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Social Text 94 Vol. 26, No. 1 Spring 2008

DOI 10.1215/01642472-2007- 018 2008 Duke University Press
Never to go home again,
for this was home!
Derek Walcott, Exile
Only in a world in which the spaces of states have been thus perforated
and topologically deformed and in which the citizen has been able to
recognize the refugee that he or she is only in such a world is the
political survival of humankind today thinkable.
Giorgio Agamben, Beyond Human Rights
The Famously Forgotten
One could justiably begin a discussion of Internally Displaced Per-
sons (IDPs) with a polemic against theorists of globalization for rou-
tinely ignoring this category of dispossessed people. One could protest
that in the context of globalization and contemporary sovereignty, the
main human issue is usually taken to be that of transnational migration.
Migrants, immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are routinely ana-
lyzed as participating in the ows of capital, information, and culture
through legal and illegal border crossings across hard and soft borders in
the context of weakened nation-states.
Compared to the plethora of work
on refugees, we could point out that there is a relative paucity of work on
the internally displaced,
the literature on IDPs is indeed quite small, and
the disparity is striking, particularly as the number of IDPs far exceeds
When Home Is a Camp
Global Sovereignty, Biopolitics,
and Internally Displaced Persons
Kalpana Rahita Seshadri
30 Seshadri When Home Is a Camp
that of refugees and their numbers are on the rise every year. But to make
such a straightforward protest would be to miss an interesting paradox:
even though there is widespread knowledge about the plight of the inter-
nally displaced and awareness that they now constitute the majority of
those affected by war, IDPs continue to be regarded as the most forgotten
of refugee populations. What does it mean that the internally displaced
are best remembered as having been forgotten?
What are the facts? The IDP monitoring center run by the Norwe-
gian Refugee Council in alliance with the UNHCR (United Nations High
Commission for Refugees) in its last statistical update of December 2006
estimates that there are at least 23,700,000 IDPs the world over. In Sudan
alone there are 5,355,000 IDPs, and Iraq at the last count, in February
2007, has more than 1,884,000. On the other hand, the number of refu-
gees and asylum seekers that is, forced migrants who cross international
borders is actually diminishing. As Thomas Weiss writes:
Those displaced within a country often are at least as vulnerable [as refu-
gees], but they receive less attention and can call upon no special interna-
tional agency, even though the General Assembly has called upon UNHCR
to minister to all those in refugee-like situations. Although the lot of
refugees is hardly attractive, they may actually be better off than IDPs,
whose existence customarily causes the issue of sovereignty to raise its ugly
This is hardly news since it is every day in the news. However, the fact
remains that despite the dramatic (and well-known) scenario of IDPs
immobilized by the gorgons head of sovereignty, when they analyze con-
temporary sovereignty under the rubric of globalization and transnational
capitalism, most theorists rarely if ever address the phenomenon of inter-
nal displacement. Nor do they consider possible links between modalities
of globalization, the expansion of international law, and increasing rates of
displacement. But this is not a charge I wish to press; rather, I suggest that
we view this gap in analyses of globalization as a scotomized symptom of
how global sovereignty functions today as an epistemological regime.
The phenomenon of IDPs, I contend, can be regarded as a blind
spot at the very center of modern notions of sovereignty insofar as it is
a point of convergence among at least three factors: current practices of
political globalization, the economic interests that condition civil conicts,
and human rights law (premises I shall discuss momentarily). This het-
erogeneous and variegated population of dispossessed peoples comes into
view only in the liberalist context of international law, that is, within an
internationalist framework where world politics is conceived in terms of
interaction between traditional nation-states and international institu-
tions with their treaties, contracts, and conventions. Humanitarian law
31 Social Text 94 Spri ng 2008
in this context of multilateralism, or even what Seyla Benhabib terms
cosmopolitan norms,
appears as one of those rich paradoxes of liberal
democracies where territorially bounded states are increasingly subject to
international norms, states themselves are the principal signatories as well
as enforcers of multiple human rights treaties and conventions through
which international norms spread (90). International treaties become
cosmopolitan law in the sense that the latter increasingly binds and
bends the will of sovereign nations (87). This view conceives of global
sovereignty in strictly humanitarian terms, quite apart from the forces of
economic and political globalization, and as a brave and delicate balancing
act between liberalism and democracy. Given this framework, internally
displaced peoples are conceived of as generic recipients of emergency aid
and represented by human rights advocates entirely as victims of state
oppression and neglect. Succinctly, from the point of view of liberal human
rights advocacy, state sovereignty is an impediment to aid delivery, and it
is the task of the international community and global sovereignty as such
to intervene on behalf of this vulnerable population and protect it from the
scourges of civil war and ethnic conict. This view assumes the foundation
of global sovereignty to rest on the rights of man and therefore regards
the growing interdependency between states leading to the expansion of
global sovereignty as a sign of a promising new global order. In short, the
world made by economic globalization with its increased economic and
political interdependency is seen to make nation-states more accountable
to the international community, and thereby to reprimand and restrain
arbitrary state action.

However, this logic of the neighborhood crime watch, the Smiths and
the Joneses looking out for each other, greatly simplies and overlooks fun-
damental factors in the constitution of internally displaced people, namely
the complex imbrication of civil wars that in this age of global capital are
economically motivated; political globalization or the transformation of
nation-states into what Philip Cerny aptly terms the competition state;

and the vested interests of international law as the real foundation of global
sovereignty. (In the following, by global sovereignty, I mean precisely this
machine of governance that knits regional war, political economy, and
humanitarian law on a global scale.) A close look at the dominant con-
ception of IDPs reveals something of the circular logic of the humanitar-
ian view, where global sovereignty is held up as a savior of the very hell
it creates. Indeed, global sovereignty itself provides the only legitimate
perspective on IDPs: that they are innocent victims of human rights vio-
lations caused by intrastate upheavals such as separatist struggles, ethnic
conict, and tribal warfare. They are seen as requiring in the short term
the intervention of the international community and international law to
render humanitarian assistance and deliver justice, and in the long term
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more economic development as a civilizing inuence. As a net effect of
this view the political potential of IDPs must be conceived as nonexistent
and ineffectual, or must perforce remain imperceptible and illegible if they
are to be the needy recipients of international aid.
Against this context, the argument that I build here contends that
global sovereignty produces the very conditions of displacement that it
seeks to redress through international law, and that it deploys a form of
modern power that is biopolitical. In making this argument, I am indebted
to three lines of research that form my premise: the work on political trans-
formation of the nation-states in the context of globalization, most notably
that of Philip Cerny; the research that links civil wars and globalization,
most notably as in the collection Greed and Greivance; and the recent work
on the linkage between international law and colonial history by Antony
When these analyses are braided together, a completely differ-
ent picture of global sovereignty emerges, one that reveals its biopolitical
effects in being able to create the conditions where human beings are
reduced to merely living persons deprived of access to their political lives.
Displacement is, of course, an exceptional condition, a state of emergency
produced at the nation-state level that severs citizens from their political
lives. But when responsibility for this emergency is surrendered to the
international community, humanitarian law is disclosed as an empty juridi-
cal substitute for the state. In this context, between the nonfunctioning
nation-state that has abdicated its responsibility to its own citizens and the
empty gestures of international law, the displaced who are complex political
actors are depoliticized and rendered into a unitary and global category in
need only of global humanitarian aid and relief. Between the subnational
actors of civil war and the supranational actors of international law, the
displaced person, now a generic victim, nds him- or herself thrown into
a state of nature with little or no access to political expression without risk
of assuming the label of terrorist.
The production of internally displaced persons as passive recipients
of humanitarian aid (under indeterminate global protection) is necessitated
by the international community that acts in every instance to reproduce
and expand the rule of global sovereignty. The point of departure for the
international community is the hyperreal fact of violence itself that enables
the constitution of IDPs as a universal category, a global epistemological
unit through a holistic naming of diverse actors of regional conict as a
worldwide problem. Through a blanket condemnation of violence beyond
any consideration of political economy and the effects of globalization,
global sovereignty discloses itself as a biopolitics, as a modality of power
that cares for life. In other words, the nomination and identication of
IDPs as a global problem constitutes them as barely human nonsubjects
separated from their political lives, who must be cared for in their mere
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humanness beyond their status as citizens or political actors, that is, beyond
any assessment of their actual capabilities.
My aim is to reason through how it is that the political character of
displaced peoples is elided between the analytical norms governing on
the one hand civil conict and on the other humanitarianism, thereby
rendering displacement as such the blind spot of global sovereignty. I sug-
gest therefore that what is required is a diagnosis of this blind spot as a
way of grasping something of global sovereigntys efcacious deployment
of biopower. In other words, the category of the IDP is not descriptive in
some simple sense, but is constitutive of an identity that serves mainly
to reinforce sovereigntys capacity to depoliticize. To put it differently,
sovereignty is secured fundamentally by an epistemological regime that
renders any form of political life outside its purview completely silent and
wholly unintelligible. In the last section, I offer as an example one sce-
nario of IDPs in India, the Muslim minority that survived the carnage in
Gujarat in 2002.
