Calculus: Deal Doggedness and Human Rights Diplomacy

As the issue of denuclearization in the interest of global peace and security continues to be of pressing concern to the world, there is a growing tendency to prioritize such matters of international import above concerns around the problematic human rights records in countries like Iran and North Korea. However, concerns regarding the human rights situation within a country’s borders should not be relegated to the backburner while negotiating deals regarding international peace and security owing to two broad, interconnected reasons.

First, egregious violations of human rights within national borders – by their very nature – cut across these national borders and thus merit international anxiety. In particular, repressive regimes foster instability, dissatisfaction, violent conflict, and frequently, radicalization. While it is tempting to call for an emphasis on America’s “softer” side in response to human rights concerns beyond American borders, it may be prudent to acknowledge instead that the way a country treats its people can be of consequence to polities the world over. Accordingly, if Azadeh Moaveni’s conclusion that any substantial improvement in Iran’s human rights situation demands larger, structural reforms from within is accurate, any gains consolidated by finalizing deals such as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action are necessarily of limited value for international peace and security. In fact, regimes that mete out systematic repression to their own people, such as Iran and North Korea, are “inherently destabilizing”; their volatile internal dynamics, posited against the background of nuclearization, present huge risks to international security, which merit due investigation, analysis and response. In such a scenario, allowing horrific internal conditions to play second fiddle while negotiating sweeping arrangements for global peace is to miss the forest for the trees.

Secondly and more specifically, acknowledging that both these concerns are relevant to the all-pervasive ‘international security’ problem could also be helpful in selling negotiations and engagement with an adversary state such as Iran to domestic constituencies. By emphasizing its potential to raise Iran’s profile in the world order and bring economic relief within Iranian borders, President Rouhani, for instance, garnered some measure of domestic support for a deal which – on the face of it – seemed like a massive concession of sovereignty. In an increasingly polarized international order, where domestic forces operating within one of the negotiating parties may view the very act of approaching the negotiating table as an admission of weakness, acknowledging that there are costs to peace and security on both sides of the coin may be a wiser move.

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Incendiary Media Use and The Failure of the Rwandan Case

Use of the media is a powerful tool in crimes against humanity for the following reasons: it allows the wielder to shape contemporary discourse, it helps desensitise and marginalise those who are not being targeted, and it can successfully contribute to the generation, entrenchment and wholesale acceptance of dangerous demographic stereotypes, which often serve as the premise for ensuing violence.

The Rwandan Genocide is a prime example of how influential persons in control of sources of information, such as radio broadcasts and newsletters, can distort and filter the material that the public can access. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which was tasked with prosecuting various violations of international humanitarian law during the genocide, handed down a landmark judgment on this use of the media. This judgment, along with two significant cases of incendiary media use during the Third Reich in Germany, constitute a large part of the law on attribution of responsibility to the perpetrators.

I will analyse each case in order to arrive at an appropriate standard for responsibility, and to demonstrate why I think the Appeals Chamber of the ICTR did not do a good job.

I. The Case of Julius Streicher 

The Nazi regime in Germany is well-known for its careful, manipulative use of the media. Julius Streicher was the founder and editor of an anti-Semitic newsletter called Der Stürmer, translatable to ‘The Attacker’. He made various far-fetched and malicious claims about Jews in the cartoons and articles he published in this newsletter scapegoating them for Germany’s economic problems and criminal happenings. In an article published in a 1939 edition of Der Stürmer, the author decried the idea of a ‘decent Jew’, stating his intention to make the public of the Third Reich understand why it was a “shameless lie”.

Streicher was tried by a military chamber at Nuremberg. The Tribunal found no direct causality between his acts and specific acts of killing Jews.  He had issued no direct orders to anybody to exterminate the Jews and had not actually participated in the Holocaust. However, his circulation of vitriolic messages was noted as a “poison” which infiltrated the citizenry’s minds and made them subscribe to the general atmosphere of anti-Semitism. It quoted the following statement from Der Sturmer to illustrate Streicher’s ill-intentions: “A punitive expedition must come against the Jews in Russia. A punitive expedition which will provide the same fate for them that every murderer and criminal must expect. Death sentence and execution. The Jews in Russia must be killed. They must be exterminated root and branch.”  The Tribunal considered that his efforts, in line with this sentiment, constituted incitement to murder and extermination of Jews.

In other words, Streicher had successfully contributed to desensitizing the non-Jewish population and was held responsible for crimes against humanity.

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