Posts tagged human rights

On Stalin…

Currently reading: Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Century In His Life by D.M. Thomas 

Picked this book up randomly a few weeks ago at a closing down sale at a bookshop in Oxford Street.  It is a really thick book (well, it would be if it is a ‘century in his life’!) so I have only managed to read one third of the book so far, but it is seriously fascinating!  

I find the Moscow show trials particularly interesting.  Stalin would basically torture people whom he felt were a potential threat to his regime, even if they were completely innocent, until they would agree to testify in court that they had been involved in a conspiracy to overthrow the government.  They would even have to go as far as to pretend they had collaborated with other prisoners to do so.  In this way, Stalin was able to portray a false image to the rest of the world; by having them actually testify in court and give evidence albeit false, it would not appear to the rest of the world that he was actually simply eliminating people who opposed his regime.

It is so difficult to even imagine living in society under Stalin.  Imagine everyday feeling an intense fear that either you or someone you know could be sent to a concentration camp at any moment.  Generally this would lead to torture and death.  For example, when Stalin collectivized agriculture in order to increase agricultural output and bring the peasantry under direct political control, his estimates for a 200% rise in industrial production and a 50% rise in agricultural production were not met.  He blamed the kulaks (rich peasants) who resisted collectivization, and the peasants who were only slightly better off than some, and sent them to labour camps or to be shot.  This means that they were completely ordinary people, whose only crime in that respect was being slightly better off than the poorer peasants.  Imagine being persecuted for that!  

These events were, by the way, after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) had been drawn up, thus indicating that the UDHR did not automatically effect a new world order.  In fact, the Soviet Union has been quoted for stating: “We will never tolerate interference in our internal affairs.”  This is one of the main problems that has been found time after time with the UDHR – it does not hold any legal enforcements.  Whilst there have been many declarations and agreements drawn up amongst the international community since that time, the fact of the matter is it is all very difficult to enforce.  For example, the Optional Protocol to the Civil Covenant allows states to optionally allow individual victims of human rights violations within their countries to complain to an international body… however there has been very little support for this, which is hardly surprising considering the countries who are the biggest violators of human rights are very unlikely to allow themselves to be subjected in international criticism.  The USA themselves withdrew from the Optional Protocol after Nicaragua brought them before the International Court of Justice on the grounds that the USA were against democracy in Nicaragua and trained and supplied Contra rebels, and furthermore had the US navy lay mines outside Nicaragua ports leading to attacks on its harbours.  However, when the USA lost the case, they walked out, refusing to be bound by any decisions that did not suit its interests.  Whilst the USA has done a great deal to assist in humanitarian interventions, sometimes situations such as these make me wonder if their missions are truly in the interest of human rights.  And also if any humanitarian ventures of other states are truly altruistic?

Leave a comment »