Mean Machine
My premise is that global sovereignty should be understood as the imbri-
cation of political globalization, modern civil war, and international law.
By political globalization, I refer not so much to transnational economic
ows and the presumed weakening of nation-states but the political trans-
formations effected by such ows upon the state. In Paradoxes of the
Competition State: The Dynamics of Political Globalization, Philip
Cerny argues that the nation-state today is reinventing itself from the
traditional welfare state into a competition state or a quasi-enterprise
association (254), one that is sensitive to the demands of the global
marketplace. According to Cerny, this shift heralds a crisis of liberal
democracy and therefore of the things people can expect from even the
best-run government. In this context, for example, a new and potentially
undemocratic role is emerging for the state as the enforcer of decisions
and outcomes which emerge from world markets, transnational private
interest governments, and international quango-like [quasi-autonomous
NGO] regimes (258). The competition state is characterized by its pur-
suit of increased marketization and therefore commits itself to reduced
government spending to encourage private investment and deregulation
of all capitalist enterprises (259). Interestingly, Cerny writes that liberal-
ization, deregulation, and privatization have not reduced the role of state
intervention overall, just shifted it from decommodifying bureaucracies
to marketizing ones. Reinventing government, for example, means the
replacement of bureaucracies which directly produce public services by
ones that closely monitor and supervise contracted-out and privatized
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services (266). An effect of this political transformation, Cerny sug-
gests, is that the state is sometimes structurally fragmented (268). The
nations capacity to engender a sense of gemeinschaft or community is
considerably eroded:
Even more problematic are the subnational, transnational and supranational
ethnic cleavages, tribalism and other revived or invented identities and tradi-
tions . . . which abound in the wake of the uneven erosion of national iden-
tities, national economies and national state policy capacity characteristic
of the global era. Globalization can just as well be seen as the harbinger
not simply of a new world order but of a new world disorder, even a new
medievalism of overlapping and competing authorities, multiple loyal-
ties and identities, prismatic notions of space and belief, and so on. (256;
emphasis in original)
Signicantly, for our theme of displacement and civil war, Cerny
also suggests that the nations gemeinschaft function will erode more rap-
idly in the economically weaker states which will now be torn by groups
attempting to recast those gemeinschaftlich bonds through claims for the
ascendancy of religious, ethnic, or other grassroots loyalties (272). In
conclusion, Cerny writes that the postmodern irony of the state is that
rather than simply being undermined by inexorable forces of globalization,
the competition state is becoming increasingly both the engine room and
the steering mechanism of political globalization itself (274).
States play a crucial role as stabilizers and enforcers of the rules and prac-
tices of global society. Furthermore, states and state actors are probably the
most important single category of [sic] agent in the globalizing process. As
new forms of political organization surrounding, cutting across and coex-
isting with and fostered by the state crystallize, states and state actors
are the primary source of the states own transformation into a residual
enterprise association. (257 58)
When this analysis of the neoliberal state is brought into conjunction
with those analyses that disclose the links between contemporary civil
war and economic globalization, we can begin to discern something of
the conditions of possibility that engender civilian displacement. Recent
scholarly research has shown that contrary to traditional understandings of
civil wars as engendering economic collapse, modern regional conicts are
in fact productive of alternate war economies that are hugely advantageous
for combatants. There are several models for understanding economic
motives of contemporary civil wars: that of the protability of violence
in the wake of the enterprise state; wars fought over natural resources, or
separatist struggles arising out of real grievances pertaining to inequitable
distribution; and even the manipulation of populations by humanitarian
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aid agencies. The globalizing economy itself is seen to increase the pos-
sibility of resistance by exacerbating economic disparities and real poverty
and thereby prompting violent struggle and resistance.
In all cases, the
globalizing economy plays a complex and signicant role, but one that
requires analysis on a case-by-case basis, thus disclosing displacement in
its singular political coloring in each context. In other words, civil wars
are not merely local skirmishes arising out of irrational and traditional
hatreds but are fully economically motivated and are often enabled by
the soft borders of global trade corridors and the fragmentation of the
traditional nation-state.
In this context, in relation to international law, the true paradox is
not the one identied by Benhabib that sovereign liberal democratic states
submit themselves to a higher Kantian principle of international law. The
true paradox is that, in order to climb onto the bandwagon of global compe-
tition, states weaken or withdraw from their democratic roles as guarantors
of minimal social and economic protections, safety nets, and public ser-
vices to their citizens, thereby engendering conict and fragmentation, but
now readily sign onto international treaties and conventions with greater
and increasing enthusiasm treaties that guarantee the human rights of
human beings as human simpliciter. In the context of the nonfunctioning
nation-state, the salient question should be: what does it mean that states
effectively surrender their responsibilities to the international community
that targets a nonpolitical being? In effect, international law functions as
an empty substitute (rather than a supplement) to the legal rights of the
citizen, and its protection of the human person can only serve to further
depoliticize the displaced. In short, my point is not to reiterate the oft-heard
protest that the global economy corrodes human rights.
Rather, I wish to
underline that there is an unmistakable correlation between the expansion
of the global economy, the competition state, and international law. With-
out grasping this complex layering of contemporary sovereignty, we cannot
apprehend the multiplicity and heterogeneity of displaced populations. The
additional paradox is the refusal on the part of liberal theorists to relate
the expansion of global sovereignty with increasing rates of displacement,
choosing instead to adopt a simple globalist nomination of IDPs as emer-
gency aid recipients in need of more international intervention.

International law is part of a package that makes up global sover-
eignty and is not simply a reactive ambulance truck. As Antony Anghie
has shown, the very history of international law is wholly implicated in and
is continuous with the history of colonial domination and contemporary
global sovereignty. Anghie writes: Globalization, with the inequalities it
promotes, challenges if not threatens the integrity of human rights law,
precisely because it uses human rights as a means of furthering itself.
Examined in a historical context, furthermore, the new alliance between
36 Seshadri When Home Is a Camp
globalization and the neo-liberal version of human rights . . . is hardly novel
or surprising: commerce has, since the time of Vitoria, furthered itself
through an invocation of civilization (256). Anghie goes on to analyze
as well the capitulations elicited by International Financial Institutions
(IFI) such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)
of their clients through the concept of good governance. The logic is that
sustainable development requires human rights, therefore good governance
is mandated. Of course, good governance requires certain prescriptions:
The shift to governance has massively expanded the range of domestic
issues that can be subjected to IFI management. The Bank is prohibited by
its Articles of Agreement from interfering in the political affairs of a recipi-
ent state. Now, however, by asserting that economic development depends
on good governance, on the political system of a country, the Bank can
justify formulating an entirely new set of initiatives that seeks explicitly to
reform the political institutions of a recipient state, on the basis that such
reform is necessary to achieve development, the central concern of the Bank.
(261 62)
My concern in this essay is fundamentally epistemological. Given the
prism of global sovereignty in its economic, political, and juridical aspects
and its invisible hand in the increase of civil wars, especially in the periph-
eral states, what does it mean that this prism is repeatedly scotomized and
disavowed in favor of a perspective where displaced peoples are given a
collective designation as IDPs who require assistance as human beings
simpliciter? The relation of responsibility to sovereignty, how responsibil-
ity itself is conceptualized and translated into policy, then becomes a key
issue that must be looked at more closely.
Minimal Humanity
Before taking up the biopolitical aspect of global sovereignty, it is neces-
sary to sketch the humanitarian perspective: According to the UNHCR,
IDPs today make up the largest number of migrants the world over, and
the worlds largest group of vulnerable people. Currently, there are an
estimated 25 million of them in at least 50 countries living amidst war
and persecution. They have little legal or physical protection and a very
uncertain future outcasts in their own countries.
Policy experts on
IDPs would agree that while issues surrounding immigrants, particularly
in the overdeveloped world, are often at the forefront of world news and
refugees are protected by international law, internally displaced peoples
are often simply silent victims, camp inhabitants, trapped by the indif-
ference of their own governments that effectively denationalize them with
no possibility of asylum.
