Archive for the ‘Human Rights’ Category

Why Crimean Tatars fear Russian rule

April 11, 2014

The Crimean Tatars, the indigenous population of the Crimean peninsula, are afraid for their future under Russia’s re-annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

crimean_tatars_They enjoyed a freedom under independent Ukraine that they did not have in Tsarist or Soviet Russia, and they fear that freedom is in jeopardy.  Many protested the Russian takeover, and one of their leaders has been murdered, apparently by pro-Russian forces.

They  were the inhabitants of the Crimean peninsula before it was annexed by Russia under Catherine the Great in 1783.   They had been a semi-independent part of the Ottoman Empire, and, in Russia’s wars with Ottoman Turkey, they were regarded as disloyal.  Many fled to Turkey after the Crimean War of 1853-56, in which the British, French and Turks unsuccessfully invaded Crimea, and Turkey still has a large Ukrainian Tatar population.

During the Second World War, Crimean Tatar loyalties were divided.  Some fought for the Germans, some joined the Red Army, some fought in the partisan resistance against the German occupation.  But in 1944, Stalin ordered the deportation of the Crimean Tartars to Central Asia and Siberia without exception — women, children, old people, crippled people and veterans of the Red Army and partisan resistance.   Later they were allowed to return, but there still is a large Crimean Tatar population in Central Asia.

They now are more 12 percent of the population of Crimea, and many of them object to being reincorporated into Russia.   Their fears have a real basis, based on history and on the resurgence of Russian ethnic nationalism.

It is not realistic to hope that the Russian Federation, having re-annexed Ukraine, will give it up.  The goal of Russian statecraft, from Peter the Great and before, was to have “warm-water ports” on the Baltic and Black Seas for merchant shipping and the Russian navy.   Crimea was ruled by Russia for longer than Louisiana and Florida have been part of the United States.  No Russian government will willingly allow control of its main naval base on the Black Sea by an anti-Russian government.

The best that can be hoped for is an easing of tensions and a winding down of extreme Russian and Ukrainian nationalism, so that non-Russian and non-Ukrainian minorities can live in peace without being persecuted.  The best thing the U.S. government can do is to stop trying to use Ukraine as a proxy for an anti-Russian foreign policy


Occupy protester faces jail for defending herself

April 8, 2014
Cecily McMillan

Cecily McMillan

Back in March 17, 2012, an Occupy Wall Street protester named Cecily McMillan was grabbed from behind by the breast by a plainclothes police officer named Grantly Bovell.   He grabbed her with such force that he left a hand-shaped bruise on her breast.  She lashed out behind her with her elbow.

This week she is on trial on charges of assaulting a police officer and faces a possible seven years in prison.

The police officer hasn’t been charged with anything.

Outrageous as this is, it is not exceptional.  Beatings and arrests of peaceful Occupy protestors were common.

The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, many local police forces, working in concert with the Wall Street banks, treated the Occupy movement as terrorists.  I guess the government’s definition of “terrorist” is anything that terrifies the powers that be.


Here are links to articles giving the background of the McMillan case.

Here is a link to an article giving the background of the suppression of the Occupy movement.

And here is my view of what’s going on.

There is such a thing as a right to be wrong

April 7, 2014


The proposition that “error has no rights” was once a teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.   St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that you cannot love God unless you have a correct understanding of God, and that having wrong ideas about God jeopardizes your immortal soul.  He wrote that just as counterfeiters of money should be put to death, so should people who promote counterfeit ideas about God.

Aside from the fact that I don’t believe in a merciless Deity who would condemn people to eternal torment for making a mistake, I don’t believe that there are any individuals or institutions who are infallibly right.   I am neither so arrogant that I think my opinions should be accepted without question, nor so fearful that I am afraid to submit my opinions to the test of argument and contradiction.   This applies across the board and not just to religion.

It is perfectly true that “error” has no rights.  Neither does “truth.”   Only human beings have rights.   Among those rights, under U.S. law and international human rights documents, is the right to nonviolently and lawfully advocate for their political opinions.  People in a free country ought to be able to do that safely, no matter how unpopular their opinions with the government or with the majority.

I suppose that with sufficient ingenuity, someone could think up a situation in which that principle didn’t apply.  If so, I would admit the exception only for that particular situation.  Freedom of speech, like everything else, has boundaries.  I think that people who call themselves liberals should defend and perhaps extend these boundaries, rather than look for reasons to contract them.

If you think there are opinions so hateful that anybody who holds them should be silenced or punished, who would you give the power to decide what those opinions are?   Are you absolutely sure that power would never be used against you?

