The power. Second, knowing that perceived threat might

The
notion of human rights is relatively a new concept in human history. Article 1
of Declaration of Human Rights ”All beings are
born free and equal in dignity and rights” states a universal
request for fundamental human rights of individuals to be upheld by state and
non-state actors in any circumstances. Owing it to the history of war and
violence, particularly to the atrocities caused by Second World War, the
concept and understanding of human rights have eventually become embodied in universal
consciousness, actively promoted and theoretically guaranteed by numerous
international documents and international human rights law. Still, the
undoubtable commitment and responsibility to implement human rights standards is
the one of the state itself. However, as a powerful and rational actor, state
is led by ambition to maintain or strengthen its political power and therefore,
sometimes tempted to misuse the state control over power violating basic human
rights of its people.

The
purpose of this essay is to highlight and discuss the conditions that might encourage
a state to act in an oppressive manner that to such degree violates human
rights of its citizens. First, we will argue that state’s behaviour primarily
depends on the level of perceived threat to its political power. Second, knowing
that perceived threat might increase in the presence of particular political
and economic factors, we choose to examine the impact of political regime and
poor economic development on human rights’ violation by state. Third, we will
discuss how domestic and international support or indifference might be
interpreted by a state as an approval for undertaking repressive measures. And
finally, we will point out, one of the greatest challenges of a state in
contemporary history, the recognition of terrorist suspects’ fundamental human
rights that often come under threat. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under what
conditions do states violate or fail to uphold human rights?

Unquestionably,
state’s main responsibility is the protection of lives and welfare of its
citizens, as well as the prevention of mistreatment of any kind. With its
legislative, executive and judiciary bodies at disposal, state possesses all
necessary tools for effective implementation of human rights standards into society.
Putting its responsibilities aside, what should be questioned here is what exactly
state perceives to be in its own interest.
Fortunately, many of them consider human rights as their constitutional and
moral priority as well as ”a matter of
their national interest” (MAKING
HUMAN 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 as
security and order” (PRESENTATION
4. WEEK- Frank Foley).
Furthermore, Neil Mitchell (2004) points out three potential motives for
violating human rights: the desire for
power, belief system which encourages individuals to inflict violence on those
with different belief system and personal interest.

We
argue that state’s actions are primarily led by its ambition to maintain or
strengthen political power, which represents an essential element for further
consolidation of its authority. Aware of being a powerful actor with the potential
of use of force and the utmost necessity of maintaining the status quo, state is more likely to
consider repression and intimidation against its citizens as an attempt to
minimize the perceived threat and preserve its political power. For instance,
governments have often demonstrated how disrespectful they could be of human
rights when public protests emerge. Except from well-known protest in Tiananmen
Square, China in May 1989 that ended with forcible government suppression,
another notorious demonstrations occurred, even before, in Hungary in November
1956 against Hungarian government and Soviet-imposed policies that resulted in
Soviet military intervention which resulted in brutality of injuring,
imprisoning and killing of demonstrators. In both cases, governments felt threatened
by the symbolic power of public discontent, and by violence and intimidation
managed to re-establish their position of dominion. To recapitulate, as
perceived threat to political power increases, it is more probable for a state
to be willing to use force, often resulting in violating human rights. 

Regardless
of how high the perceived threat is, states act differently in eliminating the
danger to their power. In other words, it cannot be claimed that all states
would respond with repression when threatened. Moreover, there are particular
political and economic factors such as undemocratic political regimes and poor
economic development which are most likely to be present within the state in
which human rights are underestimated and violated.

First,
the record of human rights’ violation clearly differs between states of
democratic, semi-democratic and authoritarian political regimes. For example,
governments in semi-democratic or authoritarian countries are less likely to
hesitate when using force against their citizens because they will not be held
accountable for their actions to any of the state’s bodies. Hence, using
violence will not affect the leaders’ political positions nor will they be
punished for their wrongdoings. Furthermore, especially in semi-democratic
countries that share both democratic and authoritarian characteristics, level
of human right’s violations can be extremely high due to the fact that
government has not managed to entirely institutionalize democratic system with all
of its features. A perfect example of a semi-democracy is Egypt which formally has a multiparty political system with democratic
institutions and free media, but concurrently, the system protects the
government by, for instance, ordering travel bans and asset freezes against
influential human rights organizations, and enforcing an official ban of public
criticism, as they did in 2016. (Democracy Challenged: The Rise of Semi-Authoritarianism,
Marina Ottaway
31-50)
Accordingly, in semi-democracies such as Egypt, where governments are more
susceptible to potential danger ”of
excluded groups and suppressed class” and where institutional instruments for
solving public’s grievance are not fully-developed, governments tend to be more
aggressive in solving their problems to such an extent that they become the
primary perpetrator of life integrity violations.  

