Identity and anonymity: victims and perpetrators in human rights reports

Barbara De Cock (Université catholique de Louvain) and Daniel Michaud Maturana (Zuyd University of Applied Sciences),

In this paper, we look into the construction of identity and anonymity in human rights reports, more concretely in the report by the Rettig Commission on human rights violations under the Pinochet regime. In the preliminaries to this report, the commission formulates its desire to give an account that is as complete as possible yet also its refraining from attributing individual responsibility (Oteíza 2010). We will analyze the consequences of this ambiguous position for the conceptualization of the perpetrators, the victims and the relationship between them. This corpus study draws upon insights from cognitive linguistics (especially conceptualization and windowing of attention) (Talmy 2000) as well as from discourse analysis. In the first place, we will show that the tension between completeness of information and refraining from attributing responsibility is reflected in the presentation of the victims and the perpetrators: whereas victims are at first being clearly identified, perpetrators are not. Moreover, we will show that, throughout the development of the cases, few extra information concerning the victim is being given, yet the responsibility of the perpetrators is expressed through varying degrees of implicitness, relying on a wide array of syntactic structures (Delbecque in press) and pragmatic-rhetoric phenomena (implicatures, metonymies…). In the second place, in view of the commission’s attitude to individual responsibility, we will show how the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator is described from an external point of view. Thus, neither participants’ perspective is adopted, as opposed to more testimonial human rights reports, such as the Peruvian or South-African truth commissions. We will then demonstrate in this research how the linguistic construction of this report reflects and realizes the political and juridical choices made by the commission.

About the speaker

Barbara De Cock holds a PhD in linguistics from KULeuven and is currently assistant professor of Spanish linguistics at the Université catholique de Louvain. Her main research interests are the pragmatics of Spanish person reference and impersonal constructions, and the discursive analysis of a variety of political discourses (parliamentary debate, politicians’ use of Twitter, human rights reports). Her publications include Profiling Discourse Participants. Forms and functions in Spanish conversation and debates (John Benjamins, 2014). Daniel Michaud Maturana is chairman of Amnesty International Maastricht, senior lecturer Spanish and research at the Zuyd University of Applied Sciences and affiliated researcher at the KULeuven, where he received his PhD in Linguistics. His main research interest is cognitive linguistics applied to human rights and economical discourse. His publications include Estereotipos en los sitios de publicidad del turismo mapuche, La expresión de la agentividad en el Informe Rettig (Chile, 1991) as co-authored with De Cock, and Du signifiant minimal aux textes (eds. Delbecque, Delport and Michaud Maturana).

Venue: Conference room (room 0.16 & 0.17)

Date: 17 January 2017

Time: 12:00 - 13:00  CET