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Rebels and representation : Kurdish human rights and the limits of advocacy

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Fragiskatos, Peter 


This thesis attempts to ascertain the implications for human rights when rebels become the only advocates of a population targeted by mass violence. The specific focus is placed on the case of Kurdish rebel organisations from Iraq and Turkey. Lacking an ability to organise freely within either state, these groups established a presence in the more open political environment of the West where they undertook efforts aimed at winning global support. After setting a theoretical basis in chapters one and two, the case studies that follow begin with an overview of the causes of the violence experienced by the Iraqi and Turkish Kurds, before proceeding to assess how this violence was represented on the global stage by the rebel organisations and their representatives. The time period assessed runs from the immediate aftermath of World War One through to the present day. Whereas previous studies of advocacy in International Relations have looked closely at the actions of more benign actors such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, this study is more concerned with what happens when important human rights abuses go unnoticed. In such a context, rebels often become a people's only representatives. The result is that the message presented to the global community is one that conforms to the interests of the rebel organisation. This raises major questions and problems for millions whose perspectives might not match with rebel aims. In short, what is not said is more important than what is said. This focus on rebel-directed activism also casts serious doubts on the value of advocacy by exploring its role in reproducing rebel power at the expense of those that are most in need of support. It was only when Kurdish activists were able to establish an independent perspective that some of these limitations were addressed. In this, the act ivities carried out by the London-based Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) are especially notable. By helping bring cases to the attention of the European Court of Human Rights, the KHRP has helped give voice and obtain tangible results for ordinary Kurds who never figured prominently in the agendas of any Kurdish rebel fact ion. 7


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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge