satellite evidence of human rights violations

Satellite Evidence of Human Rights Violations (15): Ethnic Cleansing in Bangui

Ethnic Cleansing in Bangui

On April 27, 2014, heavily armed African peacekeepers evacuated the last remaining 1,300 Muslims in the PK12 neighborhood of Bangui, in the strife-torn Central African Republic. Mobs immediately began looting and destroying the neighborhood’s mosque, shops, and homes. … Muslim residents had occupied temporary shelters near the PK12 and Kilometre 5 neighborhoods because of the ambush risk faced by fleeing Muslims along the main routes leading out of the capital. But now the majority of those residents have been escorted beyond the city, many heading for refugee camps in Cameroon or Chad. …

Although international peacekeepers and Chadian troops assisted in the evacuation of some of the 120,000 Muslims who fled the capital over the past four months, foreign troops were unable to adequately protect Muslim neighborhoods from sustained attack, massive looting, and the destruction of thousands of homes, businesses, and mosques. The interim government, headed by interim President Catherine Samba-Panza, lacks policing or military capacity to effectively protect, and has not shown a lot of political will to confront anti-Muslim violence. (source)

Read the whole story hereMore posts in this series are here.

iconic images of human rights violations, photography and journalism

Iconic Images of Human Rights Violations (87): “Die Flucht”

victim of Die Flucht

victim of “Die Flucht”

German-speaking civilians were sent to Germany from Czechoslovakia

Sudeten Germans were attacked and painted with Swastikas on their backs for real or perceived Nazi affiliation

Sudeten Germans were attacked and painted with Swastikas on their backs for real or perceived Nazi affiliation


At the end of and immediately after WWII, millions of ethnic Germans were cleansed from the eastern parts of Europe and sent to the areas which would become post-war Germany and post-war Austria, partly in retaliation for wartime cleansing by Nazi Germany. The areas of expulsion included pre-war German provinces as well as areas which Nazi Germany had annexed or occupied.

At least 12 million people - the overwhelming majority of whom were women, old people, and children under 16 - were expelled from their places of birth in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and what are today the western districts of Poland. Those who survived the journey – about 500.000 did not – found themselves among the ruins of Allied-occupied Germany to fend for themselves as best they could.

This was the largest movement or transfer of any population in modern European history. A part of those fleeing did so “voluntarily”, in fear of the advancing Red Army. Others were forcefully expelled in an effort by the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union to redraw the European post-war map and to create ethnically uniform nations and territories. By 1950, the ordeal had ended.

Retaliation and “reparation” were the most commonly cited justifications for the expulsion; ethnic peace was another one: “defusing ethnic antagonisms through the mass transfer of populations”.

To make the horror complete,

tens of thousands perished as a result of ill treatment while being used as slave labor (or, in the Allies’ cynical formulation, “reparations in kind”) in a vast network of camps extending across central and southeastern Europe—many of which, like Auschwitz I and Theresienstadt, were former German concentration camps kept in operation for years after the war. (source)

A gruesome anecdote:

The screams that rang throughout the darkened cattle car crammed with deportees, as it jolted across the icy Polish countryside five nights before Christmas, were Dr. Loch’s only means of locating his patient. The doctor, formerly chief medical officer of a large urban hospital, now found himself clambering over piles of baggage, fellow passengers, and buckets used as toilets, only to find his path blocked by an old woman who ignored his request to move aside. On closer examination, he discovered that she had frozen to death.

Finally he located the source of the screams, a pregnant woman who had gone into premature labor and was hemorrhaging profusely. When he attempted to move her from where she lay into a more comfortable position, he found that “she was frozen to the floor with her own blood.” Other than temporarily stopping the bleeding, Loch was unable to do anything to help her, and he never learned whether she had lived or died. (source)

More here and here. More iconic images here.

activism, international relations, intervention, photography and journalism, political graffiti

Political Graffiti (136): Cyprus, I Love You

graffiti don't forget cyprus i love you

graffiti at the demarcation line between Greek Cyprus and Turkish Cyprus - the sigh reads: "enjoy yourself in this land of racial purity and true apartheid, enjoy the sight of our desecrated chuches, enjoy what remains of our looted heritage and homes"