Political correctness and repressive tolerance 2

April 7, 2014


I once wrote a post in defense of political correctness.  In it I argued that the phrase “political correctness” was used by people who wanted to immunize themselves from criticism for saying things that were insulting, vulgar and bigoted.   I am politically correct in that sense.  I believe in treating people with courtesy and respect, and part of that is avoiding language they consider insulting

I think there are certain opinions of which I have a moral obligation not to allow to go uncontradicted.

I think there is such a thing as “murder language” — epithets used by Cossacks conducting pogroms against Jews, by lynch mobs stringing up black people, by homophobes who beat gay people to death — and I don’t think such language is socially acceptable

But these considerations don’t apply in the resignation of Brendan Eich, the Mozilla CEO who was unmasked as having contributed to supporters of Proposition 8, the California referendum against gay marriage, and who refused to back down from his belief that marriage is only between men and women. 

I haven’t heard any allegation that he was unfair to gay employees of Mozilla.  In fact, nobody would have known about his opinions if somebody hadn’t taken the trouble to dig it out.

I am a paleo-liberal, who came of age during the Joe McCarthy period, and I see a parallel between what happened to Brenden Eich and the blacklisting of the great Hollywood scriptwriter Dalton Trumbo for his support of Communist causes.  

Of course Eich is in a better position to retire on his millions than Trumbo had of earning a living when he was banned from working in Hollywood.  On the other hand I think Trumbo’s illusions about the Soviet Union were a much more serious mistake (to put it mildly) than Eich’s failure to keep up with received opinion about gay rights.

One thing they have in common is that they are being punished not just for their past political record, but for refusing to back down from their convictions.   Both Eich and Trumbo could have saved their careers if they had recanted, even if nobody believed their recantation was sincere.

Proposition 8 was supported by a majority of Californians.  That is a lot of people to declare ineligible for executive positions in high tech companies in Silicon Valley. 

At the time Proposition 8 was on the ballot, Barack Obama declared his belief that marriage was only between a man and a woman.  I don’t recall anybody who thought this made him ineligible for public office.  (more…)

Political correctness and repressive tolerance

April 4, 2014


I’ve long thought that “political correctness” was a minor problem, mainly affecting English departments in liberal arts colleges rather than the general public.  Evidently not.

The inventor of JavaScript has resigned as CEO of his Silicon Valley company because of protests about him donating money to an anti-gay marriage group.

The interesting thing for me about the above article by the self-identified conservative Rod Dreher is that I can remember when his view would have represented the extreme civil libertarian position.

All this is a reminder that “liberal” and “left,” while they may overlap, don’t mean the same thing.

The liberal position is, “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Okay, there are worse things.

But, as my mother frequently said to me when I was a child, two wrongs don’t make a right.

Three questions about self-determination

March 9, 2014
A woman lights a candle in Kiev in memory of protesters who died

A woman lights a candle in Kiev in memory of protesters killed in February

I think it is good for us Americans to hear points of view we don’t hear from the so-called mainstream press and broadcasters.  Here is Yanis Varoufakis, a professor of economics at the University of Athens, on the right of self-determination, as applied to Ukraine.

Let us accept (as I do) the principle that national minorities have the right to self-determination within lopsided multi-ethnic states; e.g. Croats and Kosovars seceding from Yugoslavia, Scots from the UK, Georgians from the Soviet Union etc.

Awkward question no. 1: On what principle can we deny, once Croatia, Kosovo, Scotland and Georgia have come into being, the right of Krajina Serbs, of Mitrovica Serbs, of Shetland Islanders and of Abkhazians to carve out, if they so wish, their own nation-states within the newly independent nation-states in the areas where they constitute a clear majority?

Awkward question no. 2: On what principle does a western liberal deny the right of Chechens to independence from Russia, but is prepared to defend to the hilt the Georgians’ or the Ukrainians’ right to self-determination?

Awkward question no. 3: On what principle is it justifiable that the West acquiesced to the razing to the ground of Grozny (Chechnya’s capital), not to mention the tens of thousands of civilian deaths, but responded fiercely, threatened with global sanctions, and raised the specter of a major Cold War-like confrontation over the (so far) bloodless deployment of undercover Russian troops in Crimea?

Varoufakis stipulated that Vladimir Putin is a dangerous despot, and that the (relatively) democratic values embodied in the European Union are preferable to the authoritarian values of the Putin-sponsored economic bloc, the Eurasian Union (consisting so far of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan).

Unfortunately, he said, Western leaders don’t necessarily have Ukraine’s interests at heart.

The Ukraine is, and was always going to be, the battleground between Russia’s industrial neo-feudalism, the U.S. State Department’s ambitions, and Germany’s neo-Lebensraum policies.

