human rights violations, law, most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (136): Gang-Raped and Killed While Looking For a Place to Defecate

India Deadly Gang Rape


A few days ago, two Indian girls were gang-raped and murdered while looking for a toilet or somewhere private to defecate in the open.

Those two cousins, just 14 and 16 years old, had left their homes in the Indian village of Katra, in Uttar Pradesh, because they had no toilet at home. They were never to return, found hanging from a [mango] tree after being brutally attacked. (source)

Villagers gathered around the tree and initially blocked the police from removing the bodies. They suspected police involvement. And indeed, after a while five men were arrested, including two police officers accused of dereliction of duty and criminal conspiracy. Other suspects are still on the loose.

The father, a 45-year-old agricultural laborer from a low-ranking caste, said in a telephone interview that the two girls were last seen alive on Tuesday evening in a mango orchard, in the company of a man named Pappu Yadav. (The man’s surname is the same as his caste.)

The father said a relative saw the girls with Mr. Yadav and two of Mr. Yadav’s brothers and that, for reasons he did not explain, the relative tried to intervene between Mr. Yadav and the girls. One of the Yadav brothers pulled out a pistol “and put it to the head of my cousin-brother,” the father said, using a common term in India for a close relative. “He got scared and ran away.”

When he heard what had happened, the father said, he went to the local police station and asked that Mr. Yadav’s house be searched. But the police officers, who are members of the Yadav caste, “took the side of the culprits,” the father said. “They abused and misbehaved with us.” (source)

The girls were members of the Dalit community, India’s lowest caste once known as the “Untouchables”.

2,5 billion people in the world don’t have access to decent toilets. 1 billion of those practice open defecation. Half a billion girls and women are forced to find someplace safe to defecate outdoors, each and every day. Often they have to wander off to distant and dark places, where they are an easy target for sexual predators. And in some cases they pay with their lives. Even if they don’t, the practice endangers public health, polluting natural waterways and spreading diseases, notably diarrhea, a major cause of death in children in the developing world.

More on public defecation in India is here. Here‘s a similar story about women in Africa who are too scared to pee. Other posts in this series are here.

most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (131): Protester Charged With Sexual Assault After Kissing Riot Police

This photograph of Nina De Chiffre went viral on social media and was hailed as a symbol of peaceful protest in the country

This photograph of Nina De Chiffre went viral on social media and was hailed as a symbol of peaceful protest in Italy


[A] 20-year-old student was photographed kissing officer Salvatore Piccione during a protest against a planned rail link in Northern Italy. …

COISP, a union representing Italian police officers, later revealed that they had lodged a complaint with Turin prosecutors. Franco Maccari, the union’s general secretary told La Repubblica: “We have accused the protester of sexual violence and insulting a public official.

“If the policeman had kissed her, World War III would have broken out,” he said. “Or what if I had patted her on the behind? She would have been outraged. So if she does that to a man on duty, should it be tolerated?”, he added. “A kiss is a positive thing,” he said. “But in this context, between these two people, it was just disrespect.”

It later emerged that Nina De Chiffre had not only kissed the officer but had also licked her fingers and touched his mouth. According to reports the protester has since been charged with “sexual violence” and causing “offence to a public official”. (source)

Obviously not the first time the word “rape” has been redefined to fit the needs of the powerful. More posts in this series are here.

human rights violations, ironic human rights violations, law

Ironic Human Rights Violations (17): Who Protects Us Against Our Protectors?

iconic vj day photo sailor kiss

This photo’s subjects, George Mendonsa and Greta Zimmer, were two strangers, and a drunk Mendonsa – on a date with his future wife Rita at the time – noticed Zimmer in her nurse’s uniform, grabbed her and kissed her forcefully without her consent. A closer look at the image in question shows corroborating details that become stomach-turning when properly viewed: the smirks on the faces of the sailors in the background; the firm grasp around the physically smaller woman in his arms such that she could not escape if she tried; the woman’s clenched fist and limp body.

(source, source)

Here’s a story brimming with irony:

An Air Force officer who led the branch’s sexual assault prevention unit been arrested for allegedly committing an act of sexual assault. Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski is accused of drunkenly approaching a woman in a parking lot in Virginia and groping her. The woman fought back, and Krusinski’s mugshot appears to show cuts and bruises on his face. The news came on the eve of a new Pentagon report showing the epidemic of sexual assault among servicemembers is continuing to rise. There was a 6 percent increase in reports of sexual assaults in the military in fiscal year 2012 compared to the previous year. The number of people who anonymously said they were sexually assaulted, but never reported the attack, rose dramatically from 19,000 in fiscal year 2011 to 26,000 the following year. (source, source)

More on rape. More ironic human rights violations.

most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (117): Segregation of HIV-Positive Prisoners

prison rape


South-Carolina is now the only US State where HIV-positive prisoners are segregated in separate housing units with unequal program opportunities, inferior mental health care and fewer work options.

There’s absolutely no reason to do that, unless you want to maintain the reign of sexual terror that is still widespread in US prisons. AIDS is almost exclusively transmitted by way of sexual intercourse and needles. Segregating HIV-positive prisoners makes it easier for prison rapists to pursue their hobby. If you don’t know who’s positive and who’s not, you’ll think twice about raping someone. In the “HIV wards”, since they contain only HIV-positive prisoners, there’s also no more reason to refrain from rape.

Things like this make it hard to believe that legislators and prison authorities are not intent on making prison as horrible as possible.

More absurd human rights violations.

human rights violations, law, most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (113): If You Don’t Bite or Kick Your Rapist, It Isn’t Rape



[T]he Connecticut State Supreme Court overturned the sexual assault conviction of a man who had sex with a woman who “has severe cerebral palsy, has the intellectual functional equivalent of a 3-year-old and cannot verbally communicate.” The Court held that, because Connecticut statutes define physical incapacity for the purpose of sexual assault as “unconscious or for any other reason … physically unable to communicate unwillingness to an act,” the defendant could not be convicted if there was any chance that the victim could have communicated her lack of consent. Since the victim in this case was capable of “biting, kicking, scratching, screeching, groaning or gesturing,” the Court ruled that that victim could have communicated lack of consent despite her serious mental deficiencies. (source)

This is outrageous. Lack of physical resistance is not evidence of consent, nor should it be. If you require rape victims to fight back you’ll only cause more violence and more harm since attackers will answer violence with violence. Rape victims should not be asked to go to such lengths in order to prove that they did not consent. And in any case, one has to assume lack of consent in the case of people with a mental defect, as in the example above. The same is true for people under the statutory age of consent.

More absurd human rights violations here.

measuring human rights, statistics

Measuring Human Rights (29): When More Means Less, and Vice Versa, Ctd.

less is more


Take the example of rape measurement: better statistical and reporting methods used by the police, combined with less social stigma and other factors result in statistics showing a rising number of rapes, but this increase is due to the measurement methods and other effects, not to what happened in real life. The actual number of rapes may have gone down.

This is a general problem in human rights measurement: more often means less, and vice versa. The nature of the thing we’re trying to measure – human rights violations – means that the more there is, the more difficult it is to measure; and the more difficult, the more likely that we wrongly conclude that there is less. (See here). When levels of rights violations approach totalitarianism, people won’t report, won’t dare to speak, or won’t be able to speak. It’s not social stigma or shame that prevents them from speaking, as in the case of rape, but fear. Furthermore, totalitarian governments won’t allow monitoring, and will have managed to some extent to indoctrinate their citizens. Finally, the state of the economy won’t allow for easy transport and communication, given the correlation between economic underdevelopment and totalitarian government.

Conversely, higher levels of respect for human rights will yield statistics showing more rights violations, because a certain level of respect for human rights makes monitoring easier.

More on measuring human rights.

human rights violations, law, most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (104): Homosexuals Suffering the Egg Test in Lebanon



First of all, the state has no business criminalizing and prosecuting people for homosexual behavior. And secondly, even if it does it shouldn’t force doctors to commit anal rape in order to detect such behavior.

The Lebanese Order of Physicians has rounded on a controversial practice in which chicken’s eggs are inserted in the anus of suspected homosexuals and banned doctors from carrying out the so-called egg tests.

Doctors participating in the “test” have been warned by the order that they face disciplinary measures.

The “test” was conducted on 36 men who were arrested during a raid on a gay porn cinema in Beirut.

The men were charged with “acts against nature” and forced to undertake the “tests of shame”, according to Lebanese magazine L’Orient-Le Jour. ….

The Justice Ministry reissued instructions that prosecutors had to obtain consent before the tests took place. It added that refusal by a suspect to comply with the test could be used as “evidence of homosexuality”. (source)

Furthermore, why would people even believe that the egg test can prove homosexuality?

A similar practice is common in Turkey. More absurd human rights violations.

law, most absurd human rights violations, torture

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (94): Virginity Tests in Egypt

virginity test


Egypt’s army has devised an original method to defend itself against possible allegations of rape by women “in its care”:

By now, almost everyone has heard the about the 18 women protestors in Egypt’s Tahrir Square who this past spring were detained, beaten, given electric shocks, strip searched and forced to submit to “virginity tests“. (source)

May I suggest that trying to protect yourself against potential charges of rape by violating women’s bodies isn’t really very smart? Of course, the real reason for these tests is torture and intimidation. Women will probably think twice before participating in protests if they know what may happen if they are detained. The tests themselves are horrific, but they can also entail future harm: if the tests are negative, women risk prostitution charges, jail sentences and social stigma.

The tests involve an inspection of a female’s hymen, on the mistaken assumption that her hymen can only be torn as a result of sexual intercourse. This is one account of the way in which the tests were conducted:

[T]he female detainees were separated into two groups, the married and unmarried. The seven unmarried women were given a medical checkup during which the “virginity test” was done. …

“They took us out one by one … they took me to a bed in a passageway in front of the cell. There were lots of soldiers around and they could see me.

I asked if the soldiers could move away and the officer escorting me teased me.

A woman prison guard in plainclothes stood at my head and then a man in military uniform examined me with his hand for several minutes. It was painful. He took his time”. (source)

Fortunately, an Egyptian court has now ruled that virginity tests on female detainees are illegal, referencing the human rights guaranteed in the Egyptian Constitutional Declaration of 2011 as well as Egypt’s obligation under international law. Which of course doesn’t mean the tests will end. Virginity tests in general have not been outlawed, only those taking place in military detention premises. And it remains to be seen if the military will respect the ruling.

