic Muslim religiosity’: refugee and asylum policies are premised on othering masculinities by marking them as ‘problematically different’. Within this frame, Muslim men and asylum seekers become latent threats to Muslim women (there), Western women (here), and vehicles for violent extremism that should be eliminated (there) or detained (here).

As feminist legal scholars, it is our task to interrogate how these assumptions are constructed, how they exist and matter, and how they are coded into data-driven decision-making systems.

Kristin Bergtora Sandvik (Doctor of Juridical Sciences, S.J.D Harvard Law School 2008) is a professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Oslo and a Research Professor in Humanitarian Studies at PRIO.

This blog post is based on the article Technology, Dead Male Bodies, and Feminist Recognition: Gendering ICT Harm Theory  (here) from the Aid in Crisis project. The article is  part of a Special Issue for the Australian Feminist Law Journal on Gender, War and Technology: Peace and Armed Conflict in the 21st Century  co-edited by Emily Jones, Yoriko Otomo and Sara Kendall.


Building a Sociology of Law for the Humanitarian Field

Kristin Bergtora Sandvik and Kjersti Lohne

Legal sociology has paid significant attention to human rights, but in contrast to legal anthropology, little focus has been given to humanitarianism. In this contribution, we ask, what does a legal sociological research agenda for the humanitarian field look like?

Humanitarianism is many things to many people. As described by Miriam Ticktin, humanitarianism is ‘an ethos, a cluster of sentiments, a set of laws, a moral imperative to intervene, and a form of government’; it is ‘one way to do good or to improve aspects of the human condition by focusing on suffering and saving lives in times of crisis or emergency; for instance, humanitarians provide temporary shelter, food, and medical care during wartime or immediately after disasters’. The actors involved include affected populations, civil society, host governments, the private sector, international organizations, humanitarian practitioners, the international humanitarian sector and donors.

As academics, it is our task to re-conceptualize this humanitarianism in terms of power, legitimacy and regimes of control and surveillance – both from an internal perspective concerned with humanitarian accountability in the global emergency zone, and from an external perspective that conceptualizes humanitarianism as a form of governance and social fact in global society.

An important aspect here is that as the humanitarian sector continues to expand, the field is legalizing. Beyond international humanitarian law, humanitarian action is increasingly compelled and constrained by a plethora of soft law and legal discourses, and what was once a largely unregulated field of practice is now emerging as a transnational humanitarian space where authority, governance, legitimacy and power is progressively invoked through law.

Historically, humanitarian action has been linked to the normative framework of international humanitarian law (IHL), while emerging as a largely unregulated field of practice. The study of IHL has overwhelmingly been the terrain of doctrinal legal scholars, while the apparent lack of other law has meant that, until recently, legal sociologists have paid little attention to the humanitarian sector. There has also been little sociological concern regarding the consequences of not asking questions about the role of law in the humanitarian project.

As scholars specifically focused on the legal aspects of humanitarian space and the evolving law of humanitarian action, we are interested in normative constructions and contestations regarding conceptualizations of aid, agency, crisis, responsibility and rights within and across different social fields of regulation and governance.  We argue that legal sociology is of central analytical value to this prism, as it focuses on the study of rules, standards, norms; the evolving role of the legal profession and the legalization of conflict resolution in humanitarian governance. Legal sociology can also offer important perspectives on the relative lack of regulation of the humanitarian space, and on the normative orderings that occupy this space in competition with, as a substitution for, or in parallel to legal norms.

In the following, we explore a set of key questions concerning the relationship between humanitarian governance and law:

  • What is the relationship between humanitarian norms and law, and the normative and legal hierarchy of competing humanitarian values?
  • What are the implications of enfranchising non-state actors to partially ‘see like a state’ in humanitarian contexts?
  • What type of authority – and legal authority – do humanitarians have, and how is this authority produced and constrained through rules, norms and standards; including soft regulation, contractual practices and financial policies?
  • What does this authority allow humanitarians to do, and to the extent that humanitarian actors are held accountable, how does this happen?

