Category Archives: Human Rights

Tearing up the Magna Carta or Reconciling Human Rights & Counter-terrorism?

As a frequent reader of Foreign Policy online Journal, I was going through my weekend reading yesterday morning. The journal was entirely taken up by the recent attacks in Paris, France and among them my attention was immediately caught by an article named ‘Tearing up the Magna Carta[1]” on how fear risks trumping civil liberties in a Europe rattled by so called ‘Islamist terrorism’. The first thought that came to my mind while reading this article was; as human beings we are always left with two choices: the easiest, tearing up the Magna Carta and the toughest, attempting to reconcile human rights and counter terrorism. Which path would we take?

Today, we all live fearing blowback from ‘home-grown jihadist radicalisation of foreign wars’. This has been the biggest security concerns of most of the states over the last few years. It is a concern today more than ever before. One can understand the gravity of the situation when France’s former Interior Minister in 2003 (summer) claimed that returning Jihadists were ‘a ticking time bomb’. How do our governments address these challenges?

We often see our governments introducing laws on counter-terrorism or bringing amendments to the existing ones as a means of preventing such attacks and ensuring the safety and the security of the citizens. The real challenge for our governments today is to decide; as democracies do we fall into the trap of the terrorists and compromise the basic principles of human rights, our openness, rule of law and freedom and continue to provide legitimacy to their existence ? or are we open to find the right balance between human rights, social cohesion, freedom and counter terrorism?

Former Secretary General of the United Nations has observed that:

…compromising human rights … facilitates achievement of the terrorist’s objective – by ceding to [them] the moral high ground, and provoking tension, hatred and mistrust of government among precisely those parts of the population where he is most likely to find recruits. Upholding human rights is not merely compatible with successful counter-terrorism strategy. It is an essential element.

As someone who have lived through a conflict during most of my life, the popular discourse on reconciling human rights and counter-terrorism has been that human rights laws are often inflexible and does not pave the way for government efforts to effectively respond to danger. However, it is also important to keep it in mind that the birth of human rights law also was in the midst of conflicts. Hence, it also leaves provisions to strike a balance between security interests and the rights.

For example, it recognises that sometimes individual rights need to be balanced against the need to protect collective security. ICCPR further envisages that human rights may be justifiably infringed by states in times of public emergency without suspending the basic human rights such as the right to life and the right not to be subject to torture.

While this is the case in technical terms, our real challenge lies in practical terrain. In this unique contemporary context, the governments should not build grand theories that punish an entire race for the detrimental terrorist acts of one or two individuals of that community. Let’s ensure our counter terrorism policies focus on one race or community! Governments with long democratic traditions cannot afford to fall into the trap of the terrorists by tearing up Magna Carta.

At the same time, in order to reconcile human rights with counter-terrorism strategies the society as a whole need to fulfil its duty too. Under neo-liberal economic framework, we have settled to be in our comfort zones more as individuals than a holistic society. This very nature of individualism has been used as a weapon by the terrorists to destabilize our societies. While we need to maintain the openness and freedom in our societies, we also maintain social relationships with our neighbours, our colleagues, our fellow citizens to ensure the feeling of belongingness and responsibility. This will preserve the cohesive nature of our societies and the rights of all. Together we are much stronger! Our diversity will stand as our strength!


Asylum seekers vs opportunists

The Australian government introduced a milestone bill on asylum seekers last week… It seeks to remove the already limited ability of the courts to evaluate Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in accordance with the international obligations and introduces an “Australian Version” of the international refugee definition. For the convenience of the state, the bills says the government could even remove people with no consideration of their risks of torture or other human rights violations[1].

At the same time, the government of Australia held a toast after signing to resettle refugees from Nauru in Cambodia. Australia has put $40 million on the table to ensure the success of this transaction. In fact, although the Minister of immigration is thinking about unlimited numbers to be resettled there, Cambodia seems to be looking at handful[2].

On the other hand, the Australian civil society is further concerned about the asylum seekers who were returned to Sri Lanka[3].

All these incidents, only leave us with the question “who is responsible for these asylum seekers?”