More on gender based violence. More absurd human rights violations.

annals of heartlessness, law, privacy

Annals of Heartlessness (12): The Right to Masturbate

Gustav Klimt's Woman seated with thighs apart (1916)

Gustav Klimt's Woman seated with thighs apart (1916)


While you might think of masturbation as a sort of last refuge for the incarcerated — a truly inalienable freedom, given the happy proximity of the sex organs — that is not the case. In fact, a number of state prisons regard jerking off as a rule infraction. … [Such restrictions are “well-entrenched” in the correctional environment [in the U.S.]. (source)

And probably elsewhere as well. The rules apply even when there’s no indecent exposure. In the 19th century, some U.S. prison officials even

chloroformed masturbators and implanted metal rings through their foreskins. (source)

These days, prison officials often turn a blind eye and don’t enforce the rules. But sometimes

prisoners do … get in trouble for engaging in autoerotic behavior. Early on the morning of May 16, 2000, in South Carolina’s Lieber Correctional Institution, Officer Patricia Sinkler saw inmate Freddie Williams “in the front entrance of the shower, curtains open, with his left hand propped up against the wall, turned sideways, making back and forth movements with his right hand on his penis,” according to a court document. Sinkler filed a disciplinary report recommending that Williams be charged with sexual misconduct, and he was brought before a hearing officer and convicted. Williams appealed multiple times, insisting he had not intentionally exposed himself; the officer had simply walked past when he was going at it. He lost and had to relinquish 240 good-time credits.

masturbationA similar case occurred in Florida in 2006: Broward County inmate Terry Lee Alexander was sitting alone on his bunk masturbating when a female deputy who was monitoring him from a central control room more than 100 feet away took exception to Alexander’s “blatant” exertions and wrote him up. Alexander was charged and convicted of exposure, with the jury determining that a cell is “a limited access public place.” The same deputy had also filed reports on seven other locked-up masturbators. When Alexander’s attorney asked the deputy in court if she had considered calling a SWAT team to halt his client’s activity, she replied, “I wish I had.” (source)

Whether all this means that prisoners – or the population in general – should have a legal right to masturbate, is another matter. Probably not I guess. Not every prohibition on government intrusion should necessarily be translated into a right. The right to privacy should be sufficient to protect the act of masturbation and a specific right to masturbate is superfluous. And yes, inmates shouldn’t lose their right to privacy just because they’re in prison, even if some limitations of that right are inevitable in their case.


(source unknown)

Especially for the general population, a right to masturbate is utterly superfluous, since people normally enjoy enough privacy beyond the prison walls in order to be able to masturbate without government intrusion. Prisoners, however, may not always be granted enough privacy, as the cases cited above make clear. But instead of claiming a right to masturbate, inmates should insist on their right to privacy.

What about the right to be able to consume pornography? Again either for prisoners only or for the general population. For the latter, this right is covered by free speech. For the former, such a right would entail the additional right to be given pornography, as prisoners can’t go about procuring it themselves in the free speech marketplace. A prisoners’ right to pornography is not covered by free speech. However, I doubt it would be a good thing to have it. It may be good policy if prisons make porn available, but that doesn’t mean prisoners have a right to be given porn. Which doesn’t mean that prison officials have a right to take pornography away from prisoners once they have it. People don’t lose all their rights when they are incarcerated. And that includes private property.

In any case, taking away prisoners’ porn or their right to masturbate is likely to be counterproductive, as it will create unrest and lead to an increasing number of sexual predation cases among prisoners.

More on porn and masturbation. More in the annals of heartlessness.

data, discrimination and hate, equality, human rights violations, law, most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (91): Marry Your Rapist and Get Out of Jail


After the attack, [Gulnaz] hid what happened as long as she could. But soon she began vomiting in the mornings and showing signs of pregnancy. It was her attacker’s child.

In Afghanistan, this brought her not sympathy, but prosecution. Aged just 19, she was found guilty by the courts of sex outside of marriage — adultery — and sentenced to twelve years in jail.

Now inside Kabul’s Badam Bagh jail, she and her child are serving her sentence together.

Sitting with the baby in her lap, her face carefully covered, she explains the only choice she has that would end her incarceration.

The only way around the dishonor of rape, or adultery in the eyes of Afghans, is to marry her attacker. This will, in the eyes of some, give her child a family and restore her honor.

Incredibly, this is something that Gulnaz is willing to do. …

We found Gulnaz’s convicted rapist in a jail across town. While he denied raping her, he agreed that she would likely be killed if she gets out of jail. But he insists that it will be her family, not his, that will kill her, “out of shame.” (source)

Similar cases here, here and here. And then there’s this:

Last year, … in Morocco, a judge ordered a 16-year-old girl named Amina Filali to marry the man who raped her. She committed suicide in March, prompting widespread outrage and condemnation of article 475, which allows a rapist to marry his victim in order to escape jail. (source)

More absurd human rights violations here.

data, human rights and crime, human rights violations, law

Crime and Human Rights (12): Prison Rape in the U.S.

prison rape


The U.S. Department of Justice recently released its first-ever estimate of the number of inmates who are sexually abused in America each year. According to the department’s data, which are based on nationwide surveys of prison and jail inmates as well as young people in juvenile detention centers, at least 216,600 inmates were victimized in 2008 alone. Contrary to popular belief, most of the perpetrators were not other prisoners but staff members—corrections officials whose job it is to keep inmates safe. On average, each victim was abused between three and five times over the course of the year. The vast majority were too fearful of reprisals to seek help or file a formal complaint. (source)

Given the incarceration statistics for the U.S. – more than 2 million U.S. citizens are in jail – this means that one in 10 inmates is sexually abused in prison. Approximately half of all sexual abuse in detention is committed by staff, not by inmates (source).

More in prison rape here, here, here and here. More human rights facts here.

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

Human Rights Maps (125): The Armenian Genocide

The Armenian Genocide was the deliberate and systematic destruction of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire during and just after World War I. It was implemented through wholesale massacres and deportations, with the deportations consisting of forced marches under conditions designed to lead to the death of the deportees. The total number of resulting Armenian deaths is generally held to have been between one and one and a half million.

The starting date of the genocide is conventionally held to be April 24, 1915, the day that Ottoman authorities arrested some 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople. Thereafter, the Ottoman military uprooted Armenians from their homes and forced them to march for hundreds of miles, depriving them of food and water, to the desert of what is now Syria. Massacres were indiscriminate of age or gender, with rape and other sexual abuse commonplace. The majority of Armenian diaspora communities were founded as a result of the Armenian genocide.

armenian genocide map

(source, click image to enlarge)

Armenian Genocide Map

(source, click image to enlarge)

More about genocide. More human rights maps.

activism, causes of human rights violations, democracy, philosophy

The Causes of Human Rights Violations (25): To What Extent Do Human Rights Depend on Large Numbers?

James Ensor, Masks

James Ensor, Masks

Let’s assume that the likelihood of a successful revolutionary overthrow of an authoritarian regime depends on how many people are involved in anti-government protests. (That’s a reasonable assumption, given the fact that mass opposition can grow so wide that repression becomes too costly. We’ve seen that recently in Egypt and elsewhere. See also here). If that is correct, then political freedom and respect for human rights (the latter almost always resulting from the former) depend on large numbers of individuals participating in protests. (It also depends on many other things, obviously. Democratization is a hugely complex process).

The next question is then: when will large numbers of individuals actually participate in protest and a revolution? A single individual will decide to participate after he or she has analyzed the possible costs involved. One element of the cost is the chance of being arrested, beaten up by the police or getting shot. The more people participate in the protests, the lower the probability for each individual of incurring this cost. It’s simply less likely that you get arrested, beaten or shot when there are many people surrounding you. In order to get many people involved, it’s therefore important that every individual has the impression or conviction that many people will be involved. This conviction can be encouraged by social networking websites, such as Twitter or Facebook. Communication about the protest through these media helps to spread the conviction that large numbers will be participating, which will encourage large numbers to participate.

One could argue that something similar happens in cases of racism, discrimination or bigotry. For example, when large numbers of gays and lesbians are allowed to marry, people who initially frowned upon same-sex marriage are now confronted with lots of married gay couples and may start to realize that their initial fears were unfounded. On the other hand, the close proximity between slave holders and large numbers of slaves didn’t reduce racism. Likewise, a larger number of immigrants usually – but not always – leads to more widespread and more intense anti-immigrant feelings rather than less.

Something more positive happens with the numbers involved in gendercide. When the number of sex-selective abortions reaches a certain point, the remaining women may start to escape their inferior position which was the original cause of gender selective abortions. They may do so because their bargaining power will increase: the gender ratio is now 1:<1 rather than the natural 1:1, and men – the majority of whom will still want a wife, I assume – will conclude that it’s necessary to make concessions to women as a means to gain the upper hand in their increasingly competitive struggle for mates.

The infamous rape scene from "A clockwork orange"

The infamous rape scene from "A clockwork orange"

When reporting of rape is taboo, rape will remain common. But when more and more women start to report rape, the stigma will move from the victims to the perpetrators. Also, when large-scale reporting makes people aware that rape is a widespread phenomenon, women will increasingly adapt their behavior so as to limit the risks. On the other hand, common knowledge of the widespread occurrence of rape can give (certain) men the impression that the practice is normal and acceptable.

health, human rights violations, iconic images of human rights violations, photography and journalism

Iconic Images of Human Rights Violations (59): World’s Youngest Mother

Lina Medina

Lina Medina, the world's youngest mother

Lina Medina, her son and her doctor

Lina Medina, her son and her doctor


Lina Medina is the world’s youngest confirmed mother in medical history. Born in Peru on 27 September 1933, Lina was brought to a hospital by her parents at the age of 5 because of an increasing abdominal size. Originally thought to have tumor, her doctors determined that she was in fact seven months pregnant. Dr. Gerardo Lozada took her to Lima, Peru, prior to the surgery to have other specialists confirm that Lina was in fact pregnant. A month and a half later, on 14 May 1939, she gave birth to a boy by cesarean section necessitated by her small pelvis. Her menarche had occurred at eight months of age (or 2½ according to a different article) and she had prominent breast development by the age of four. Extreme precocious puberty in children 5 or under is very uncommon.

Her son weighed 2.7 kg at birth and was named Gerardo after her doctor. Gerardo was raised believing that Lina was his sister, but found out at the age of ten that she was his mother. He grew up healthy but died in 1979 at the age of 40 of a disease of the bone marrow. There was never evidence that Lina Medina’s pregnancy occurred in any but the usual way, but she never revealed the father of the child, nor the circumstances of her impregnation. Dr. Escomel suggested she might not actually know herself. Lina’s father was arrested on suspicion of rape and incest, but was later released due to lack of evidence.

