Thenotion of human rights is relatively a new concept in human history. Article 1of Declaration of Human Rights ”All beings areborn free and equal in dignity and rights” states a universalrequest for fundamental human rights of individuals to be upheld by state andnon-state actors in any circumstances.
Owing it to the history of war andviolence, particularly to the atrocities caused by Second World War, theconcept and understanding of human rights have eventually become embodied in universalconsciousness, actively promoted and theoretically guaranteed by numerousinternational documents and international human rights law. Still, theundoubtable commitment and responsibility to implement human rights standards isthe one of the state itself. However, as a powerful and rational actor, stateis led by ambition to maintain or strengthen its political power and therefore,sometimes tempted to misuse the state control over power violating basic humanrights of its people.Thepurpose of this essay is to highlight and discuss the conditions that might encouragea state to act in an oppressive manner that to such degree violates humanrights of its citizens. First, we will argue that state’s behaviour primarilydepends on the level of perceived threat to its political power.
Second, knowingthat perceived threat might increase in the presence of particular politicaland economic factors, we choose to examine the impact of political regime andpoor economic development on human rights’ violation by state. Third, we willdiscuss how domestic and international support or indifference might beinterpreted by a state as an approval for undertaking repressive measures. Andfinally, we will point out, one of the greatest challenges of a state incontemporary history, the recognition of terrorist suspects’ fundamental humanrights that often come under threat. Under whatconditions do states violate or fail to uphold human rights?Unquestionably,state’s main responsibility is the protection of lives and welfare of itscitizens, as well as the prevention of mistreatment of any kind.
With itslegislative, executive and judiciary bodies at disposal, state possesses allnecessary tools for effective implementation of human rights standards into society.Putting its responsibilities aside, what should be questioned here is what exactlystate perceives to be in its own interest. Fortunately, many of them consider human rights as their constitutional andmoral priority as well as ”a matter oftheir national interest” (MAKINGHUMAN RIGHTS A REALITY by Emilie M. Hafner-Burton- 179). On the other hand,led by realist approach, there are many claiming that ”human rights lose value when compared to other interests such assecurity and order” (PRESENTATION4. WEEK- Frank Foley). Furthermore, Neil Mitchell (2004) points out three potential motives forviolating human rights: the desire forpower, belief system which encourages individuals to inflict violence on thosewith different belief system and personal interest. Weargue that state’s actions are primarily led by its ambition to maintain orstrengthen political power, which represents an essential element for furtherconsolidation of its authority.
Aware of being a powerful actor with the potentialof use of force and the utmost necessity of maintaining the status quo, state is more likely toconsider repression and intimidation against its citizens as an attempt tominimize the perceived threat and preserve its political power. For instance,governments have often demonstrated how disrespectful they could be of humanrights when public protests emerge. Except from well-known protest in TiananmenSquare, China in May 1989 that ended with forcible government suppression,another notorious demonstrations occurred, even before, in Hungary in November1956 against Hungarian government and Soviet-imposed policies that resulted inSoviet military intervention which resulted in brutality of injuring,imprisoning and killing of demonstrators. In both cases, governments felt threatenedby the symbolic power of public discontent, and by violence and intimidationmanaged to re-establish their position of dominion. To recapitulate, asperceived threat to political power increases, it is more probable for a stateto be willing to use force, often resulting in violating human rights. Regardlessof how high the perceived threat is, states act differently in eliminating thedanger to their power. In other words, it cannot be claimed that all stateswould respond with repression when threatened.
Moreover, there are particularpolitical and economic factors such as undemocratic political regimes and pooreconomic development which are most likely to be present within the state inwhich human rights are underestimated and violated.First,the record of human rights’ violation clearly differs between states ofdemocratic, semi-democratic and authoritarian political regimes. For example,governments in semi-democratic or authoritarian countries are less likely tohesitate when using force against their citizens because they will not be heldaccountable for their actions to any of the state’s bodies. Hence, usingviolence will not affect the leaders’ political positions nor will they bepunished for their wrongdoings. Furthermore, especially in semi-democraticcountries that share both democratic and authoritarian characteristics, levelof human right’s violations can be extremely high due to the fact thatgovernment has not managed to entirely institutionalize democratic system with allof its features. A perfect example of a semi-democracy is Egypt which formally has a multiparty political system with democraticinstitutions and free media, but concurrently, the system protects thegovernment by, for instance, ordering travel bans and asset freezes againstinfluential human rights organizations, and enforcing an official ban of publiccriticism, as they did in 2016. (Democracy Challenged: The Rise of Semi-Authoritarianism,Marina Ottaway31-50)Accordingly, in semi-democracies such as Egypt, where governments are moresusceptible to potential danger ”ofexcluded groups and suppressed class” and where institutional instruments forsolving public’s grievance are not fully-developed, governments tend to be moreaggressive in solving their problems to such an extent that they become theprimary perpetrator of life integrity violations. Second,it is often claimed that ”human rightsare luxuries only rich nations can afford”.
