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2932 - "One Does Not Conquer by Caressing": Human Rights Abuses in the Putumayo Rubber Boom

My paper concerns the abuse of human rights during the Amazonian rubber boom. News of atrocities committed on Peruvian Amazonians by a British rubber concern, the Peruvian Amazon Company, appeared in the press in 1909. At first resisting, the company finally gave way to pressure from the Foreign Office and the Anti-Slavery Society to send a commission of enquiry to the area of its operations. The Foreign Office sent Roger Casement, then Consul-General in Brazil and decorated for investigating similar atrocities in the Congo several years before, to investigate charges of abuses against Barbadian men in the company’s employ. After two months interviewing thirty Barbadians, Casement concluded that the allegations were true and that thirty-thousand Indians had died extracting rubber. Casement’s 1912 report made international news but diplomacy insisted that South America was in the American sphere of influence. Casement was unwilling to let diplomacy take its own course. When the Americans began hesitating in applying pressure on Lima to protect the Indians, Casement decided to take matters into his own hands and sent a number of photographs to Washington, providing them with visual evidence of a crime against humanity. The photographs are remarkable in the history of human rights in that Casement concentrated on the humanity of his subjects as a way of defining the inhumanity of their experiences, rather than on the atrocities themselves. My paper concludes that visual images are the childhood of human rights, predating universal declarations

Author: Goodman, Jordan (University College London, Austria / Österreich)

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