The relationship between norms and rules

We are interested in the frictions and blind spots that arise in the relationships between humanitarian imperatives (‘do no harm’, ‘aid according to need’), principles (neutrality, impartiality, universality, humanity), and legal frameworks aimed at regulating specific aspects of humanitarian logistics and protection activities. Examples of relationships that need critical unpacking include the relationship between needs-based and rights-based humanitarianism; and the relationship between humanitarian norms, soft law, and due process considerations in refugee resettlement.

There is a similar need for critical inquiry with respect to the relationship and legal hierarchy between humanitarian norms and rules, and neighboring human insecurity fields such as development, human rights, mass atrocity response and international criminal justice.  Specifically, more attention should be given to the substantive aspects of these relationships, and to the implications of mission creeps. For example, ICTs and data are useful prisms for exploring emergent splits between human rights and humanitarians as crisis responding communities. This includes how this split shapes and is shaped by each group’s use of data and the impact the use has on crisis affected individuals and communities. It also includes increasingly divergent perceptions of what responsible approaches to data collection, maintenance, storage and sharing of data look like.

Seeing like a state

Humanitarian organizations are not states. Yet, they are transnational, have thousands of staff, operate and litigate in multiple jurisdictions and are actively involved in sponsoring and pushing for soft law developments. How do we analyze the tensions between the construction of an emergency zone which enfranchises non-state actors to govern; and the structure of human rights law, which requires that individuals have access to accountability mechanisms, including the means for obtaining binding legal redress through state institutions?

For example, legalistic versions of rights-based approaches (RBA) to humanitarian action are premised on the notion that rights holders are entitled to hold the duty bearer accountable. Yet, according to international law and the view of international humanitarian organizations, this right is directed principally at the state and its agents. Humanitarian organizations suggest that they must consider ‘rights-holders with legal entitlements’ but do not see themselves as accountable for the fulfillment of those rights. Organizations sometimes operate with competing definitions of RBA, where humanitarian organizations seek to strengthen the capacities of the rights holders to make claims and of duty bearers to satisfy those claims, but are not themselves directly accountable to persons of concern. What are the implications of enfranchising non-state actors to partially behave and ‘see like a state’?

Questions of authority

Next, we are interested in what type of authority – and legal authority – humanitarians have, and how this authority is produced and constrained through rules, norms and standards; including soft regulation, contractual practices and financial policies.

The broader context for the regularization of humanitarian governance is the accelerating reach of international law into the realm of international administrative governance. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the lack of accountability and transparency raised serious questions about the procedural legitimacy of international organizations. Serious concerns were raised about the emergence of undemocratic liberalism as a consequence of global bureaucratization. The answer to this anxiety about bureaucracy was to bring in more of it: It was thought that rationalization and the emphasis of proper and correct procedures would ensure procedural legitimacy. Hence, the bureaucratization and regularization of humanitarian action takes place mostly through the proliferation of soft norms resulting from multilateral legal agreements, international adjudication, and the increased law-making capacity of international organizations. Legal sociology may here contribute to develop a critical perspective on this aspect of humanitarian governance, for instance by mapping out the role of legal actors and legal authority in humanitarian organizations and transnational coalition networks in humanitarian governance.

To exemplify, socio-legal and anthropological interest in soft law have mostly focused on international instruments for human rights protection, which has resulted in an unfortunate scholarly tendency to reify soft law as inherently progressive. Yet the power operating in the crafting of soft law and the logic of softness may create inequality between groups or result in oppression. Constituted on ideas of emergency and urgency, humanitarian space is a site with extreme power differences between actors, to the extent that aid affected communities are rarely represented around the table when new soft law instruments are drafted.

We should bear this in mind as we engage critically with the emergent law of humanitarian action. The informality of soft law may jeopardize formalized accountability mechanisms, or weaken the obligations of organizations, humanitarians, private sector actors or states in the humanitarian field. Even when crisis-affected communities participate, the notion of pluralistic participation may conceal that soft law production is actually limited to powerful actors; and contribute to misrepresent how the humanitarian sector is structured both on and according to principles of systemic inequality. Legal sociology could here provide a close study on how best practices and community norms are articulated and codified as soft law.


Finally, we ask what this authority allows humanitarians to do, and to the extent that humanitarian actors are held accountable, how this happens. Here we want to briefly outline two emergent developments.

