Engaging with Perpetrators for Human Rights

When, how and at what cost?

Harini Calamour/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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 Guest Editor: Rachel Wahl



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

By: Mythri Jayaraman

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

By: Navaz Kotwal

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

By: Christine Monaghan

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

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

By: Mahmood Monshipouri

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

Navigating the minefield of working with perpetrators

By: Danielle Celermajer

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

To understand perpetrators, we must care about them

By: James Dawes

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

To change torture practices, we must change the entire system

By: Kiran Grewal

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

By: Rachel Wahl
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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, ...

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