In the context of the above events, one may argue the fact that recently signed agreement to resettle some refugees from Australia’s offshore detention centres will provide a path to settle and determine the future for the so called illegal maritime arrivals, rather than being in uncertainty in life over years.

However, most rights groups have criticised the agreement calling it as inhumane. Considering the human rights record of Cambodia they have further condemned relocating the vulnerable refugees there.

Whilst the arguments for and against are put through various forms, from a humanitarian point of view, asylum seekers are mostly a symbol of our turbulent times. As each new conflict erupts, the media is filled with pictures of masses on the move, fleeing from their own country. Those who eventually survive depend on the willingness of mostly developed states to open their borders and various humanitarian organisations to provide new arrivals with the basic needs. In fact, subsequently when the message goes back to the country of origin, it is always possible to use this international obligation of another state in an abusive manner.

In the case of Sri Lankan asylum seekers, even after 5 years since the end of the war we hear more and more boats coming to Australia. Irrespective of ethnic differences they are fleeing seeking for better opportunities and life prospects in the developed world. People smuggling is the real problem to be addressed in this regard. I have heard stories about smugglers attempting to pass on people through boats and at the time of failure, if they are returned they torture the people, expose them to media as the next step. If the governments reply they consider to be lucky. If not, the world turns its attention to another crisis and they are left behind in their usual routines back at home.

While we claim that asylum seekers are a responsibility of the entire world and it is imperative to ensure their human potentials are not wasted during their time in exile, providing them with the right solutions, it is also the responsibility of the people not to exploit these humanitarian laws.


[2] Ibid


Women are essentially realpolitikal …

I accidently read something different from a more contemporary liberal, Francis Fukuyama who is famous for his “End of History?” argument. He employs a reasoning that attributes a central role in politics to ‘masculine values’ that are rooted in biology. Based on a number of studies with the use of chimpanzees he claims that female and male ones demonstrate different behaviour. According to him, males are more prone to violence and domination while females form relationships. Based on these, he argues that world can be separated into two spheres: a cooperative “feminised” zone composed of advanced democracies, and a brutish world beyond this pacific zone where the masculine pursuit of realpolitiks pre-dominates.
In fact, the little politics I know have brought me an understanding that women are good in forming relationships as they are biologically and essentially multi-dimensional. It is this character of multi-dimensionalism that made the man in hunting era to accompany her always behind him. So that while the man who is single dimensional by nature is chasing an animal the woman who is behind and who is multi-dimensional could see all other aspects that facilitate his hunting. This little example further re-confirm one saying I happen to hear in a movie named: ‘My fat Greek wedding’ where it was said ‘if the man is the head, woman is the neck that controls it’. To think about it again, it sounds biologically rationale and politically correct as well.
In that sense, while I may agree with Huntington up to a certain degree to believe in the fact that biologically males are more prone to violence. In fact, what he probably missed was that females encourage it most of the time. The day today experiences in life have not brought any supporting evidence to prove that Huntington’s thesis is right. But it proves the other way around. We have experienced the war during 3/4 of our lives or more. We have seen how mothers, wives and daughters are proud about the fact that their son, husband and father is fighting in the war front. It brings them great pride to say that he died for the country. While a majority of them are worried about the soldier who is fighting the war, it is on the other hand encouraged by them as well.


Where I do not agree with Huntington’s argument is that although males are more prone to violence, does not mean that women are essentially cooperative. As men are naturally single dimensional democracies are essentially possible with them, mainly given the fact that they will continue to have a black and white picture about most of the things. On the other hand, although women are not actively participating in direct violent behaviours, does not mean they are essentially peaceful. For me in person realpolitks is a reality only when women are engaged in it. With their multi-dimensional characteristic it is practically not possible to bring about democracies with their participation. Hence, Huntington’s thesis ideally should be “…that world can be separated into two spheres: a cooperative zone composed of advanced democracies with single dimensional males and a brutish world beyond this pacific zone where the feminine pursuit of realpolitiks pre-dominates”. A step beyond this thesis I would further argue that the ’64 charms’ (heta hathara mayam) that are given to females are for this purpose: the purpose of a realpolitikal animal.