PROTECTING INDIVIDUAL HUMAN RIGHTS:

AN ALTERNATIVE TO GROUP EFFORTS TO COMBAT ETHNIC ABUSES

By Chris Michalik
 
 

INTRODUCTION

 

With the end of the Cold War, ethnic nationalism, and the tension and conflict that often ensues, has arguably developed into the most pressing problem facing the international community. From Chiapas in the Americas to Sudan in Africa to Indonesia in Asia to Kosovo in Europe, ethnic conflict has caused untold hardship in virtually every corner of the globe (F1). Hundreds of icultural state will continue to be the reality (F46). Movements for self-determination almost always will have the threatened bi-product of either ethnic cleansing or minority problems within the new state (F47). For example, if the Albanians had obtained independence in Kosovo, the 10% of the population constituted by ethnic Serbs likely either would have been cleansed, voluntarily or forcefully, or would have developed into a new minority problem. The problem remains. The size of the state and who constitutes the minority are the only things that have changed. The former Soviet Union provides a prime example this trend. First, the Soviet Union devolved into its constituent republics. Several of the smallest of those republics then had deal with secession movements themselves. In tiny Georgia, both the Abkahzians and the South Ossetians sought independence. In equally small Moldova, the Trans-Dnister region declared its autonomy. Russia, itself, has had to contend with the breakaway movement of Chechnya. Meanwhile ethnic Russians now find themselves in the awkward position of being a "double minority" in the former republics (F48). After centuries of being the dominant group, they are now at the mercy of formerly oppressed groups. In each case, instability has followed. As the events in the former Soviet Union show, the sub-division of states into continually smaller states makes both domestic and international politics more incoherent and deadly.

Discounting the suffering caused by fights for self-determination, individuals will suffer from the sub-division of states. For most individuals, the boundaries of individual opportunity run parallel to boundaries of their state (F49). If Quebec secedes from Canada, most Quebecois will find that their "sphere of opportunity" has been greatly limited (F50). Instead of enjoying the benefits of a state that spanned a continent and included 30 million people, they will be limited solely to their actual province (F51). The split of the Czechs and the Slovaks has actually produced such results. Few would claim that the individual Slovak has better opportunities now than he would if Czechoslovakia had remained one state. Certainly the individual Yugoslav, whether she be Serb, Croat, Muslim, or Kosovar, has far less personal opportunities than she would have had if disintegration had been avoided.


y.virginia.edu/setear/courses/ilbfrnaf/students/natnlism/Footnotes page.html#43">(F43). Second, as the number of state "players" rises, the transaction costs of negotiating and monitoring international agreements and institutions will do the same (F44). This will make it more difficult to achieve agreement on international trade regimes, to regulate military competition, and to achieve virtually any other form of international cooperation (F45). Therefore, the independence of a large number of mini-states runs contrary to the globilization trend that may prove so beneficial to the world as a whole in the future.

With so many nations, many of which are interspersed amongst each other, the ideal of "one nation to one state" will neveE($@\ȳ$d>ːTPFicultural state will continue to be the reality (F46). Movements for self-determination almost always will have the threatened bi-product of either ethnic cleansing or minority problems within the new state (F47). For example, if the Albanians had obtained independence in Kosovo, the 10% of the population constituted by ethnic Serbs likely either would have been cleansed, voluntarily or forcefully, or would have developed into a new minority problem. The problem remains. The size of the state and who constitutes the minority are the only things that have changed. The former Soviet Union provides a prime example this trend. First, the Soviet Union devolved into its constituent republics. Several of the smallest of those republics then had deal with secession movements themselves. In tiny Georgia, both the Abkahzians and the South Ossetians sought independence. In equally small Moldova, the Trans-Dnister region declared its autonomy. Russia, itself, has had to contend with the breakaway movement of Chechnya. Meanwhile ethnic Russians now find themselves in the awkward position of being a "double minority" in the former republics (F48). After centuries of being the dominant group, they are now at the mercy of formerly oppressed groups. In each case, instability has followed. As the events in the former Soviet Union show, the sub-division of states into continually smaller states makes both domestic and international politics more incoherent and deadly.

