The Long 1948: Dr. Oumar Ba Examines the Intersection of Human Rights and Colonial Violence at Pardee School Event

Amb. Mark Storella (left) and Dr. Oumar Ba (right)
Prof. Verschuren (far left), Amb. Storella and Dr. Ba

The Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies hosted Dr. Oumar Ba from Cornell University on Thursday, May 2, 2024, as the second event in its inaugural Global Security Series. Dr. Ba, an Assistant Professor of International Relations, delivered a talk titled “The Long 1948: Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

In his presentation, Dr. Ba addressed the “pacification” of Madagascar and its implications for the historiography of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He highlighted the co-occurrence of the Uprising in Madagascar against the French colonial order, which began on March 29, 1947, and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly in Paris on December 10, 1948.

Dr. Ba argued that the immediate aftermath of World War II laid the foundation for a new configuration of political life at the international level, both in the colonial metropoles and their possessions. He contended that the post-World War II international order came to be through the delineation of the lesser, unhuman, or otherwise human, who are unworthy of protection from the laws of war, the crimes against humanity, and the frameworks of human rights.

During his talk, Dr. Ba emphasized the role of French legal scholars, particularly René Cassin, in the human rights debate of the time. He also discussed how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights served as a closure to the atrocities of World War II, while eluding the colonial question.

Dr. Ba further explored the concept of pacification, arguing that colonial powers have relied on it as a mantra in pursuit of total subjugation and the crushing of any insurrection by the colonized. He contended that pacification is a tool by which imperial order is restored, aiming at the resignation of the colonized to be confined outside of or to the margins of humanity.

Dr. Ba

Drawing upon Frantz Fanon’s work, Dr. Ba stated, “I argue that across two centuries, colonial powers have relied on pacification as a mantra in pursuit of total subjugation and the crushing of any insurrection by the colonized. The word pacification evokes the process of restoration of peace, but that peace can only mean Imperial peace.”

Dr. Ba also discussed the French response to the Malagasy insurrection, highlighting the brutality of the pacification campaign. He noted that while comparing the numbers of people killed in different conflicts may seem crass, it is essential to square these massacres with the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and how they are often left outside the picture.

The event, supported by the African Studies Center, was part of the Pardee School of Global Studies’ commitment to fostering critical discussions on global security issues. As the second installment in the school’s inaugural Global Security Series, Dr. Ba’s presentation provided attendees with a unique perspective on the complex interplay between colonial history, human rights, and international order.