While scholars have often approached this topic by examining the role and responsibilities of international organizations, the 2015 Steve Dennis versus the Norwegian Refugee Council case from the Oslo District court, and its aftermath provides an interesting case study for gauging the evolving juridification of humanitarian organizations’ duty of care for their staff, and the broader implications of a shift towards court-ordered humanitarian practice. Activities and processes that were before considered ‘good practice’ within a human resources frame are increasingly juridified. This shift also reshapes modes of organizing work and workers. In the aftermath of the Steve Dennis case, organizations have struggled to define what constitutes acceptable levels of insurance for a multinational staff. The distributive effects on peoples everyday professional lives, including how such effects may vary according to nationality, race or religion, merit specific attention.

Finally, questions must be asked about the role of global and national publics in holding states and humanitarian actors accountable for how they contribute to end/engender human suffering. In the human rights field, social movements and legal mobilization are central for holding states accountable. However, while contemporary humanitarianism began as a series of social movements – including the anti-slavery movements, missionary engagements and the internationalization of Red Cross societies – present-day humanitarians appear to have a deeply ambivalent attitude to enlist bystanders, i.e the general public, beyond fundraising and social media support. On the other hand, with the present difficulties facing humanitarians with respect to access to humanitarian space and the declining respect for international humanitarian law, ideas about public engagement may be shifting.


While humanitarianism has global and avowedly benevolent ambitions for ordering and eradicating crisis, manifested through a global system of organizations operating within, in parallel with, above and across the domestic state system, and legitimated by moral universals (neutrality, humanity etc.), it is also a field epitomizing global divisions and inequalities. At the same time, humanitarianism – as a transnational practice field and a cluster of cosmopolitan sentiments – is expanding. As part of this, the field is legalizing. Having outlined a few established practices and emergent developments of the mutually constitutive relationship between law and humanitarianism, we argue that legal sociology is well situated to track this development.

This post originally appeared at  the Sociological Review August 18th 2017. The post builds on research output from the PRIO-project ‘Aid in Crisis? Rights-Based Approaches and Humanitarian Outcomes’, funded by the Research Council of Norway under the AIDEFFECT programme.

Kristin Bergtora Sandvik is Research Professor in Humanitarian Studies, PRIO & Professor of Sociology of Law in the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law at the University of Oslo.

Kjersti Lohne is Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law at the University of Oslo. 

The Myth of ICT’s Protective effect in mass atrocity response


Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) are now being employed as a standard part of mass atrocity response, evidence collection, and research by non-governmental organizations, governments, and the private sector. Deployment of these tools and techniques occur for a variety of stated reasons, most notably the ostensible goal of “protecting” vulnerable populations. In a new article published with Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal , we  argue that there is little evidence of the existence of what can be referred to as a causal “Protective or Preventative Effect” (PPE) from the use of ICTs in mass atrocity producing environments.

Historically, the international community’s response, or lack thereof, to mass atrocities, has been shaped by the absence of timely and accurate information. Over the past two decades, the use of ICTs has metamorphosed from a series of prototype use cases of these tools and techniques to a now commonplace component of the human rights and humanitarian sector’s response to mass atrocity and human security crisis scenarios. Accompanying this mainstreaming is a set of generalized and, to date, largely unvalidated claims that ICT changes the nature and effectiveness of mass atrocity response.

The specific applications of new technologies and platforms are diverse and constantly evolving, but can be generally divided into two broad categories of prevention/response and justice/accountability: 1) Uses that seek to create unique situational awareness for population protective purposes and informing response activities, and 2) use cases aimed at detecting and/or documenting evidence of alleged crimes for judicial and/or advocacy purposes.  Additionally, the adoption of these technologies appears to be spurred, in large part, by two major factors: 1) Their comparatively low cost in comparison to other, analog interventions and 2) their ability to be remotely deployed in highly lethal, non-permissive environments that preclude traditional, ground-based approaches.

Thus, ICTs are now effectively treated as indispensable “force multipliers” that may either supplement or, in some cases, supplant mass atrocity responses that rely on humans physically making contact with other humans in the places where mass atrocity events are occurring.