Lina is apparently still alive today.

More about pedophilia, incest, child marriage and rape. More iconic images of human rights violations.

health, housing, human rights violations, most absurd human rights violations, poverty

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (60): Too Scared to Pee

You are a woman living alone in a one-room tin shack that you rent in Africa’s second largest slum. Because you live near the equator, it is completely dark by 7:00 every evening. You don’t have electricity, and there are no street lights. In fact, there are no “streets” – just a maze of well-worn dirt paths. The only light outside comes from paraffin lanterns hanging from kiosks.

You need to go to the bathroom, but your landlord has not provided any toilet facilities for you or your neighbors. The nearest pit latrine, which is shared by more than 100 people, is almost half a mile away, and it takes 10 minutes to walk there. The last time you left your house to walk to the latrine at night, a gang of young men grabbed you and threatened to rape you, saying that no nice girl would be out on her own at that hour. You were lucky to escape when nearby residents heard your screams and came to see what was wrong.

There are no police posts in this slum; the closest police station is several miles away in a middle-class neighborhood. You know if those gang members come back for you, there is nowhere to turn for help. So you decide to use a “flying toilet” – a plastic bag that you use, then throw out into the open sewer that runs alongside the alley outside your house.

This is the choice that hundreds of thousands of Kenyan women face every day in Nairobi’s slums. (source)

More on slums and on violence against women. More absurd human rights violations.

capital punishment, law

Capital Punishment (28): Extreme “Tinkering With the Machinery of Death” in the U.S.

The title of this blog post refers to a famous quote by former US Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun. It’s my belief that the U.S. Supreme Court, in its desire to both uphold capital punishment and simultaneously limit its scope, has maneuvered itself into an incoherent position. It has “tinkered with the machinery of death” to such an extent that the application of capital punishment in the U.S. should be viewed as a complete mess, even by those of us who don’t have an instinctive repulsion for capital punishment, who don’t make a philosophical or moral argument against it, and who don’t agree that there are so-called “systemic problems” in the application of capital punishment in the U.S. (as opposed to the moral problems of capital punishment per se), such as

(For irregular readers, I’m personally convinced that there are moral reasons not to apply the death penalty, and that these are sufficient reasons. I view both the systemic problems cited above and the inconsistent reasoning of the Supreme Court discussed below as supplementary reasons for those who are difficult to convince with moral reasons alone).

Here’s an overview of some of the contradictory judgments of the Supreme Court. There’s a tendency, among many supporters of the death penalty in the U.S., to extend its reach beyond homicide. (I believe that’s a natural tendency, especially for those counting on a deterrent effect. If the main objective of capital punishment is the deterrence of crime, then why stop at homicide? There are many other heinous crimes that could possible be reduced with an effective deterrent and if it can be argued – but I doubt it – that capital punishment is such an effective deterrent, then why shy away of it?).

In Coker v. Georgia, the Court had to decide whether the crime of rape of an adult woman warrants the penalty of death. The Court argued that it doesn’t, since rape does not mean taking a life. Again, in Enmund v. Florida (does a homicide accomplice who does not kill or attempt to kill deserve the death penalty?), the Court judged that capital punishment should not be a possible punishment for crimes that do not involve the death of another human being. (This is part of the doctrine of proportionality, see below).

And yet, in Kennedy v. Louisiana, the Court stated that crimes against the state, such as treason and espionage, but also terrorism and drug kingpins etc. may be deserving of death even if no loss of life was involved. I find this distinction highly arbitrary. From the point of view of an opponent of capital punishment such as me, it’s obviously good that the Court imposes some restrictions on the sentence, but doing so in this arbitrary way just serves to undermine the legitimacy of these restrictions and opens the door to future reversals.



Another restriction imposed by the Court is based on the degree of culpability of offenders and their capacity to evaluate and control their actions. In Thompson v. Oklahoma for instance, the Court examined the constitutionality of executing child offenders (under the age of 16). The Court decided that children are generally less culpable for their crimes because, compared to adults, they are

  • less able to judge the consequences of their actions
  • more emotional and less able to control their actions
  • less prone to “cold calculation” and therefore there is less reason to assume a deterrent effect.

Moreover, the Court assumed that offenses by the young represent a failure of society, school and the family:

youth crime as such is not exclusively the offender’s fault; offenses by the young also represent a failure of family, school, and the social system, which share responsibility for the development of America’s youth. (source)

Again, nice to see the Court limiting the scope of the death penalty, but why assume that adult criminals don’t also represent a failure of society? If young people offend because of failure of the educational system for instance, is it safe to assume that these causes magically disappear after a certain age? (Of course, I don’t assume that “society” causes all crime, but crime does, in certain cases, have causes beyond the decisions of the criminals). And are there really no adults who are relatively less able to judge the consequences of their actions and act in a non-emotional and calculated way?

Yes, says the Court, but at the same time it limits this category of adults in a somewhat arbitrary way to the mentally retarded (for example Atkins v. Virginia). I believe the reduced culpability of the mentally retarded is obviously a good thing, but why stop there? Aren’t there any “non-retards” who also can claim diminished culpability? And, anyway, where to put the border between the retarded and the rest? There’s always going to be a gray zone, and hence arbitrariness.

Furthermore, recent judgments of the Court tend towards undoing the restriction on capital punishment based on diminished culpability. Scalia for instance (dissenting in Atkins v. Virginia) claimed that culpability and deservedness depend not only on the mental capacity of the criminal but also on the depravity of the crime. One can read this as a justification of capital punishment even for children or the mentally retarded if their crime is depraved enough.

In Kennedy v. Louisiana, the Court also expressed contradictory views on deterrence. Deterrence has always been an important justification for the Court, but in Kennedy v. Louisiana the Court decided that in the case of child rapists, capital punishment would encourage rather than deter the crime. It claimed, correctly I think, that the death penalty for this crime could encourage non-reporting. A third party, for example the wife of the rapist, could decide not to report the offender for fear of capital punishment, which then leads to the continuation of the crime, and hence the failure of deterrence.

Again, a welcome restriction from the point of view of an abolitionist, but also a highly arbitrary one. The same non-reporting effect of the death penalty can occur in other types of crime. Moreover, the consideration of counter-deterrence effects in this case is very unusual for a Court that consistently ignores evidence against the deterrent effect.

Finally, the argument of proportionality cited above and used against capital punishment for crimes such as rape (see also Gregg v. Georgia) is a welcome limit, but it also is an argument that’s used very selectively and arbitrarily by the Court. In non-capital cases, the Court often refuses to consider the lack of proportionality as a reason to undo decisions of other courts. In Rummel v. Estelle for instance, the Court refused to see anything wrong with a sentence of life imprisonment for obtaining $120.75 by false pretences!

All these inconsistencies and arbitrary limits and restrictions in the Supreme Court’s handling of capital punishment have turned this sentence into a shambles. Many of us think it’s much worse than that, but a shambles may be a sufficient reason for others to review the practice.

discrimination and hate, law, most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (32): Morality Police Accused of Gang Rape

Sharia police officers detain three girls for wearing tights at a beach in Banda Aceh, capital of Aceh province

Sharia police officers detain three girls for wearing tights at a beach in Banda Aceh, capital of Aceh province

(source, photo by Luis Sinco, Los Angeles Times/October 28, 2009)

Three officers with Aceh province’s civilian morality police allegedly detained a couple, raping the 20-year-old woman. Activists say the charges undermine the patrol’s legitimacy … [The] civilian patrol … enforces Islam’s strict Sharia law in Indonesia’s Aceh province …

“They don’t have the authority to detain people — their role is to give moral advice, that’s it,” said Norma Manalu, director of Aceh’s human rights coalition. “They misused their power.” Aceh’s “vice and virtue patrol” enforces religious codes across the only province in the nation to employ Sharia, or Islamic law, for its criminal code. Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country.

Sharia was introduced in 2002 after the region was granted autonomy as part of efforts to end a decades-long guerrilla war. Supervisors say the Sharia police, formed three years later, consider themselves the community’s public conscience.

In September, Aceh’s provincial parliament passed a law saying that people who commit adultery can be sentenced to death by stoning. The measure, which still must be approved by the governor, has outraged human rights groups here, which say it will be used to unfairly target women.

The Sharia policemen allegedly stopped a couple by the road near a plantation. In an interview, the victim’s father said his daughter’s friend was beaten by the group and the couple was then brought to a nearby Sharia police station. The men later returned while off duty and raped the woman, investigators say. “She was treated like an animal. They suffocated and raped her — it was inhumane,” the victim’s father said. “She’s in deep trauma.”

Marzuki Abdullah, head of the 1,500-member Sharia police force, said the case was not linked to the patrols because any crime the officers might have committed was done while they were off duty.

Activists say the case should bring a review of the patrols. “It’s time for the Sharia police to introspect their institution, role and officers,” Manalu said. “Are they really needed to judge our morality? We don’t have any guarantees that they have a higher moral standard than us.” (source)

More on Sharia, rape, stoning and gender discrimination. More absurd human rights violations.

data, human rights and crime

Crime and Human Rights (8b): Sexual Violence in U.S. Prisons

I’ve written before about the abomination that is the U.S. prison system (see here, here, here and here). Some more data:

  • 12% of juveniles in U.S. prisons are sexually abused each year, compared to “only” 4% of adult prisoners. Juveniles are three times more likely to be abused. No surprise that there’s a lot more rape going on in prisons than in the outside world, but the numbers are still scary: 0.3% of US non-prisoners report rape each year, versus a world median of roughly 0.05%. 60,500 adults are victims of rape or sexual misconduct in prisons each year.
  • Prison rapes are perpetrated by fellow inmates or prison staff. 10.8% of males and 4.7% of females reported sexual activity with facility staff. 9.1% of females and 2.0% of males reported unwanted sexual activity with other youth.
  • The US is world champion in incarceration rates: it has 0.7% of its population in prison, vs a world median of roughly 0.1%. (source)

More posts about incarceration are here. More posts about sexual violence here and here. And then there’s something about violence in general.

human rights nonsense, law

Human Rights Nonsense (10): Protecting Children by Banning Parents From Play Areas

It seems some people take the rights of children a bit too seriously. From Henry Porter’s Blog:

[The city of] Watford [in the U.K.] has just banned parents from watching their own children at two council play areas. … “Sadly, in today’s climate, you can’t have adults walking around unchecked in a children’s playground.” Instead of parents being able to watch and play with their own and other people’s children at the Harwoods and Harebreaks recreation grounds, vetted council staff known as “play rangers” will be in charge. … The council spokeswoman was keen to point out that the policy meant that if no parents were allowed into the two play areas it reduced the risk of adults wandering into the playground. … It seems possible that the mayor and her appalling council may be in breach of article 8 of the [U.K.] Human Rights Act – the right to family life. (source)

More on children, pedophiles and playgrounds. More human rights nonsense.

law, limiting free speech

Limiting Free Speech (38): Cheering on a Criminal

Jodie Foster in The Accused

Jodie Foster in The Accused


Can bystanders who cheer on a criminal invoke their right to free speech, or can the government prosecute them and hence limit their right to free speech? An infamous example is public rape, a particularly horrendous crime in which a man or group of men rapes a woman in a public space, for example a bar, while being loudly encouraged by a group of bystanders, most of whom will probably be sexually aroused by the spectacle. The movie “The Accused” offers a classic depiction of such a crime, and is based on a real-life public gang-rape.

