The EU-Libya migration deal (the betrayal of EU values and principles)

So act that your principles of action might safely be made a law for the whole world”
Immanuel Kant

At last week’s summit in Malta, EU leaders decided to allocate 200m euro ($215m) to Libya’s fragile UN backed government. The amount will help Libyan authorities to deter the flow of boats filled with illegal migrants from country’s territorial waters. In fact, however, the EU – Libya migration deal is very controversial and immoral. To clarify this statement, it is necessary to scrutinise several points. First and foremost, nowadays Libya cannot and should not be considered as a sovereign state. Unfortunately, today Libya is a failed/broken state, divided in three areas: Western Libya controlled by UN backed government, Eastern Libya controlled by Tobruk-based government and Libyan National Army, and Southwest Libya controlled by Tuareg tribes. Second, the EU-Libya migrant deal is another proof that EU’s foreign policy has not been consistent with regards to protection and promotion of human rights. Third, the EU-Libya deal clearly shows that the EU and its member states still are not having a real common solution to migration crisis.

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Lawless Libya

There is no doubt that today’s Libya is a failed/broken state. The main indicators for this are the complete absence of the rule of the law and the lack of state institutions in the country. The breakdown of law and order has created anarchy and chaos across the vast country. Unfortunately, in this insecure environment a massive human rights crisis has emerged. People have been unlawfully killed, tortured, abducted and detained. Because of escalating violence and ongoing anarchy more than 400 000 Libyans have left their homes. In this context, it is important to note that lawlessness in Libya paved the way not only for the emergence of Islamic State in the country but also for the growth of human trafficking in the Mediterranean. In reality nowadays Libya is a transit country that refugees, migrants and asylum seekers from around the world cross on their way to Europe. Human trafficking in Libya is a growing industry, therefore it has been mainly organised and controlled by Gaddafi’s former security services, criminal gangs, militias including terrorist organisations. Smugglers often treat migrants as inferiors without dignity and respect. Alas, migrants usually have been physically and sexually exploited, robbed and harassed by smugglers. Migrants have been detained in detention centres across Libya that lack basic sanitary conditions. Looking from this perspective, it could be argued that EU-Libya migration deal is very controversial because it states that people who try to cross the Mediterranean and have been caught will be returned back to Libya, which the EU and its member states considers as a “safe country”.

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Values vs interests

The EU always proclaims itself as a human rights and democracy champion. Nevertheless, the EU-Libya migration deal likewise this one with Turkey clearly shows that the EU in practice prefers to pursue national interests of its member states rather than to promote its values (human rights, democracy and rule of law). Therefore, the EU is keen to cooperate and protect its borders with the help of autocratic leaders such as Erdogan in Turkey, Bouteflika in Algeria, General Sisi in Egypt and even radical militias in the case of Libya. Looking from this perspective, one could argue that the EU foreign policy simply does not exist because on one hand it lacks coherence and on the other it has been crafted by member states. In light of this, it is important to note that the EU-Libya migration deal also reveals the fact that the EU and its member states still are not having a common solution to a refugee / migrant crisis. In practice, the deal represents an ad-hoc solution to the problem with human trafficking from Libyan coasts. Here, it is important to note that the EU-Libya migration deal will encourage human rights abuses and atrocities in Libya because militias will compete with each other to “catch” more migrants in return for more EU funding. In reality, the real solution to the refugee crisis in Central Mediterranean is to bring peace, rule of law and democracy in Libya. Therefore, the EU should be focused on the promotion of its values, principles and norms instead of looking for ad hoc solutions.

 

 

Bloody clothes-Uzbekistan’s cotton production

Hey, hee, hi, ho, pickin’ cotton all day
Hey, hee, hi, ho, just a-pickin’ away
White folks knows I’m workin’
They knows gon’ be no shirkin’
Hee, hi, ho, I knows I’ll get my pay

Just tell the world for me: My soul’s done set me free
That’s the song I’ll sing till they put me under the clay

Song From A Cotton Field 

There is no doubt that clothing is an essential part of our life. To some extent, this can be explained by the fact that people are obsessed with fashion and the way how they look in the mirror. At deeper level, however, clothing plays an important role in people’s identity formation because they reveal to the public our profession, our social status, our personality and even our religion. In this sense, it could be argued that clothing forms our culture. But why then we continue to judge people’s clothes and how they dress up? Why we try to forbid Muslim women to wear Islamic clothing like burqa? Why we as a society abuses fundamental human right to adequate clothing (Article 25 of UDHR)? Because we take clothing for granted, this is the answer to all of these questions. Today, people can afford clothing, they change clothes with the fashion and trends while in the beginning of the 20th century poor people around the world wore ragged and patched clothes. In fact, nowadays we can afford clothing because it is cheaper than ever before. Here, comes the question what makes clothing cheaper today? The answer is very simple and shocking –exploitation and oppression. To illustrate this point, it is necessary to thresh out cotton production in Uzbekistan, world’s second largest cotton producer.