More on Cyprus. More political graffiti.

data, discrimination and hate, human rights maps, international relations, war

Human Rights Maps (112): Ethnic Cleansing of Jews by Nazi Germany

map Ethnic Cleansing of Jews by Nazi Germany

(source, map courtesy of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)

mass deportations of jews


These are the German concentration camps in Europe:

German concentration camps in Europe



The title of the map below is: “Jewish Executions Carried Out by Einsatzgruppe A”, from the December 1941 Jager Report by the commander of a Nazi death squad. Marked “Secret Reich Matter,” the map shows the number of Jews shot in the different parts of the Baltic region (with nice coffin drawings, as if coffins were ever needed), and reads at the bottom: “the estimated number of Jews still on hand is 128,000″. Estonia is marked as “judenfrei”.

holocaust map


holocaust map


More on the holocaust is here. More maps on ethnic cleansing are here. Some more descriptive information on ethnic cleansing is here, and on genocide here and here. More human rights maps are here.

data, discrimination and hate, human rights maps, international relations, intervention, war

Human Rights Maps (111): Ethnic Cleansing in Cyprus

ethnic cleansing in cyprus

(source, I don’t think a translation is really necessary here)

In 1960 the Greek and Turkish communities formed a mosaic. After more than 25 years of Turkish occupation of the north of the island and the forced transfer of populations, the two communities – Turkish in the north and Greek in the south – are now strictly separated by a demarcation line. Read the story about the Greek and Turkish interventions in Cyprus here and more specifically here.

More maps on ethnic cleansing are here. Some more descriptive information is here. More human rights maps are here.

data, discrimination and hate, horror, human rights maps, international relations, war

Human Rights Maps (110): Ethnic Cleansing in Europe After WWII

map ethnic cleansing in Europe after WWII

(source, from “Redrawing Nations: Ethnic Cleansing in East-Central Europe, 1944-1948″, Edited by Philipp Ther and Ana Siljak; click on the image to enlarge)

After WWII, millions of ethnic Germans were cleansed from the eastern parts of Europe, partly in retaliation for wartime cleansing by Nazi Germany. Read the whole story here.

Here’s another version of the map:

population flight and expulsions after WWII

(source, click image to enlarge)

More maps on ethnic cleansing are here. Some more descriptive information is here. More human rights maps are here.

data, human rights violations, international relations, intervention, law, photography and journalism, satellite evidence of human rights violations, war

Satellite Evidence of Human Rights Violations (7): Darfur

Satellite images provide evidence of the destruction of villages in Darfur

Before and after satellite images provide evidence of the destruction of villages in Darfur. See more at Copyright 2009 DigitalGlobe

(source, source)

More examples of satellite evidence of human rights violations are here. Something on the advantages of this kind of evidence is here. More on Darfur here.

culture, horror, iconic images of human rights violations, intervention, war

Iconic Images of Human Rights Violations (37): Muslim Prisoners in a Serbian Detention Camp

Time Muslim Prisoners in a Serbian Detention Camp

Read the whole story here, as well as the general story of the war in ex-Yugoslavia. Other posts on this topic are here. More iconic images of human rights violations are here.

Update January 12th, 2010: commenters tell me that this is a fake…

governance, human rights and international law, intervention, law, war

Human Rights and International Law (18): Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

The “Responsibility to Protect“, or R2P in U.N.-speak, is a humanitarian principle that aims to stop mass murder, genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It refers initially to the responsibility of states to their own citizens, but in case states can’t or won’t protect their own citizens, other states can step in, respecting the Security Council procedures. However, this is a last resort, especially if the intervention is of a military nature.

The concept is closely linked to, if not indistinguishable from, humanitarian intervention. Often it’s also called the principle of non-indifference, a sarcastic pun on the principle of non-intervention. Some for whom national sovereignty and non-intervention is still the main and overriding rule in international affairs, see R2P as an excuse for Western interference. Noam Chomsky is a notable if unsurprising example. You can read his arguments here. He is, not for the first time unfortunately, joined by a number of governments that risk being a future target.

