Human Rights Violated

The Humans Rights Watch wrote an article on the infringements of rights on the non-governmental groups. One group the article focused on was the LGBT community. In 2013 parliament adopted a law “ banning propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships”, so children would not learn that type of lifestyle was acceptable. Parliament made it illegal for same sex couples to adopt, and homophobic groups were not punished for acts of violence against people of the LGBT community.

There were also restrictions on freedom of expression. In 2013 President Vladimir Putin singed a law giving three-year prison sentences to those who insult religion, with out giving a clear definition of what they meant by “insulting”. Those who spoke out defending human rights, like people involved in the Pussy Riot, and government critics, were harassed and arrested by the government.

The government passed laws limiting treatment and medication for ill patients. Terminally ill patients were even denied pain medication to help them have easier deaths. The life of the disabled was extremely difficult in Russia. Some of the issues they faced were due to problems that could easily be fixed. These included a lack of ramps and elevators, employers unwilling to hire the disabled, and a lack of accommodations for the seeing impaired, especially on public transportation. In 2013 Moscow police began detaining migrants based on non-Slavic appearances. Some of the detainees were expelled and others were put in camps under extremely brutal conditions.


Human Rights Violations in Russia

Russia has a sad history of human rights abuses, spanning issues from the 2013 law banning “propaganda of nontraditional relationships” to the imprisonment of Pussy Riot in 2012 for an act of free speech. After researching Pussy Riot, I am aware that they performed in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, and chose the location in part because of their outrage in the church leaders’ support of Putin in his election. Members of Pussy Riot were arrested for “hooliganism” as well as for acts of religious hatred. Would their 2-year imprisonment have been enforced as harshly in the Soviet Union, when the government was more anti-religious? How does the political atmosphere affect the state of human rights?

How is Putin able to commit these abuses of human rights and still maintain his high popularity ratings? Does opposition by groups, such as Amnesty International, make any impact in Russia? How does the majority of the Russian population, particularly in cities like Moscow, view the arrests and disappearances of human rights activists?

In the preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, more than 2,000 families were apparently forced to resettle to make room for Olympic venues, and were not given fair compensation. Fair compensations was also reportedly not given to workers who built Olympic venues. In light of these human rights abuses, does it not send a poor message that Western countries which claim to uphold and defend human rights, such as the United States, still attended and competed in the Olympic Games? What can the United States do differently to preserve a firm stance against human rights abuses?

Suppression of Human Rights Unlikely to Change

Lack of human rights is a common theme to dictatorship like governments. It is interesting to look at the various institutions Russia considers to be a threat. Each of the organizations is singled out for very specific reasons. The idea of classifying organizations as “foreign agents” is useful because most countries view the involvement of outside players as unacceptable. The same happens in the US when discussing elections and money from foreign players to influence it. Putin has used this to his advantage, it limits the influence of those that speak or say anything contrary to his views.

Putin worries about Western thinking and the possibility it may influence the general populace to adopt ideas that go against traditional Russian values. This is the reason for his harsh stance on LGBQT. It goes contrary to Russian values and what the ideal Russian family should look like.

I find particularly disturbing his views on foreign agents as troubling. Russia has used this as a premise for religious persecution within Russia. Groups that at onetime had legal recognition have lost their standing because they promote ideas that may not coincide with Russian thinking.

Unfortunately, the key factors for a rights revolution currently do not exist in Russia. These include true democracy and a bill of rights. Even though Russia has a so-called bill of rights it is so vague that other laws can easily supersede it. Without these key elements a rights revolution is unlikely to gain any firm footing in Russia. Until a drastic change in the current political climate takes place Russian looks doomed to suppressing human rights amongst its citizens.

The State of Human Rights in Russia

The 2014 World Report: Russia from the Human Rights Watch organization highlights the various threats to human rights in Russia by category. Among those addressed are rights of the LGBTQ community, freedom of expression, the treatment of government critics and human rights defenders, the religious extremists of the North Caucasus, and migrant’s rights. However, included among the list of transgressions the Russian government and, at times, its people conducted against Russian and non-Russian citizens in the country are a few positive outcomes. These include the a court’s successful efforts to reject a petition from the Prosecutor’s Office to ban a book calling for an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity that occurred during the two wars in Chechnya. Granted, the existence of such a proposed ban is unsettling, but the court’s decision illustrates that not all of Russia’s government and judicial system are corrupt.

Reading the Human Rights Watch report from 2014 is disconcerting. From the injustices included in the report, it would appear that Putin’s government is starting to revert back to the policies of Stalin, in terms of freedom of expression and its treatment of government opponents. What would cause this to happen? I understand that Gorbachev’s attempts to implement a more open environment for discussing Russia’s problems was not successful in the minds of many. Are the restrictions in place now a response to this? Also, what role does religion play in the government’s policies and in the protest efforts? What is the state of religion in Russia now?

UN Declaration of Granting Independence to Colonial Countries and People

The Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and People was created by the UN General Assembly on December 14, 1960. It was a resolution that provided independence for once colonized people. The assembly declared that these people were no longer the subjects of other. One of its main goal was to promote freedom and provide basic human rights to all. It states, ” All States shall observe faithfully and strictly the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the present Declaration on the basis of equality, non-interference in the internal affairs of all States, and respect for the sovereign rights of all peoples and their territorial integrity” ( The declaration signifies the changing attitudes towards human rights that countries collectively share.

Understanding Bauman’s “Civilized Nazis” Theory in the Context of Modernity

In the introduction to his most famous work, Modernity and the Holocaust, Zygmunt Bauman argues from a sociological perspective that the genocide of non-Aryans by the Nazis in an effort of ethical cleansing can only be strictly understood in the context of a modern and civilized society. His view is quite radical, especially to those raised in the West who have been ingrained with the ideology that developed cultures exclude those that practice all forms of brutal savagery, particularly a Holocaust. Bauman throws away this traditional theory. He also rejects the thesis that the Holocaust was the work of madmen or explainable through European anti-semitic tendencies as extremely simplified and therefore non-considerable.

On the other hand, Bauman asserts his own powerfully convincing thesis — That the true potential of a modern, civilized society is actually exemplified through the Holocaust and is representative of the cruel reality that humans are capable of creating. He cautions that if not prevented, it is in the realm of possibility that either current or future societies are adapted to committing genocide on perhaps an even larger scale than what was witnessed in the dark period of the early 1940s. Further, he makes clear that this genocide was not committed by a group of anomic barbarians, but a so-called moralized and democratic society that not only allowed the creation of death camps but was complicit and vital to their functioning. Through implementing the production capabilities of the industrialized factory system, coordinated with the efficiently organized chain of command facilitated through bureaucracy, the Third Reich applied the advanced technological and business models available in the 20th century to a sophisticated killing machine, the concentration camps. To Bauman, the success of the Nazi’s mass murder scheme was rooted in its ‘correct use’ of bureaucracy. It was essential that the German administration utilized this formalized system of procedure to have efficiently achieved their government goals by synthesizing (1) the civil service composed of ‘normal’ citizens, (2) brute military force, (3) an industrialized mode of production, and finally (4) a single political party that provided an overall idealistic sense of a united nation. (13-14 Bauman) In the Third Reich, tied to the sense of a united nation was a united German Volk, of only the purest Germanic blood. Hitler’s functional objective of a judenfrei Germany was not originally presented in the terms of ridding the world of all Jewry through mass murder. His sinister dream of a ‘racially pure’ Aryan nation began in active forced deportation of minority groups to surrounding European nations. But as the war continued and the National Socialists political-military prowess and territory swelled, Germany quickly was responsible for more Jews than they knew what to do with or had any desire to humanely deal with.

As Bauman explains, The Final Solution was enacted and rationalized in a civilized nation through a tri-fold effect that would only have been possible in a modernized state. First, the SS hierarchy always shifted duty for otherwise immoral acts to a superior in command. Second, killing was always performed when capable at a physical distance with the aid of technology and never with zealous motivation, only professional efficiency due to the Fuhrer and Vaterland. In this way, responsibility for mass murder was diverted (in the minds of the killers) by the flick of an electrical switch and the psychological intention of murder was detached from the physical act of murder. Gas chambers were used purposefully; a chemical and technological barrier between the victim and the killer was intentionally in place. Shooting was discouraged and by the time the Einsatzgruppen mobilized, executioners who were overzealous about the concept of carrying out the firing squad were removed from that station. Finally, the Nazis systematically removed anything close to resembling humanity and humanness from their victims through removal of all basic rights, starvation, torture, and forced slave labor. In this way, the ‘invisibility’ of the Muselmanner (walking corpses) was complete. The murder of millions under the Third Reich regime was possible because each dead body was not considered as a corpse; it was just another final, capitalized product of the factory-line system.

In Bauman’s summarizing words, “It [the Holocaust] was a legitimate resident in the house of modernity; indeed, one who would not be at home in any other house.” (Bauman 17) He emphatically rejects the notion of the German Final Solution as an irrational aberration from traditional civilized tendencies. In fact, he presents civilization not a force that has overcome barbarism, but one that actually supports natural violent tendencies towards ethnic minorities. He continues to explain his meaning of civilization, which in his words has dual, co-existing potentialities for extreme good as well as extreme evil. In Bauman’s sociological viewpoint, the humanity that put the man on the moon and co-orchestrated the Olympics is the same humanity that allowed the death camps of the Third Reich to murder 6 million Jews and 5 million other civilians, all in the heart of Western Europe only 70 years ago. He quotes Rubenstein to what he concludes as the ultimate lesson of the Holocaust, “Both creation and destruction are inseparable aspects of what we call civilization.” (Bauman 9) In conclusion, Bauman explores the devastation of the Holocaust as strictly a rationally explained historical incident explicitly to be considered in the framework of highly bureaucratic and highly industrialized nations, both of which are only possible in a modernized civilization.

Gulag Historiography

Wilson T. Bell’s article on Gulag historiography does not seek to define what a Gulag is. Instead, it is a fascinating effort to clarify the several definitions of Gulag in addition to the speculated reasons they existed. He states that there is no clear agreement among scholars and proceeds to list several definitions and contexts that have been explored. Bell also goes through the often debated economic and political motives behind the Gulags. His last statement, and perhaps his the most important, is that there is far more research needing to be done on this topic to add to the motives, goals, and contexts of a Gulag.

The part I found most interesting is the excerpt on just how disgusting these were. While he makes a point to differentiate them from Nazi death camps; “they were not death camps, there was a desire to keep the prisoners alive” (15), the human rights offenses were not few and far between. He believes that the human rights offenses have not been brought to enough attention through historian work. In general, human rights offenses tend to be disregarded either because they are unfathomable or guilt-ridden. With this, what other explorations of the Gulag, be it life in the camp, or Soviet motives, need to be explored?

examining natural rights in the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the Rights of Men

Written within ten years of each other on the eve of two different revolutions, the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the Rights of Men remain today as influential revolutionary texts. While both documents examine natural rights, they do so in different contexts, for The Declaration of Independence was the assertion of a fledgling democracy’s right to political autonomy, while the Declaration of the Rights of Men enumerates and demands the protection of the individual natural rights of an oppressed class of citizens. Though the focuses of the two documents are different, examining them in tandem shows us the inextricable relationship between government and individual rights.

The Declaration of Independence lists the colonists’ grievances against the King of England and does not identify individual human rights, believing that these truths were “self-evident” (Blaisdell 63). The extensive list of complaints against King George are concerned with his interference in different institutions within the colonial government – cutting off trade, dissolving representative houses, and “refusing to assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers” (Blaisdell 65). While this declaration is a response to the oppression of the natural rights of a sovereign nation, the Declaration of the Rights of Men was written in response to the oppression of individual rights – namely, those of the Third Estate, the class of all french citizens who were not part of the gentry or nobility. The Third Estate was burdened with “all the really arduous work, all the tasks which the privileged refuses to perform” (Blaisdell 72). The French National Assembly listed fewer grievances in their declaration than the American Continental Congress and instead offered a comprehensive outline of the natural rights of individual citizens, ranging from freedom of speech to the right to property.

Different though their content may be, each declaration examines half of the relationship between citizens and their government. Both the french and americans agreed that a government is instituted to protect its citizens’ rights, and in return for this protection citizens will sacrifice certain rights of their own. The Continental Congress shows us government protection of rights in action – an elected group of officials protesting the abuse of another power against their own citizens. The French national Assembly outlines the second half of this political equation, showing how citizens sacrifice for their government through acts such as paying taxes and limiting their natural right to those which will not infringe upon someone else’s. Together, these documents show us how individuals allow for the creation of government, and how a government allows for the protection of natural rights.

Differences Between American and French Revolutionary Documents

By the late eighteenth century, America and France had developed a politically and socially symbiotic relationship.  It was the tail end of the enlightenment, and France’s famous Encyclopédie had been published and read by thousands European and American citizens.  This massive set of books contained subtextual political jabs and criticisms hidden in works from many famous philosophers.  Their revolutionary ideas, such as Voltaire’s separation of church and state and Montesquieu’s separation of powers had heavy influences on their own country, as well as on the American colonists, who were becoming increasingly unwilling to cooperate with their mother country, Britain.  Although each country’s revolutionary documents (America’s Declaration of Independence and France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen) were written in retaliation against oppressive governments, they were written to achieve different goals.  The former was written to highlight mankind’s right to institute a new government when its current one is corrupt, whereas the latter was written to highlight and stress the importance of inalienable and universal human rights.

Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence to unify the colonies and persuade Britain to renounce its sovereignty over America.  The piece declares that it is the sole job of a government to protect the basic rights of man—including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness— and if it fails, it is the people’s right to institute a new government.  It then lists the most prominent ways in which the British King is governing his colonies tyrannically, and urges the people of the thirteen American states to unify and forcefully emancipate themselves from Great Britain completely, thus beginning the American Revolution.

France’s National Assembly wrote its Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in a similar context: a time in which over ninety percent of French citizens were being underrepresented and mistreated by their government.  Also a precursor to a revolution, this document stressed the basic rights of every man, which should be unanimously recognized and respected.  It lists seventeen human rights, such as liberty, security, and resistance of oppression.

Although they have more similarities than differences, each document was written to inspire social and political change.  Each group felt that its rights were being infringed upon, and the respective declarations of France and America illustrate their ideas of what they, as nations and as people, deserve.