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The first point that needs to be taken into account is that cotton production in Uzbekistan is a pure example of modern day slavery. Around a million Uzbeks, every autumn are ‘sent’ by the Uzbek government to pick country’s cotton also known as “white gold”. This process is driven by a forced labour system, which roots go back to Soviet times, where millions of citizens were routinely sent to help state work the land. Presently, the Uzbek government forces all of its employees (local bureaucrats, teachers, factory workers, doctors and nurses) to pick cotton with little or no additional compensation. Those who refuse to take part are threatened with punishment and dismissal from their state-sector jobs. On the other hand, cotton farmers are fully dependent on the state. The failure of the land reform after the fall of the communism has in practice enabled Uzbek government to become the only buyer of the cotton production. Therefore, Uzbek regional administration enforces annual cotton production on farmers and forbid them from selling to anyone but the state. Farmers sell their production to the government on unprofitable prices in exchange the government provides free labour (slaves) to them. Agriculture is the main sector in Uzbek economy, therefore cotton farmers prefer to cooperate with the government in maintaining its inhuman and shameful forced labour system. In general, it is important to emphasise that all multimillion dollar cotton revenues go to a Soviet style totalitarian dictatorship of Islam Karimov (who died this September). Looking from this perspective, it could be argued that cotton production in Uzbekistan has more in common with serfdom and slavery rather than with the market economy.

Unfortunately, slavery and exploitation have kept the low prices of cotton on international markets. However, what is more disturbing is the fact that the Uzbek government (the state) enslave and exploit its own citizens. In fact, it is not surprising at all, because the totalitarian regime in Uzbekistan has a long record of human rights abuses. Uzbekistan has many prisoners of conscience. People are usually sent to jail where are tortured or even killed simply because they freely express themselves (their political views, talk about religion and etc). Sadly, media freedom in Uzbekistan does not exist. Peaceful demonstrations and gatherings are forbidden by the government. Here, it is important to note that in 2005 in Uzbek city of Andijan many Uzbeks protested peacefully against widespread corruption and oppression in the country. The regime responded with the killing of hundreds of protesters, therefore today we talk about 2005 Andijan massacre. Shooting of peaceful protesters is the tip of the iceberg for Uzbek authorities, which frequently harass civil society, journalists, activists, opposition members and supporters.

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Traditionally the Uzbek government justifies human rights abuses with the argument that terrorism and radicalism are growing in the county. However, it is more than clear that Uzbekistan uses terrorism like a pretext because terrorist organisations do not have a substantive presence within the country. In fact, however, the real threat to the country and its citizens are Uzbek secret services (regime’s instrument of repression and major holder of cotton revenues). In light of this, the death of dictator Karimov (country’s former communist secretary) represents a golden opportunity for the country and its citizen to take the path of reforms. Thereby, international community and in particular United Nations, International Labour Organisation and the EU (Uzbekistan’s major market for its cotton production) should actively preserve and protect human rights in the country. Furthermore, the international community should insist from the Uzbek authorities speed reforms, commitments and guarantees that human rights will be protected and respected in Uzbekistan. Otherwise, Uzbek cotton production should be boycotted. Modern day slavery in Uzbekistan must not be tolerated, human rights must not be abused and denied.

 