Protectionand advancement of human rights in developing countries: Luxuries ornecessities? (Mazhar Siraj 304page) Economic factors such as poor economicdevelopment of a country is often related to high record of human rightsviolations. It can be argued that poverty indeed weakens the government andexposes it to a real threat of public discontent. As mentioned before, state’smain responsibility is the welfare of its citizens, which also includes protectionof economic rights. Therefore, if economic rights are violated in the sense of foodscarcity, expensive education, inaccessible healthcare system and highunemployment rate, government will lose the support of its voters and facethreat to its power. Confronted with poor economy and public pressure, it ismore demanding and challenging for a government to engage with ”democratic culture of negotiation,bargaining, tolerance and compromise” (Rummel1997: 101) than to suppress revolts and public demands by brute force andfear. Third,the domestic and international reaction to state’s violation of human rightscan be immensely influential of its future actions.
States have accepted theprinciples of ”international humanrights law due to the combination of international coercion, self-interest,rule legitimacy, communitarian appeals and socialization. ” (Globalization of Law and Human Rights: From Norms to Fulfillment, edited by AlisonBrysk, 128). Furthermore,the impact of civil society group and NGOspressures state to abide by itsinternational obligations, otherwise it would be widely criticized to such anextent that it might lose legitimacy. However, oftentimes voters of the currentgovernment will keep supporting it because ”there’sa strong psychological bond that ties people to their government”, thatgiven political leaders undeserved guarantee of authority. Thus, when state’sviolent tactics are supported by the vast majority of its population andignored by international community, is seems impossible to prevent violations.For instance, in the case of prosecution of Rohingya Muslims, along with thelocal Buddhist population, an active role in supporting anti-Muslim rhetorichave had Buddhist monks, who throughultra-nationalist 969 Movement have expanded propaganda of Muslim threat inMyanmar by persuading local population to completely isolate the Muslimminority. Former president Thein Sein’s office issued a statement sayingthat 969 is ”just a symbol of peace”, while Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel PeacePrize winner, has kept silent on the long-standing issue.
Moreover, the indifferent reponse that international community hasgiven, until 2017, on the brutality of Burmese government and its militaryforces directed against Rohingya has been interpretated as internationalapproval of the wrongdoings, intensifying mass atrocities and demonstrating theinternational acceptance of disregard of human rights.Finally, the last condition concerns state’s violation of human rights of defendants,particularly terrorist suspects. Aiming at the very destruction of security andhuman rights, terrorism has become the greatest challenge of contemporarytimes. In their fight against terrorism, especially when confronted with ”high level of threat, public exposure andexceptionality of events”, some states have implemented controversial counterterrorismmeasures, denying basic rights of terrorist suspects. Some states have beeninclined to repudiate rights to fair trial, extend the limit of pre-chargedetention, conduct inhumane activities as interrogation methods or accept insufficientevidence as creditable. Compared to France andits normative consensus on zero tolerance approach against supporters ofIslamic terrorism, British government has been considerably restrained. However, in the aftermath of 9/11, Belmarsh prison scandal emerged, criticizedfor detaining people indefinitelywithout charge or trial and using extremely high amount of force to controlinmates, leading it to be called the “British version of GuantanamoBay”.
Furthermore, after experiencing terrorist attacks on its soil on 7 July 2005, UKgovernment with PM Tony Blair introduced TerrorismAct 2006 which banned groups that glorify terrorism, made it a criminal offenceto support terrorism and extended the maximum period of pre-charge detention to28 days. The law was described as”dangerous inroad on freedom of speech” (Geoffrey Bindman), demonstrating once again how high level ofperceived threat, especially related to terrorism, impels states to interferewith human rights.ConclusionLedby its ambition to eliminate potential threat to its power and strengthen regnantposition, sometimes state’s liability to protect its citizens is pushed intothe background and threaten by severe violations of human rights. To sum up, thisessay argued that states are most likely to violate human rights in thepresence of specific conditions such as of high level of perceived threat,undemocratic political regimes, poor economic development and terrorist threat.The primary incentive for human rights’ violation is the presence of high levelof perceived threat to state’s power, which if increasing might encourage stateto misuse its control over power against its citizens.
Still, even with highlevel of perceived threat, not all states respond with violence andintimidation. It is more likely that states under undemocratic politicalregimes where political leaders will not be held accountable for theirwrongdoings, or likewise states challenged with poor economic development, thuspublic pressure, will consider repression to eliminate the threat. What appearsobvious nowadays, as countries are being menaced by terrorism, is thedeprivation of terrorist suspects’ fundamental human rights. When faced withhigh level of terrorist threat, prior experience and public exposure, statesare more prone to establish discriminatory counterterrorism measures disregardingthe fact that by simply being humans, all individuals are entitled to human rights.Ultimately, although demonstrating that certain conditions do have an effect ona state being more susceptible to human rights’ violations, we certainly do notimply that, unambiguously and always, under these conditions a state would beemboldened to violate human rights.