The case of cheering bystanders and their right to free speech is similar, although not identical to some other cases discussed previously in this blog series, such as hate speech, speech that teaches the methods of illegal activity, death threats, and incitement to violence. These cases are similar because it’s assumed that all these forms of speech can produce violence or can make violence more likely.

Eugene Volokh, normally very hesitant to allow restrictions on free speech, says that prosecution should be possible

on the grounds that the cheering tends to encourage the criminal and thus constitutes “abett[ing].” “An aider and abettor is one who acts with both knowledge of the perpetrator’s criminal purpose and the intent of encouraging or facilitating commission of the offense.” People v. Avila, 38 Cal. 4th 491, 564 (2006). (source)

In some circumstances, the bystanders are even strict accomplices in the sense that they aid the criminal in his or her actions: their cheering may make it impossible for others to intervene because they seal off the crime scene, or the cheering can include precise instructions. One can also imagine cases in which the criminals wouldn’t have acted if not for the cheering. But even if the bystanders are not strict accomplices in any of these senses, they are surely guilty of criminal failure to assist persons in need. Instead of cheering, they should have called the police. So, in all these cases, the bystanders help the crime occur, even if all they do is vaguely encourage someone. Hence they cannot claim that their right to free speech should protect them against criminal prosecution.

More posts in this series.

international relations, measuring human rights, statistics, war

Measuring Human Rights (9): When “Worse” Doesn’t Necessarily Mean “Worse”

I discussed in this older post some of the problems related to the measurement of human rights violations, and to the assessment of progress or deterioration. One of the problems I mentioned is caused by improvements in measurement methods. Such improvements can in fact result in a statistic showing increasing numbers of rights violations, whereas in reality the numbers may not be increasing, and perhaps even decreasing. Better measurement means that you now compare current data that are more complete and better measured, with older numbers of rights violations that were simply incomplete.

The example I gave was about rape statistics: better statistical and reporting methods used by the police, combined with less social stigma etc. result in statistics showing a rising number of rapes, but this increase was due to the measurement methods (and other effects), not to what happened in real life.

Precision Bombing by Banksy

Precision Bombing by Banksy

I now come across another example. Collateral damage - or the unintentional killing of civilians during wars – seems to be higher now than a century ago (source). This may also be the result of better monitoring hiding a totally different trend. We all know that civilian deaths are much less acceptable now than they used to be, and that journalism and war reporting are probably much better (given better communication technology). Hence, people may now believe that it’s more important to count civilian deaths, and have better means to do so. As a result, the numbers of civilian deaths showing up in statistics will rise compared to older periods, but perhaps the real numbers don’t rise at all.

Of course, the increase of collateral damage may be the result of something else than better measurement: perhaps the lower level of acceptability of civilian deaths forces the army to classify some of those deaths as unintentional, even if they’re not (and then we have worse rather than better measurement). Or perhaps the relatively recent development of precision-guided munition has made the use of munition more widespread so that there are more victims: more bombs, even more precise bombs, can make more victims than less yet more imprecise bombs. Or perhaps the current form of warfare, with guerilla troops hiding among populations, does indeed produce more civilian deaths.

Still, I think my point stands: better measurement of human rights violations can give the wrong impression. Things may look as if they’re getting worse, but they’re not.

More Banksy. More on ius in bello. More on measuring human rights.

equality, gender discrimination

Gender Discrimination (19): Violence Against Women On Television

The infamous rape scene from "A clockwork orange"

The infamous rape scene from "A clockwork orange"

Prime time television shows in the U.S. are depicting significantly more scenes and stories including violence against women. The overall incidence of violence on television hasn’t increased.

violence against women on television

(source, source, source)

The depiction of violence against women can be exploitative, but also educational. Impossible to say on the basis of these data if TV shows include depictions of violence against women in order to attract a particular kind of audience, or in order to educate the audience. In fact, this distinction is hard to make even for individual cases of depiction of violence.

TV may not have become more violent, but movies sure have:

violence in movies


This graph includes all types of killing, not just the killing of women.

More on violence against women in general here, here and here. More on violence in the media in general is here.

human rights quote, law

Human Rights Quote (76): Sexual Abuse in Prison



Americans generally take it for granted that corporal punishment, Singapore- or Saudi Arabia-style, is inhumane. We don’t just chop people’s hands off or tie them to a post and beat them. In practice, however, being sentenced to a U.S. prison in effect is a sentence to physical abuse. But rather than the level of abuse being determined by a judge and by the law, it tends to be determined by the vicissitudes of chance and gang affiliation. Read, for example, Carrie Johnson’s writeup of a recent report on sexual misconduct in federal prisons. Matthew Yglesias (source)

More on prison rape and prison conditions.

health, lies and statistics, statistics

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics (12): Generalization



An example from Greg Mankiw’s blog:

Should we [the U.S.] envy European healthcare? Gary Becker says the answer is no:

“A recent excellent unpublished study by Samuel Preston and Jessica Ho of the University of Pennsylvania compare mortality rates for breast and prostate cancer. These are two of the most common and deadly forms of cancer – in the United States prostate cancer is the second leading cause of male cancer deaths, and breast cancer is the leading cause of female cancer deaths. These forms of cancer also appear to be less sensitive to known attributes of diet and other kinds of non-medical behavior than are lung cancer and many other cancers. [Health effects of diet and behavior should be excluded when comparing the quality of healthcare across countries. FS]

These authors show that the fraction of men receiving a PSA test, which is a test developed about 25 years ago to detect the presence of prostate cancer, is far higher in the US than in Sweden, France, and other countries that are usually said to have better health delivery systems. Similarly, the fraction of women receiving a mammogram, a test developed about 30 years ago to detect breast cancer, is also much higher in the US. The US also more aggressively treats both these (and other) cancers with surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy than do other countries.

Preston and Hu show that this more aggressive detection and treatment were apparently effective in producing a better bottom line since death rates from breast and prostate cancer declined during the past 20 [years] by much more in the US than in 15 comparison countries of Europe and Japan.” (source)

Even if all this is true, how on earth can you assume that a healthcare system is better because it is more successful in treating two (2!) diseases? See here and here for a more complete picture.

Another example: the website of the National Alert Registry for sexual offenders used to post a few “quick facts”. One of them said:

“The chance that your child will become a victim of a sexual offender is 1 in 3 for girls… Source: The National Center for Victims of Crime“.

Someone took the trouble of actually checking this source, and found that it said:

Twenty-nine percent [i.e. approx. 1 in 3] of female rape victims in America were younger than eleven when they were raped.

One in three rape victims is a young girl, but you can’t generalize from that by saying that one in three young girls will be the victim of rape. Perhaps they will be, but you can’t know that from these data. Like you can’t conclude from the way the U.S. deals with two diseases that it “shouldn’t envy European healthcare”. Perhaps it shouldn’t, but more general data on life expectancy says it should.

These are two examples of induction or inductive reasoning, sometimes called inductive logic, a reasoning which formulates laws based on limited observations of recurring phenomenal patterns. Induction is employed, for example, in using specific propositions such as:

This door is made of wood.

to infer general propositions such as:

All doors are made of wood. (source)

More posts in this series.

culture, horror, justice, law, most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (9): Gang Rape as a Form of Criminal Punishment

Mukhtar Mai, Image by © Andreea Angelescu/Corbis

Mukhtar Mai, Image by © Andreea Angelescu/Corbis


Mukhtar Mai, a Pakistani woman, suffered a gang rape as a form of honor revenge, on the demands of tribesmen — or by some accounts, on the orders of a tribal council.

Her adolescent brother Shaqoor was suspected and accused by a rival clan of adultery with one of the girls of this clan. Shaqoor was then abducted by her relatives, and sodomized by them, I guess as a form of punishment. The police freed Shaqoor and his family proposed to settle the matter with the other clan by marrying Shakoor to the girl he supposedly had sex with, and by marrying Mukhtar – his sister – to one of the men of the other clan. The offer was refused and the rival clan demanded revenge for the adultery. Mukhtar’s gang rape was the revenge. After the rape, all claims were withdrawn.

The week after the events, a local Muslim imam condemned the rape in his sermon, informed a local journalist, and persuaded the family to file charges against the rapists.

By custom, rural women are expected to commit suicide after such an event. Instead, she spoke up, and using word of mouth, took her case to court where her rapists were arrested and charged. She took settlement money provided to her by the government following the court case, and opened a center for refuge and education, the Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organization. (source)

However, it seems that all is not going well for her:

Mukhtar is … in danger, and many people in the feudal class would like to kill her; even with an armed bodyguard, Mukhtar doesn’t dare go more than 100 feet from her compound. I’ve told Mukhar to set up a steel gate to make it harder for gunmen to get to her. (source)

More posts in this series.

culture, health, types of human rights violations

Types of Human Rights Violations (3): Lighthouse Violations and Searchlight Violations

violence against women cartoon

violence against women cartoon

(source, cartoon by Angel Boligan)

I think it may be helpful to distinguish two types of human rights violations. Or, to be more precise: two types of effects of human rights violations, because many violations will show characteristics of the two types. I’ll call the two types “lighthouse violations” and “searchlight violations”. To clarify these weird sounding names, I have an example.

In the UK, about 85.000 women were raped in 2006. In the US, during the same year, 92.455 rapes were reported. Real numbers are much higher, of course, because there are many unreported cases. In South Africa, one in four men admits to having raped someone. One in 8 more than once. Rape, as well as other types of violence against women (but not only women), is obviously a wide-spread social practice and not merely acts of sick individuals. (More on rape here).