The Burkini issue in France and L’Affaire du foulard

“Whatever side I take, I know well that I will be blamed’
Louis XIV

Last month a new political debate has been triggered in France. Local authorities in about 30 southern French cities (including Cannes and Nice) issued bans on a controversial burkini (a full body swimsuit specially designed for Muslim women). The debate went into deep detail after photographs have emerged of armed French policemen confronting a woman on a beach and forcing her to remove some parts of her beach clothing in particular headscarf and tunic. For some people, French authorities humiliated the woman (by stripping off her clothes in reality they stripped off her identity and personality). Therefore, they have found this action a serious human rights abuse since it is unfair and discriminatory. For other people, burkini represent a serious threat to the public security particularly in the wake of the terrorist attack in Nice. According to them, burkini are actually ruining France’s public order by not respecting state’s good morals and secularism. In their view, burkini like the Islamic veil are on one hand symbols of enslavement of women in Islam and on the other are symbols of the primacy of the believer over the citizen. Looking from this perspective, it could be argued that burkini are threatening the foundations of the French republic or the so-called “values of laïcité: the preservation of a shared, non-sectarian public sphere; the distinction between the private and the public identities of individuals, equality before the law and non-discrimination, and the guarantee of equal religious rights of all” (Shani, 2014). Thus, in this manner, the burkini ban gave a new life to the old debate about manifestation of religious affiliation and preservation of laïcité in France. In the French society and in other European countries this debate is also known as L’Affair du fourlard or the Islamic veil debate. As a matter of fact, at the heart of this debate lies the question of Who has the right? /Whose rights matter more? the rights of society (the modern nation state) or the rights of individual (the citizen).

 

Who has the right? or expressed in other words Whose rights matter more?

It is quite paradoxical to answer these question especially when the French revolution of 1789 is considered by many as the foundation of the human rights discourse in politics. This is so, because the Declaration of the rights of Man and the Citizen (1789) became the cornerstone document of the revolution. There is no doubt that the Declaration of the rights of Man and the Citizen (1789) is one of the most significant documents in the history of mankind since it states that all men – regardless of nationality, race, gender and social status – have natural rights (Article I: Men are born and remain free and equal in rights). Here, however, it is important to note that the French republic assumed the responsibility to preserve natural and imprescriptible rights of man, which are liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression (Article II). Thus, in this manner, the natural (universal) rights of man have been linked to the rights and responsibilities of French citizen since the state is the only guarantee of natural rights. Expressed in other words, natural rights of man are enjoyed only within the territory of the French republic (the main and the only guarantee), which leads to the point that the French republic guarantees to protect and respect the natural rights of all of its citizens. Moreover, the responsibility to preserve the natural rights of man de facto presents the birth of the modern-nation state. In the light of the Declaration of the rights of Man and the Citizen, the nation-state became the highest authority within the society since it maintains public order, makes laws, preserves the rights of man and has monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force. In this context, it is important to emphasise that the peculiarity of the modern state consists in its ability to combine two important axes, one INDIVIDUALISING (the rights of man/citizen) and the other TOTALISING (the authority of state/the rights of the society). This ability can be seen clearly in the Article IV of the Declaration of the rights of Man and the Citizen which states that “Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law”. Looking from this perspective, it could be argued that the state manages to combine two important axes (individualising and totalising) due to laws. Indeed, state uses laws in order to determine the limits of the rights and freedoms of the individual (the citizen) and to protect the rights and well-being of other citizens (the society). Laws (rules) regulate citizen’s behaviour and maintain public order. Here, namely it is important to mention the text of the Article X of the Declaration of the rights of Man and the Citizen which asserts that “No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law”. Again the French republic (the modern nation state) shows its ability to combine (individualising and totalising). In fact, in post-revolutionary France the state has used laws to limit the role of the religion in public life. This is so, because the religion (and in particular the church) is seen as a fundamental part of the ancient regime (the absolute monarchy). In fact, the church headed the inquisition and oppressed the citizens. Therefore, the Republic wants its citizens to separate their faith and religious beliefs from their citizen’s rights and responsibilities. For the French state, the subject of rights discourse is the citizen. He is the one who has rights, but his rights are in force and protected by the state only when he does not disturb the public order established by the law. Therefore, for the French state women who wear burkini or Islamic veil (hijab, niqab and burqa) in practice are citizens who manifest publically their religious view and thus threaten good morals and secularism in the French society. To protect the public order and the rights of the other citizens (the society) French state exercises its right to punish citizens who do not obey laws. Thus, in this manner, it shows clearly that its rights (the rights of the state) matter more than the rights of man (the rights of the citizen).

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The contradiction between citizen rights and human rights in the case of burkini

The French revolution gave birth to the modern nation state and the rights discourse (natural rights and citizen rights). But in today’s globalised world the rights discourse is determined by international rather than national law. Expressed in other words, in our modern world international institutions (the international community of states) are those that determine the rights of man. Today the rights of man are more known as human rights since the majority of states has ratified the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human rights (UNDHR). The UNDHR sets out, for the first time, human rights (rights of man) to be universally protected and respected. France has ratified the UNDHR and thus has enshrined its texts in its constitution. Therefore, France must respect Article 18 of the UNDHR which state that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”. In addition to this, France must comply also with the European Convention of Human Rights which guarantees the right to freely manifest one’s religion. Looking from this perspective, I can conclude that French Muslim women have their universal human rights to wear burkini. They are not obligated to be French citizens to enjoy them (universal human rights), they are born with them and nobody even the modern nation-state (French republic) cannot deprive their rights from them. Therefore, the French republic is obligated to treat its citizens before all as equal human beings who enjoy universal human rights and to respect and protect these universal human rights.