37 Social Text 94 Spri ng 2008
But who exactly is an IDP? First of all, an IDP is a refugee who does
not t the classic denition of a refugee as a stateless person. According to
the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees adopted
by the UNHCR, a refugee is a person who,
owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion,
nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is
outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear,
is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not
having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual
residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is
unwilling to return to it. (Article 1, A 2)
In other words, refugee status is determined by a persons displacement
due to war, violence, or disaster from his or her country of origin. And the
status ceases to apply in the event of his or her acquiring a new national-
ity, voluntarily reacquiring the lost nationality, or refusing to return to the
nation of origin even after the circumstances in connexion with which
he has been recognized as a refugee have ceased to exist (Article 1, C
1 5).
The refugee is endowed with the right (often supervised by interna-
tional aid organizations) to seek asylum outside of his or her nation. The
refugee is expelled by his or her nation-state. An IDP, on the other hand,
is a refugee who has no refuge. He or she is impelled within by his or her
nation into camps that ostensibly provide relief by concentrating a huge
number of people into a centrally located and bounded space. The ofcial
denition as set forth in the Guiding Principles of 1998 presented by the
representative of the UN secretary-general reads: Internally displaced
persons are persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged
to ee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular
as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conict, situations of
generalized violence, violations of human rights, or natural or human-made
disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized state
In other words, there are several types of internally displaced
populations: people who are caught in the crossre in a civil war, who are
targets of ethnic strife and cleansing, who are forcibly evicted to make
room for development projects, or are abandoned (sometimes deliberately
as Cohen and Deng point out) by the state in the event of natural disasters
(MF, 16).
Such people, as David Fisher reminds us, are
excluded from the international refugee law regime. Yet internally displaced
persons face conditions as bad as and frequently much worse than
refugees. Moreover, although they theoretically enjoy recourse to their own
governments, for many millions of internally displaced persons this benet
38 Seshadri When Home Is a Camp
is illusory as governments overwhelmed by conict have proven unable or
unwilling (especially when they themselves are the cause of the displace-
ment in the rst instance) to provide any protection.
Focused international attention to the plight and needs of IDPs,
according to Roberta Cohen (senior fellow at the Brookings Institution
and foremost advocate, scholar, and policy analyst of IDPs), is not more
than fteen years old.
Even though there are no UN agencies work-
ing specically with IDPs (the UNHCRs mandate is refugees), there
has been increasing recognition of the humanitarian problem posed by
IDPs. A milestone was reached in 1998, when the then representative
of the secretary-general Francis Deng presented to the UN a set of guid-
ing principles for dealing with IDPs drawn up by a team of international
lawyers under his direction. Also, the Norwegian Refugee Council (with
the help of the UN) has created the Internal Displacement Monitoring
Center and collects information and maintains a database on IDPs. Many
more aid and humanitarian organizations, including NGOs such as the
International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), CARE USA, MSF,
and IGOs such as the UN Ofce for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs (OCHA), WFP, and UNICEF, work to dispense aid, sometimes
offer protection from violence, and advocate for the rights of IDPs (MF
187 212). Other rights-monitoring agencies, such as Amnesty Interna-
tional and Human Rights Watch, have begun focusing on the plight of
IDPs as the single gravest human rights crisis in the world. However, there
is as yet no separate legal document like a treaty or even a convention that
binds nations to the principles laid out in the 1998 document. Though this
document, the 1998 Guiding Principles, has become standard in terms
of assessing and relieving the situation of IDPs, there are no systems in
place whereby the international community can monitor, let alone enforce,
states compliance to the rules.
Responsibility and Sovereignty
The rst question that arises for anyone thinking about IDPs in relation
to globalization is why or how this population, which is unquestionably an
ancient demographic probably as old as sovereignty itself, is now suddenly
a cause clbre of the international community. Why is protection of IDPs
now acknowledged as a mandate of the international community requir-
ing the hand of international law? Why now? Why international law?
Roberta Cohen and Francis Deng offer several reasons as to why the
international community feels the need to protect IDPs.
They suggest
the reasons are not simply humanitarian but have to do with political and
strategic consequences as well. Cohen, in her Radcliffe speech, cites the
39 Social Text 94 Spri ng 2008
sheer numbers: the 20 25 million and rising each year in fty countries
is cause enough. She also suggests that civil wars that displace populations
are a huge threat to regional stability; that IDPs have the highest mortality
rate in the world; that the instability within nations that generates huge
numbers of IDPs can be breeding grounds for political extremism with
severe strategic consequences. In her view, in our post-Holocaust world, the
world community cannot stand by on the grounds of respecting national
sovereignty while civil wars and genocide claim lives. Moreover, peace and
reconstruction cannot be possible without the reintegration and resettle-
ment of IDPs, but given the fact that they receive less international protec-
tion and assistance and are not covered by the 1951 refugee convention, this
is, she suggests, along with Antonio Gutteres, the UN High Commissioner
for Refugees, one of the biggest failures in terms of humanitarian action
for the international community (FR; MF 15 30).
How does this emerging sense of responsibility toward IDPs on the
part of the international community emerge within (or as) the machina-
tions of global sovereignty? I do not mean to suggest that the well-meaning
liberal sense of responsibility is causally related to civil war, but that there
is a correlation between the global prioritizing of human rights and the
enforcement of neoliberal regimes that effectively abandon their responsi-
bility to citizens. After all, the violation of human rights (as well as human
rights law), insofar as it is seen as a global problem, something to be tackled
on the macro level of world politics, can be possible within the prismatic
structure of global sovereignty only as an outline above (i.e., economic
globalization and its transformative effect on the political structure of the
nation-state) the burgeoning of civil wars as part of the new world dis-
order and the hand of the international community (i.e., the structure of
international law and its authority to use force).
Bottom line: the intrinsic
relation between the constitution of IDPs as a worldwide demographic and
global sovereignty is unmistakable.
That the peoples who have been displaced by civil war, in terms of
numbers and level of misery and vulnerability, pose a grave humanitarian
crisis that they suffer is not in dispute. However, that they should be
acknowledged as such so recently, and identied as a specic demographic
only in our own lifetimes, is surely a symptom of a shift in the ways in which
we now conceive of national sovereignty and the mandate of the interna-
tional community. In fact, the very nomination and abbreviation (IDPs)
ontologizes them into a body and reies them as a global phenomenon
simple recipients of humanitarian aid. There is no question that the phe-
nomenon of internal displacement is not a recent one. As Cohen points
out, besides the Nazi genocide of the last century, which remains the prime
example, just within the last half century the world passively consumed
as so much newsprint the internal affairs of nations that permitted large-
40 Seshadri When Home Is a Camp
scale slaughter and displacement of their citizens, as in Sudan in 1988,
when 250,000 Dinka were slaughtered; Ethiopia in 1984; Burma during
the prodemocracy uprising and the current suppression of the Karen of
the south; Indonesia and East Timor and Aceh; the Rwandan holocaust of
1994; and India and its armed forces in the Kashmir Valley (FR). Many
more examples can be cited.
It appears, then, that the legitimacy of the notion of national sover-
eignty is today in indubitable decline, and this is reected in the guiding
principles that prescribe a new notion of sovereignty as proposed by the
UNHCRs Francis Deng as not simply the control of borders, natural
resources, and peoples, but also a fundamental responsibility to provide
protection and assistance to their populations. Cohen and Deng write:
To be meaningful, sovereignty must include accountability not only to the
domestic constituency but to the international community. This assump-
tion is in fact inherent in sovereignty, for the concept implies an interna-
tional system that imposes responsibilities on the state. Moreover, since the
domestic constituency may lack the political power to hold the government
accountable, ultimately responsibility falls upon the international commu-
nity. . . . The legal analysis in this volume afrms that the international
community has a right, possibly even a duty, to provide humanitarian relief,
and in exceptional cases, to do so against the will of the government con-
cerned. (MF, 276 77)
This idea of sovereignty as responsibility is also conceived as a chain
link to the international community, in the sense that it is now incumbent
upon nations to request and accept assistance from outside if they are
unable to fulll their sovereign responsibility as protectors of their people.
According to Cohen and Deng, there is an increasing sense that state
sovereignty cannot be an impediment to humanitarian concerns and that
this new concept of sovereignty as responsibility seeks to put limits on the
traditional notions of state autonomy, a move already reected in other UN
resolutions which authorize relief corridors, and cross border operations
so that people in need can be reached (FR; MF 277). The premise is that
states must provide access for relief to IDPs and that the use of force to
dispense aid and protection to civilians cannot be ruled out if such access
is denied or obstructed.
