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Engaging with perpetrators for human rights: When, how and at what cost?

Would activists be more effective at reducing human rights abuses if they tried to understand why perpetrators commit acts of violence and abuse? If so, what are ethical ways of engaging with perpetrators? This debate explores various perspectives on whetherwhen and how to engage with perpetrators of human rights abuses, including discussions of ethical, moral and strategic considerations. 

Collaborating Editor: Rachel Wahl

Photo: Harini Calamour/FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (Some rights reserved)

The moral hazards of conflating what is useful with what is right

To suggest that we should only seek to understand perpetrators if it’s “useful” is contrary to the universality of human dignity.


Engage when we can, confront when we must

Indian human rights workers do not want to engage with the police, but to enact real change, both sides must work together..


Accountability versus access: collaborating with rights violators in conflict zones

In health care, both access and accountability require understanding and collaborating with rights violators. Français


Human rights diversity goes beyond North-South relations

Engagement with Iranian human rights perpetrators might help someday, but in the current political climate it’s simply not possible.. فارسی. 


Navigating the minefield of working with perpetrators

Judgments about when collaboration becomes cooptation are too easily made in the abstract, based on moral tastes rather than evidence.Español


To understand perpetrators, we must care about them

Preventing future atrocities requires empathetic understanding of how regular people transform into monsters. Español


To change torture practices, we must change the entire system

Preventing torture goes beyond understanding individuals—it requires changing an entire system that allows for extreme violence.


Working with the enemy: the pros and cons of collaborating with perpetrators

What is the best way for human rights activists to engage with perpetrators? There are ethical and strategic reasons to focus on accountability over understanding, but there are also costs. Español. हिंदी.



All articles in date order:

The moral hazards of conflating what is useful with what is right

To suggest that we should only seek to understand perpetrators if it’s “useful” is contrary to the universality of human dignity. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on engaging perpetrators.

Engage when we can, confront when we must

Indian human rights workers do not want to engage with the police, but to enact real change, both sides must work together. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on engaging perpetrators.

L’obligation de rendre des comptes contre l’accès aux soins : collaborer avec les auteurs de violations des droits humains dans les zones de conflit

Dans le domaine de la santé, l’accès aux soins et l’obligation de rendre des comptes exigent de comprendre et de collaborer avec les auteurs de violations des droits humains. Une contribution au débat d’openGlobalRights sur le dialogue avec les auteurs de violations. English

Accountability versus access: collaborating with rights violators in conflict zones

In health care, both access and accountability require understanding and collaborating with rights violators. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on engaging with perpetrators. Français

Why engaging with perpetrators isn’t possible in Iran (yet)

Engagement with Iranian human rights perpetrators might help someday, but in the current political climate it’s simply not possible. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on engaging with perpetrators. فارسی (Fārsi/Persian). 

Navigating the minefield of working with perpetrators

Judgments about when collaboration becomes cooptation are too easily made in the abstract, based on moral tastes rather than evidence. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on engaging with perpetrators. Español

To understand perpetrators, we must care about them

Preventing future atrocities requires empathetic understanding of how regular people transform into monsters. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on engaging perpetratorsEspañol

Para comprender a los perpetradores, debemos preocuparnos por ellos

Para evitar que se cometan atrocidades en el futuro se requiere una comprensión empática de cómo las personas normales se convierten en monstruos. Una contribución al debate de openGlobalRights sobre la interacción con los perpetradores. English

To change torture practices, we must change the entire system

Preventing torture goes beyond understanding individuals—it requires changing an entire system that allows for extreme violence. A contribution to openGlobalRights’ series on engaging with perpetrators in human rights.

Trabajando con el enemigo: los pros y los contras de colaborar con los infractores

¿Cuál es la mejor manera en que los activistas de derechos humanos pueden interactuar con los infractores? Hay razones éticas y estratégicas para centrarse en la rendición de cuentas en lugar de la comprensión, pero también hay costos. English. हिंदी

Working with the enemy: the pros and cons of collaborating with perpetrators

What is the best way for human rights activists to engage with perpetrators? There are ethical and strategic reasons to focus on accountability over understanding, but there are also costs. Español. हिंदी.

दुष्मन के साथ काम करनाः दोषियों का सहयोग करने के फ़ायदे और नुकसान

मानवाधिकार कार्यकत्र्ता के सामने दोषियों के साथ काम करने का सबसे अच्छा तरीका कौन-सा हैघ् समझ के साथ-साथ ज़िम्मेदारी का भी ध्यान रखने के लिये नैतिक और नीति-संबंधी कारण हैं। EnglishEspañol

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