 

References:

Shani (2014) Who has right? in Global politics: a new introduction/edited by Jenny Edkins & Maja Zehfuss. – 2nd ed

The Declaration of the rights of Man and the Citizen http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/rightsof.asp

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human rights http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

 

Aleppo: ‘the mother of all battles’

 

حلب هي أم المعارك

Aleppo is the mother of all battles

The battle of Aleppo is one of the bloodiest and prolonged clashes in the Syrian civil war. Looking from military and strategic point of view, the battle of Aleppo is probably the most important one since the city used to be Syria’s commercial hearth. This is why, at the end of the day it has been said that whoever holds Aleppo in reality holds Syria’s future. Indeed, the control over the city is vital for both sides in the conflict (the Syrian government and the Opposition). In case that Syrian regime manages to win the battle for Aleppo, this would be a turning point in the conflict and a devastating blow to the opposition. Furthermore, for some analysists, regime’s victory in Aleppo will drastically lessen Turkey’s role (influence) in the Syrian civil war since Aleppo is situated just 50km from the Turkish border. In this regard, it is important to note that Turkey is the main supplier of medicaments, food and goods to Northern Syria. On the other hand, if the fighting in Aleppo intensifies, which in reality is happening at the time of writing, more Syrians would be forced to leave because of the violence. This consequently means that a new refugee wave will sweep over unstable post-coup Turkey. It will be wrong to think that newly arrived Syrian refugees in Turkey will stay in the country which already hosts around 3 million Syrians and will not risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean (across the Aegean route from Turkey to Greece). Seen in this light, it could be said that citizens who are trapped now in Aleppo are facing a dilemma whether to risk their lives and cross the Mediterranean or to stay in Aleppo and wait to be bombed as a human targets.

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Source: Internet

In general, the strategic importance of Aleppo predicts that no matter which side in the conflict will win the battle for the city it has to shed a lot of blood and lose many human lives. In light of this, the horrifying pictures of destruction and death raise two important questions to opponents and the international community: Is it worth it? Does it matter that this way of waging war killed many civilians?

Is it worth it?

No, it is not. It is worthless to believe that in 21st century you can win a war at all cost (in particular by using extreme violence and brutality). In fact, all involved sides in the battle for Aleppo should be aware that we are living in a time of globalisation (growing interconnection between people and nations), which means that the world is closely watching their actions. Moreover, all parties should know well that they cannot win people’s “hearts and minds” if they continue to extensively violate human rights, intentionally cause humanitarian crisis and purposefully destroy Syria’s and world’s cultural heritage. Expressed in other words, all parties should clearly understand that they cannot destroy people’s homes to rubbles and then ask for their support, they cannot kidnap and torture citizens and afterwards publicly declare that in fact they are protecting their lives and rights, they cannot continue to dehumanise people (strip of their identity and rights) because of their political view, ethnicity, gender or religion and afterwards to expect de-escalation of violence and lack of vengeance. Looking from this perspective, I believe that nowadays in Aleppo not only innocent people are dying but also humanity is dying out there. It seems to me that under intensifying fire of the battle we are losing all rights and norms for which we have fought since the end of the World War II. In light of this, it is important to note that the battle of Aleppo (the Syrian civil war in general) has produced a lost generation of young people, people who are refugees and who do not have access to education, food and water. Mainly because of them the battle for Aleppo is worthless.

Does it matter that this way of waging war killed many civilians?

