Human Rights and Wrongs

“The first major law to curtail the rights of Jewish German citizens was the “Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” of April 7, 1933, according to which Jewish and “politically unreliable” civil servants and employees were to be excluded from state service” (source: wikipedia)

I was talking to a friend with Jewish heritage yesterday who is researching his family history. His success at tracing his German and Polish ancestors using the superb JewishGen site was – as has happened to some many thousands of Jewish genealogists – desperately and sickeningly curtailed by the events of the 1930s and 1940s. People die, or disappear, and lineages that go back centuries are broken by something that happened within our fathers’ lifetimes.

“[in 1935 the] “Nuremberg Laws” excluded German Jews from Reich citizenship and prohibited them from marrying or having sexual relations with persons of “German or German-related blood.” Ancillary ordinances to these laws deprived them of most political rights. Jews were disenfranchised and could not hold public office” (source: wikipedia)

We speculated on how his family members in 1930s Berlin might have responded to the erosion of their rights during this period. Why didn’t they leave when they could? They were affluent and well-connected. They may even have had the opportunity to emigrate. Philip Roth’s novel The Plot Against America imagines an alternative American history under the leadership of the Fascist-sympathising Charles Lindbergh. It is chilling precisely because it shows how gradual the process of erosion might be, and how difficult it must have been for my friend’s ancestors to accept that their country, and their neighbours and friends, were capable of destroying them, and attempting to annihilate their racial and religious identity.

“Persecution of the Jews by the Nazi German occupation government, particularly in the urban areas, began immediately after the invasion. In the first year and a half, the Germans confined themselves to stripping the Jews of their valuables and property for profit, herding them into ghettoes and putting them into forced labor in war-related industries”(source: wikipedia)

We spoke of how two of his relatives appear to have died on successive days in 1939, and how this might have happened. Though this was after Kristallnacht history shows that that was but one spike in a relentless process of denial of freedom of thought, conscience, religion and expression, of inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, of forced and compulsory labour in ghettoes, of forcing people to live in unbearably cramped and oppressive conditions, with no respect for family or privacy. Though some might have tried to resist, all rights to freedom of assembly would have gone. Others of his relatives simply disappear from the records, and we had little doubt this would have been after an arbitrary deprivation of liberty with no right to any court hearing.

“Extermination camps (or death camps) were camps built by Nazi Germany during World War II (1939–45) to systematically kill millions of people by gassing and extreme work under starvation conditions. While there were victims from many groups, Jews were the main targets” (source: wikipedia)

And my friend found a record indicating the death of one relative in 1942. The place of death was not known, but by that time the Nazi regime was pursuing a state program of genocide, of mass deprivation of life.

“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened” (source: John F Kennedy)

The development of the European Convention of Human Rights, with its proclamation of the universality of the rights it described, was born out of an acknowledgment and experience that a state can change its own laws, and depart from acknowledging and protecting human rights. If governments can (and they can) derogate themselves from the obligations of their own laws, then a system of international jurisdiction over the protection of human rights was essential. David Maxwell-Fyfe, a future United Kingdom Attorney General and Home Secretary was a key figure in the drafting of the Convention.

“A country is considered the more civilised the more the wisdom and efficiency of its laws hinder a weak man from becoming too weak and a powerful one too powerful” (source: Primo Levi, If this is a Man)

This morning I read reports that the Home Secretary will announce that a majority Conservative government would withdraw from the European Convention.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under human rights, Uncategorized

One response to “Human Rights and Wrongs

  1. “Why didn’t they leave when they could? They were affluent and well-connected. They may even have had the opportunity to emigrate.”

    See:-
    H. Arendt, The origins of totalitarianism, Meridian Books. The World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York, 1962.
    (freely available in .pdf form online)
    which presents some interesting views on that point, as a state of statelessness was imposed upon the Jewish population prior to the exterminations beginning. Other nation states, politically unwilling for various reasons to re-home large populations of aliens avoided the matter.