Discounting the suffering caused by fights for self-determination, individuals will suffer from the sub-division of states. For most individuals, the boundaries of individual opportunity run parallel to boundaries of their state (F49). If Quebec secedes from Canada, most Quebecois will find that their "sphere of opportunity" has been greatly limited (F50). Instead of enjoying the benefits of a state that spanned a continent and included 30 million people, they will be limited solely to their actual province (F51). The split of the Czechs and the Slovaks has actually produced such results. Few would claim that the individual Slovak has better opportunities now than he would if Czechoslovakia had remained one state. Certainly the individual Yugoslav, whether she be Serb, Croat, Muslim, or Kosovar, has far less personal opportunities than she would have had if disintegration had been avoided.


y.virginia.edu/setear/courses/ilbfrnaf/students/natnlism/Footnotes page.html#43">(F43). Second, as the number of state "players" rises, the transaction costs of negotiating and monitoring international agreements and institutions will do the same (F44). This will make it more difficult to achieve agreement on international trade regimes, to regulate military competition, and to achieve virtually any other form of international cooperation (F45). Therefore, the independence of a large number of mini-states runs contrary to the globilization trend that may prove so beneficial to the world as a whole in the future.

With so many nations, many of which are interspersed amongst each other, the ideal of "one nation to one state" will neveE($@\ȳ$d>ːTPFicultural state will continue to be the reality (F46). Movements for self-determination almost always will have the threatened bi-product of either ethnic cleansing or minority problems within the new state (F47). For example, if the Albanians had obtained independence in Kosovo, the 10% of the population constituted by ethnic Serbs likely either would have been cleansed, voluntarily or forcefully, or would have developed into a new minority problem. The problem remains. The size of the state and who constitutes the minority are the only things that have changed. The former Soviet Union provides a prime example this trend. First, the Soviet Union devolved into its constituent republics. Several of the smallest of those republics then had deal with secession movements themselves. In tiny Georgia, both the Abkahzians and the South Ossetians sought independence. In equally small Moldova, the Trans-Dnister region declared its autonomy. Russia, itself, has had to contend with the breakaway movement of Chechnya. Meanwhile ethnic Russians now find themselves in the awkward position of being a "double minority" in the former republics (F48). After centuries of being the dominant group, they are now at the mercy of formerly oppressed groups. In each case, instability has followed. As the events in the former Soviet Union show, the sub-division of states into continually smaller states makes both domestic and international politics more incoherent and deadly.

Discounting the suffering caused by fights for self-determination, individuals will suffer from the sub-division of states. For most individuals, the boundaries of individual opportunity run parallel to boundaries of their state (F49). If Quebec secedes from Canada, most Quebecois will find that their "sphere of opportunity" has been greatly limited (F50). Instead of enjoying the benefits of a state that spanned a continent and included 30 million people, they will be limited solely to their actual province (F51). The split of the Czechs and the Slovaks has actually produced such results. Few would claim that the individual Slovak has better opportunities now than he would if Czechoslovakia had remained one state. Certainly the individual Yugoslav, whether she be Serb, Croat, Muslim, or Kosovar, has far less personal opportunities than she would have had if disintegration had been avoided.


y.virginia.edu/setear/courses/ilbfrnaf/students/natnlism/Footnotes page.html#43">(F43). Second, as the number of state "players" rises, the transaction costs of negotiating and monitoring international agreements and institutions will do the same (F44). This will make it more difficult to achieve agreement on international trade regimes, to regulate military competition, and to achieve virtually any other form of international cooperation (F45). Therefore, the independence of a large number of mini-states runs contrary to the globilization trend that may prove so beneficial to the world as a whole in the future.

With so many nations, many of which are interspersed amongst each other, the ideal of "one nation to one state" will neveE($@\ȳ$d>ːTPFicultural state will continue to be the reality (F46). Movements for self-determination almost always will have the threatened bi-product of either ethnic cleansing or minority problems within the new state (F47). For example, if the Albanians had obtained independence in Kosovo, the 10% of the population constituted by ethnic Serbs likely either would have been cleansed, voluntarily or forcefully, or would have developed into a new minority problem. The problem remains. The size of the state and who constitutes the minority are the only things that have changed. The former Soviet Union provides a prime example this trend. First, the Soviet Union devolved into its constituent republics. Several of the smallest of those republics then had deal with secession movements themselves. In tiny Georgia, both the Abkahzians and the South Ossetians sought independence. In equally small Moldova, the Trans-Dnister region declared its autonomy. Russia, itself, has had to contend with the breakaway movement of Chechnya. Meanwhile ethnic Russians now find themselves in the awkward position of being a "double minority" in the former republics (F48). After centuries of being the dominant group, they are now at the mercy of formerly oppressed groups. In each case, instability has followed. As the events in the former Soviet Union show, the sub-division of states into continually smaller states makes both domestic and international politics more incoherent and deadly.