Yes, it matters. Russian and Syrian air forces continue to deliberately target cities in Syria and the people who lived within them. They have defined their victims as “terrorist” and “extremists” but disturbing images following their bombardments are showing us that there are predominately civilian casualties (aid workers, children and women). This is so, because both air forces have been engaged in “countervalue” targeting, which means that their strategy is to bombard the population indiscriminately. The ultimate goal of this strategy is to demoralise the population such that they would give up the fight or leave. To even worsen the situation for the civilians, Russia is increasingly using cluster and phosphorus bombs, which are banned by international law, while Syrian regime is dropping “dirty bombs” (barrel bombs and chlorine bombs) at targets in different cities including Aleppo. In addition to indiscriminate bombing campaign, Syrian regime together with its allies is using medieval siege tactics to limit the flow of water, food, goods and medicines to opposition controlled and hard-to-reach areas of the country. Unfortunately, siege and starvation had become systemic in Syria. For instance, in Aleppo, most of the people (particularly children) have been starving to death. Besieged people are unable to buy food because food stock is decreasing. In this context, it is vital to note that to use of famine as a weapon of war in reality is a crime against humanity. But crimes against humanity have not been committed only by one side in the conflict. The opposition (moderate rebels and extremists) is responsible for indiscriminate mortar shelling, suicide attacks and tunnel bombs in neighbourhoods controlled by the government. Moreover, they often use civilians as a human shield. Opposition fighters are frequently blamed for destruction and looting of private property. In addition to that, the opposition has been accused by the international community of recruiting and using of child soldiers.

In conclusion, I can say that these two important questions beg a further question: How can the war in Syria be stopped? The answer to this further question is vital not only for the protection of human rights in Syria but also for the humanity at all. Therefore, the battle for Aleppo is the battle of all battles that we (the world) have fought for our rights, our human rights

 

Europe’s migration crisis: fear and walls

                                                                    “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall”      Ronald Reagan         

Undoubtedly the Berlin Wall has been the most symbolic fence in the history of the. This statement refers to the point that during the Cold war and afterwards the wall has symbolized profound differences between the West and the East in political, economic, military, culture, technological and developmental aspect. In this context, it is valuable to note that above all the Berlin wall has been a symbol of security. Properly speaking people look for security measures when they are afraid of something. In such a view, we can argue that the Berlin wall in fact was a product of Soviet fear of human rights paradigm (articulation and application of human rights). Therefore, the Berlin wall aimed on one end to hide the truth from Westerns about Soviets’ notorious human rights record and on the other end to restrict Easterners from learning more about their human rights. For 30 years the fence restricted on both sides people’s fundamental human rights such as freedom of movement (within and outside the borders of state), the right to change your nationality, the right to seek, receive and impact information and ideas regardless of frontiers. However, on 9 of November 1989 the Berlin wall, Europe’s symbol of division, finally came down together with lies and stereotypes on which it was founded. People on both sides of the wall quickly realised that ‘others’ (people from the other side of the wall; former Cold war enemies) are not only fellow Berliners, Germans, Europeans but above all are human beings who also love their freedom, want to live in peace and have rights. Looking from the perspective of history, the breakdown of the Berlin wall can be considered as one of the most important advancement of human rights paradigm, triumph of democracy and capitalism. Importantly, not only in Europe but around the world. Moreover, it led to the emergence of further politically and economically integrated European Union (the EU). In following years after the demolition of the Berlin wall namely EU extensive enlargement to the East has completely obliterated fear of ‘others’ in Europe.

By putting human rights paradigm at the top of the political agenda in Europe, the EU has managed to unify people across Europe, Cold war perceptions like ‘others’ and ‘different’ have been changed by ‘common’ and ‘European’. On the other hand, this laid the foundations of common European identity/citizenship. Furthermore, the common (European) respect of human rights led to total removal of barriers and frontiers among 26 European states (the so-called Schengen Area). The border-free Schengen area guarantees not only free movement to more than 400 million Europeans,but also peace, stability and prosperity in Europe. In this regard, it is important to note that the existence of the Schengen Area (border-free area) proves that freedom and economic development go together. This argument refers to the point that free movement certainly helps Europe become world’s leading economy.

But today the post-Cold war European human rights paradise is under threat. Again the ghost of fear of ‘others’ and ‘differentiation’ is walking across Europe threatening both border-free Schengen area and Europe’s political integration, probably the most significant achievements of the continent in the period after the fall of the Berlin wall. Continuously growing fear of large influx of refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants has forced many states in Europe to seal their borders. Because of fear, new walls have been erected in Hungary, Greece and Bulgaria while countries like Germany, Sweden, France, Denmark and Austria re-introduced national border control. In their view, security measures at European borders are once again in need since states in Europe have to decrease the numbers of the so-called illegal immigrants (the term includes refugees, alyssum seekers and economic migrants, all who crossed borders without authorisation). Moreover, we need strict security measures in order to avoid future terrorist attacks like those that happened in France last year (Charlie Hebdo attack and Paris attacks).