Various [U.S.] ‘Eurasianists’ see the crisis in Kiev as a great opportunity to promote a program of full confrontation with Russia, one that is reminiscent of Z. Brzezinski’s 1970s anti-Soviet strategy.  Importantly, they also see the Ukraine as an excellent excuse to torpedo America’s role in normalizing relations with Iran and minimizing the human cost in Syria.

At the same time, the IMF cannot wait to enter Russia’s underbelly with a view to imposing another ‘stabilization-and-structural-adjustment program’ that will bring that whole part of the former Soviet Union under its purview.

As for Germany, it has its own agenda which pulls it in two different directions at once: securing as much of the former Soviet Union as part of its neo-Lebensraum strategy of expanding its market/industrial space eastwards; while, at the same time, preserving its privileged access to gas supplies from [Russia's] Gazprom.

He believes that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry understand the limits of American power and the danger of an overly hawkish response to events in Ukraine.   I hope he’s right, but I’m not so sure.

Click on Yanis Varoufakis: Ukraine – Three Awkward Questions for Western Liberals and a Comment on the EU’s Role | naked capitalism to read his whole article.

[Update 3/10/14.  I edited this post lightly for clarity.]

Brazil, Germany should offer Snowden asylum

December 20, 2013

Earlier this week the United Nations General Assembly passed a strong general resolution, introduced by the governments of Brazil and Germany, affirming “the right to privacy in the digital age”.

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

It didn’t mention the U.S. National Security Agency, but it was obviously inspired by what Edward Snowden revealed about the extent of the NSA’s worldwide surveillance.   I think the governments of Brazil and Germany should show their appreciation by offering Snowden asylum.

Snowden is in a precarious position in Russia.  He was granted permission to stay in that country for a year, of which about nine months remain.  President Vladimir Putin said in an interview that he wouldn’t tolerate a Russian who revealed information about the secret Russian security agencies, and that the only reason he permits Snowden to remain in Russia is that there is no extradition treaty with the United States.   If the United States signed such a treaty, and handed over certain Russian fugitives that Putin wants, he would hand over Snowden without hesitation.

Why are Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, Germany’s Angela Merkel and other national leaders unwilling to give Snowden refuge?  One obvious reason is that they fear to displease the U.S. government.   Another might be that they, too, don’t want to set a precedent that would encourage Snowdens in their own countries.


‘What would you have done?’

December 10, 2013

Nelson Mandela, who died last week, was mourned by many Americans as a hero.  But there was a time when the American government regarded him as a terrorist.

Double click to enlarge

Double click to enlarge

I agree with Newt Gingrich’s judgment.

Mandela was faced with a vicious apartheid regime that eliminated all rights for blacks and gave them no hope for the future.  This was a regime which used secret police, prisons and military force to crush all efforts at seeking freedom by blacks.

What would you have done faced with that crushing government?

What would you do here in America if you had that kind of oppression?

Some of the people who are most opposed to oppression from Washington attack Mandela when he was opposed to oppression in his own country.

After years of preaching non-violence, using the political system, making his case as a defendant in court, Mandela resorted to violence against a government that was ruthless and violent in its suppression of free speech.

As Americans we celebrate the farmers at Lexington and Concord who used force to oppose British tyranny.  We praise George Washington for spending eight years in the field fighting the British Army’s dictatorial assault on our freedom.

Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Thomas Jefferson wrote and the Continental Congress adopted that “all men are created equal, and they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Doesn’t this apply to Nelson Mandela and his people?


Today is Human Rights Day

December 10, 2013

2013-10-16-humanrightsfinalThe Universal Declaration of Human Rights was approved by vote of the U.N. General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948.  The vote was 48 to 0, with eight abstentions—six Communist delegates, plus Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

A commission headed by Eleanor Roosevelt and representing 18 nations spent two years drafting the declaration.  As a declaration rather than a treaty, it does not have the force of law, but it provides the philosophical and moral basis for later human rights treaties.

Click on The Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the full text.

Click on Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic Social and Political Rights for background information from Wikipedia.

Reflections on the legacy of Nelson Mandela

December 7, 2013

Nelson Mandela was a remarkable and contradictory figure. He was a revolutionary who believed in armed struggle and admired Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. He was a believe in freedom and democracy who refused to hate anyone because of their race. And he was the leader of a government that preserved the economic status quo and protected the interests of corporate business.

The charts below are a snapshot of what he accomplished and what he did not accomplish.

south_africa-1024x744The top chart shows how black South Africans came to identify with their country since apartheid ended, and black South Africans were given the right to vote and equal civil rights with whites.

The bottom chart directly below shows the economic gap between white and black South Africans that still remains. While the incomes of black South Africans, adjusted for inflation, have doubled since the end of apartheid, the income gap between whites and blacks has widened.

sa_mandela (more…)


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