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky

(source, art by Robert Shetterly)

However, most in the West aren’t jumping the queue to enter into a legal obligation that can force them to undertake expensive and risky interventions in the name of humanity. The fact that these interventions aren’t only expensive and risky but often also without collateral benefits, doesn’t help either. R2P is not yet a legal rule, more a quasi-legal rule. Some legal or quasi-legal texts include the concept. The Constitutive Act of the African Union includes “the right of the Union to intervene in a member state pursuant to a decision of the African Union assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity”. The same is true for the Security Council of the UN. The concept was endorsed unanimously by heads of state during the World Summit of 2005, so it can be argued that the principle is part of international common law (i.e. international law established by coherent and unanimous state practice).

More here. More on humanitarian intervention here and here.

causes of human rights violations, discrimination and hate, equality, horror

The Causes of Human Rights Violations (10): Prejudice According to Allport’s Scale

gordon allport

Gordon Allport


People who are aware of, and ashamed of, their prejudices are well on the road to eliminating them. Gordon Allport

Gordon Allport, a psychologist, created Allport’s Scale in 1954. It’s a measure of the manifestation of prejudice in a society. The scale contains 5 stages of prejudice, ranked by the increasing harm they produce.

Stage 1: antilocution

behead those who insult islam


Antilocution (“speaking against”) means making jokes about another group, but also the expression of hateful opinions. In the former case it’s also called derogatory speech, and in the latter case it’s called hate speech. Both cases can be examples of prejudice, prejudice in the sense of an opinion reflecting negative stereotypes and negative images based on preconceived judgments rather than facts.

Antilocution is often believed to be harmless (“sticks and stones will break your bones but names will never hurt you”), but it can harm the self-esteem of the people of the targeted group, and it can clear the way for more harmful forms of prejudice. The line between violent words and violent acts is often very thin. The self-image of a group can be hurt, which can sometimes become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Stage 2: avoidance

japanese internment exclusion


People in a group are actively avoided by members of another group. Harm is done through isolation and by preparing the way for more harmful acts. Xenophobia, or the fear of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange, results in exclusion. This exclusion can take various forms:

social exclusion


Stage 3: discrimination

A group is discriminated against by denying them equal access to opportunities, goods and services. Discrimination is intended to harm a group by preventing it from achieving goals, getting education or jobs, etc.

Stage 3b (added later): subtle aggression

This is an assumption of hierarchy, particularly hierarchy of power, an assumption that somebody has less knowledge because of their age, gender or race or other characteristics and that these people can be excluded in some way.

Stage 4: physical attack


Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, lynched in Marion, Indiana on August 7, 1930


This has become known as hate crime. Groups are the victim of vandalism, the burning of property or violent attacks on someone’s physical integrity such as lynchings, pogroms etc.

Stage 5: extermination

The extermination of a group through genocide, ethnic cleansing etc.


allports scale

horror, human rights and international law, justice, law

Human Rights and International Law (7): Crimes Against Humanity

purge of jewish teachers in nazi germany

This is from the infamous Nazi newspaper of Julius Streicher, Der Sturmer, from 1934. The cartoon praises the Nazi Ministry of Culture for removing Jewish teachers from German classrooms. Streicher was convicted at Nuremberg for crimes against humanity and hanged in 1946.

A crime against humanity is a large scale atrocity against a civilian population, such as genocide, ethnic cleansing or the massive killing of civilians during war, and is the highest level of criminal offense. It is either a government policy or a wide practice of atrocities tolerated, condoned or facilitated by a government. Atrocities such as murder, torture and rape are crimes against humanity only if they are large scale and part of a widespread or systematic practice organized or condoned by a government. Isolated atrocities are certainly human rights violations, and can perhaps even be war crimes, but they don’t fall into the category of crimes against humanity. (And acts which do not violate human rights can never be crimes against humanity, even if they are widespread and systematic and even if they cause suffering).

Crimes against humanity can take place during a war or in peace time, and can be committed by a state against its own citizens or against the citizens of another state.

