Language of Identity & Human Rights

Oct 28, 2018 | 3:15 PM - 4:45 PM | Loft 2

Brianna Matchett, BA  Carleton University

Again and Again:  The Selective Omission of the G-word & Genocidal Complicity

On average, humans speak 16,000 words per day and those words carry weight, but so do the words that people choose not to say. The selective omission and manipulation of language when denying human rights abuses are a common tool that has been used by governments since the Holocaust. This paper analyzes the international jurisprudence around complicity in genocide and crimes of omission to show how individuals can be held responsible for genocidal violence if they knew a genocide was occurring and chose to omit this fact using manipulative language. The legal analysis will then be applied to the case study of the lack of intervention by the United States during the Rwandan Genocide. In the world of fake news and rising authoritarian regimes, comprehensive laws around complicity in genocide are needed so that governments who allow violence to take place are held responsible for the destruction that they have enabled.

Mary K. Ryan, MA   Virginia Tech

Cloudy Mirrors of Democracy: Documenting the Kerner Commission’s Uprisings, Riots, and Protests in the Face of Structural Racism

This paper considers how structural racism in the US federal government legitimizes the power of the sovereign by exposing how the democratic process is navigated to employ domination and complicity. Using the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (commonly known as the Kerner Commission after its chairperson Governor Otto Kerner), I assess the categorization, labeling, and language used to describe and document the hundreds of “race riots” and related state violence through acts of police misconduct that engulfed the country in the summer of 1967. The Kerner Commission’s work in 1967-8 was largely ignored by the US federal government, replaced with white backlash in the following decades despite a popular sense that landmark civil rights reforms meant the nation had arrived at a kind of racial equality. I balance the language of the unofficial Kerner Commission document called the Harvest of American Racism report, with the final Kerner Commission report, to show how Kerner reveals state domination which treats racial equality, and human rights more broadly, as a friendly face of empire.

Annette Pateman, BSc Poet


Being Black is a journey of discovery of beauty, resistance and resilience. Being a Black woman has led to many experiences and angles which I seek to explore in my poetry.

Being a Black female and the intersections that arise from being in a minority brings its own challenges. This is what I try to explore in my writing.


Brianna Matchett, BA

Brianna completed a BA from St. Thomas University with an Honours in Human Rights. This presentation is an abridged version of her honours thesis. She recently began an MA in Legal Studies at Carleton University, where she hopes to continue studying the link between language and atrocity crimes.

Mary K. Ryan, MA

Mary K. Ryan is a doctoral student in Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought at Virginia Tech where she teaches in the political science and philosophy departments. Mary's academic writing is published in Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory and the Journal for the Study of Peace and Conflict along with chapters in the edited collection Critical Insights: Civil Rights Literature, Past and Present (Salem Press) and the forthcoming Spaces of Surveillance: States and Selves (Palgrave Macmillon) and The Representation of Poverty in Popular Culture (McFarland). Mary's creative writing has been published in Clockhouse, the Lehigh Valley Vanguard Journal, Nomadic Sojourns Journal, and the Draw Write Here Collective.

Annette Pateman, BA

Annette Pateman was born and grew up in the UK to Jamaican parents. She heard the language of her parents which was Jamaican patois, and this has influenced the poetry she writes. She performs her poetry in her local city of Thunder Bay. She was published in a women’s short story anthology in the 1990s and is currently working on a memoir in verse of growing up in the UK and also poetry regarding her Black identity in Canada and the Western world in general.