The recent identication of IDPs as a demographic, and the percep-
tion that national sovereignty can be an impediment to the international
communitys interests, are both indications of a gradual yet unmistak-
able discursive and material shift in legitimate ownership of militaristic
force, another aspect of the neoliberal surrender from national to global
sovereignty. My point is that the identication of IDPs occurs not merely
because we have somehow progressed in our grasp of humanitarian crises,
41 Social Text 94 Spri ng 2008
or have learned historys lessons and have evolved ethically in our commit-
ment to alleviate human suffering (though this may of course be true for
individuals). Rather, the global expression of care for IDPs, and the inter-
national communitys newfound sense of condence in its own militarized
power, cannot be isolated from the political transformations effected by
the global economy on states. Within this context, global sovereignty can
represent national sovereignty as an obstruction that must be tempered
from autonomy to accountability to serve its interests. More obviously,
IDPs can be constituted as targets of international concern only if there is
a global vantage point that can perceive them as a worldwide phenomenon.
Without this vantage point, IDPs as such cannot be spoken of as a group.
Perhaps this scenario can be said to prove Anghies thesis about interna-
tional law: understood within its history of colonial domination, interna-
tional law is a part and parcel of contemporary global sovereignty. Thus,
the construal of national sovereignty as an impediment is a feint in the sense
that economic globalization is aided and abetted by the nation-state itself
and the parceling out of sovereignty from national to supranational and
subnational actors who are empowered to engage in violence is facilitated
by the very forces of globalization that supposedly integrate nations into a
world community. This point leads to the next question.
The second question that arises pertains to the numbers of IDPs. It
is an exponentially rising demographic. We learn from the data banks that
when IDPs were rst counted in 1982, there were 1.2 million in eleven
countries. In the 1990s the count was 20 25 million in forty countries,
and these numbers are rising in the twenty-rst century. Why in the wake
of global sovereignty are there increasing numbers of IDPs, very often if
not always created by the very nation-states that are ostensibly declining in
power? The immediate answer supplied by Cohen herself is that there has
been an increase in civil wars (FR). These civil wars are understood as a
global phenomenon. In Masses in Flight, Cohen and Deng remind us that
not only was the Cold War greatly responsible for the globalization of war,
but that the nations in Africa [and elsewhere] that experienced the most
extreme violence and the highest levels of displacement were those that
were most closely aligned with and received the highest levels of aid from
the two cold war protagonists (MF 20). They cite other historical reasons
such as the colonial construction of national borders, ethnic separatism and
governmental repression of these movements, the manipulation of ethnic
differences, and above all the important fact that internal displacement is
almost always caused by conict between a government and a minority
(21). The authors go on to say that internal displacement does not have
only one distinct cause (23), and the reasons, if they can be enumerated, as
to why ethnicity is so volatile, and instability and violence so widespread,
cannot possibly be synthesized into a proposition about the contemporary
42 Seshadri When Home Is a Camp
state of world politics. Unsurprisingly, Cohen and Deng do not correlate
the expansion of the global economy and the political transformations it
effects on states with civil wars, instead choosing to read regional conicts
through traditional and familiar categories of ethnic violence and minor-
ity struggles.
One of the problems in discerning IDPs as the blind spot of contem-
porary sovereignty pertains to the difculty of overcoming state-centric
notions of civil war. In this older framework, intrastate conict is conceived
as an aberration or an interruption of normal peaceful coexistence, usually
attributed to the inammation of ancient hatreds, and seen as a setback to
However, as Mark Dufeld has argued, clear oppositions
between war and peace as distinct conditions are founded on a notion
of discrete autonomous states that could legally engage in and conclude
war with a warring party.
Today, Dufeld suggests, the situation is bet-
ter served by a theory of durable disorder. Most political conicts and
wars today are regional rather than national or between sovereign nations,
and the number of such conicts is rising. During the Cold War, regional
hostilities enjoyed subvention from the superpowers. Today, as Dufeld
puts it: Warring parties have been forced to develop their own means of
economic sustainability. Reecting the logic of globalization, this has often
meant moving beyond the state in the pursuit of wider alternative economic
networks (73 74). In this situation of post nation state conict (75),
warring parties act autonomously and generate war economies that trafc
across the soft borders of weakened nation-states. In the examples cited by
Dufeld, globalization works to further marginalize peripheral states from
core states. Deregulation coupled with the qualication of nation-state
competence is helping war economies to expand. Rather than globalization
fostering development, poverty reduction, and stability, one can expect the
current pattern of overt political instability outside the core areas of the
global economy to continue (82). The evidence that Dufeld marshals
undercuts the more simplistic and optimistic view of globalization as miti-
gating civil wars, especially civil wars construed only as minority struggles,
by spreading democracy, eliciting accountability to the international com-
munity, and enhancing the role of international peacekeepers. The salience
of Dufelds argument lies in the fact that civil wars are economically
motivated, protable for combatants and elites, and fundamentally enabled
by the trade corridors opened up by globalization.

Given the complex interaction between globalization as a force of
durable disorder, the cooperation of nation-states with economic globaliza-
tion, and the none too innocent role of international law, we can begin to
discern something like a necessity in the production of IDPs as the blind
spot of contemporary sovereignty. What is missed is not so much the real-
ity of IDPs, but the process of depoliticization as a modality of power, or
43 Social Text 94 Spri ng 2008
more precisely biopower: global sovereignty as providing the condition of
possibility for civil war that causes displacement, and the production of
the displaced as a unity, merely as recipients of global aid. What is in the
blind spot is that people are displaced by civil wars that more often than
not are enabled by the forces of global capital, that they are often complex
and singular actors in such strife (sometimes even potential recruits for
the local militia and other subnational warring parties) who cannot be
totalized, and that their production as a global unity, in need of the strong
arm of international law, is a fundamental strategy of global sovereignty
that produces the very conditions of depoliticization endemic to displace-
ment as such.
In other words, global sovereignty is a modality of contemporary
power that functions as a process of depoliticization on two related levels:
rst by creating the conditions for civil disorder (or states of exception)
through the transformation of the traditional nation-state into the compe-
tition state, and second by capturing the displaced within the globalized
dispositif of humanitarian relief as nonpolitical actors. To diagnose this
process of depoliticization, we must set aside what appears as an opposition
between national and global sovereignty to discern the intimate collabora-
tion between the two as part of the same network of power: if sovereignty
traditionally exerted itself through a certain deployment of the political,
the decision that declares states of exception,
it is manifested much more
effectively at the global level as the concern and care for life: the competi-
tion state, free trade, good governance, the promotion of democracy, and
international law. In other words, the fact that states themselves sign onto
international treaties is no paradox at all. They are simply fullling the
itinerary of sovereignty as such: an itinerary that can be described as the
increased manifestation of powers capacity to abandon the political sub-
ject, powers potentiality to function by not functioning (i.e., laws capacity
to be in force without signifying).
By examining the role of sovereignty
in the political subject, we can grasp what is truly at stake in the shift from
national to global sovereignty.
Therefore, instead of interpreting this shift in the purely conventional
terms of bad nations versus good international community, this other
angle discloses the unacknowledged complicity between the two as (a)
powers capacity to capture and inscribe human life at its most vulnerable
and depoliticized level, and (b) more important for our concerns, power
as the epistemological occlusion of the political character of people who
have been uprooted by civil war. To perceive this complicity, and to grasp
the contemporary logic of sovereignty, citizenship, and human rights, we
must turn to Foucault, who teaches us that we must shift our attention
from the why of power to the how;
in other words, here we must now ask
how power functions by intervening at the raw level of biological life to
44 Seshadri When Home Is a Camp
produce and manage IDPs as depoliticized nonsubjects whose occluded
and imperceptible political lives are the condition of possibility for global
sovereignty to reproduce itself as a biopolitics.
Nations, Citizens, Biopower
Let us note that in the term internally displaced persons the words internal
and persons presume the political form of the modern nation-state even
though the ofcial denition does not directly use this term, favoring
instead more domestic words such as home and place of habitual residence.
If the idea of internal alludes to the form of the state as a territorially
circumscribed entity, persons refers to an ambiguous grouping that,
insofar as it is within (and therefore belonging to) the limits of the state,
bears a relation to but is differentiated from the juridical citizen as
well as the stateless person who is also covered by the UN convention
of 1954. Stateless peoples such as the Palestinians, the Kurds, and the
Kashmiris could be displaced, and the populations of minorities who
have been internally displaced could be denationalized, but the two terms
being stateless and denationalized are not necessarily identical, a differ-
ence that the designation of IDPs aims to transcend altogether. Though
they are invariably minorities within a given nation-state, their political
status as either stateless or as denationalized is not something that can
be marked within this generic and totalized category. The international
community produces IDPs as characterized by their depoliticization, as
simple, global, featureless specimens of naked existence requiring protec-
tion (rather than empowerment), thereby occluding the history of their
political positioning.