I’ve tried to put these and other distinctions in a drawing:

types of crimes, crimes against humanity

Some examples of the meaning of the digits:

  1. lack of recognition or love
  2. corruption (although corruption, especially large scale and systematic corruption, can have consequences for human rights and should then be part of number 4)
  3. poverty
  4. murder
  5. crimes against non-combatants; torture of prisoners of war; the crime of international aggression (crime against peace)
  6. genocide, ethnic cleansing
  7. genocide or ethnic cleansing as part of the “war effort”
citizenship, discrimination and hate

Migration and Human Rights (6): Xenophobia

xenophobia david lachapelle

Art by David Lachapelle



Xenophobia, the contempt or fear of strangers or foreign people, often people of a different race or ethnic group, is not considered to be a disease like other “phobias”. It is part of a political struggle against adversaries, much like racism is. (Whereas racism is certainly xenophobic, xenophobia doesn’t have to be racist; it can be directed against groups which are not racially different from the xenophobes).

Xenophobia often takes places within a society rather than between societies. A group present within a society is not considered a legitimate part of that society and has to be expelled or assimilated in order not to corrupt or damage the interests of the rest of society. Hence the link to ethnic cleansing or genocide.

Causes of xenophobia

  • Ethnically-based nationalism (e.g. xenophobia in the Balkan countries)
  • Migration, although xenophobia may be directed against a group which has been present for centuries, or against very small numbers of immigrants or foreigners (e.g. Japan in the 19th century)
  • Perceived threats to culture or national identity
  • Religious doctrine (e.g. the attitude of some Muslims towards unbelievers)
  • Perceptions of neocolonialism (e.g. present-day Zimbabwe)
  • Political imbalances (e.g. one group holding a disproportionate share of political power, e.g. anti-Tutsi xenophobia in Rwanda before and during the genocide)
  • Terrorism (e.g. anti-Muslim xenophobia following 9-11)
  • Competition for scarce resources
  • A mix of the above.


Here are some data on xenophobia in Russia:

xenophobia in russia

And here are data on the way Muslims and non-Muslims see each other (click on the image to enlarge):

how do muslims and non-muslims see each other

cultural rights, culture, horror, war

Cultural Rights (9): Ethnic Cleansing

Definition and methods of ethnic cleansing

Ethnic cleansing is the violent displacement of an ethnic group from a particular territory in order to create an ethnically “clean” unit, i.e. a territorial unit composed of only one ethnic group. The means used to achieve ethnic unity are:

  • direct military force
  • police brutality
  • genocide
  • the threat of force
  • intimidation
  • rape
  • pogrom
  • demolition of housing, places of worship, infrastructure
  • discriminatory legislation or policies
  • tribal politics
  • economic exclusion
  • hate speech, propaganda
  • rewriting of history, fabrication of historical resentment
  • a combination of the above.

Given these various “tools”, it is not correct to equate ethnic cleansing with genocide. There are more or less violent forms of ethnic cleansing, although all forms contain some kind of force, otherwise one would speak merely of voluntary migration. Deportation or displacement of a group, even if effected by force, is not necessarily equivalent to destruction of that group.

Given the element of force it is correct to denounce all forms of ethnic cleansing, not only on the grounds of some kind of ideal of multiculturalism, but also on the grounds of the self-determination of the people involved, of their right to settle where they want, their freedom of movement etc. It is defined as a crime against humanity.


The best known cases of ethnic cleansing are:

  • Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s
  • Iraq during the Iraq war
  • India and Pakistan during their partition
  • The Georgian-Abkhaz conflict
  • Rwanda during the genocide
  • The relocation of Native American peoples from their traditional areas
  • The forced removals of non-white populations during the apartheid era
  • The Palestinian exodus
  • Central and Eastern Europe during and immediately after World War II
  • Darfur
  • etc.

However, it seems that this tactic has been known to humanity since a long time. Some even believe that the Neanderthals were victims of ethnic cleansing.