We argue that the adoption of an ever more technology-reliant and increasingly “remote” posture has encoded within it an implicit aspiration to literally predict, prevent and deter these crimes as a direct causal result of deploying these modalities. We propose that this increasingly publicly expressed vision that technology itself can fundamentally alter the calculus of whether and how mass atrocities occur demonstrates that civil society actors have done more than simply adopt tools and techniques: They have adopted a theory of change –which we here label PPE—based on technological utopianism as well, a theory that posits technological change is inevitable, problem-free and progressive.

The core of this theory consist in the encoding of assumptions and aspirations into ICTs having an inherently “ambient protective effect” (APE) – i.e. casually transforming the threat matrix of a particular atrocity producing environment in a way that improves the human security status of targeted populations. The APE is based on the assumption that increased volumes of unique otherwise unobtainable data over large scale geographic areas and/or non-permissive environments may cause one, some, or all of the following four outcomes to occur:

  1. Deterrent APE: Perpetrators are less likely to act because of threat of have action documented.
  2. Public Outcry APE: Citizens in nations that have capability to interdict become more activated to push for interventions/protective actions because of immediacy/undeniability/uniqueness of ICT derived/transmitted evidence.
  3. Actionable intelligence APE: Governments are given new intelligence that they otherwise not have due to focus of NGOs on poorly monitored/lower politically valued locations that causes them to act.
  4. Early warning APE: Targeted communities have early warning that enables them to make better, quicker, more informed decisions that are potentially lifesaving.

More research is needed into each of these four points and how they relate to the more general problem with the PPE, which is that it impacts the awareness and acknowledgment of the possible direct and indirect negative effects of ICT. A growing body of scholarship indicates that the attempt to project a PPE through technology may be, in some cases, both exposing affected civilian populations to new, rapidly evolving risks to their human security and negatively mutating the behavior of alleged mass atrocity perpetrators. Technology can have unpredictable or unpredicted knock-on effects: For example, crowd-sourced data is neutral in the sense that it can also be used to foment violence, for example by creating a riot, instead of preventing it.

The human security community broadly speaking—particularly mass atrocity responders, such as humanitarians, human rights advocates and peace builders—must come to terms with the fact that there is a difference between knowing about alleged atrocities and doing something about them; monitoring a mass atrocity crime is different and distinct from preventing it or protecting against its effects. There is a need for members of this broad and diverse community to begin to take seriously the fact that ICT use can cause real harm to civilians.

Kristin Bergtora Sandvik  (S.J.D Harvard Law School 2008) is a Research Professor in Humanitarian Studies, PRIO and a Professor of Sociology of Law, Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law, University of Oslo

Nathaniel A. Raymond is director of the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI)

Most Importantly a Nobel for the Colombian People and the Victims of the Civil War

The Norwegian Nobel Committee emphasizes that the award of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize to the Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos is not only a prize given in recognition of his own personal efforts to end the more than 50 year old civil war in the country, but that this award is also given to the Colombian people and to all the parties contributing to the peace process.

While not explicitly mentioned, this also includes the FARC, and could be read as an appreciation of FARC’s willingness to contribute to the struggle for peace, post-referendum. The Prize is also a nod to the discrete roles played by Cuba, Norway and others in facilitating the peace negotiations.

The Committee argues that rather than representing an attempt to interfere in post-referendum politics, the Prize is intended to support the Colombian people and its government in a national dialogue for peace.

Most significantly, the Committee emphasizes that this prize is intended to honor and pay respect to the victims of the civil war.

During the course of the civil war, hundreds of thousands of Colombians have starved, disappeared, been tortured and killed and subjected to sexual violence. Millions of people have been displaced from their land. Armed actors including the military, FARC, ELN, paramilitary organizations and more recently the Bacrim (organized crime), have all been guilty of grave violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

In the midst of this, Colombian civil society has through the decades continued to provide hope and meaningful aspirations for what Colombia could become if peaceful. The women’s movement, IDP and victims’ rights groups, Afro-Colombian and indigenous people’s organizations, peasant associations, environmentalists, trade unionists, LGBT-rights groups and countless others have continued to give their all for a better Colombia.

Many brave people have suffered harm or lost their lives at the hands of armed actors. Lethal violence against civil society actors has been on the increase the past number of years. Today, thousands of community leaders, grassroots activists, human rights practitioners, trade unionists, academics and journalists live with continuous death threats.