    Whilst full of measured and thoughtful contradictions that particular book also illuminates many other facets, especially when recent history is viewed with a privacy/data protection/human rights perspective. Indeed there seems to be a firm basis for a new book drawing upon the views she documented and more recent yet disturbingly similar events over the last two decades. It will merely be necessary to standby to understand which of the factors documented, together actually create totalitarianist ideals to the extent they affect world views and the nation states/world as a whole, and which are ‘merely’ used as part of a political process without dysfunctional effect.

    A few example quotes mainly focused upon the political or social privacy realm rather than specifically and only privacy related:-

    1. How has this situation changed today?
    “The first loss which the rightless suffered was the loss of their homes, and this meant the loss of the entire social texture into which they were born and in which they established for themselves a distinct place in the world. This calamity is far from unprecedented; in the long memory of history, forced migrations of individuals or whole groups of people for political or economic reasons look like everyday occurrences. What is unprecedented is not the loss of a home but the impossibility of finding a new one. Suddenly, there was no place on earth where migrants could go without the severest restrictions, no country where they would be assimilated, no territory where they could found a new community of their own. This, moreover, had next to nothing to do with any material problem of overpopulation; it was a problem not of space but of political organization. Nobody had been aware that mankind, for so long a time considered under the image of a family of nations, had reached the stage where whoever was thrown out of one of these tightly organized closed communities found himself thrown out of the family of nations altogether.”
    [Arendt, 1962 p.293/294]

    2. What mechanism exists to deal with large quantities of stateless persons today?
    “No paradox of contemporary politics is filled with a more poignant irony than the discrepancy between the efforts of well-meaning idealists who stubbornly insist on regarding as “inalienable” those human rights, which are enjoyed only by citizens of the most prosperous and civilized countries, and the situation of the rightless themselves. Their situation has deteriorated just as stubbornly, until the internment camp—prior to the second World War the exception rather than the rule for the stateless—has become the routine solution for the problem of domicile of the “displaced persons.””
    [Arendt, 1962 p.279]

    3. Consider the DPA regime. (Enforced subject access, transborder data flows, conflicts between national laws, the law of the world wide web and so on.) Camp Bastion?
    “OPEN DISREGARD for law and legal institutions and ideological justification of lawlessness has been much more characteristic of continental than of overseas imperialism. This is partly due to the fact that continental imperialists lacked the geographical distance to separate the illegality of their rule on foreign continents from the legality of their home countries’ institutions. Of equal importance is the fact that the pan-movements originated in countries which had never known constitutional government, so that their leaders naturally conceived of government and power in terms of arbitrary decisions from above.”
    [Arendt, 1962 p.243]

    4. Refer to many discussions on the DPA, legal jurisdiction and many other areas.
    “Since they were actually nothing but functionaries of violence they could only think in terms of power politics. They were the first who, as a class and supported by their everyday experience, would claim that power is the essence of every political structure.”
    [Arendt, 1962 p.137]

    5.
    “Two NEW DEVICES for political organization and rule over foreign peoples
    were discovered during the first decades of imperialism. One was race as a principle of the body politic, and the other bureaucracy as a principle of foreign domination.”
    [Arendt, 1962 p.185]

    6. Accountability or Responsibility?
    “….., in other words, was an escape into an irresponsibility where nothing human could any longer exist, and bureaucracy was the result of a responsibility that no man can bear for his fellow-man and no people for another people.”
    [Arendt, 1962 p.207]

    7. The world-wide web, big data, surveillance, personalised services and a lack of purpose in the DP sense resulting in some widely using personal data in this way for a variety of purposes it was never disclosed for. Look to the early business cases regarding pro-active engagement to identify some of that, as when a mechanism of that type is implemented social privacy or secrecy mechanisms are ferociously used to mask and guard that particular information use. “Totalitarianism is never content to rule by external means, namely, through the state and a machinery of violence; thanks to its peculiar ideology and the role assigned to it in this apparatus of coercion, totalitarianism has discovered a means of dominating and terrorizing human beings from within.”
    [Arendt, 1962 p.325]