Once we invoke the biopolitical in the production of IDPs, a series of
questions then arises: Within the matrix of the nation-state, which is the
space of legibility for the IDP, who or what is a person who is internal
to the state but is however not properly a citizen? How does the state
render the singularity of its citizens into undifferentiated persons identi-
ed only by their displaced condition? How does the state displace its
own citizens, who are by their very depoliticized, ex-juridical status also
effectively denationalized? Is there then a hidden logic in the modern
relation between state and citizen that is gured in the abjection of the
depoliticized and denationalized person? If to be a political subject is to
be in continual negotiation with the state over ones political agency, how
does global sovereignty legitimate itself by seizing the moment of political
desubjectivation of the citizen as a condition of its own possibility? How
45 Social Text 94 Spri ng 2008
does the global concept of IDPs effectively render displaced and negotiat-
ing minorities into nonsubjects of global sovereignty, thereby further
distancing them from political access and agency? What does it mean for
the international discourse of human rights to stress the depoliticized and
denationalized notion of the human person as the ultimate responsibility
of global sovereignty? Is the discourse of human rights (the assertion of
the human as depoliticized substance) then to be understood as the
actualization of global sovereign power that is marked above all by its
ability to seize upon denationalized political subjects, to create a global
state of exception?
Let us consider rst the ontological status of the citizen. In an article
titled Subjection and Subjectivation, Etienne Balibar traces the genealogy
of the modern autonomous self-conscious subject as a hidden or disavowed
play on words between subditus or subjection to an external authority,
and subjectum or substratum of properties.
According to Balibar, the
modern subject, who is quintessentially free and a citizen of the world, is
to be attributed not to Descartes but to Kant and the Enlightenment. This
Kantian subject, Balibar argues, is a reformulation of the ancient notion
of subjection and dependence into an inner obedience to an inner voice of
the moral and juridical law. For our analysis of the mode of functioning
of sovereignty in the production of IDPs, the signicant point in Balibars
argument is his insistence on the principles of secular democracy as a his-
torical threshold that irreversibly set in motion a fundamental equation
between man and subject mediated by a necessary third term, namely the
citizen. From now on, man is a (the) citizen of the world; his essence is
nothing other than the horizon within which all the determinations of that
universal citizenship must fall (7). The outcome of the great bourgeois
revolutions of the eighteenth century, Balibar suggests (through a reversal
of the idealist doctrine), is the abolishing of subjection, and this political
agency is the prior condition that gives access to self-consciousness and
subjectivity. Therefore, citizenship is not one among other attributes of
subjectivity, on the contrary: it is subjectivity, that form of subjectivity that
would no longer be identical with subjection for anyone (12). Who is this
subject-citizen? As the subject of law, he is now
no longer the man called before the Law, or to whom an inner voice dictates
the Law, or tells him that he should recognize and obey the Law; he is
rather the man, who, at least virtually, makes the Law, i.e., constitutes,
or declares it to be valid. The subject is someone who is responsible or
accountable because he is (a) legislator, accountable for the consequences,
the implementation and non-implementation of the Law he has himself
made. (11)
46 Seshadri When Home Is a Camp
But this freedom of the modern subject is not a simple overcoming of the
ancient subditus. Rather, the man-subject-citizen bears a relation, even a
biopolitical relation, to subjection (13). Balibar writes:
Why is it that the very name which allows modern philosophy to think and
designate the originary freedom of the human being the name of sub-
ject is precisely the name which historically meant suppression of free-
dom, or at least an intrinsic limitation of freedom, i.e., subjection? We can
say it in other terms: if freedom means freedom of the subject, or subjects,
is it because there is, in subjectivity, an originary source of spontaneity
and autonomy, something irreducible to objective constraints and determi-
nations? Or is it not rather because freedom can only be the result and
counterpart of liberation, emancipation, becoming free: a trajectory inscribed
in the very texture of the individual, with all its contradictions, which starts
with subjection and always maintains an inner or outer relation with it?
(8 9)
Balibar, in this essay, does not elaborate on this inner/outer relation to
subjection, but his analysis of modern human subjectivity as the suturing
of the metaphysical or ontological and the political (man-subject-citizen)
claries the grounding of contemporary sovereignty as the juridicization
of humanness. In other words, man is a subject (zon politikon te phusei,
the being naturally living by and for the city [7 8]) only insofar as he is
a citizen endowed with rights. Conversely, it is precisely this equation of
the subject with citizen that led Hannah Arendt in her analysis of state-
less peoples to suggest that to strip a human being of his status as citizen,
or to expel him beyond the pale of the law, was also to strip him of his
status as human subject, to reduce him to his minimal animal existence to
an abstract nakedness of being human and nothing but human (297).

Given this inscription of human freedom in the law and legal status, since
as Arendt puts it no one seems able to dene with any assurance what
these general human rights, as distinguished from the rights of citizens,
really are (293), what are the implications for our understanding of sov-
ereignty in this nexus of power where citizenship is the precondition of
human subjectivity? I quote Balibar again: This equation means that the
humanity of man is identied not with a given or an essence, be it natural or
supra-natural, but with a practice and a task: the task of self-emancipation
from every domination and subjection by means of a collective and uni-
versal access to politics (12). Furthermore, if, as Balibar suggests, such
an equation of subject and citizen also carries within it the inseparable
conjunction of equality and liberty,
then the person who through
displacement is depoliticized and denationalized into a noncitizen within
the nation-state is not only unequal and unfree, but he or she also loses
his or her status as subject due to his or her exclusion from politics and
47 Social Text 94 Spri ng 2008
from the law itself. Arendt: The calamity of the rightless is not that they
are deprived of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or of equality
before the law and freedom of opinion formulas which were designed to
solve problems within given communities but that they no longer belong
to any community whatsoever. Their plight is not that they are not equal
before the law, but that no law exists for them (295 96).
From this angle, there are two ways of approaching the depolitici-
zation of the citizen into an internally displaced person. We can argue
that no human being should be denationalized, and that the citizen-man-
subject nexus should be strengthened. Here we would be reiterating what
is already accepted, that all human beings are citizens of the world or
state whose rights should be inalienable. Or we can acknowledge what is
staring us in the face in spite of the above iteration: that sovereignty as
such is nothing if not the potentiality to suspend what Arendt calls the
right to have rights (296) and thereby denationalize, depoliticize, and
decide on states of exception. Power here is fundamentally the ability not
simply to control, punish, or incarcerate, but to expel human beings from
organized community sustained by the law and throw them into a state
of nature as fully demonstrated by the neoliberal state. Perhaps a proper
politics that is attentive to human futurity will have to work toward the
elimination of the very conditions of possibility where human beings can
be denied access to politics. Focusing only on the plight of the internally
displaced and not on the political logic of internal displacement embedded
in the prism of global sovereignty, the international community laments
the inhumane conditions of IDPs, and human rights advocates agitate for
the transpolitical rights and natural dignity of the human person. But as
Hannah Arendt points out, there are no human rights in nature: We are
not born equal; we become equal as members of a group on the strength
of our decision to guarantee ourselves mutually equal rights (301). In this
context, the discourse of humanitarianism and human rights law appears
blind to its own participation in the global machine. The advocacy of
human rights for the depoliticized and denationalized person is ultimately
a form of bloodletting as cure. It fails to recognize that when the neoliberal
state no longer serves as the bond between subject and citizen, thereby
abandoning the citizen to civil conict, displacement, and the empty form
of international law, human rights are directly implicated in perpetuation
of depoliticization.
In her trenchant rebuttal of Michael Ignatieffs center-right defense of
the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as good at the very minimum for human
rights, Wendy Brown insists that human rights discourse is a politics and
it organizes political space.
But, she writes, for the most part, human
rights activism refuses the political mantle on which I am insisting. Rather,
it generally presents itself as something of an antipolitics a pure defense
48 Seshadri When Home Is a Camp
of the innocent and the powerless against power (453). In a sense, it is
this attachment to what Arendt calls the nothing more than abstract
nakedness of being human, nothing but human and the rigid insistence
on that antipolitical nakedness as the foundation of its own legitimacy that
makes the discourse of human rights a lethal weapon a biopolitics in
the hands of global sovereignty.
That sovereignty functions as biopower, which is the separation,
management, and decision regarding the natural and the political within
man, has received its most thoroughgoing elaboration in the thought of
Giorgio Agamben. Biopower as delineated by Foucault in his 1976 lectures
and The History of Sexuality is the states care of life, manifested as its
imperative to protect the race (81). This ameliorative logic aimed at the
elimination of all threats invariably carries a core of eugenic racism within
it. Unlike disciplinary power, which is internalized, biopower is applied
not to man-as-body but to living man, to man as living-being; ultimately,
if you like, to man-as-species (SMD 242). It consists of apparatuses and
forms of knowledge that mass singular human beings into abstract popula-
tions and demographics. Agamben suggests that the history of sovereignty
should be studied as the site of convergence between the individualizing
network power of disciplines and the massifying biopower of the state. If
in Western political thought sovereignty legitimates itself by introducing
a series of caesuras between the private and the public, our bare life (or
zoe, the life we share with animals) and our political life (bios, or properly
human life), its true potential can be understood not merely as the rule of
law, but as the ability to suspend the law in the state of exception. State of
exception denes a state of law in which, on the one hand, the norm is
in force but is not applied (it has no force) and, on the other, acts that do
not have the value of law acquire its force.
