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Brutality in an Age of Human Rights: Activism and Counterinsurgency at the End of the British Empire

Brian Drohan

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ISBN 10: 1501714651 / ISBN 13: 9781501714658
Published by Cornell University Press
New Condition: New Hardcover
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Title: Brutality in an Age of Human Rights: ...

Publisher: Cornell University Press

Binding: Hardback

Book Condition: New

About this title


In Brutality in an Age of Human Rights, Brian Drohan demonstrates that British officials’ choices concerning counterinsurgency methods have long been deeply influenced or even redirected by the work of human rights activists. To reveal how that influence was manifested by military policies and practices, Drohan examines three British counterinsurgency campaigns―Cyprus (1955–1959), Aden (1963–1967), and the peak of the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland (1969–1976). This book is enriched by Drohan’s use of a newly available collection of 1.2 million colonial-era files, International Committee of the Red Cross files, the extensive Troubles collection at Linen Hall Library in Belfast, and many other sources.

Drohan argues that when faced with human rights activism, British officials sought to evade, discredit, and deflect public criticism of their actions to avoid drawing attention to brutal counterinsurgency practices such as the use of torture during interrogation. Some of the topics discussed in the book, such as the use of violence against civilians, the desire to uphold human rights values while simultaneously employing brutal methods, and the dynamic of wars waged in the glare of the media, are of critical interest to scholars, lawyers, and government officials dealing with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those to come in the future.


"Drohan’s book provides an excellent understanding of the rhetoric and practice of counterinsurgency and a firm foundation for understanding the universe of euphemism and defensiveness that surrounds such efforts even today."

Source: H-DIPLO

"Drohan addresses many legal and moral issues about the challenges of maintaining order and securing human rights in a revolutionary context, [and] the book’s major contribution is its detailed historical account of three insurgencies. The book is recommended for all readership levels."

Source: Choice

""Brutality in an Age of Human Rights is a work of real historical originality and significance. This fascinating piece of scholarship substantially enhances our understanding of British counterinsurgency and the relationship between war and law.""

Author: Huw Bennett, author of Fighting the Mau Mau

"Brutality in an Age of Human Rights links significant historical topics to recent conflict scenarios and legal developments. Brian Drohan raises important questions about the uses of massive force by democratic states in the context of counterinsurgency campaigns."

Author: Fabian Klose, author of Human Rights in the Shadow of Colonial Violence

"The much-touted myth of postwar British counterinsurgency as clean, honorable, and above all successful war tumbles first in Brian Drohan’s account. What follows, though, is truly eye-opening and worth sustained reflection and discussion in the military as much as in the human rights and humanitarian communities. The reality of counterinsurgency tainted even the well-intentioned. It most certainly overthrew any rationale that more and more brutal forms of violence would achieve victory. The three campaigns ended with having to give up what counterinsurgency was meant to preserve. Paradoxically, human rights as law and rhetoric gained, even if it achieved few of its humanitarian aims. A truly sobering inquiry!"

Author: Michael Geyer, Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago

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