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However, these arguments represent only the top of the iceberg called immigration crisis, which necessarily means that the real issues are under the water. To clarify this point it is important to deconstruct both of them. Therefore, the first point that needs to be taken into account is that the word “illegal” is a socially constructed discourse. Explained in other words, we (the society) in fact decide who can be considered legal migrant and illegal one. In this view, we traditionally consider everyone who is trying to cross our European borders without authorisation (legality) as a criminal. But in this notion we do not pay attention to an important fact,what reasons drive these people to risk their lives in order to cross illegally our borders. We focus on their legal status rather than the fact that they are running from genocide, torture, rape, hunger, lack of opportunities and etc. People are running for their lives, the most valuable thing that they have but we still ask them for papers and visas. Those citizens who have papers (authorisation) they have right to cross, they enjoy freedom of movement, others who do not have papers simply do not have rights (including fundamental human right of freedom of movement). These without papers are illegals, they have to stay outside the border, they are outsiders or if they cross the border, they are criminals. Indeed the whole picture represents a new kind of racism, neo-racism that is most notably based on black and white division – legal/illegal, man with rights/man without rights, insider/outsider, local/foreign. This neo-racism is more well- known in public as a cultural racism or the notion of ‘others’ who cannot integrate in our society and who threaten us. In the times of migrant crisis and economic downturn, exactly this notion of ‘others’ is the main generator of racial intolerances such as Islamophobia, Afrophobia and etc. In this sense, we treated people who cross our borders illegally as criminals because we think that Muslim people and Black ones cannot integrate successfully in our society. We fear from them, from their identity therefore we insist from our politicians to increase security (in terms of legislation, border control, walls). Here, it is important to note that we definitely need more tolerance, liberal approach and understanding of ‘others’ in order to avoid future terrorist attack. This argument is related to the point that our cultural racism and discrimination towards Muslim and Black people in fact has provoked and radicalised terrorist attackers in Paris, who indeed are French nationals. People from the ghetto, those who we cannot successfully integrate, they are Paris attackers, not those who crossed illegally our borders.

In conclusion, I would ask people to be more open and tolerant. Multiculturalism is the future of our globalised world, therefore we cannot afford to separate ourselves from others. Tolerance and respect of fundamental human rights lead to economic development and peace. On contrary hatred and discrimination lead to ashes and destruction. In this regard, we can argue that Europe has learnt its lesson, therefore I can openly say like President Reagan did 28 years ago, ‘European Commission tear down this wall’, wall of hatred based on the fear of differences, stereotypes and cultural racism.

 

The not different Iran

 

“Any differences?”

A caption that appears on an image posted on the Iranian supreme leader’s website khamenei.ir

At the beginning of the new 2016 Saudi Arabia executed 47 people who had been convicted on various terrorist charges. One of them was a prominent opposition Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. The death of al-Nimr has created discontent among Shia Muslims. Particularly in Iran, where the wave of discontent turned to be violent and resulted in an attack against the Saudi embassy in Teheran. In practice the assault on the Saudi embassy set the beginning of a revengeful diplomatic war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that has been waged on two grounds, political ground and public one. In this regard, it is more than important to note that the opponents are fighting a severe information war on both grounds in an effort to win the hearts and minds of people. In reality, this should hardly surprise us since history teaches us that words can be more destructive and dangerous than arms. Perhaps Iranian leaders have perfectly learnt this lesson from history since they are waging a successful war of words against Saudi Arabia in the Internet. To fully illustrate this point it is desirable to look at a cartoon posted by Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei on his website that compares Saudi Arabia with the brutal terrorist organisation ISIS.

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Image posted on the official website of Ayatollah Khameinei khamenei.ir

In addition to that, in his official twitter account Iranian president Hasan Rouhani labelled Nimr’s execution human rights violation. By labelling Saudi Arabia brutal and inhuman country Iran wants to gain both moral superiority in their strife and world’s sympathy. In theory, this tactic will work since Saudi Arabia is a notorious human rights violator, but in practice only the willfully blind would think that it will succeed since Iran also has been famous for its low human rights record. Expressed in other words, one could argue that Iran lacks a moral ground to judge Saudi Arabia since it has been famous for its public executions of LGBT people, women and religious minorities.

