Institute of Middle East, Central Asia and Caucasus Studies (MECACS) presents Dr Nicola Perugini – University of Edinburgh, Human Shields. A History of People in the Line of Fire
From Syrian civilians locked in iron cages to veterans joining peaceful indigenous water protectors at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, from Sri Lanka to Iraq and from Yemen to the United States, human beings have been used as shields for protection, coercion, or deterrence. Over the past decade, human shields have also appeared with increasing frequency in antinuclear struggles, civil and environmental protests, and even computer games. The phenomenon, however, is by no means a new one.
Describing the use of human shields in key historical and contemporary moments across the globe, in this lecture I will demonstrate how the increasing weaponization of human beings has made the position of civilians trapped in theaters of violence more precarious and their lives more expendable. I will show how the law facilitates the use of lethal violence against vulnerable people while portraying it as humane, but they also reveal how people can and do use their own vulnerability to resist violence and denounce forms of dehumanization. Ultimately, human shields unsettle our common ethical assumptions about violence and the law and urges us to imagine entirely new forms of humane politics.
Nicola Perugini's research focuses mainly on international law, human rights, and violence. He is the author of The Human Right to Dominate (Oxford University Press 2015) and Human Shields. A History of People in the Line of Fire (University of California Press 2020). Nicola has published articles on war and the ethics of violence; the politics of human rights, humanitarianism, and international law; humanitarianism's visual cultures; war and embedded anthropology; refugees and asylum seekers; law, space and colonialism; settler-colonialism and trauma in Israel/Palestine. He has been a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton (2012/2013), a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Brown University (2014-2016), and a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow (2017-2019). He has taught at the American University of Rome, the Al Quds Bard College in Jerusalem where he also directed the Human Rights Program, Brown University, and the University of Bologna. I have served as consultant for UNESCO and UN Women. His opinion pieces have appeared in Al Jazeera English, LRB Blog, Newseek, Internazionale, The Nation, the Huffington Post, the Conversation, Just Security, Open Democracy, the Herald.