As with any case of widespread rights violations, one can understand this in two ways. One can believe that these violations are what I call lighthouse rights violations. In our example, the very fact that rape is a widespread phenomenon makes women aware of the dangers and forces them to adapt their behavior so that they limit the risks. (I talked about human rights and risk here). So the optimist view would be that there are certain automatic restrictions operating in order to limit the number of human rights violations.

The other, more pessimist view, would call widespread human rights violations searchlight violations. If we take the same example, the widespread occurrence of rape can give (certain) men the impression that the practice is normal and acceptable. As a result, the practice becomes even more widespread. Moreover, the practice not only benefits those men who actively engage in it, but men in general because it creates uneven gender relationships, female subjugation, inferiority complexes in women etc. Hence, also women who are not directly victimized by rape tend to be harmed by the practice. Rape shapes cultures, mentalities, gender roles etc.

This is of course a “glass half full or half empty” thing. Rape is both a lighthouse and a searchlight human rights violation. However, I think the more optimist view is probably more correct. If not, we would have to see ever increasing numbers of rights violations, which isn’t the case (at least that’s the intuitive conclusion; human rights measurement is still not a very sophisticated field of research).

More on violence against women. More on feminism.

housing, justice, law, limiting free speech, privacy

Limiting Free Speech (35): Publishing Lists of Pedophiles on the Internet, Ctd.

example of a sex offender registry

example of a sex offender registry


A follow-up from this previous post on the same subject. We should of course do our utmost to protect people, and especially children, from sexual predators. In the U.S., and to a lesser degree elsewhere, “utmost” means publishing so-called “registries” of sex offenders on the internet. These registries contain the names, addresses and offenses of people convicted for sex crimes. The purpose of the registries is to inform people about the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders and allow them to take measures to protect their children. (A few examples of registries are here, here and here; some of those are government sites, others are not).

By definition, since the purpose is protection, these registries should contain only information on people who are likely to offend again, and to offend in a way that is dangerous to children (and possibly adults). People who have been convicted in the past but are not deemed to be possible repeat offenders, or people convicted for sex crimes that are not dangerous (flashers for example) shouldn’t be included, but regularly are.

These registries are an exercise of free speech. The question here is: should they be allowed, or are they doing more harm than good? In other words: should this case of freedom of speech be restricted in order to protect other rights? (we’ve seen before how human rights can be limited when they come into conflict with other human rights). Which other rights could possibly be harmed by this exercise of free speech? One could say the right to privacy of the offenders (it’s not because you’re a convicted criminal that you automatically lose your right t privacy). But that’s not obvious. Someone’s address and criminal record aren’t private information. So registries of sex offenders aren’t, by definition, violations of the right to privacy. Hence, the right to free speech of publishers of such registries can’t be limited because of the right to privacy of the offenders.

But there are other reasons why the rights of those publishers can be limited. Registries can (and did) lead to

  • harassment of offenders, violent attacks and even murder
  • ostracism, including their family members and children (some registries even have button to print a mugshot that can be posted on the offenders’ doors)
  • violations of their right to freely choose a residence: they are either chased away, or legally prohibited from living near certain places (schools, playgrounds…); sometimes these prohibitions are so restrictive that people are forced to be homeless (in Miami, exclusion zones have created a camp of homeless offenders under a bridge)
  • violations of the right to work: people whose names are in registries are often fired from their jobs or have difficulties finding a job.

These are obviously rights violations that are serious enough to at least make us consider whether the right to free speech of the publishers of registries should be maintained.

And even the right to privacy can become a problem. As noted, addresses and criminal records aren’t private. However, many registries contain a lot of “noise” – people who do not pose any threat (some U.S. states requires registration of people who have visited prostitutes, who have had consensual sex as teenagers etc.). Not only does this label harmless people as “predators”, with often devastating consequences for them. Another result of this noise is that the registries become useless. As a consequence, those who defend the registries ask for more information to be included so that they can judge which “predator” is a real one:

I agree that a man who exposes himself to a woman may not pose the same danger as a convicted child-molester or rapist. All represent a threat, however, so the solution is thus not less information but more detailed information. Give me the facts about the offence and let me decide the level of risk to me and my family. As the parent of two young children I would like to know who my neighbour is going to be before I buy that new home. Adrian Kendall

Taken to its logical extreme, such a view will defend putting everything “bad” about everyone in a super-register. 1984 all over again. Perhaps registries could be used on a need-to-know basis only.

PS: there’s apparently also an iPhone app for this:

iphone app sex offenders

More posts in this series.

horror, human rights images, poverty

Prison Conditions, A Collection of Images

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky

The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons. Fyodor Dostoevsky

No matter how much we agree that putting people in prison is often necessary, we shouldn’t forget that in doing so we limit their human rights. Such limits are not impossible in the system of human rights, but should be kept to a minimum necessary for the protection of other rights or the rights of others. Hence, arbitrary arrest, or arrest for “crimes” which do not violate other people’s rights – such as political “crimes”, speech “crimes” etc. - is unacceptable. Moreover, in those cases in which imprisonment is an acceptable measure in view of the protection of the rights of others, there’s no reason to accept prison conditions that add human rights violations to the human rights limitations already inherent in the fact of incarceration itself.

Inhumane prison conditions are often the result of the general poverty of a country. A poor country will have poor prisons. But poverty doesn’t explain everything, as is shown by the problems in some of the prisons in relatively wealthy countries. Prisoners are often viewed as subhuman, deserving not only imprisonment but imprisonment under any condition. However, such a view is self-defeating: bad prison conditions create subhuman behavior. The ripple effects of bad prison conditions do not stop at the prison walls; they reach every corner of society. Not a lot of imagination is required to see what happens when prisoners leave the hell holes that are used as prisons in some countries. Or better, if they leave. If they leave, it’s often in a coffin, or at best with their mental and physical health destroyed.

More on prison conditions here (on overpopulation in prisons), here (prison conditions in Iran), here (prison rape), here (again on overpopulation), here (solitary confinement), here (juvenile incarceration). Here are some statistics. And here’s an collection of images on prison conditions, past and present:

illustration of the prison conditions abord the wretched Prison Ship Jersey

illustration of the prison conditions abord the wretched Prison Ship Jersey

(source, read the full horror story about this prison ship, used by the British during the American Revolutionary War)
A prison cell in Tbilisi, Georgia, photo InterPressNews

A prison cell in Tbilisi, Georgia, photo InterPressNews

(source, full story here)
prison conditions in Iraq, prisoners say that some have to stand to make room for others to sleep

prison conditions in Iraq, prisoners say that some have to stand to make room for others to sleep

(source, full story here)
rodrigo abd associated press a dead inmate is seen at the local morgue after a prison riot caused by a fight between rival gangs in Escuintla Guatemala

Rodrigo Abd, Associated Press, a dead inmate is seen at the local morgue after a prison riot caused by a fight between rival gangs in Escuintla, Guatemala

(source, full story here)
prison slave labor

prison slave labor

(source, read more on prison labor here)
juvenile incarceration, photo by Steve Liss

juvenile incarceration, photo by Steve Liss

(source, read more about children in prison here)

Other collections of human rights images are here.

horror, law, most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (5): The Rape of Young Iranian Girls Prior to Their Execution

Rape, by little pretty


From the Jerusalem Post:

Founded by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 as a “people’s militia”, the volunteer Basiji force is subordinate to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and intensely loyal to Khomeini’s successor, Khamenei.

[Members of the Basiji] temporarily marry young girls before they were sentenced to death. In the Islamic Republic it is illegal to execute a young woman, regardless of her crime, if she is a virgin… Therefore a “wedding” ceremony is conducted the night before the execution: The young girl is forced to have sexual intercourse with a prison guard – essentially raped by her “husband”. (source)

More absurd human rights violations.

culture, equality, law, most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (4): Punishment for Being Raped

photo by Salman Masood

photo by Salman Masood


Under the Hudood Ordinances introduced by the former Pakistani dictator Zia-ul-Haq in 1979, rape victims had to have four male witnesses to the crime – a ridiculous requirement. If they didn’t, they faced prosecution for adultery, a crime that potentially carried the penalty of death by stoning. This law has been repealed, but local custom still drags behind (source). And the law is an empty shell anyway. If a woman cannot prove she has been raped – how on earth can you prove this? -  she could still fall foul of the adultery laws and she may be tried by either civil or Sharia courts.

More on rape.

law, limiting free speech

Limiting Free Speech (34): Pornography and Sexual Violence

from the kiss series by Wim Delvoye

from the kiss series by Wim Delvoye

(source, attention: this link is NSFW; more about Wim Delvoye here and here)

In this old post in the blog series on limiting free speech, I mentioned the possibility that pornography causes sexual violence, and that this violence could be one of the justifications for prohibiting or limiting pornography, and hence for limiting one form of free speech. (The physical integrity rights of the victims of pornography induced sexual violence outweigh the rights to free speech of pornographers and their clients). I also cited some scientific research corroborating the link between pornography and sexual violence.

Now I came across some evidence pointing in another direction. We all know that porn is one of the main reasons to use the internet. Large increases of internet use of the last years, together with a proliferation of websites offering free porn, should, in theory, lead to a large increase in the numbers of rape. But that isn’t the case.