Some of the justifications given in defense of ethnic cleansing are:

  • To remove the conditions for potential and actual opposition. According to Mao Zedong, guerrillas among a civilian population are fish in water. By draining the water, one disables the fish.
  • To create a separate state for one ethnic group. A nationalist believes that a people or a nation can only have an autonomous and authentic existence, according to their own traditions, language, values and norms, in a state of their own. A multicultural nation can never be legitimate according to nationalism, because one assumes that in such a state it is inevitable that some groups are ruled by others and hence do not have an authentic and autonomous existence. The only way to have homogeneous territories in our multicultural and melting-pot world with no clear territorial separation of groups within states, is the use of force.
  • To redeem a society that is literally “unclean” and “sick” because of the presence of inferior humans.


The following two maps show the ethnic composition of Bosnia before and after the war:

ethnic composition before the war 1991

ethnic composition after the war in 1998

The next map clearly shows the destruction inflicted on certain very specific areas of the country, namely the areas populated by ethnic Muslims:

bosnia ethnic cleansing destruction


The following map from the Washington Post shows the evolution of the ethnic composition of the different parts of Baghdad in 2006 and 2007:

bagdad ethnic cleansing

Other posts on ethnic cleansing are here and here.


Migration and Human Rights (2): A Few Facts and Numbers

1. Numbers of migrants and trends

The Center for Global Development (CGD) estimates that around 200 million people – one in 33 – do not live in the country where they were born. Not surprisingly, the richest countries receive the largest number of migrants:

countries with largest number of migrants

countries with largest number of migrants as share of total population


It is believed that the number of migrants will grow as a result of the demography in rich countries. These countries have a relatively low birth rate, good health care systems, and hence an aging population. They will require more migration to replenish their workforce and keep their benefit system intact.

Another reason to believe that migration will increase in the future, is the relative ease and low cost of travel in a globalized world. This is already obvious when one takes a look at the main migration routes today:

migration routes

2. Types of migration

  • Voluntary migration, including economic migration (although some types of economic migration are not voluntary and caused by poverty) and nomadism
  • Involuntary or forced migration, including slave trade, human trafficking, refugees from war or oppression, asylum seekers, ethnic cleansing, eviction or expulsion, the forced resettlement by Stalin in the former USSR etc.
  • Internal migration, including rural to urban migration, vs international migration
  • Local migration, including border-migration, vs international-intercontinental migration
  • Legal migration vs illegal migration, i.e. with or without the consent of the receiving country
  • Permanent migration vs temporary migration (e.g. seasonal migration in agriculture)
  • Cultural migration (nomadism)
  • Organized migration, including migration of military personnel within military cooperation schemes, migration of aid workers etc.
  • “Push” migration: people are pushed out of their countries because of local reasons; push migration tends to be involuntary
  • “Pull” migration: people are pulled out of their countries by opportunities elsewhere; pull migration tends to be voluntary

3. Causes of migration

  • poverty, the need to find a (better) job
  • the need for education
  • persecution or oppression
  • war including civil war
  • ethnic cleansing
  • slave trade
  • human trafficking including the sex industry
  • refugees and asylum seekers
  • job opportunities
  • family reunion
  • natural disasters including desertification
  • urbanization and industrialization
  • government population policies, e.g. the One Child Policy in China leading to imbalances between the sexes
  • government resettlement policies
  • etc.

4. Consequences of migration

Migration can be beneficial for the migrants. It can mean the difference between oppression, suffering or poverty on the one hand, and freedom and wealth on the other. Wealthy migrants can also help their home country in different ways. The money sent back home by migrant workers (so-called remittances) already surpasses foreign aid. See this graph:

financial flows to developing countries

This money is of course a welcome contribution to the home economy, but the brain drain inherent in migration is the other side of the coin. Whereas some of the migrants return home and take with them valuable education and skills which can be used for the development of their home country, others stay away and are a permanent loss. Of course, one should be careful not to blame all the problems of the developing world on brain drain.

Migrants often find themselves in situations which are not better or even worse than the ones they were fleeing. They can end up in the black labor market, exploited by ruthless entrepreneurs, or in the sex industry, or, when they are “illegal”, in constant uncertainty because of the fear of being evicted. Even when they are legal, many countries will not offer them full citizenship or equality. Their human rights may not be adequately protected and they cannot participate in politics.