Seni

Image by Senya Valkova

In this context, it maybe will surprise you, but Iran executes more people per capita than any other country in the world. To get an even clearer view of the death penalty situation in the country, it is important to keep in mind that during the last year (2015) Iran executed 965 people. One reason for an extensive use of a capital punishment has been Iran’s justice system. Often characterized by their unique promptness and rigid sentences country’s trails are not only unfair but also grotesque. Therefore, regularly undeserving people are being sentenced to death. In practice this is a crime against humanity and a serious violation of the universal declaration of human rights (UNDHR) since people have no right to a fair trial. Here, it is important to emphasise the fact that many people who are sentenced to death give their confessions through torture and threats. This is another serious human rights violation. Likewise the torture, the living conditions in Iranian prisons are inhuman too. Usually, defendants are placed to live in overcrowded cells where they are victims of prison mistreatment. The defendants, particularly political prisoners, do not have access to judicial or medical help. In reality, this also represents a forthright lack of respect for the international law and human rights principles. Looking from this perspective, it seems almost impossible for a defendant in Iran to be pardoned or at least to not receive capital punishment. Nevertheless, there is a possibility to avoid death penalty. Convicted person can get reduction if he makes a payment known also as dyat or blood money to the victim’s kin. But this only refers to people who are sentenced to death for a murder and who are Shia Muslims. This leads to the point that Iran’s justice system makes a difference among defendants on the basis of their ethnic and religious origin. To clarify this point it is important to note that Iran is a majority Shia Muslim country in which Shia interpretation of Islam is enshrined in the constitution and all laws are subject to Islamic principle. Despite the fact that the constitution guarantees religious freedom and minority rights, the reality is completely different. Non-Muslims (including in particular Sunni Muslims who are regarded by Shias as non-believers) do not have equal rights and freedoms like Shias because they are enemies of the faith (Shia Islam) and consequently they are enemies of the state. As enemies of the state they regularly receive a death sentence. Thus, in this context, a non-Muslim man (even a Sunni Muslim) can be executed if he has sex with a Shia Muslim woman. Discrimination towards minorities and restriction of religious freedom are very significant human rights abuses that uncover the dark inhuman side of the Iranian regime. Furthermore, Iran’s intolerance against LGBT people is extremely notorious. Likewise minorities LGBT people in Iran are considered enemies of the faith and  the state by the authorities. Therefore, LGBT people regularly face death penalty. In this vein, Iran does not really distinguish itself from the brutal terrorist organisation ISIS which executes LGBT people on the basis of the same argument (enemies of the faith and state). The life of people with “non-traditional sexual orientation” in Iran is a real hell. So, it is not surprising at all that most of them are political dissidents or alyssum seekers in foreign countries. In this sense one could argue that through coercion Iran is expelling not only its own people (the non-believers) but also regime’s opponents. The capital punishment has been used by Iran to strife all calls for change and democratisation. In sum, it seems that Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution has realized that gallows is the best censorship. In this sense, one could argue that most of the people sentenced to death in Iran have been convicted of drug trafficking. However, this is a very questionable argument, since it can be used as a façade for the real reason why people are being executed. Expressed in other words, the Iranian regime is using drug trafficking as a pretext to the public and the world for its serious human rights abuses. On the other hand, capital punishment has been used by the regime to attract public opinion away from country’s real problems such as extensive corruption and low economic growth. As well as keeping the society under its control since there is not freedom of speech and real political opposition. In this regard, it is more than obvious that Iran is not any different from Saudi Arabia or even from cruel terrorist organisations such as ISIS. Last year, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmad Shaheed, expressed ‘marginal optimism’ that the regime is opening itself for dialogue, however, continuing executions, amputations, and indiscriminate abuse of minority rights (including women) have proved a quite opposite position. Any differences with Saudi Arabia? No, in both countries (Iran and Saudi Arabia) human rights paradigm means nothing which is sad not only for their citizens but also for the world at all.

Saudi Arabia – the human rights center of the universe

“Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe.”  Elie Wiesel

Time and again Saudi Arabia has become the human rights center of the world. Seen in this light there is nothing that should hardly surprise us. The medieval kingdom is a notorious human rights violator. Its negative popularity can be explained by the fact that Saudi Arabia is abusing human rights on large scale at every possible level – economic, cultural, political, social and civil. In this context, it is important to bear in mind Raul Castro’s words that ‘no country is free of human rights abuses’. In fact, even a prominent human rights champion like USA faces criticism for human rights violations in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Nevertheless, the Saudi regime is extremely tough towards human rights paradigm and in particular rights of homosexuals, women, foreign workers, minorities and freedom of expression. Because of its significant role in politics (at regional and international level) regime’s persecution of human rights goes far beyond its political borders. Saudi Arabian military interventions in Bahrain (2011) and in Yemen (2015-ongoing) have been marked by indiscriminate killings of civilians and crimes against humanity notably an extensive usage of cluster munitions. Therefore, the kingdom is not free of human rights abuses in the eyes of the international community and leading international human rights organisations such as Freedom house, Amnesty International, Human rights watch and etc. What is more disturbing and for sure shocking for me and for the entire global human rights community is Saudi Arabia’s appointment as a chairman of a UNHRC panel that selects senior officials who draft international human rights standards and write reports on violations. The appointment of Saudi Arabia as a world judge of human rights once again makes it the human rights center of the universe. In this context, the mass execution of 47 people on New Year’s Day only proves that it will last there for a long time on.