This capability of the law to
be in force without signifying,
thereby creating a zone of indistinction
between bios and zoe, or human and animal, is sovereigntys fundamental
capacity to produce a depoliticized state of nature. The state of excep-
tion, Agamben writes, is not a dictatorship . . . but a space devoid of
law, a zone of anomie in which all legal determinations and above all the
very distinction between public and private are deactivated (SOE, 50).
Here the man-citizen-subject of the Enlightenment is reduced to bare (or
life, whose status as human subject is indeterminate. Life here,
bare naked life, is simply exposed. It bears a relation to death at the limit
of the law, where the law through its deliberate suspension no longer covers
this nakedness; it works by not working. This, and not merely the rule of
law, is the true potential of sovereignty, whose genealogy Agamben traces
through a thoroughgoing intellectual and philosophical history as a funda-
mental preoccupation of legal and political thinkers in Western thought.
For Agamben, the paradigm of the state of exception, where sover-
49 Social Text 94 Spri ng 2008
eignty reduces citizens to bare life, is exemplied in the structure of the
Third Reichs decrees and its internal displacement, denationalization, and
dehumanization of Jews in camps. Auschwitz, Agamben suggests, is not
simply an aberration of history. Taking his cue from Benjamins insight
that the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the state of emergency
in which we live is not the exception but the rule,
Agamben writes: In
our age, the state of exception comes more and more to the foreground as
the fundamental political structure and ultimately begins to become the
rule. When our age tried to grant the unlocalizable a permanent and vis-
ible localization, the result was the concentration camp. The camp and
not the prison is the space that corresponds to this originary structure
of the nomos.
This is unfortunately not a hyperbolic statement. The
great increase in civil wars and internally displaced persons then attests
to the normalizing of the state of exception and the reduction of citizens
to depoliticized persons. That these persons are reduced to anonymous
bare life whose life and death cease to signify is discernible in every sce-
nario of displacement. The struggle and discourse of human rights in this
context are not in a simple opposition to the machinations of sovereignty.
As Agamben writes:
The separation between humanitarianism and politics that we are expe-
riencing today is the extreme phase of the separation of the rights of man
from the rights of the citizen. In the nal analysis, however, humanitarian
organizations which today are more and more supported by international
commissions can only grasp human life in the gure of bare or sacred
life, and therefore, despite themselves, maintain a secret solidarity with the
very powers they ought to ght. It takes only a glance at the recent publicity
campaigns to gather funds for refugees from Rwanda to realize that here
human life is exclusively considered (and there are certainly good reasons
for this) as sacred life which is to say, as life that can be killed but not sac-
riced and that only as such is it made into the object of aid and protec-
tion. . . . A humanitarianism separated from politics cannot fail to reproduce
the isolation of sacred life at the basis of sovereignty, and the camp which
is to say, the pure space of exception is the biopolitical paradigm that it
cannot master. (133 34)
What then of the agency of the displaced and of the stateless? Do
the theories of Arendt and Agamben further distance these abandoned
rightless people from political subjectivity, as some critics contend? I sug-
gest that there is another layer in the problem that Arendt and Agamben
discuss as the perplexities inherent in the concept of human rights apropos
refugees and the stateless. Like Agamben, Arendt speaks of the absolute
rightlessness of these people as a condition not so much of deprivation of
rights, as a complete expulsion from the very provenance of the law, where
50 Seshadri When Home Is a Camp
law simply does not exist and one is not a subject of the law. She then
suggests that this reduction of the refugee to complete irrelevance before
the law is a symptom of globality, which organizes the entire world into a
community. Only with a completely organized humanity could the loss of
home and political status become identical with expulsion from humanity
altogether (297). My point is that there is a crucial epistemological aspect
to global sovereignty as well, and it can be formulated as follows: in the
completely organized world, where there are no more unpenetrated areas
left, where sovereignty is global, political agency as such can only be legible
within the purview and epistemological frame of the law; it is impossible
for us to think or perceive agency that emerges from a place outside the
referentiality of the law. Not only does global sovereignty insist on the
abject state of the expelled as a condition of its own possibility and produce
their identity as stateless, it also legitimizes itself by coming to the aid of
and acting on behalf of people who have no agency. Because sovereignty is
our only frame of reference, political agency of the stateless remains truly
the unthought. Therefore the view that Arendt or Agambens diagnoses
of sovereignty and human rights lack a theory of resistance overlooks the
fundamental aspect of political agency: sovereignty is rst and foremost
a frame of meaning making, and anything that falls outside that frame,
particularly a political life and agency, is doomed to silence, unintelligi-
bility, or elimination. This is why the urgent political task as delineated
by Agamben is to think a form-of-life emancipated from the division of
bare life from politics with the irrevocable exodus from any sovereignty.
He continues: The question about the possibility of a nonstatist politics
necessarily takes this form: Is today something like a form-of-life, a life for
which living itself would be at stake in its own living, possible? Is today a
life of power available?
In the concluding section, I offer a concrete example of global sover-
eignty as epistemological occlusion of nonjuridical political agency.
Gujarat 2002: We Have No Orders to Save You
In December 2006, four years after the carnage in the industrial state
of Gujarat, India, the Muslim survivors of the riots continue to live in
squalid and makeshift camps whose existence the state government atly
denies and the international community largely ignores. The Gujarat
governments outright dismissal of these camps is particularly egregious
in light of the fact that Indian activists have documented conditions in
the camps and much of that material has been made publicly available,
particularly at the conference organized in February 2007 titled The
Uprooted Caught between Existence and Denial: A Convention of the
Internally Displaced in Gujarat in Ahmadabad, Gujarat. Harsh Mander
51 Social Text 94 Spri ng 2008
(the Indian Administrative Services ofcer who resigned in protest over
the riots) writes in his survey Inside Gujarats Relief Colonies:
It is bitter evidence of the deliberate failure of the state government to restore
even a minimal sense of security and equal citizenship to its brutalized
minority residents, that even almost ve years after the cataclysmic storm of
state enabled mass violence, several thousand people have still not returned
to their original homes and are losing hope of this even in the future. An
unknown number have migrated out of the state . . . [or] are living in make-
shift colonies that the state government refuses to acknowledge, let alone
authorize and equip with basic human facilities. The reason why information
about these internally displaced people is not available is because the state
government has stubbornly refused to collect and share data about these
survivors of the 2002 carnage, as this would entail both accountability . . .
and responsibility.
Concentration camps today have a new name: relief colonies.
Mander denes them as squalid camps that have acquired an air of per-
manency. When the state suspends itself from its own citizens, it invariably
concentrates (as in reduces) them down to displaced people. The case of
Gujarat in 2002 is a strong example of the workings of state sovereignty
when extreme right-wing Hindutva mobs murdered thousands of Muslims
(the ofcial estimate is seven hundred; one NGO estimate is more than
two thousand) in what is widely acknowledged as a state-sponsored ethnic
cleansing program. It should be noted that direct and indirect displacement
of the poor, particularly indigenous people, in boomtown India is literally
an everyday occurrence. Big dam projects such as those over the river
Narmada in northern and central India and Polavaram over the river Goda-
vari in the south threaten to submerge hundreds of villages and displace
tens of thousands of poor and tribal people with no alternate sources of
livelihood or proper plans for rehabilitation. Everyday evictions of squat-
ters, street vendors, and slum dwellers to make room for wider roads, urban
restructuring, and so on are another daily occurrence. As for displacement
due to ethnic violence, since the trauma of the 1947 partition riots, several
states in India have witnessed periodic outbursts of riots along lines of
religion, caste, class, and ethnicity.
However, the riots in Gujarat in 2002 were unprecedented for their
gendered and rationally organized violence. As Samir Kumar Das writes,
somewhat rhetorically: The point is not that the property and lives of the
minorities were never the targets of communal frenzy before. It is rather
the other way around. [Previous riots] did not seem to emanate so much
from the urge to exterminate an entire community as much as to acquire
the land and property left by them.
The 2002 riots were so vicious
that they seemed to be motivated by sheer blind hatred, but the economic
52 Seshadri When Home Is a Camp
aspects of the riots are not invisible. The right-wing majority called for
a total economic boycott of Muslim-owned businesses and services as a
means of isolating riot victims.