Discounting the suffering caused by fights for self-determination, individuals will suffer from the sub-division of states. For most individuals, the boundaries of individual opportunity run parallel to boundaries of their state (F49). If Quebec secedes from Canada, most Quebecois will find that their "sphere of opportunity" has been greatly limited (F50). Instead of enjoying the benefits of a state that spanned a continent and included 30 million people, they will be limited solely to their actual province (F51). The split of the Czechs and the Slovaks has actually produced such results. Few would claim that the individual Slovak has better opportunities now than he would if Czechoslovakia had remained one state. Certainly the individual Yugoslav, whether she be Serb, Croat, Muslim, or Kosovar, has far less personal opportunities than she would have had if disintegration had been avoided.


y.virginia.edu/setear/courses/ilbfrnaf/students/natnlism/Footnotes page.html#43">(F43). Second, as the number of state "players" rises, the transaction costs of negotiating and monitoring international agreements and institutions will do the same (F44). This will make it more difficult to achieve agreement on international trade regimes, to regulate military competition, and to achieve virtuallybest (F53). Since the end of the Cold War, however, the international community has shown an increasing awareness of the necessity to change from such a static policy. Though still deferring to state sovereignty in most cases, recent interventions in Kosovo, Somalia, and Haiti show the erosion of the state sovereignty fiction. Until the present, however, the international community has failed to use the weakening of state sovereignty to combat human rights abuses that so often lead to ethnic conflict.

As the principle of state sovereignty is the foundation of the current international system, it is not surprising that the international community is reluctant to infringe on this fiction . The United Nations Charter (U.N. Charter) states that it is based on the principle of "sovereign equality of all its members (UN Charter art. 2, para.1). In compliance with said principle, the U.N. Charter prohibits intervention into the internal domestic matters of any state (UN Charter art.2, para.7). Finally, member nations are required to refrain from the threat or use of force against "the territorial integrity or political independence of any state" (UN Charter art.2, para.4). Therefore, international law cannot be a "suicide club" for states (F54). Otherwise, states would refuse to participate and the international system would possibly collapse (F55).

The reality of an increasingly interdependent world forces the piercing of this veil of sovereignty on an increasing frequent basis. Throughout the Cold War, the U.N. Security Council cited Article 2(7) of the U.N. Charter in refusing to intervene in internal matters even when state governments were perpetrating grave human rights abuses on ethnic minorities (F56). During the Gulf War in 1991, the Council still gave lip service to this principle (F57). In Resolution 688, the Council was careful to explicitly state that the mass exodus of Kurds to Iran and Turkey as a result of Iraqi abuse created a threat to international security (F58). A year later with Resolution 794 concerning Somalia, the Council first recognized that an internal humanitarian crisis, alone, constituted a threat to international peace (F59). The 1994 intervention into purely internal Haitian affairs continued the paradigm shift away from non-intervention (F60). Finally, with Resolution 955 establishing the Rwandan War Crimes Tribunal and their explanations of vote, the Council members left no doubt that an internal humanitarian crisis was enough justification for intervention (F61). Article 2(7) is now a v 

THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITYS RESPONSE

 

Though numerous ethnic groups have recently claimed a "right" of secession, the international community has been consistent and united in refusing to recognize such a right (F52). Even in apparently meritorious situations such as East Timor and Tibet, the international response has been minimal posturing at best (F53). Since the end of the Cold War, however, the international community has shown an increasing awareness of the necessity to change from such a static policy. Though still deferring to state sovereignty in most cases, recent interventions in Kosovo, Somalia, and Haiti show the erosion of the state sovereignty fiction. Until the present, however, the international community has failed to use the weakening of state sovereignty to combat human rights abuses that so often lead to ethnic conflict.

As the principle of state sovereignty is the foundation of the current international system, it is not surprising that the international community is reluctant to infringe on this fiction . The United Nations Charter (U.N. Charter) states that it is based on the principle of "sovereign equality of all its members (UN Charter art. 2, para.1). In compliance with said principle, the U.N. Charter prohibits intervention into the internal domestic matters of any state (UN Charter art.2, para.7). Finally, member nations are required to refrain from the threat or use of force against "the territorial integrity or political independence of any state" (UN Charter art.2, para.4). Therefore, international law cannot be a "suicide club" for states (F54). Otherwise, states would refuse to participate and the international system would possibly collapse (F55).

The reality of an increasingly interdependent world forces the piercing of this veil of sovereignty on an increasing frequent basis. Throughout the Cold War, the U.N. Security Council cited Article 2(7) of the U.N. Charter in refusing to intervene in internal matters even when state governments were perpetrating grave human rights abuses on ethnic minorities (F56). During the Gulf War in 1991, the Council still gave lip service to this principle (F57). In Resolution 688, the Council was careful to explicitly state that the mass exodus of Kurds to Iran and Turkey as a result of Iraqi abuse created a threat to international security (F58). A year later with Resolution 794 concerning Somalia, the Council first recognized that an internal humanitarian crisis, alone, constituted a threat to international peace (F59). The 1994 intervention into purely internal Haitian affairs continued the paradigm shift away from non-intervention (F60). