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Political Violence and Human Rights
17/05/2004 - 02:38 am


Due to the increasing rate of violence in all over the world, many researches were carried out to define the reasons of this phenomenon in order to limit its devastating impacts. This paper's aim is addressing this phenomenon from a legal perspective as well as examining the relationship between violence and human rights through international conventions in that field. The study, also, explores the impacts of human rights notions’ absence in societies, and ways of addressing the phenomenon of violence through concentrating on the principles of human rights in these societies.

Human Rights: Perspectives and Challenges

Although most of essential human rights notions are attributed to different legal sources; most of them are based on religions of prophets, national constitutions and international conventions. The contemporary source for human rights notions has originated from the Western perception to the political theory which includes rights and participation of individuals in public affairs. The international law provided protecting rights of individuals on the authority to be the predominant. All international declarations and conventions consented on a set of essential human rights which are, basically, the right to life, freedom, equality, education and to own property.

The development of those notions can be observed through exploring the international conventions and covenants which had been issued during three successive periods of time. The first one is the phase of the international covenant on civil and political rights, and the second one is on economic, social and cultural rights whereas the third one is the phase of the international covenant on groups’ rights.

These international conventions were issued as a response to reduce impacts of bloody conflicts as well as the escalating violent approaches that human societies had went through. These conventions were, also, enforced to find constraints and legal restraints through which different social categories can establish a common and constructive relationship with each other and with other societies.

The acts of violence against individuals and groups, beside violations by authorities, are the most prominent obstacles that confront the implementation of human rights. Those obstacles negatively affect the rights of groups, public freedoms, democracy and the development of the civil society.

The International Humanitarian Law and Its Development

The convention of 1864 which signed in Geneva by the representatives of sixteen European states is considered the first serious attempt in setting an international convention that seeks restraining human rights violation especially in considering the conditions of wounded soldiers. Moreover, peace conferences which were held in The Hague in 1899 and 1907 had adopted conventions that assign laws for military actions.

However, many amendments were conducted on those conventions which contributed in adopting the four Geneva conventions in 1949. The first one is about the wounded and sick persons in armed forces in the field whereas the second convention is for wounded, sick and shipwrecked members of armed forces at sea. The third one is about treatment of prisoners of war while the forth convention is for protection of civilian persons in time of war. Just after their issuance, fields of using force were defined in regard to self defense cases whether in individual or collective cases; in national liberation wars or in military operations that are approved by the Security Council. Those conventions had been confirmed after adopting the additional amendments protocols in 1974 and 1977 which are related to protecting victims of international and non- international armed conflicts.

As for the individual human rights, several committees and international commissions were established under the umbrella of the United Nations with cooperation of governmental and non- governmental organizations. These commissions contributed in forming many international treaties and conventions, besides setting clear and definite standards. Those international conventions were known as the International Humanitarian Law which had continued developing to accommodate with the changing needs of various social, cultural and ethnic groups.

The articles of the United Nations Charter stress on the importance of promoting respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion. However, the International Bill of Human Rights is considered the basic pillar in the International Human Rights system. This document consist of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted on December 10th, 1948), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (December 16th, 1966) with its two Optional Protocols and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966).

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had set minor standards for the states that ratified it in order to implement the rights mentioned in the Covenant like the right to earn a living by working within conditions that guarantee safety and health, to join trade unions, to be free from hunger, to receive health care and free public education. Moreover, all kinds of discrimination in terms of economic, social and cultural rights are extremely prohibited to ensure the equality of rights between all citizens.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights promotes the realization of the right of self-determination, liberty, privacy, and freedom such as liberty of movement, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, forming and joining unions; including  trade unions and political parties, and taking part in the conduct of public affairs. It, also, states that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Moreover, no one shall be held in slavery, be a victim of arbitrary detention, or imprisoned merely on the ground of inability to fulfill a contractual obligation.

Besides Charter of United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there are several United Nations core treaties which had received a number of ratifications. Some of those treaties are the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Convention related to the Status of Refugees, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, as well as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Terrorism and Violence; Pillars of Demolition

 The term of terrorism is one of the most controversial terms among legal researchers, politicians, psychologists and criminologists because of the confusion that had attached this term due to mixing between “the means”, “the objective”, “the tool” and “the function”. Due to historical and cultural considerations as well as the variety of orientations, targets and policies of states, a tremendous number of legal and religious definitions had come up over terrorism term. Each definition contradicts the others because of concentrating on only one of its several aspects and ignorance of other causes. Researchers are still looking for a unified legal definition for terrorism in order to set legal constraints and regulations to restrain and address this phenomenon.

Regardless of terrorism’s different definitions, the one adopted at the United Nations is the most suitable definition to this research. Here, terrorism is criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act.

As for the definitions of violence, they are more specific and transparent, and the most noted one is what is mentioned in the Scientific Universal Encyclopedia as “any act practiced by an individual or a group against an individual or individuals whether through words or deeds, and considered a brute act that represents physical or moral force”. It, also, defined as “any behavior or act described as aggressive by a party; whether an individual, individuals, a social class or a state, against another party with the intent of exploitation or subordination through unequal economic or political power which causes material or psychological damages”.

Most of violence definitions confirm two features of violent behavior; which are the association between violence and force, coercion or compulsion, and the opposition of violence to law in order to suppress others. Violence is considered a serious threat when it is attached to a continuous terroristic activity; however, there are individual criminal offenses that are not in the same level of seriousness although they are considered severe. The difference between violence and criminal offense is based on a comprehensive ideological or political distinction not because of certain individual stand.

Through the previous definitions of “terrorism” and “violence”, the difference between the two concepts in terms of practice and legality can be noted although violence is considered the main way in terroristic acts and without it there is no terrorism.

Although environmental conditions, psychological and social motives of violence and terrorism are the same, violence is usually practices within a family or a society whereas terrorism usually targets the opponent party in a political conflict. Furthermore, violence is a behavior that can be conducted by any social group; including juveniles, and appears in various forms; terrorism is one of them. However, terrorism is defined as one of violence forms with the intent of reaching certain goals, and practicing it is limited to specific social groups. Therefore, it is noticed that the international human rights law in terms of violence fields concentrates on cases of domestic and social violence; especially against vulnerable social groups such as women and children.

Behavioral and Social Interpretation of Violence

Violence is one of aggressive behaviors forms that aim to harm the other with intent, and it is the extreme degree of intentional aggression degrees. Psychologists offered many interpretations for violence, the most important of which are the theory of genetic or biological imperative, violence as a result of frustration or learning by observation, and the desirable consequences of violence.

 Understanding violence must be through several dimensions; not only one, because violence is a behavior that aims to fulfill different motives that link between violence and frustration. Asa’ad Alnimer, a researcher in psychology, states that the psychological rule, which resulted with the theory of frustration and aggression, is beneficial in understanding the connection between repetition of frustration with the accumulation and intense of aggression. Violence is the most severe form of aggression as it is an explicit, devastating response that violates the law. When frustration level increases in non-democratic societies, the level of violence becomes higher and individuals respond through violent and extreme acts to satisfy their unfulfilled demands.

However, education plays a significant role in forming wrong behavioral patterns which guide individuals to intellectual corruption that leads to the adoption of extreme stands and attitudes against others. As for the social aspect, the spread of various forms of social problems; especially those ones resulted from inequality or frustration, might incite some individuals to reject these practices through acting violently. Economic factors are, also, one of the most prominent environmental obstacles that are attached with violence such as the increase of unemployment rate and abuse of wealth distribution. Furthermore, political factors like absence of freedoms and democracy in any society make people use violence as a means to express themselves and attain certain political gains.

Dialectical Violence and Human Rights

 There is a direct relationship between the increase of various forms of violence and human rights violations regardless of the party that practices these violations. In the light of this fact, some researchers formed their perception to violence phenomenon as it is a natural result for the absence of equality, sovereignty of law and compliance to human rights system in human societies. However, some work on constituting a new political and social perception which states that violence and its negative impacts in a society are the major reason in repressing the adoption of individual and public freedoms and unapplied human rights principles.

The sense of security is one of the major factors to social and political stability in any community. It is consisted of several aspects including the economic one like job and food security, as well as political, cultural and social aspects. Any imbalance that threatens the security of an individual whether directly or not, it will be the essential cause for the accumulation of fear and frustration which eventually explode and appear as violent acts whether individually or collectively.

 Principles of human rights contribute in reinforcing the state of social and political stability which consequently reflects on the society’s sense of security and ability of expressing its needs without referring to violent approaches. Besides the explicit and direct violations and misfeasances, which might be conducted by authorities in any society, there are “potential violations” which are considered unofficial and implicit human rights violations which result in frustration accumulations that contribute in promoting social violence. Johan Galtung calls Structural Violence on the cases of injustice and social exploitation that are observed through the relationship between the society’s groups and marginalized groups due to variation of access to equal opportunities which hampers those marginalized groups from mingling.

It is important to give individuals of a society the ability of contributing in common affairs, and to accept pluralism as well as peaceful rotation of power through providing them the freedom of choosing their representatives, if human rights system was absent, the culture of political dependency would spread among the society’s individuals which results in their negativity due to their fear from the authorities’ persecution. Because of the absence of adequate social justice and equality, the variance between social classes becomes wider which creates a state of imbalance among different social groups.

Therefore, marginalized and opponent social groups may pursue attaining certain status or better gains through inciting their individuals and supporters to protest by using violent approaches against different political and social institutions, and even the private ones sometimes.

Conclusion and Recommendations

 In order to promote principles of human rights in political, social and cultural fields, a set of recommended procedures can be applied in this field which can be summarized with the following:

1.It is required to be obligated to international covenants related to human rights and applying them firmly, accurately and fully.

2.It is necessary to include human rights materials in educational curricula because human rights principles can not be enforced without the participation of educational institutions.

3.Political and legal fields should be extended for making initiatives and establishing non-governmental human rights societies that spread human rights culture in the society and stand up for freedoms as well as individual and collective rights.

4.All kinds of various media outlets; whether printed, heard or seen, must be more concerned with human rights issues.

5.Moral and legal constraints must be set to restrain the phenomenon of violence and the incitement for practicing it.

6.Legal and political recognition of intellectual and political diversity in societies must be carried out; so that citizenship would be the base for relationships and mutual responsibility.

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