    8.
    “One of the most glaring differences between the old-fashioned rule by bureaucracy and the up-to-date totalitarian brand is that Russia’s and Austria’s pre-war rulers were content with an idle radiance of power and, satisfied to control its outward destinies, left the whole inner life of the soul intact. Totalitarian bureaucracy, with a more complete understanding of the meaning of absolute power, intruded upon the private individual and his inner life with equal brutality. The result of this radical efficiency has been that the inner spontaneity of people under its rule was killed along with their social and political activities, so that the merely political sterility under the older bureaucracies was followed by total sterility under totalitarian rule.”
    [Arendt, 1962 p.245]

    9. Look to the courts record in upholding DP and privacy rights of individuals. Look to what happens when an question is asked which is opposed to the prevalent culture.
    “One of the surprising aspects of our experience with stateless people who benefit legally from committing a crime has been the fact that it seems to be easier to deprive a completely innocent person of legality than someone who has committed an offense. Anatole France’s famous quip, “If I am accused of stealing the towers of Notre Dame, I can only flee the country,” has assumed a horrible reality. Jurists are so used to thinking of law in terms of punishment, which indeed always deprives us of certain rights, that they may find it even more difficult than the layman to recognize that the deprivation of legality, i.e., of all rights, no longer has a connection with specific crimes.”
    [Arendt, 1962 p295]

    10. Political responsibility – where is that? (both a big and a small p)
    “Nothing perhaps illustrates the general disintegration of political life better than this vague, pervasive hatred of everybody and everything, without a focus for its passionate attention, with nobody to make responsible for the state of affairs—neither the government nor the bourgeoisie nor an outside power. It consequently turned in all directions, haphazardly and unpredictably, incapable of assuming an air of healthy indifference toward anything under the sun.”
    [Arendt, 1962 p.268]

    11. Have the internationalisation of the media and the events of the internet resulted in this or is that an anarchistic viewpoint?
    “While the state played an ever narrower and emptier representative role, political representation tended to become a kind of theatrical performance of varying quality until in Austria the theater itself became the focus of national life, an institution whose public significance was certainly greater than that of Parliament. The theatrical quality of the political world had become so patent that the theater could appear as the realm of reality.”
    [Arendt, 1962]

    12. Are DPO’s or Privacy Officers valued within their organisation or where and at what position does that role exist?
    “Selflessness in the sense that oneself does not matter, the feeling of being expendable, was no longer the expression of individual idealism but a mass phenomenon.”
    [Arendt, 1962 p.315]

    13. Mankind or Man unkind? A method ripe for utilization or a danger to humanity?
    “The first loss which the rightless suffered was the loss of their homes, and this meant the loss of the entire social texture into which they were born and in which they established for themselves a distinct place in the world. This calamity is far from unprecedented; in the long memory of history, forced migrations of individuals or whole groups of people for political or economic reasons look like everyday occurrences. What is unprecedented is not the loss of a home but the impossibility of finding a new one. Suddenly, there was no place on earth where migrants could go without the severest restrictions, no country where they would be assimilated, no territory where they could found a new community of their own. This, moreover, had next to nothing to do with any material problem of overpopulation; it was a problem not of space but of political organization. Nobody had been aware that mankind, for so long a time considered under the image of a family of nations, had reached the stage where whoever was thrown out of one of these tightly organized closed communities found himself thrown out of the family of nations altogether.”
    [Arendt, 1962 p.293/294]

    14.
    “The new feature of this imperialist political philosophy is not the predominant place it gave violence, nor the discovery that power is one of the basic political realities. Violence has always been the ultima ratio in political action and power has always been the visible expression of rule and government. But neither had ever before been the conscious aim of the body politic or the ultimate goal of any definite policy. For power left to itself can achieve nothing but more power, and violence administered for power’s (and not for law’s) sake turns into a destructive principle that will not stop until there is nothing left to violate.”
    [Arendt, 1962 p.137]

    15. Different causes – the same process and outcome – Look around – Politically expedient or unrecognized?
    “On the other hand, the increasing groups of stateless in the non-totalitarian countries led to a form of lawlessness, organized by the police, which practically resulted in a co-ordination of the free world with the legislation of the totalitarian countries.”
    [Arendt, 1962 p.288]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s