In the 2006 report, Mander writes that
the boycott continues in many villages, and people of the majority com-
munity continue . . . to refuse to trade or employ Muslims. . . . They will
not buy from their shops or eateries; they are known to even avoid using
jeeps taxis and rickshaws owned and operated by Muslims (5238). The
riots, or more properly the ethnic cleansing program, continued unabated
for a week, yet the central government exhibited complete indifference
to the events.
Relief efforts were thwarted by the state itself, and camp
conditions were by all accounts inhumane. The riots were a campaign of
terror unleashed by the Gujarat state machinery under the rule of chief
minister Narendra Modi, an extreme right-wing Hindutva ideologue. It
was unprecedented, too, in that it was a very modern campaign of murder.
Rioters were extremely well organized, armed with computerized lists of
Muslim-owned properties and residences and well-planned strategies to
target, capture, torture, rape, and murder Muslims, and had organized
support mechanisms. But the most important aspect of the Gujarat riots
was the blatant cooperation of the state machinery, from the police up to the
ministerial levels in promoting, aiding, and abetting the riots. NGOs such
as Human Rights Watch, as well as hundreds of First Information Reports
(FIRs) and eyewitness reports, including the report of the National Human
Rights Commission, have held the government of Gujarat directly respon-
sible for the riots.
When they appealed to the police, who simply acted
as passive spectators at a sporting event, Muslim victims frequently heard
the reply We have no orders to save you, which appropriately became the
title of the HRW report.
In such a situation, political agency becomes a crime. According to
the Gujarat Concerned Citizens Tribunal:
Evidence recorded by the Tribunal shows, that when Muslims, who had
been denied police protection during the most vicious attacks on their lives
and property, came out to defend themselves, they were picked up by the
police and charged with a range of offences, including section 307 (attempt
to murder). Over 500 innocent Muslim youth, our evidence shows, still
languish in Gujarats lock-ups and jails and there have been no attempts by
the state, through its public prosecutors, to get them released.
How does global sovereignty play a role here? For this, we only have
to look at the international communitys response to the riots. As Harsh
Mander writes with regard to the paucity of secular relief efforts,
This underlines a grave abdication not just by the state, but also by interna-
tional and national humanitarian organizations which were by contrast very
53 Social Text 94 Spri ng 2008
active in relief and rehabilitation efforts in the Gujarat earthquake of 2001
and the tsunami of 2004, but chose to turn away from the suffering of the
survivors of the carnage because this intervention was seen as politically
risky to open and partisan state hostility to the survivors on purely sectarian
grounds of their faith.
It is clear that the overtly political character of the riots posed a serious
problem for the human rights community. Moreover, given that India
presents great opportunities for foreign investment and the state has
transformed itself into a market-friendly competition state, and that the
United States perceives India as a geopolitical counterweight to China
and is a reliable partner in the global war on terror, it made sense for
the international community by and large to ignore the riots as a conve-
niently internal matter. The U.S. government basically absolved the
Indian government in its International Religious Freedom Report 2005,
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
During the riots, there was little concern expressed by the interna-
tional community and media. As one commentator wrote,
A deceptively reassuring silence marks American news coverage of the situ-
ation in Gujarat, India, after the onset of anti-Muslim riots there on Feb.
28. Except for a couple of articles in the New York Times, the major media
have said little during recent months about the aftermath of violence by
Hindu fundamentalist gangs who swept through the Muslim areas of Guja-
rat state, raping and killing residents and burning and looting their houses
and shops.
Protests against the EUs indifference were also launched by the
International Dalit Solidarity Network and the Federation Internationale
des Ligues des Droits de LHomme. Futile research papers have been writ-
ten on the promotion of impunity in India and its relation to the global war
on terror.
The only way the Muslim displaced could be acknowledged, if
at all, was as generic victims, which was not entirely easy to do. In short,
it was a case of passing the buck, a doubled abdication of responsibility
at both the state and global levels. The international community chose to
conceive the Muslim riot victims in purely abstract terms, as only requir-
ing stronger protection of the state, thereby disavowing the real political
struggle occurring in India between the BJP government of Hindutva
ideologues and secular forces. This reduction of Muslims to abstract
displaced people not only depoliticized the minorities and the situation of
violence, but the oppressors themselves were now perceived as aberrant
criminals who acted on their own behalf rather than as state-sponsored
perpetrators of violence. This permitted global sovereignty to decide
whether to intervene, under the aegis of international law, to render aid
54 Seshadri When Home Is a Camp
and humanitarian assistance or, under the mandate of neoliberalism, to
ignore them on behalf of its capital investments and interests. It chose, as
we know, to absolve the state and to reconsign the survivors to the very
state that had abdicated its responsibility. Protected but disempowered,
Indian Muslims are left to express their political agency by other means.
These expected other means evolved in the absence of legitimate access to
politics, enabling the state to evoke the threat of terrorism. At this point,
in its sovereign capacity as protector of the people, the state can re upon
these victims-turned-terrorists. Of course, immediately in the aftermath
of the riots the Indian government passed the POTA (Prevention of Ter-
rorism Act) that was used widely to detain and incarcerate Muslims as
potential terrorists. The elimination of such agency always requires the
elimination of the agent. Speaking of Nazi concentration camps, Arendt
writes: The point is that a condition of complete rightlessness was created
before the right to live was challenged (296). The Concerned Citizens
Tribunal reports:
Gujarat Police has nally admitted that it killed more Muslims than Hindus
in its ostensible attempts to stop what was clearly targeted Hindu violence
against Muslims. Of the 184 people who died in police ring during the
post-Godhra violence, 104 were Muslims, says a report drafted by Gujarat
Police. This statistic substantiates the allegation of riot victims from virtu-
ally every part of the state that not only did the local police not do anything
to stop the Hindu mobs; they actually turned their guns on the helpless
Muslim victims.
With that, the full circle of global sovereignty as global civil war that
engenders local civil war and implosions is once again completed and
reactivated. In the middle of that circle of violence stands what Agamben
calls sacred life the rightless displaced victim of sovereignty and human
rights, whose every sign of political life, due to its sheer unintelligibility,
is also his or her own death warrant.
Many thanks to John Limon, John Burt, and Nicholas De Warren for reading and
commenting on drafts of this paper.
1. Academic conferences on cosmopolitanism, border crossings, and national-
ism routinely foster discussions on immigration, migration, tourism, refugees, and
so on, but the monstrous phenomenon of IDPs is almost always ignored or treated
as incidental.
2. A simple keyword search through Harvards Hollis catalog pulled up 9,510
entries for refugees versus 43 for internally displaced persons and 34 for internal
3. Thomas G. Weiss, Whither International Efforts for Internally Displaced
Persons? Journal of Peace Research 36 (1999): 363 73.
55 Social Text 94 Spri ng 2008
4. Seyla Benhabib, On the Alleged Conict between Democracy and Inter-
national Law, Ethics and International Affairs 19, no. 1 (2005): 85 100. See also her
Claims of Culture: Equality and Diversity in the Global Era (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 2002), especially Who Are We? 147 77.
5. See, for instance, David Mason, Globalization, Democratization, and the
Prospects for Civil War in the New Millennium, International Studies Review 5, no.
4 (2003): 19 35.
6. Philip G. Cerny, Paradoxes of the Competition State: The Dynamics of
Political Globalization, Government and Opposition 32 (1997): 251 74. See also
his collection edited with Henri J. M. Goverde, Mark Haugaard, and Howard H.
Lentner, Power in Contemporary Politics: Theories, Practices, Globalizations (Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage, 2000).
7. Mats Berdal and David M. Malone, Greed and Grievance: Economic Agendas
in Civil Wars (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2000). See also Karen Ballentine and
Jake Sherman, The Political Economy of Armed Conict: Beyond Greed and Grievance
(Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2003); Antony Anghie, Imperialism, Sovereignty, and
the Making of International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
8. For instance, Paul Colliers Doing Well out of War: An Economic Perspec-
tive (Berdal and Malone, Greed and Grievance, 91 111) stresses that conicts often
arise due to the opportunities offered by violence rather than the use of violence to
express real grievances. For an analysis of how humanitarian aid agencies manipulate
populations, see David Shearer, Aiding or Abetting: Humanitarian Aid and Its
Economic Role in Civil War, in Berdal and Malone, Greed and Grievance, 189 203.
On the resource scarcity question, see Indra de Soysa, The Resource Curse: Are
Civil Wars Driven by Rapacity or Paucity? in Berdal and Malone, Greed and Griev-
ance, 113 35. For case studies, see Ballentine and Sherman, The Political Economy
of Armed Conict, which steers clear of the quantitative approach of the essays cited
above. For a dependency theory view of this issue, see Samir Amin, Maldevelop-
ment: Anatomy of a Global Failure (London: Zed, 1990). For a useful review of both
sides of the globalization and civil war debate, see Katherine Barbieri and Rafael
Reuveny, Economic Globalization and Civil War, Journal of Politics 67 (2005):
1128 1247.