The rise of the Internet offers a gigantic natural experiment. Better yet, because Internet usage caught on at different times in different states, it offers 50 natural experiments. The bottom line on these experiments is, “More Net access, less rape.” A 10 percent increase in Net access yields about a 7.3 percent decrease in reported rapes. States that adopted the Internet quickly saw the biggest declines. And, according to Clemson professor Todd Kendall, the effects remain even after you control for all of the obvious confounding variables, such as alcohol consumption, police presence, poverty and unemployment rates, population density, and so forth. Steven E. Landsburg (source)

Another study:

A vocal segment of the population has serious concerns about the effect of pornography in society and challenges its public use and acceptance. This manuscript reviews the major issues associated with the availability of sexually explicit material. It has been found everywhere it was scientifically investigated that as pornography has increased in availability, sex crimes have either decreased or not increased. (source, source)

So it seems that the opposite is true: more porn = less rape. Maybe porn is a substitute for rape. In which case, one of the justifications for restricting the free speech rights of pornographers collapses. However, I mentioned in my old post that sexual violence isn’t the only possible reason to limit the rights to free speech of pornographers. Pornography can, for instance, perpetuate discriminatory gender roles. And the quote below shows that there is some evidence that pornography increases the likelihood of re-offending:

In this study, we examined the unique contribution of pornography consumption to the longitudinal prediction of criminal recidivism in a sample of 341 child molesters. We specifically tested the hypothesis, based on predictions informed by the confluence model of sexual aggression that pornography will be a risk factor for recidivism only for those individuals classified as relatively high risk for re-offending. Pornography use (frequency and type) was assessed through self-report and recidivism was measured using data from a national database from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Indices of recidivism, which were assessed up to 15 years after release, included an overall criminal recidivism index, as well as subcategories focusing on violent (including sexual) recidivism and sexual recidivism alone. Results for both frequency and type of pornography use were generally consistent with our predictions. Most importantly, after controlling for general and specific risk factors for sexual aggression, pornography added significantly to the prediction of recidivism. Statistical interactions indicated that frequency of pornography use was primarily a risk factor for higher-risk offenders, when compared with lower-risk offenders, and that content of pornography (i.e., pornography containing deviant content) was a risk factor for all groups. The importance of conceptualizing particular risk factors (e.g., pornography), within the context of other individual characteristics is discussed. (source)

human rights nonsense, war

Human Rights Nonsense (2): “Refugee Run” in Davos

A reminder what this series is about: the ways in which the language of human rights is used to push nonsense. Human rights nonsense devalues the whole system of human rights, and has to be ridiculed mercilessly if we want to preserve what is good about human rights.

This post is about the infamous “Refugee Run” earlier this year in Davos:

Refugee Run Davos

Refugee Run Davos

(source, click on the image to enlarge)

From the announcement:

During the coming World Economic Forum, we will co-host a very moving event in which people “step into the shoes” of the world’s 40 million refugees. For a moment in time, participants will be thrust into another environment where they face an attack from rebels, a “mine field”, border corruption, language incapacity, black-marketeering and refugee camp survival. Following the event, a debrief will invite the participants to discuss the refugee situation and explore ways to assist, should they wish so. … (Spoiler alert: no harm will come to you!)

In the words of Bill Easterly:

Can Davos man empathize with refugees when he or she is not in danger and is going back to a luxury banquet and hotel room afterwards? Isn’t this just a tad different from the life of an actual refugee, at risk of all too real rape, murder, hunger, and disease?

Did the words “insensitive”, “dehumanizing”, or “disrespectful” (not to mention “ludicrous”) ever come up in discussing the plans for “Refugee Run”?

This isn’t the best way to raise consciousness and awareness, to make the rich world sensitive to the problems of refugees, or to mobilize support for the activities of the UNHCR. It’s just stupid nonsense at best, and “disaster pornography” at worst, discrediting the activities of an organization that is more important than ever.

More on refugees, including some statistics.

gender discrimination, health, statistics

Gender Discrimination (16): Sexual Violence in South Africa



Shocking numbers from The Guardian:

One in four men in South Africa have admitted to rape, according to a study that exposes the country’s endemic culture of sexual violence. … Almost half who said they had carried out a rape admitted they had done so more than once. … South Africa is notorious for having one of the highest levels of rape in the world. Only a fraction are reported, and only a fraction of those lead to a conviction. … Only 7% of reported rapes are estimated to lead to a conviction.

The study … also found that men who are physically violent towards women are twice as likely to be HIV-positive. … Any woman raped by a man over the age of 25 has a one in four chance of her attacker being HIV-positive.

More on rape, and on violence against women in general.

human rights quote, statistics

Human Rights Quote (73): Prison Rape

prison rape soap


The Federal Prison Rape Elimination commission released its report on elimination and prevention efforts regarding the biggest social problem nobody wants to talk about: prison rape.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over 60,000 prisoners — the great bulk of them male — fall victim to sexual abuse in prison each year. A fair number of these men are “punks” who are subject to frequent, even daily, male-on-male rape for years on end.

The nation’s prison-rape problems can’t go away overnight for at least two major reasons. To begin with, the racial supremacist gangs that control many prisons use rape as a tool for keeping other prisoners in line and, in some cases, prison officials may turn a blind eye towards sexual abuse when it keeps prison populations more orderly. Second, the understandable widespread social distaste for people in prison has lead to a widespread attitude that’s frankly inhumane. It is one thing to say that prison shouldn’t be fun and quite another to say that detainees “deserve” rape. Nobody does. But, somehow, prison rape remains a perfectly acceptable topic for sitcoms, widely trafficked websites, and late-night comedians. Eli Lehrer (source)

More on prison conditions.

measuring human rights, statistics

Measuring Human Rights (5): Some (Insurmountable?) Problems

Sherlock Holmes

If you care about human rights, it’s extremely important to measure the level of protection of human rights in different countries, as well as the level of progress or deterioration. Measurement in the social sciences is always tricky; we’re dealing with human behavior and not with sizes, volumes, speeds etc. However, measuring human rights is especially difficult.

Some examples. I talked about the so-called catch 22 of human rights measurement in this post. In order to measure whether countries respect human rights, one already needs respect for human rights. Organizations, whether international organizations or private organizations (NGOs), must have some freedom to control, to engage in fact finding, to enter countries and move around, to investigate “in situ”, to denounce etc. Victims should have the freedom to speak out and to organize themselves in pressure groups. So we assume what we want to establish.

The more violations of human rights, the more difficult it is to monitor respect for human rights. The more oppressive the regime, the harder it is to establish the nature and severity of its crimes; and the harder it is to correct the situation.

So, a country which does a very bad job protecting human rights, may not have a low score because the act of giving the country a correct score is made impossible by its government. On the other hand, a low score for human rights (or certain human rights) may not be as bad as it seems, because at least it was possible to determine a score.

Another example: suppose a country shows a large increase in the number of rapes. At first sight, this is a bad thing, and would mean giving the country a lower score on certain human rights (such as violence against women, gender discrimination etc.). But perhaps the increase in the number of rapes is simply the result of a larger number of rapes being reported to the police. And better reporting of rape may be the result of a more deeply and widely ingrained human rights culture, or, in other words, it may be the reflection of a growing consciousness of women’s rights and gender equality.

So, a deteriorating score may actually hide progress.

The same can be said of corruption or police brutality. A deteriorating score may simply be a matter of perception, a perception created by more freedom of the press.

I don’t know how to solve these problems, but I think it’s worth mentioning them. They are probably the reason why there is so little good measurement in the field of human rights, and so much anecdotal reporting.

housing, justice, law, limiting free speech, privacy

Limiting Free Speech (21): Publishing Lists of Pedophiles on the Internet

internet list of whereabouts and addresses of child molesters

(source, personal information blackened by me)

I know from experience that it’s not useless for a human rights defender to make this clear from the start: sexual activity with children is despicable and must be punished severely, but this punishment doesn’t imply the abandonment of all human rights by the convicted pedophiles. When you’ll read the rest of this post, you may rush to the conclusion that we pay more attention to the rights of criminals than to the rights of victims. Nothing is further from the truth.

My point is that the practice of publishing lists of pedophiles on special websites on the internet (also called “outing pedophiles”) may be well-intentioned but it is inappropriate and even dangerous, especially when such lists include addresses of pedophiles who have been released from prison and have done their time.

It’s not because you’re a convicted pedophile that you lose all your human rights, including your right to privacy. Of course, the fact that you are or have been a pedophile isn’t a private fact. You have been convicted in an open and fair trial, and hence your crime is in the public domain. There’s no reason to keep judicial verdicts secret. On the contrary. The facts of your crime may also be very relevant to people not immediately concerned with the crime or the trial, such as the children of your new wife. And perhaps your new neighbors should be informed, especially when there’s a risk that you’ll repeat your crime. (But then why have you been released?)

So the information regarding your crime isn’t private, and can be used in a targeted way to inform people who may need to know. But there is a difference between a fact being part of the public domain (and circulated in a targeted way), and the use of this fact in a sensationalist manner, by people who will never have anything to do with you, and directed at people who likewise will never be involved. (A very large majority of child molesters attacks relatives or the children of friends).

Your crime isn’t private, but what can be gained by publishing your whereabouts and informing people who will never be likely victims? It seems to me that websites that publish the whereabouts of pedophiles are part of a retrograde style of “justice”, in which it is important to name and shame, to publicly expose a felon, and ridicule him or her. And when the public starts to react, and start to call the alleged pedophiles to see “if they still rape children”, then there is an unjustified invasion of privacy. And maybe other rights will suffer as well, such as the right to physical security and bodily integrity of the pedophiles. In certain cases the “naming and shaming” amounts to incitement to violence. There have been cases of attacks on pedophiles following the publication of their names and whereabouts.

I suspect that the people who create these sites, rather than “protect the public”, intend to whip up a scandal, and hopefully get some attention. They also imply that the justice system is inadequate, and they want to cultivate public mistrust in institutions and politics. Institutions are never perfect, but fostering negativity isn’t the way to make them better.

Another problem: the lists that are published often contain people who are merely accused of pedophilia (and not yet convicted), or people who are, to some, suspicious. Imagine what it must be like for an innocent person to appear on such a list. A court deals much better with the presumption of innocence than an angry mob.

The rationale behind rules prohibiting the outing of pedophiles, and explicitly limiting the right to free speech of the “outers”, is the protection of the rights of the pedophiles (such as the right to privacy, inviolability of the home, and physical security). Some may find it difficult to accept that pedophiles have rights, and that some people pay attention to these rights, rather than to the rights of the victims. But it is fair to say that a defining part of our shared humanity is precisely the limits we impose on the ways in which people can be punished.

And, of course, we do pay attention to the rights of victims. That is why pedophiles are put into prison. And we have to try to balance the pedophiles’ rights against those of their victims and possible victims even after they leave prison. That is why I stated above that it should be possible to inform neighbors and new family members. This kind of information is a limitation of certain rights of pedophiles – such as the right to form a family, the right to choose a residence etc. – for the sake of the rights of possible victims. We rightly believe that such limitations are less harmful than a new attack on children.

zoning law against child offenders

(source, photo by Dith Pran/The New York Times)

So-called zoning laws are also justified in certain cases. Pedophiles are then prohibited from entering a certain zone, or loitering and living in a certain zone (e.g. close to schools or playgrounds). These laws limit the right to choose a residence and the right to freedom of movement of the pedophiles in question, but if there is a high probability that these laws will prevent future attacks on children, then they are justified because the rights of the children that would be violated by an attack are more important than the cited rights of the pedophiles.

