This article contributes to an understanding of the role of agency in a sociology of human rights by examining how a small group of individuals interpreted, defined, and instantiated ‘hard’ human rights, or those atrocities associated with war crimes and crimes against humanity. Using political theorist Judith Shklar’s perpetrator-focused framework of ‘putting the prevention of cruelty first’, we explore the role of agency in the construction of human rights through the empirical lens of US war crimes policies around the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords for Bosnia-Herzegovina. We draw on US State Department documents, and on interviews with key participants in the Accords, to argue that a richer sociology of human rights – seen as socially situated and embedded – requires a fuller appreciation of the experiences of key social actors in those social locations in which human rights are articulated, interpreted, and actualized.
- hard human rights
- war crimes