Though human rights monitors talk of fact-finding missions and reports, human rights facts are, like all social phenomena, not in fact found but made — through processes by which we come to know and talk about them. But how exactly does that happen? And how, by attending to these processes, might we arrive at a more robust understanding of human rights facts? These are the kinds of questions animating Ken MacLean’s new book, Crimes in Archival Form: Human Rights, Fact Production and Myanmar (University of California Press, 2022). In this episode Ken joins New Books in Southeast Asian Studies to explore some of the answers he arrived at after years of research on the complexities of human rights fact production about crimes against humanity in eastern Myanmar, or Burma, and to discuss how it is possible to cast a critical eye over how human rights facts are made and not only remain engaged in causes for human rights, but to make them even stronger at a time that human rights facts are sorely tested, and the truth about facts has never been more contested.
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Nick Cheesman is Associate Professor, Department of Political & Social Change, Australian National University and Senior Fellow, Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy, University at Buffalo (Fall 2022). He hosts the New Books in Interpretive Political & Social Science series on the New Books Network.