Of course, zoning laws aren’t always the answer, and may create more problems than they solve. They can make it harder for law enforcement officers to keep track of the pedophiles, and make it harder for the pedophiles to receive treatment for their condition. Hence, zoning laws may be counter-productive.

horror, human rights and crime, war

Crime and Human Rights (2): Violence, Types and Numbers

entertained by it

(copyright Ric Stultz, source)

Violence is the aggressive exertion of force so as to injure or abuse, physically or mentally. Injury and abuse are inflicted on fellow human beings in order to achieve a certain goal, e.g. profit, pleasure, political gain, revenge, recognition, respect, honor, destruction, exploitation, fear, oppression etc.

In some cases, there doesn’t seem to be a goal and violence is committed just for the sake of violence. This, however, is exceptional. Most violence is instrumental, and the goals which have to be achieved can be:

It’s apparent from this that the concept of “violence” can be broken down into different types of violence, but it can be done according to different kinds of distinctions. The distinction above is only one possibility. Below I will use the distinction between interpersonal violence and collective violence. Others have used other classifications, for example:

  • Violence classified by its causes: genetic causes, psychiatric disorders, economic causes (e.g. poverty), ideological causes, political causes, cultural or religious causes (for example female genital mutilation), social causes (e.g. dehumanization)…
  • Violence classified according to its effects: e.g. direct or indirect effects. Pornography for example is often called an indirect form of violence because it is violence which is said to cause other violence. Some kinds of violence have more indirect effects than others. Violence in general places a massive burden on national economies, costing countries billions of US dollars each year in health care, law enforcement and lost productivity. But war obviously causes a heavier burden than assault.
  • Violence classified according to the type of victims: racial violence, gender violence, ethnic violence, religious violence, domestic violence…

Some numbers

Worldwide, an estimated 1,6 million people lost their lives to violence in 2000. About half were suicides, one-third were homicides, and one-fifth were casualties of armed conflict (World Report on Violence and Health, World Health Organization, 2002).

Violence is among the leading causes of death for people aged 15–44 years worldwide, accounting for 14% of deaths among males and 7% of deaths among females.

Interpersonal violence

Fatal interpersonal violence, i.e. homicide

Here’s a world map with the number of murders or homicides per 100.000 inhabitants during the last years:

map world murder rate


And here are the same data for some selected countries:

homicide rate by country


And this is how the homicide rate in the U.S. evolved during the last decades:

homicide rate us


All in all, this is still almost 20.000 murders a year in the U.S. (more data on crime in the US. here). On the level of the World, an estimated 520.000 people were killed in 2000 as a result of interpersonal violence worldwide – a rate of 8,8 per 100.000 population. (source)

Non-fatal interpersonal violence

For every person who dies as a result of violence, many more are injured and suffer other harms (psychological, financial etc.). One example is rape. The following graph shows the number of attempted and completed cases of rape in the U.S.:

rape us


non fatal violence us


Self-inflicted violence; suicide

Globally, an estimated 815.000 people killed themselves in 2000. (source)

Collective violence and war

This includes armed conflicts within or between states, and state-perpetrated violence such as genocide, torture, repression, some kinds of famine and poverty, and other abuses of human rights.

Since the beginning of recorded history, around 3600 BC, over 14.500 major wars have killed close to four billion people.

During the 20th century, one of the most violent periods in human history, an estimated 191 million people lost their lives directly or indirectly as a result of armed conflict, and well over half of them were civilians. In 2000, about 310 000 people died as a direct result of conflict-related injuries – the majority of them in the poorer parts of the world. (source)

war deaths

Terrorist violence also falls under this header:

deaths due to terrorism

More on violence.

equality, ethics of human rights, justice, philosophy, trade

The Ethics of Human Rights (8): Mutually Advantageous Exploitation

bread sale


ex•ploi•ta•tion: utilization of another person or group for selfish purposes. American Heritage Dictionary

To exploit someone means to take unfair advantage of that person. Usually, we define “unfair advantage” as somehow resulting in harm or coercion for the person who is taken advantage of. If A takes unfair advantage of B, we assume that B is harmed in some way, is forced to deliver the advantage, or is otherwise involuntary involved.

For example: A rapes B. The advantage gained by A is sex. This advantage is gained unfairly by A because the rape harms and coerces B. Otherwise it would not be rape. Rape is therefore charaterized as sexual exploitation.

However, it is possible to speak about exploitation and the taking of unfair advantage by A if A takes an action that benefits B. We can call this mutually advantageous exploitation, or mutually beneficial exploitation. A benefits, obviously, but B as well. B gains an advantage and is better off had the action not taken place, yet still is exploited.

Here’s an example to make this counter-intuitive statement more acceptable. Take the case where A and B have unequal bargaining power. A sells bread in an isolated village where the people don’t have the means to produce their own bread. A overcharges for the bread because B and friends don’t have the strength to find another seller or to wait. The sale of bread makes B etc. better off, because without bread they would be worse off. Yet A takes unfair advantage of the buyers’ condition. A exploits but doesn’t cause harm. However, A does coerce B. The transaction isn’t completely voluntary. B doesn’t have a choice.

It seems that the old maxim, volenti non fit iniuria – no injustice can be done to the willing, is still valid. Injustice implies coercion. But the other maxim, that injustice implies harm, can sometimes be wrong, unless the simple act of coercion by itself means harm.

A similar and politically more salient example would be if A were a transnational company offering to buy cacao from local cacao producers (B).

Thanks to Clara Brandi of the European University Institute in Florence for pointing this out to me. More posts in this series are here.

freedom, limiting free speech

Limiting Free Speech (5): Pornography

women garbage


First of all, whatever we think of pornography, we should admit that it is a kind of speech, just as cross-burning, flag-burning, hate speech etc., and hence it is at least possible that it falls under the protection of the right to free speech. The U.S. Supreme Court has at different occasions decided that pornography should be protected under the First Amendment:

There are two types of pornography that receive no First Amendment protection — obscenity and child pornography. The First Amendment generally protects pornography that does not fall into one of these two categories. (source)

Other jurisdictions have also protected pornography.

Violence IN pornography

The quote above already indicates that an overall protection of pornography widely defined is not acceptable and that certain limits on the freedom of speech of pornographers are possible. According to the rules set forth in the introductory post of this series a right can be limited if it violates other rights or the rights or others. This is obviously the case of any child pornography or pornography in which violence or force is used against the participants, such as certain kinds of extreme sadomasochistic porn.

Another reason why there can be force and violence in pornography is human trafficking. Many girls are forced to participate in porn movies because they are victims of human trafficking. They are modern slaves in the sex industry.

human trafficking sex industry


Violence BECAUSE OF pornography

There is still some discussion in the scientific community as to whether pornography, and especially hardcore and violent pornography, promotes sexual violence in society. This is not easy to establish because the interactions of mass media and human behavior are complex. If pornography promotes sexual violence, we have another justification for limiting its distribution.

The weight of evidence is accumulating that intensive exposure to soft-core pornography desensitises men’s attitude to rape, increases sexual callousness and shifts their preferences towards hard-core pornography. Similarly, the evidence is now strong that exposure to violent pornography increases men’s acceptance of rape myths and of violence against women. It also increases men’s tendencies to be aggressive towards women and is correlated with the reported incidence of rape. Many sex offenders claim they used pornography to stimulate themselves before committing their crimes. (source)

In Australia, the federal government has tended to relax its controls on pornography since 1970. Different states have, however, implemented these changes to varying extents and, as a result, have unwittingly conducted an interesting experiment on the effect of pornography. Queensland, the most conservative state, has maintained the strictest controls on pornography and has a comparatively low rate of rape reports. By contrast, South Australia, the most liberal state in relation to pornography, has seen escalating reports of rape since the early 1970s:

rape rates and porn


Businesses spend billions of dollars on advertising, in the belief that media can and do have an effect on human behaviour. We support and encourage the arts, in the belief that novels, films and such have the capacity to uplift and enhance human society; in other words, that the arts have a capacity to influence people. Yet we are expected to believe that the increasing tide of pornography does not affect attitudes to women. (source)

The image of women in pornography

One reason why porn can cause violence in society is the image of women that is created through pornography. In some porn, rape is explicitly legitimized, but in all kinds of porn women are depicted as constantly and immediately available for sex. We can assume that long term consumption of porn from an early age onwards, creates the opinion that it is not necessary for men to establish whether a female partner consents to having sex since porn tells them that such consent is automatic. In real life, of course, this is not the case and hence there will be rape.

Porn also objectifies women. It turns women into objects of sexual desire and sexual use. Here are a few examples of this objectification of women. This picture shows a woman as a piece of meat for consumption, in the manner in which a pig would be depicted in a butchery:

women piece of meat


This one puts “live girls” on the same level as lunch or “stuffed sandwiches”, and one can assume that it’s possible to consume both at the same time:

women sex consumption


Objectification of women is of course not limited to pornography. Advertising also regularly uses women as means or tools or objects. Here’s an example:

womens legs table


The objectification of women means dehumanization. And there are more things you can do to a non-human than to a human. Objectification therefore can promote violence against women. To the extent that is does, we have another justification for restrictions on pornography. See also this post on dehumanization.

Moreover, pornography shapes and reinforces a male-dominant view of sexuality and of gender relations. It’s not far-fetched to claim that pornography contributes to gender discrimination, machismo, sexism, paternalism etc.

All this is the case not only for violent porn but for porn in general and could therefore justify restrictions on non-violent porn.

Different kinds of restrictions

There are different kinds of pornography, different circumstances in which it is distributed, and different people respond differently to pornography. So restrictions on pornography may differ according to circumstances. People with a history of sexual violence are more obvious targets of a ban on the use of hardcore and violent porn than other people. Young people, for the reasons given above, may have more restrictions, including non-violent porn. Pornography in a library is not the same thing as pornography on the streets…

Soft porn or “artistic porn” should be treated differently. An all-out ban on all kinds of pornography would be just as unwise as an all-out protection. Many classic works of art would have to be forbidden if no pornography were allowed. We have to admit that porn can be art and art can be pornographic. Take this example:

ancient porn


Porn industry

Here are some data on the porn industry and porn consumption in the US:

porn industry

data, discrimination and hate, hate, law

Hate (1): Hate Crime

al gore

Al Gore


We must send a clear and strong message to all who would commit crimes of hate: it is wrong, it is illegal, and we will catch you and punish you to the full force of our laws. Al Gore

A hate crime (or a bias crime) is a crime committed against a person that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s prejudice against

  • a race
  • a religion
  • a sexual orientation
  • an ethnicity or national origin.

