Sovereignty and Human Rights Update

Respect for human rights decreasing globally

CNN, 4-12, 22,, Blinken: Global backsliding of human rights starkly evident in Russia’s war in Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that the global backsliding of human rights is starkly evident “in the Russian government’s brutal war on Ukraine.” “That’s especially true in recent weeks, as Russian forces have been pushed back from towns and cities they occupied or surrounded and evidence mounts of their widespread atrocities,” Blinken said in remarks at the State Department while releasing the 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices “We see what this receding tide is leaving in its wake. The bodies, hands bound, left on streets. Theaters, train stations, apartment buildings reduced to rubble with civilians inside. We hear it in the testimonies of women and girls who have been raped, and the beseeched civilians starving and freezing to death. In response people and governments in every region are voicing their condemnation and calling for those responsible to be held accountable,” the secretary of state described. “In its disdain for human life and dignity, the Kremlin has reinvigorated a belief in people worldwide, that there are human rights that everyone everywhere should enjoy and underscore why these rights are worth defending,” he said. “At the same time, civil society, governments, and people around the world are rightly pointing out that Ukraine is tragically far from the only place where gross abuses are being perpetrated. They want the international community to shine a spotlight on human rights abuses wherever they’re being committed, and to bring the same urgency to stopping abuses and holding perpetrators accountable,” he said.

Protection of sovereignty and borders needed to prevent armed conflict

TANISHA M. FAZAL,  is Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota and the author of State Death: The Politics and Geography of Conquest, Occupation, and Annexation, May/June 2022, Foreign Affairs, The Return of Conquest? Why the Future of Global Order Hinges on Ukraine,

Russian President Vladimir Putin has long declared that Ukraine has never existed as an independent country. The former Soviet republic is “not even a state,” he said as early as 2008. In a speech on February 21 of this year, he elaborated, arguing that “modern Ukraine was entirely and fully created by Russia.” Days later, he ordered Russian forces to invade Ukraine. As Russian tanks streamed across the Ukrainian border, Putin seemed to be acting on a sinister, long-held goal: to erase Ukraine from the map of the world. What made Russia’s invasion so shocking was its anachronistic nature. For decades, this kind of territorial conquest had seemed to be a thing of the past. It had been more than 30 years since one country had tried to conquer another internationally recognized country outright (when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990). This restraint formed the basis of the international system: borders were, by and large, sacrosanct. Compliance with the norms of state sovereignty—including the notion that a country gets to control what happens in its own territory—has never been perfect. But states have generally tried to observe the sanctity of borders or at least maintain the appearance of doing so. Countries could rest assured that of all the threats they faced, an invasion to redraw their borders was unlikely to be one of them. With a main cause of war largely consigned to history, this particular brand of conflict became less common. Now, with Russia’s invasion, the norm against territorial conquest has been tested in the most threatening and vivid way since the end of World War II. The war in Ukraine is reminiscent of a previous, more violent era. If the global community allows Russia to subsume Ukraine, states may more frequently use force to challenge borders, and wars may break out, former empires may be reinstated, and more countries may be brought to the edge of extinction. However disturbing Russia’s attack may be, the rest of the world can still protect the norm that Moscow has challenged. The global community can use sanctions and international courts to impose costs on Russia for its blatant and illegal aggression. It can press for reforms at the UN so that Security Council members, Russia included, cannot veto a referral to the International Criminal Court and thus hamstring that institution’s ability to mete out justice. Such a response will require cooperation and sacrifices, but it is well worth the effort. At stake is one of the bedrock principles of international law: the territorial integrity of states. “State death,” as I have called the phenomenon, is a state’s formal loss of control over foreign policy to another state. In other words, when a country concedes that it can no longer act independently on the world stage, it effectively ceases to be its own state. At the beginning of the era of the modern state, one cause of state death predominated: blunt force trauma. From 1816 to 1945, a state disappeared from the map of the world every three years, on average—a fact all the more alarming given that there were about a third as many states back then as there are now. In that period, about a quarter of all states suffered a violent death at one point or another. Their capitals were sacked by enemy armies, their territory was annexed, and they could no longer act independently on the world stage. Countries located between rivals were especially susceptible to being taken over. From 1772 to 1795, Poland was carved up by Austria, Prussia, and Russia. Poland disappeared from the map of Europe completely for over a century. Paraguay suffered a similar fate in 1870, when it lost a war against Argentina and Brazil. Early in the twentieth century, Japan annexed Korea after a series of peninsular wars with China and Russia. Besides having an unfortunate location, the lack of strong diplomatic ties with colonial powers was another harbinger of danger for vulnerable states. Trade relations were not enough. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, African and Asian countries that had inked commercial deals with imperial powers such as France and the United Kingdom were more likely to die than countries in Latin America and the Middle East that, having stronger and more formal ties, hosted consulates and embassies from these same colonial powers. There was, in other words, a hierarchy of recognition that signaled which states were seen as legitimate conquests and which were not. The United Kingdom, for example, signed treaties with precolonial Indian states from Sindh to Nagpur to Punjab that many Indian leaders viewed as a recognition of statehood. But the British never took the next step of establishing diplomatic missions in these states—a slight that was often a prelude to invasion. Slowly but surely, some leaders started pushing back against the practice of conquest. In the early twentieth century, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson emerged as a proponent of territorial integrity. The last of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, unveiled as World War I came to a close, referred specifically to protections for states belonging to the League of Nations, which Wilson thought could offer “mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.” To be sure, Wilson’s commitment to self-determination was limited to European nations; he favored independence for the Poles but was unresponsive to pleas for support from the Egyptians and the Indians. Moreover, his defense of territorial integrity was made easier by the fact that by the time Wilson became president, the United States had completed its own territorial conquests, including its march west and the accompanying capture of Native American lands; it no longer had clear ambitions to acquire additional territory. Nonetheless, Wilson did help the norm against territorial conquest take root.

The worst human rights violators are China, North Korea, Iran, Russia [so we’d have to violate their sovereignty to solve….]

Gerald Steinberg, 4-9, 22, Beyond Russia: Fixing the UN’s human rights farce – opinion,

The United States led initiative to boot Russia from the UN’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is an important symbolic, moral and political step, with a reasonable chance of success. But this will not reverse the carnage and brutality in Ukraine, nor deter President Vladimir Putin and the Russian military from more massacres. Showing Moscow the door in Geneva is also unlikely to convince the leaders of China, Iran, Syria or North Korea, among others, from killing opponents or committing war crimes. Instead, the US should be leading a complete overhaul of the UN’s human rights structure, operations and agendas, from the bottom up. In the process, the hypocrisy protecting the UNHRC, the dictatorships, and an allied network of powerful nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) would be exposed for all to see. The myth of legitimacy and moral influence that they cultivate is based on the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention, adopted in the shadow of the Holocaust. Over the years, this moral framework has been eroded and erased by the cynical manipulation of slogans and propaganda. The worst violators are dictators like Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who use their presence on the HRC to co-opt the mechanism, while protecting themselves and their allies from investigation and criticism. Membership is based on elections held by the UN General Assembly through five regional groupings – a structure that allows powerful autocrats, as well major voting blocs including the 56 member Organization of Islamic Cooperation, to control the process. The anti-democratic countries and the OIC select compliant commissioners, oversee key staff appointments, direct the agenda and make sure that the steady flow of resolutions, investigations and expert reports avoid damaging their political interests and priorities.