Violence, humanitarianism and rights: Storytelling amongst Congolese refugees in Uganda

Katie McQuaid//Anthropology//2nd April//1-2 pm//Room C233

Please note the change of venue! This weeks’ seminar will be in room C233.


Upon fleeing the complex and violent conflicts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, men, women, youth and children are remaking their worlds as refugees in Uganda. Amongst them are a number of young people who are known as la voix des sans voix, the “voice of the voiceless”. These are Congolese human rights defenders forced to flee violent persecution for their rights activism in Eastern DRC, fighting for the voices and rights of their communities to be heard, defended, and respected. Living in a region wracked by complex and enduring violence, for many in the DRC ‘human rights’ – les droits de l’homme – are understood as people: those who strive to protect and defend them in a landscape of violence and fear where “the population protects people”. Based upon long-term ethnographic fieldwork with Congolese human rights defenders forced to flee into Uganda as refugees, this lecture directs our attention to the voices of these young people and those they strive to protect. Within my wider project of exploring how rights emerge in practice amongst Congolese refugees, this lecture explores the everyday lives and narratives of the young people who are human rights in the imaginaries of the population of Eastern DRC. Rights work in the process, for these defenders, becomes “my nature, it is in my blood” as they work within a dynamic but oppressed civil society.


Katie is currently completing her doctoral thesis in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Sussex after two years of ethnographic fieldwork (2011-2012) amongst Congolese refugees in Uganda. She focuses upon the ways refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo imagine, articulate and frame their everyday local understandings and experiences of violence, conflict, forced displacement, human rights and humanitarianism in the Great Lakes region of Africa. Part of her work explores the lived realities of sexual minority refugees from DRC, Rwanda and Burundi fleeing into Uganda; and the activities of Congolese human rights defenders at home and in ‘refuge’.

Katie holds an MA in Social Anthropology (University of Edinburgh, 2007) and in the Anthropology of Conflict, Violence and Conciliation (University of Sussex, 2008), and an MSc in Comparative and Cross-Cultural Research Methods (University of Sussex, 2010). She worked with the Refugee Law Project in Uganda between 2011 and 2012.


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