Hate crimes are traditional offenses such as murder, harassment, rape, violent assault, vandalism, arson etc. but they are motivated by the offenders’ bias.

Islamophobia, homophobia, xenophobia, antisemitism etc. are ideologies, biases or prejudices which foster hate crime.

Hate crime statistics

This FBI statistic shows the distribution over the different types of hate crime in the U.S. in 2004:

hate crime us


In 2004, these percentages cover 7.649 incidents involving 9.035 offenses directed at 9.528 victims. Of course, this covers the US only. About 30% of the offenses involved the crime of intimidation, another 30% assaults, and 35% crimes against property (vandalism etc.). Most of the anti-race crimes were anti-black. Most of the anti-religious crimes were anti-Jewish. Most of the crimes based on sexual prejudice where anti-male homosexual. The anti-ethnicity crimes were mostly anti-Hispanic. Most offenders were white. In 2006 the data were very similar.

hate crime us

After 9-11 there was a sudden increase in the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes, but this was a very temporary phenomenon:

islamophobia us


These are the numbers in the U.K.:

Nationally, in 2006-07, police reported 5,619 hate crimes in which someone was injured, 4,350 hate crimes without injury, and 28,485 cases of racially or religiously motivated harassment. There were also 3,565 cases of criminal damage related to hate crimes. The typical hate offender is a young white male (most homophobic offenders are aged 16-20, and most race hate offenders under 30). (source)

Data on the rest of the world are difficult to come by.

Official crime statistics always understate the true extent of criminal behavior. And in the case of hate crime it is reasonable to state that many hate crimes are not counted separately but disappear in the global crime statistics, because the policeman or woman who records the crime may not be aware of the motivation or may not care.

Hate crime legislation

There is some controversy over the necessity of specific hate crime laws, as most of the actions concerned, if not all, are already illegal under normal law.

In the United States most states have laws that impose extra punishment for crimes that are motivated by hate, in excess of the usual punishment for the same crimes when motivated by other reasons. (source)

Whereas the intention of the criminal has for centuries been a factor in establishing the degree of the punishment, hate crime laws are often seen as punishment of ideas, as an example of the “thought police”. Proponents argue that hate crimes hurt the victims more than the same crimes committed for other reasons because they stigmatize people and erode their self-esteem. Furthermore, hate crimes not only hurt the immediate victims but also other people in the same group because they create a climate of fear. One can even claim that they harm the very fabric of a free and diverse society.

Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights outlaws hate crime:

Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.

Hate speech

god hates fags


There is also some controversy over whether incitement to hatred should also be called a hate crime. Contrary to the offenses described above, speech as such is not a crime, even speech expressing or inciting hatred. Speech is protected by the right to free speech. However, this right, like many human rights, is not absolute and can be limited when it endangers other human rights (like the right to life and bodily integrity). It’s a thin line between hateful words and hateful actions. Impressionable people can be led to violent crimes by hate speech.

Examples of speech, in the wide sense of the word, such as hanging a noose in a tree in the front yard of the house of an African-American family, or spraying graffiti on someone’s car or house, is obviously more of a problem than posting a picture of a Koran in the toilet on a blog or a website. The first examples are clearly intimidation and can force people to sell their houses and move somewhere else. This has human rights implications (freedom of residence and property rights), which the latter examples don’t have (it’s difficult to argue that a photo of the Koran in a toilet, although undoubtedly an expression of hatred, harms anyone’s freedom of religion).

Some also call Islamic terrorism a hate crime. Hate and prejudices are certainly motivations behind many terrorist attacks. Examples from history are lynching, cross burning (intimidation), the medieval witch hunt, the many genocides, the Roman persecution of Christians…

More on hate speech. More on free speech.

culture, discrimination and hate, horror, religion

Religion and Human Rights (9): Honor Killings

Hina Jilani

Hina Jilani

The right to life of women in Pakistan is conditional on their obeying social norms and traditions. Hina Jilani, lawyer and human rights activist

An honor killing is a murder, carried out by a family to punish a female family member who has supposedly brought dishonor on the family. The acts which are the cause of dishonor can be

  • refusing an arranged marriage
  • being the victim of a sexual assault or rape
  • seeking a divorce, even from an abusive husband
  • committing adultery or fornication
  • pre-marital sex
  • flirting
  • etc.

Men can also be targeted by honor killings, but more rarely (for example in the case of homosexuality).


  • The practice is mostly associated with Muslim cultures (sometimes in minority Muslim groups in the West), although there is no support for the act in Islam. And it does occur in other cultures as well. In India, more than 5.000 brides are killed annually because their marriage dowries are considered insufficient. (However, one can argue that honor is not the main motivation in such cases). It also occured in some Latin cultures (“crime of passion” is often still a “mitigating circumstance”). In Muslim countries, the practice is seen by some as a justified enforcement of religious rules, and therefore not strictly a matter of honor. This is corroborated by the fact that sometimes the killings are perpetrated against women by individuals who are not close relatives, but who claim enforcement of religious rules as their motive. In Iraq, for example, honor killings are conducted by armed insurgent groups on politically active women and those who did not follow a strict dress code, and women who are perceived as human rights defenders.
  • There is a strong correlation between honor killings and illiteracy rates.
  • Men often use honor killings to assert their dominant patriarchal status. Women in the family may support the practice in order to preserve the honor of other female family members and to preserve their chances of getting married in the community. It’s a kind of purge or purification.
  • Some claim that the practice goes back to ancient motivations based on anxieties about reproductive power. Women, who were considered by the tribe to be a factory for making men, were forced through “honor” killings to obey the man’s family planning and not to reproduce outside of the tribe or the extended family.
  • In a society where marriages are arranged by fathers and money is exchanged, a woman’s desire to choose her own husband is a financial problem, one which can be “translated” in terms of honor.


Apart from the obvious consequences (death or lifelong disability), the practice of honor killings also forces women to stay in abusive marriages or to avoid reporting rape. If the women are killed, they are buried in unmarked graves and the community denies that they ever existed. And if they don’t die, the chances of receiving justice are minimal as many governments fail to prosecute the crime. And even when there is a trial, it’s the woman’s behavior that becomes the focus, not the defendant’s. As a result, the women sink deeper into shame and often don’t take the trouble of reporting the crime.


Because the murders frequently go unreported and the perpetrators unpunished, it is difficult to get precise numbers on the phenomenon. Estimates range between hundreds and thousands of women each year. In Pakistan, it is estimated that every day at least three women are victims of the practice.

More numbers here.

What can be done?

Some say that the backwardness of the tribes where most killings take place makes it very difficult to do anything. However, education can work. The fact that the Koran does not prescribe the practice should be explained and taught. Honor killings are just one instance of gender discrimination and education should focus on women’s rights and the equality of women. Where the practice is linked to arranged marriages and dowries, one should first tackle these problems.

The judiciary and the police should be forced to intervene. Penal codes should be modernized, and the economic dependence of women should be dealt with.

Related phenomena

Related phenomena are acid attacks (instead of killing women, acid is poured on them) and honor suicides. People can be forced by their community or by their feeling of guilt to kill themselves. Relatives thereby avoid penalties for murder.

honor killing

(source, Khalid Tanveer/ AP Photo)

Pakistani women hold protest rally to condemn an honor killing.

honor killing


A screen shot from a cellphone video posted on an Internet site allegedly shows Iraqi Doaa Khalil Aswad, a 17-year old girl who was stoned and kicked to death in 2007 after she offended her minority Yezidi community – an old Iraqi sect that is neither Muslim nor Christian – by eloping with a Muslim man, thereby violating the taboo on inter-faith marriages. Her execution lasted two hours. Her killers were members of her extended family, mainly cousins and their friends. Several local people interviewed subsequently expressed support for the stoning, and only few said it was wrong.

More on gender discrimination.

cultural rights, discrimination and hate, horror

Cultural Rights (11): Genocide

BOSNIA srebrenica genocide

(photo showing the excavation of mass graves in Srebrenica)

What is genocide?

Genocide is the deliberate, systematic and violent destruction of a group (an ethnic, racial, religious, national or political group). This destruction can take many forms:

  • the outright murder of (the majority of) the members of the group
  • inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about destruction
  • measures intended to prevent births
  • systematic rape as a means of terror and a means to “dilute” the identity of the group
  • forcibly transferring children of the group to another group
  • destroying the (cultural) identity of the group (forceful assimilation; imposition of a language, religion etc.)

Systematic” is important here. Short-term outburst or pogrom type actions will probably not amount to genocide.

The “intent to destroy” is also crucial when labeling actions or campaigns as genocidal. The destruction, however, doesn’t have to be physical (i.e. large-scale murder). As is obvious from the list above, cultural destruction or destruction of the groups’ separate identity is also genocide.

Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide states that genocide is

“any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group…”

The “in part” bit has led to some confusion. When is the part of the group that is being destroyed big enough to warrant the label of genocide? There is still some discussion about absolute numbers of victims, percentages of the total population of the group, degree of killing in the territory controlled by the killers etc.

Of all the generally recognized genocides that have taken place throughout human history, the most infamous ones occured in the 20th century (the Holocaust, Rwanda, Armenia, Cambodia, Stalin’s forced famines, Mao’s Great Leap Forward etc.).

Stages of genocide

Before a genocide is actually carried out, the perpetrators usually take a number of “preparatory” steps:

  • dehumanization of a group (vermin, insects or diseases…)
  • promotion of narratives of “us and them
  • hate propaganda, polarization
  • criminalization of a group (group has to be eliminated “in order that we may live”; them or us)
  • identification of victims (“yellow star”)
  • concentration of victims (ghettos)
  • mobilization of large numbers of perpetrators
  • state support and logistical organization (arms, transport, training of militias etc.)

Causes of genocide

The causes of genocide are often hard to pin down. They include:

  • long-lasting tensions
  • imbalances in political power
  • imbalances in wealth or economic power
  • scarcity
  • religious incompatibilities
  • indoctrination and propaganda
  • civil war
  • ideals of cultural purity and autonomy
  • ethnological constructs (e.g. the creation of “hutuness” in Rwanda) which get a life of their own
  • colonial heritage
  • outside indifference
  • etc.

Intervention to stop genocide

Here’s a post on humanitarian intervention, and here’s another. Most people around the world agree that the international community should intervene to stop a genocide:

genocide right to intervene

genocide right to intervene

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.