For the receiving countries, the benefits are also obvious. These countries often need the workforce offered by the migrants. The mixing of different cultures and races is also generally beneficial, although it can lead to negative social behaviors such as xenophobia. Xenophobia can also be caused by non-optimal economic migration. People do not always migrate to the places where their skills are scarce, and hence they often find themselves in competition with local workers who do not welcome this competition. Migrants are often less demanding and therefore more popular with employers, and when these migrants are illegal they end up in the black market which is even more beneficial for employers because less costly. This competition, coupled with cultural or religious practices and beliefs which are different and sometimes difficult to understand and accept, causes xenophobia.

More on migration.

human rights and international law, intervention, law, war

Human Rights and International Law (3): Humanitarian Intervention

kosovo refugees

(source, photo by Howard Davies/Oxfam Great Britain, taken in 1999, showing Kosovar refugees gathered at the Macedonian border)

This post focuses on one type of humanitarian intervention only, namely so-called armed humanitarian intervention (although I’ll drop the “armed” for easier reading). There’s a post here on non-armed humanitarian intervention.

Humanitarian intervention is an armed intervention in one state by another state or states with the objective of ending gross violations of human rights, such as genocide or ethnic cleansing.

Whereas the moral case for such an intervention is very strong, it remains controversial because of the fact that violence is used and that the national sovereignty of the “receiving” state is violated. One could easily justify the breach of sovereignty since the fate of the victims is obviously more important than sovereignty. Furthermore, this breach is inherently temporary because neither annexation nor interference with territorial integrity is at stake. But the use of violence is more difficult to justify.

It seems that humanitarian intervention is only justified when certain conditions are met:

1. Legitimate authority

The states that act cannot unilaterally decide that intervention is necessary. There must be some kind of general conviction that the situation is serious and that some kind of forceful intervention is warranted. A Security Council resolution can be the authority.

If there is a general conviction that action is necessary but there is no explicit Security Council approval of intervention – because of the veto or because of other reasons – then we have to be careful. If states can unilaterally decide to intervene, even against world opinion, then we have international chaos. Everybody takes the law in his own hands, and states will quickly find human rights excuses to intervene wherever they want. Some legitimate authority must have expressed something close to a world opinion regarding the necessity of intervention. Individual actors cannot decide autonomously. An approval of the General Assembly may indicate that there is consensus, but a Security Council resolution is better because this will guarantee that the intervention will not cause superpower conflicts.

2. Collaboration

As an elaboration of the previous point, one must demand that the intervening states be as numerous as possible in order to avoid accusations of self-interest, partiality and power politics. Collaboration also increases the chance of success (see condition 4.)

3. Right intention or appropriate goal

The main goal of the intervention must be the protection of human rights. The accusations that often accompany US-led interventions are generally unhelpful, except of course when they are true.

4. Probability of success

There must be a real chance that the intervention can be successful.

5. Last resort

Other and more peaceful means must have been tried first, although the urgency of the matter can make immediate military action acceptable.

6. Proportionality

The intervention must be proportional to the evil it is meant to destroy. Not enough intervention can cause more harm than before without a real chance of solving the initial problem. Too much intervention will also cause more harm than before. The costs must not outweigh the benefits. We must prevent more harm than we cause, although one must be careful when making utilitarian calculations. Violence always results in rights violations. Hence the rights violations one is willing to accept as a consequence of violent intervention cannot outweigh the violations that originally caused the intervention. How many rights violations can one cause when fighting rights violations? Theoretically, one cannot sacrifice certain people’s rights – for example, the rights of innocent civilian victims of air bombardments – for the sake of other people’s rights – for example, the victims of the dictatorship that is the target of the bombardments. However, most of us believe that in extreme circumstances, it is acceptable to sacrifice some rights or the rights of some in order to protect many more rights or the rights of many more. This means that violence is only acceptable in extreme cases, namely when the rights of many or many rights are violated.

7. Ius in bello

The laws of warfare must be respected.