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Image by Carlos Latuff

But to be a ruling human rights violator is not an easy task especially when there are perceived competitors like North Korea, Somalia, South Soudan and Syria. Thereby, it is more than important to explore what in practice provokes this wave of violence (growing and perhaps endless persecution of human rights in Saudi Arabia). To do so I will focus on three human rights issues, namely gender inequality, minority rights and lack of freedom of expression. For me the Saudi regime purposefully violates these rights in order to keep public attention away from the real problems which the state is facing. Thus, in this regard, the promotion of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia is being considered as a way to import ‘western values and norms’ in a country which aims to be an ‘ideal and pure Muslim nation’. Here, what is most important is the basic fact that religion (Islam) has been attached to the Saudi Arabian identity and consequently nationality. Expressed in other words, promotion of women’s rights is not only against Islam, but also against Saudi Arabia as a country. The Saudi Arabian legal system is based on Sharia law, Islamic law derived from the Qu’ran, Sharia determines women’s rights and roles in life and society. From this perspective, Saudi Arabia often condemns foreign calls for legislative changes and more rights for women with an argument that these are interventions in the country’s internal affairs. Furthermore, local women’s rights activists/lawyers traditionally are being named atheist or traitors because they are promoting values which are against Islam and consequently Saudi Arabia. However, due to large external pressure in recent Saudi elections in 2015 women took part for the first time. But taking part in insignificant elections in an absolute monarchy does not mean that secularism and feminism have fully entered into Saudi society. In practice likewise absolute monarchy sexism is still ruling Saudi society. Thereby, continuing abuse of ethnic and religious rights (minority rights) can be related to the divine right and the rule of the house of Saud. This statement refers to the point that the Saudi regime is obtaining its legitimacy from Islam (Sunni reading) and in particular the ultra-conservative Wahhabi teaching of Islam. According to Wahhabi teaching Shia Islam as a religion must be denounced. Therefore, Shia citizens in Saudi Arabia (around 20 million or 10% of the entire population) “face systematic discrimination in religion, education, justice, and employment”. Namely because discrimination and various violations in time Shias have become the regime’s main political opponents and enemies. Many Shias activists and political opponents of the regime have been labelled ‘terrorists’ and lately executed. Recent execution of Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr who was charged with terrorism only proves that Saudi’s iron fist against terrorism in practice represents the iron fist against freedom and opposition. Here it is important to note that many experts usually compare Saudi regime to brutal terrorist organisation ISIS. According to them there is not any difference between ISIS’s brutal public beheading and Saudi’s ones. Both are cruel and inhuman, both happen to people who oppose their political and religious view. Opposition is what the Saudi regime traditionally stamps. As I have noted elsewhere Saudi Arabia’s new anti-terrorism regulations can be used to criminalize almost any form of peaceful criticism of the authorities as terrorism. Human rights activists are put in a jail only for peaceful sharing knowledge about human rights and freedoms. Moreover, online freedom practically does not exist since there is a law that obligates online users who posting news or commentary online to have a license from the Ministry of Information. If you do not have such a license you will face flogging for blogging. Last year’s Sakharov prize laureate Raif Badawi created the website Free Saudi Liberals. Namely because of this Badawi was charged with insulting Islam through electronic channels and send to 10 years prison, 1000 lashes and fine. In this context, it is important to note that due to the lack of freedom of expression and consequently the lack of knowledge issues like sexism, racism and subordination continue to rule Saudi society and way of life. By labelling women’s rights, minority rights and freedom of expression atheism or terrorism the regime aims to hide the truth that the house of Saud have put their own interest ahead of the national interests. Government subsidies for food, housing, water a wide range of consumer goods cannot forever hide the truth about growing youth unemployment, economic downturn (due to low oil prices) and exploitation of country’s large oil resources by one family (the house of Saudi). Oil based medieval kingdom has only one enemy and this is the knowledge now when it represents the human rights center of the universe, knowledge will come what will happen only people like Raif Badawi know.20151210PHT06944_original