In spite of this, the Colombian civil society persist in its struggle for peace. Victim’s organizations continue to forcefully argue for an end to the war. The 2016 Nobel Peace Prize should therefore first and foremost be celebrated as a Nobel to ordinary, extraordinary Colombians.

Kristin Bergtora Sandvik is a Research Professor in humanitarian studies at PRIO and an Associate Professor, Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law (UiO). Her work on Colombia focus on IDP and victim’s organizations, with special attention to women and indigenous groups.

This is a crosspost from PRIO and

“The Good Drone”: New edited volume out, by Sandvik and Jumbert


A new volume, The Good Drone, has just been published with Routledge, edited by Kristin Bergtora Sandvik (Associate Professor at the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law at the University of Oslo and Research Professor at PRIO) and Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert (Director, Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies and Senior Researcher at PRIO).

In addition to contributions by Sandvik and Jumbert, it includes chapters by Susanne Krasmann (University of Hamburg); John Karlsrud (NUPI) and Fredrik Rosén (Danish Institute for International Studies); Kristoffer Lidén (PRIO); Brad Bolman (Harvard University); Serge Wich (Liverpool John Moores University), Lian Pin Koh (University of Adelaide) and Lorna Scott (freelancer); and Mareile Kaufmann (UiO/PRIO).

While the military use of drones has been the subject of much scrutiny, the use of drones for humanitarian purposes has so far received little attention. This innovative new volume aims to explore that gap. It argues that the commercial and military prospects of using drones for humanitarian and other life-saving activities has produced an alternative discourse on drones, one dedicated to developing and publicizing the endless possibilities that drones have for “doing good”. Furthermore, it is suggested that the “Good Drone” narrative has been appropriated back into the drone warfare discourse as a strategy to make war “more human”.

This volume explores the role of the “Good Drone” as an organizing narrative for political projects, humanitarian action and development. Its essential contribution to the debate is to take stock of the multiple logics and rationales which identify drones as “good”, while initiating a critical conversation about the political currency of “good”. The many possibilities for the use of drones are recognized and taken seriously by the contributors to this volume through their critical examination of the difference that the functionalities of drones can make, but also what difference the presence of drones themselves – as unmarked flying objects – makes. The implications for the drone industry, user communities, and the areas of crisis where drones are deployed are discussed and analyzed.


Refugee resettlement as humanitarian governance: The need for a critical research agenda

Written by Adèle Garnier (Université Libre de Bruxelles), Kristin Bergtora Sandvik (UiO/PRIO), and Liliana Lyra Jubilut (Universidade Católica de Santos, Brazil)

This blog post suggests understanding refugee resettlement as an instrument of humanitarian governance from the selection of refugees to their long-term integration. It presents a five-point research agenda aiming to investigate resettlement’s power dynamics in multiscalar perspective, with a focus on: political economy; the UNHCR’s competing goals; and the role of discretion, persuasion and coercion in resettlement’s discourse and practice.

Refugee resettlement can be described as the orderly and long-term relocation to safety of individuals in dire need of protection. It is one of three durable solutions in the international refugee regime (in addition to local integration and voluntary repatriation). After years of neglect at the end of the Cold War, refugee resettlement has experienced a resurgence since the early 2000s. This is largely due to UNHCR’s stronger organizational leadership but also to the increasing number of participating states (16 in 2008, 26 in 2014 according to UNHCR statistical yearbooks) and to the expanding involvement of private partners. As displacement is globally reaching unprecedented levels, and as Europe is struggling to respond to the increased inflow of refugees since 2015, refugee resettlement is attracting political attention, and will be for instance a key item of the Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis organized as a side event to the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants.

While resettlement is considered a response to a humanitarian crisis – in this case forced displacement – it has received little critical attention as an instrument of humanitarian governance, with scant conceptual focus on the interface between power and protection. There is also a lack of research into specific selection programs and processes and insufficient understanding of how the political constriction of resettlement has shifted over time; for instance, by being or not being a durable solution of last resort, or focusing more on groups or individuals. Because of these research gaps, we argue that there is a need for a closer look at how power dynamics, including forms of power with others (such as persuasion) and over others (such as coercion), shape refugee resettlement as an instrument of humanitarian governance.

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