9. See, for instance, the collection of essays titled Globalization and Human
Rights, ed. Alison Brysk (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), espe-
cially the two by Richard Falk, Interpreting the Interaction of Global Markets and
Human Rights (61 76) and Economic Globalization and Rights: An Empirical
Analysis (77 97).
10. A representative work is Arthur Heltons The Price of Indifference: Refugees
and Humanitarian Action in the New Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
11. UNHCR on IDPs, accessible at
12. See especially Arthur C. Helton, Forced Migration, Humanitarian Inter-
vention, and Sovereignty, SAIS Review 20 (2000): 61 86, and former UN high
commissioner of refugees Sadako Ogatas speech at the John F. Kennedy School of
Government, Harvard University, 28 October 1996, World Order, Internal Con-
ict, and Refugees (available at
13. Roberta Cohen and Francis M. Deng, Masses in Flight: The Global Crisis
of Internal Displacement (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1998), 305. This
work is cited in the text as MF.
14. Examples include Aceh, Indonesia, after the 2004 tsunami and Hurricane
Katrina in 2005.
56 Seshadri When Home Is a Camp
15. David Fisher, Epilogue: International Law on the Internally Displaced
Persons, in Internal Displacement in South Asia: The Relevance of the UNs Guiding
Principles, ed. Paula Banerjee, Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhuri, and Samir Kumar
Das (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005), 317.
16. Roberta Cohen, The Forgotten Refugees: Protecting People Uprooted
in Their Own Countries, speech given at Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Research,
8 December 2005, cited in the text as FR. A video of the lecture is available at www
17. Sadako Ogata said: It is important to start examining the linkages between
internal conict and inter-state power relationships. While it is true that the sheer
number and intensity of internal conicts call into question traditional thinking on
international peace and security, it is also true that what we consider to be internal
conict is somewhat unclear (World Order, Internal Conict, and Refugees). See
also Maria Stavropoulou, Displacement and Human Rights: Reections on UN
Practice, Human Rights Quarterly 20 (1998): 515 54.
18. Hardt and Negri in fact decline to differentiate between the international
community and empire. Speaking of the composition of intergovernmental organiza-
tions such as the World Bank and the IMF and the interests of the G7 nations, they
suggest that they are in truth global institutions rather than international. They
write: The principal supranational institutions, of course, do have very different
functions and divergent institutional cultures, which can at times lead to conict
and criticism among the agencies. In general terms, one could say that the IMF is
dominated by economic technicians whereas many working at the World Bank and
the UN aid agencies have an ethics of social welfare close to that of the NGO com-
munity. Despite such differences, however, we will argue, these supranational insti-
tutions exercise common and coherent economic and political controls (Michael
Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire [New
York: Penguin, 2004], 173).
19. For case studies from the humanitarian perspective, see Marc Vincent
and Brigitte Refslund Sorensen, eds., Caught between Borders: Response Strategies
of the Internally Displaced (London: Pluto Press, in association with the Norwegian
Refugee Council, 2001).
20. See Berdal and Malones introduction to Greed and Grievance, 4; and Mark
Dufeld, Globalization, Transborder Trade, and War Economies, in Berdal and
Malone, Greed and Grievance, 74.
21. See Dufeld, Globalization, 73.
22. Another perspective on civil war as postnational conict is provided by
Hardt and Negri. In Multitude, the sequel to their academic best seller Empire, Hardt
and Negri suggest that all wars today, even those between nations, should be under-
stood as civil wars, in the sense that the course and outcome of even low-intensity
warfare between nations are supervised and dictated by the interests that protect
global capital. It is interesting in this context to read in one recent news item that the
United States gave its assent to a secret arms deal between Somalia and North Korea
because it has an interest in promoting Somali militia in Ethiopia ghting radical
Islamists there. See Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 2000), and Multitude.
23. I am alluding here to the rich body of work that has emerged around the
question of sovereignty and the state of exception centered around Carl Schmitts
work, particularly Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty,
trans. George Schwab (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985); these works include
Giorgio Agambens State of Exception, trans. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of
57 Social Text 94 Spri ng 2008
Chicago Press, 2005), and Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel
Heller-Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995); Chantal Mouffe,
ed., The Challenge of Carl Schmitt (London: Verso, 1999); and Gopal Balakrishnan,
The Enemy: An Intellectual Portrait of Carl Schmitt (London: Verso, 2000).
24. Agamben, Homo Sacer, 49 62.
25. Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collge de
France, 1975 1976, trans. David Macey (New York: Picador, 2003). See the lec-
ture of 14 January 1976 (23 41), particularly 24. This work is cited in the text as
26. Etienne Balibar, Subjection and Subjectivation, in Supposing the Subject,
ed. Joan Copjec (New York: Verso, 1994), 1 15. Quotations in the text come from
this article, but Balibar also takes up these themes in The Subject, in Ignorance
of the Law, ed. Alissa Lea Jones, special issue, Umbr(a): A Journal of the Unconscious
(2003): 9 23; see also his Politics and the Other Scene (New York: Verso, 2002) and
Masses, Classes, Ideas: Studies on Politics before and after Marx (New York: Routledge,
1994), especially chaps. 2 and 9.
27. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt Brace,
28. See also Balibar, Rights of Man and Rights of the Citizen: The Mod-
ern Dialectic of Equality and Freedom, in Masses, Classes, Ideas, 39 60.
29. Wendy Brown, The Most We Can Hope For . . .: Human Rights and
the Politics of Fatalism, South Atlantic Quarterly 103 (2004): 461.
30. Agamben, State of Exception, 38. The work is cited in the text as SOE.
31. Agamben, Homo Sacer, 52.
32. In Homo Sacer, Agamben denes sacred life as an object of a violence that
exceeds the sphere both of law and of sacrice (86).
33. Benjamin, quoted in Giorgio Agamben, Means without End: Notes on Poli-
tics, trans. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Minneapolis: University of Min-
nesota Press, 2000), 6.
34. Agamben, Homo Sacer, 20.
35. Giorgio Agamben, Form-of-Life, in Means without End, 8 9.
36. Harsh Mander, Inside Gujarats Relief Colonies: Surviving State Hostil-
ity and Denial, Economic and Political Weekly, 23 December 2006, 5235. For his
eyewitness report of the carnage, see Cry the Beloved Country: Reections on the
Gujarat Massacre (New Delhi: Rainbow, 2002).
37. See Samir Kumar Das, India: Homelessness at Home, in Internal Dis-
placement in South Asia, ed. Paula Banerjee et al. (New Delhi: Sage, 2005), 128.
38. See the text of a yer circulated by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the so-
called cultural wing of the Hindu right, at
(accessed 13 November 2007).
39. See the full report on the riots assembled by the Concerned Citizens
Tribunal Gujarat 2002, composed of lawmakers, scholars, and concerned people.
The full two-volume report, Crime against Humanity: An Inquiry into the Carnage at
Gujarat (Mumbai: Anil Dharkar, 2002), is available at
index.html; for the role of the central government, see especially
tribunal/vol2/rolegovt.html (accessed 13 November 2007).
40. For a small sample of ground-level reports on the atrocities and the legal
and political aftermath, see
The report of the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust is available at www.counter The media outlet is The
Human Rights Watch document We Have No Orders to Save You: State Participa-
58 Seshadri When Home Is a Camp
tion and Complicity in Communal Violence in Gujarat appears at
reports/2002/india/. The site also posts other reports on intimidation of witnesses in
the trial of criminal elements. All sites accessed 13 November 2007.
41. Concerned Citizens Tribunal, Crime against Humanity, 1:194.
42. Mander, Inside Gujarats Relief Colonies, 5236.
43. The U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom Report 2005
is available at See also Ashish Kumar
Sen, Bush Gives Clean Chit to Vajpayee on Gujarat Riots: Looks Forward to Man-
mohan Singhs Visit, Chandigarh Tribune, 17 September 2004.
44. Kathy Sreedhar, Gujarat Update, 22 August 2002, available at www.uua
45. See IDSN, OMcT and FIDH Position in Response to: the European
Unions Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European
Parliament and the European Economic and Social Committee Entitled An EU-
India Strategic Partnership, August 2004, available at
_europe/2004/comm_on_india_idsn-omct-dh_position.pdf. See also Satchit Bal-
sari, The Promotion of Impunity in India: How Oppressive National Political
Agendas Interact with the Global War on Terror, working paper, Franois-Xavier
Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard School of Public Health.
46. Concerned Citizens Tribunal, Crime against Humanity, 2:84.