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Andrew Basso

Studying Forced Displacement and Atrocity

Border disputes, internecine warfare, civil war, and sporadic, low-intensity military campaigns are terms used to describe the destructive clashes that constitute the majority of the globe’s current conflicts. Tragically, many of these conflicts involve atrocities. Looking across a thin, 30-year slice of history, one can identify Syria, Myanmar, Sudan, former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda, for example, as countries in which atrocities have occurred amidst larger conflicts. These atrocities capture our attention on the nightly news and have been extensively examined by scholars. However, despite the integral part that forced displacement plays in these conflicts, the connection between it and atrocity is relatively understudied.

Dr. Andrew R. Basso addresses this knowledge gap in his recent research. Forced displacement, atrocities, and the legacies that these events leave in their wake are Dr. Basso’s subject matter. While some of these conflicts may have emerged recently, the practices that belligerents use against one another are not new.  One such tool, forced displacement, is weapon that has been used in campaigns stretching back as far as history can reach. In a recent publication, “A forced displacement and atrocity crime nexus: Displacement as transfer, annihilation, and homogenisation,” Dr. Basso explores the link between displacement and atrocity crimes. Forced displacement often (but not always) occurs in concert with atrocities, including those that are part of genocide, but is often understood as a by-product of violence. That is, it is conceived of as a consequence of people fleeing instability or direct violence. Dr. Basso, employing a large set of cases – both contemporary and historical -- argues that forced displacement is not only a consequence but also a weapon of atrocity.  Forced displacement “is often an intentional, central tool of political violence” and can take many forms. Displacement atrocity crimes – Dr. Basso’s primary research – focus on displacement as a central method of annihilatory practices. Perpetrators of these crimes have often forcibly displaced targeted populations into inhospitable territories and prevented them from accessing the necessities of life or forced them to walk great distances while depriving them of food and water. As well, displacement is often utilized to transfer targeted populations to stationary killing centres. Regardless of form, displacement involves the use of the natural environment as tool of violence and occurs in conjunction with other crimes such as murder, torture, and sexual violence. The weapon of displacement is also taken up by perpetrators to achieve a range of objectives that can include homogenization and ethnic cleansing, often featuring displacement as a tool to push populations from one area to another. Employed in different ways in diverse contexts, displacement should be conceptualized as a process utilized to annihilate, homogenize, and transfer populations in relation to the perpetration of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Dr. Basso is currently a SSHRC-funded post-doctoral fellow at the University of Western Ontario. His doctoral research focused on displacement and in his post-doctoral research he has several projects underway that focus on differing forms of displacement, domicide, semi-authoritarianism, and the legacies/aftermaths of atrocities. You can find Dr. Basso’s publications in journals such as Genocide Studies and Prevention, Children & Society, and Current Sociology.

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