Second,
it is often claimed that ”human rights
are luxuries only rich nations can afford”. Protection
and advancement of human rights in developing countries: Luxuries or
necessities? (Mazhar Siraj 304
page) Economic factors such as poor economic
development of a country is often related to high record of human rights
violations. It can be argued that poverty indeed weakens the government and
exposes it to a real threat of public discontent. As mentioned before, state’s
main responsibility is the welfare of its citizens, which also includes protection
of economic rights. Therefore, if economic rights are violated in the sense of food
scarcity, expensive education, inaccessible healthcare system and high
unemployment rate, government will lose the support of its voters and face
threat to its power. Confronted with poor economy and public pressure, it is
more demanding and challenging for a government to engage with ”democratic culture of negotiation,
bargaining, tolerance and compromise” (Rummel
1997: 101) than to suppress revolts and public demands by brute force and
fear.

Third,
the domestic and international reaction to state’s violation of human rights
can be immensely influential of its future actions. States have accepted the
principles of ”international human
rights 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 Alison
Brysk, 128). Furthermore,
the impact of civil society group and NGOs
pressures state to abide by its
international obligations, otherwise it would be widely criticized to such an
extent that it might lose legitimacy. However, oftentimes voters of the current
government will keep supporting it because ”there’s
a strong psychological bond that ties people to their government”, that
given political leaders undeserved guarantee of authority. Thus, when state’s
violent tactics are supported by the vast majority of its population and
ignored by international community, is seems impossible to prevent violations.
For instance, in the case of prosecution of Rohingya Muslims, along with the
local Buddhist population, an active role in supporting anti-Muslim rhetoric
have had Buddhist monks, who through
ultra-nationalist 969 Movement have expanded propaganda of Muslim threat in
Myanmar by persuading local population to completely isolate the Muslim
minority. Former president Thein Sein’s office issued a statement saying
that 969 is ”just a symbol of peace”, while Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace
Prize winner, has kept silent on the long-standing issue. Moreover, the indifferent reponse that international community has
given, until 2017, on the brutality of Burmese government and its military
forces directed against Rohingya has been interpretated as international
approval of the wrongdoings, intensifying mass atrocities and demonstrating the
international 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 and
human rights, terrorism has become the greatest challenge of contemporary
times. In their fight against terrorism, especially when confronted with ”high level of threat, public exposure and
exceptionality of events”, some states have implemented controversial counterterrorism
measures, denying basic rights of terrorist suspects. Some states have been
inclined to repudiate rights to fair trial, extend the limit of pre-charge
detention, conduct inhumane activities as interrogation methods or accept insufficient
evidence as creditable. Compared to France and
its normative consensus on zero tolerance approach against supporters of
Islamic terrorism, British government has been considerably restrained. However, in the aftermath of 9/11, Belmarsh prison scandal emerged, criticized
for detaining people indefinitely
without charge or trial and using extremely high amount of force to control
inmates, leading it to be called the “British version of Guantanamo
Bay”.
Furthermore, after experiencing terrorist attacks on its soil on 7 July 2005, UK
government with PM Tony Blair introduced Terrorism
Act 2006 which banned groups that glorify terrorism, made it a criminal offence
to support terrorism and extended the maximum period of pre-charge detention to
28 days. The law was described as
”dangerous inroad on freedom of speech” (Geoffrey Bindman), demonstrating once again how high level of
perceived threat, especially related to terrorism, impels states to interfere
with human rights.

Conclusion

Led
by its ambition to eliminate potential threat to its power and strengthen regnant
position, sometimes state’s liability to protect its citizens is pushed into
the background and threaten by severe violations of human rights. To sum up, this
essay argued that states are most likely to violate human rights in the
presence 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 level
of perceived threat to state’s power, which if increasing might encourage state
to misuse its control over power against its citizens. Still, even with high
level of perceived threat, not all states respond with violence and
intimidation. It is more likely that states under undemocratic political
regimes where political leaders will not be held accountable for their
wrongdoings, or likewise states challenged with poor economic development, thus
public pressure, will consider repression to eliminate the threat. What appears
obvious nowadays, as countries are being menaced by terrorism, is the
deprivation of terrorist suspects’ fundamental human rights. When faced with
high level of terrorist threat, prior experience and public exposure, states
are more prone to establish discriminatory counterterrorism measures disregarding
the fact that by simply being humans, all individuals are entitled to human rights.
Ultimately, although demonstrating that certain conditions do have an effect on
a state being more susceptible to human rights’ violations, we certainly do not
imply that, unambiguously and always, under these conditions a state would be
emboldened to violate human rights.

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