8. Peace

If there is a threat to international peace, then the intervention will have a stronger claim to legality. But this is not a necessary condition.

More on human rights and foreign policy here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

cultural rights, culture, democracy, discrimination and hate

Cultural Rights (6): Self-Determination and Ethnic Cleansing



Self-determination is the essence of nationalism. A nationalist believes that a people or a nation can only have an autonomous and authentic existence, according to their own traditions, language, values and norms, in a state of their own. He often sees himself as a force for democracy. Self-determination, the national liberation of a nation that is captured in an alien state and that has to follow the decision of an external power, is indeed part of the struggle for democracy.

However, problems can arise from the desire to have a perfect match between state and nation. If every nation should have its state, then every state should comprise only one nation. A multicultural nation can never be legitimate according to nationalism, because in such a state it is inevitable that some nations or peoples are ruled by others and hence do not have an authentic and autonomous existence.

The problem that nationalism misses is that its policies lead to a homogeneous society and that diversity and multiculturalism can be attractive. Most problems of multiculturalism – a lack of integration, conflicts between communities, one group dominating another – can be solved by democracy (by tolerance, respect for religious freedom and individual rights, non-discrimination, institutional reforms, local autonomy etc.).

Nationalism solves the problems of multiculturalism by destroying it. It’s a kind of intellectual laziness to go immediately for the most extreme solutions. The only way to have homogeneous territories in our multicultural and melting pot world is the use of force. Homogenisation often requires violent separation, civil war (because of the violent reaction of states that want to keep their territory intact), centrifugal forces (because of a lack of clarity: which group is a “nation” and has therefore a right to its own state?), forced relocation of members of other nations – also called “ethnic cleansing“, a method often used when there is no clear territorial separation of nations within a state – and, if really necessary, genocide.

If members of another nation have the misfortune of inhabiting parts of a territory that is claimed by the nationalist nation as the soil of its future state, and if these members do not leave the territory, give up their possession and abandon their graves voluntarily, then nationalism requires the elimination of these people. As long as they are present, the state will not be the representative of one nation. Democracy will require the representation of all nationalities and that is not the optimal situation for nationalists because it means that every nation is not able to rule itself. This is obviously a distorted and dangerous view on democracy.

More on living together.

cultural rights, culture

Cultural Rights (1): Identity

us and them cartoon


In political discourse, we often see that individuals, as part of a nation, a culture, a political party or an ideological group (e.g. conservatives and liberals), are subject to a kind of homogenization. Individuals are no longer different personalities but rather parts of a group.

In the case of cultures: every culture has its typical personality, its way of life, its way of being human, its national character or “Volksgeist”. The personal identity is a collective identity. People are specimen rather than different individuals. This cultural identity – Chinese are hard working people, Scandinavians somewhat to themselves etc. – influences or even determines the ideas and behaviour of the individual members of the culture and is formed by the religion of the nation, its language, history etc. An individual is born in a culture and formed by it, from his earliest years on. He cannot choose another one and cannot reject his collective identity. His life follows certain patterns that are older than him and that will live on after him. Everything which may seem at odds with the collective identity is in fact comparable to the small movements on the surface of the sea that may go in different directions but that cannot escape the underlying current. Like the current, the culture may not always be visible but it does determine everything.

If individuals receive their personality from their environment and culture, then the members of one group share the most basic assumptions and convictions. And if that is true, it is a justification of ethnic cleansing, wars for national independence, separation etc. because a mono-cultural society will have fewer conflicts than a multicultural one, given the common identity and convictions of people of one culture. This discourse is common in nationalism.

The same, but less extreme, can be seen in political discourse like the “culture war” in the U.S. We reduce people to the groups to which they belong.

However, all this is based on psychological simplifications. Although it is undeniable that the environment we live in, the culture we belong to and the groups we are part of shape our identity, there is no reason to ignore the possibility of individuals to free themselves from their immediate environment and tradition. The whole world can influence us and we may choose to be extremely individualistic. Belonging and identifying with a group are important, but so are originality and individuality. Human rights are designed to give us the possibility of dissent, difference and individuality.