Sep 25, 2015
12:30pm - 2:00pm    |    Vanderbilt Hall 204, 40 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012

Valid ID and RSVP required. RSVP here or email Lunch will be provided.


The event will take place in Vanderbilt Hall 204 (not, as previously announced, in Wilf Hall)


Human rights advocacy is often concerned with mitigating the effects of illegal or excessive forms of state and non-state violence. However, advocates and litigators rarely focus on the contours of violence itself, the distinctions between lawful and unlawful violence, and the violence—potential or real—that is inherent in the enforcement of rights. John Sifton is a Human Rights Watch staffer and the author of a recently released reflection and memoir on his work, Violence All Around. He will discuss the tensions between his work on terrorism and counterterrorism, his reflections on the physical realities of violence itself, and the history of theories of non-violent change.

This talk will be introduced and discussed by Meg Satterthwaite.

About the author

John Sifton is Asia Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, where he previously worked as a senior researcher on terrorism and counterterrorism.

About the book Violence All Around

“Sifton’s project at the outset is to see violence objectively, as a human phenomenon. One aspect is its sheer difficulty: killing other people is no easy business, and it’s hardest at close range, when you can look into the other’s face. Even if a killer is untroubled by conscience, the deed itself may put him in a state of physical exhaustion, as if it required a tremendous effort to overcome an instinctive aversion. . . . Why, then, is there so much killing at close quarters, by machete, knife, or handgun? One answer Sifton proposes is a failure of empathy—or a misdirection of empathy, away from the other and toward one’s own kind, whether ethnic, national, religious, or political. If so, the task of the human-rights worker is not to argue from philosophical principles and international covenants. The way to prevent abuses is to create sympathy in the strong for the weak, and the way to do that is by telling stories—“long, sad, sentimental” ones, in the words of the philosopher Richard Rorty—through which the strong will begin to see the weak as fellow-creatures, worthy of protection and care. Sifton, the author of numerous Human Rights Watch reports, replete with tales of human suffering, acknowledges that, by this standard, his work is mostly a failure. . . .” (The New Yorker, 2015-07-20)

“[Sifton’s] book chronicles the common experience of human-rights monitors everywhere. At this level alone the book is of value. Too little has been written about human-rights field workers, and Sifton performs a service in describing this little-known or -understood professional world. Sifton’s book, however, seeks to go much further. His experiences have propelled him to confront the nature of violence and to question whether in its face human-rights work can have any utility. In his exploration of these issues he weaves a remarkable blend of storytelling, philosophical and theological reflection, history, literature, personal reminiscence and political science… Taken as separate essays, the chapters are usually riveting: elegantly written, informative and displaying an impressive breadth off learning… Sifton’s book stands as a thought-provoking reflection in which he stays true to his motivation to ‘produce something positive and somehow reverse the greater negative sign that violence represents.’ (Michael O’Flaherty Irish Times 2015-07-18).

[Sifton’s] book is well-written and provides rich descriptions of what happens before, during, and after violence… He wants his audience to think further, not only about an act of violence or its immediate perpetrator… The book not only illuminates the work of human rights advocacy groups; it seeks to engage human rights professionals with historical contradictions and diverse philosophies of violence and nonviolence… An important [book]. (Jonathan Horowitz Huffington Post 2015-07-01).

John Sifton travels through the post–9/11 war zones of Afghanistan and the Middle East and digs deep into our enduring love affair with lethal force. Violence All Around is a thought-provoking reflection on the human condition. (Andrew North, BBC South Asia correspondent)

This event is co-sponsored by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice and the Bernstein institute for Human Rights at the NYU Law School




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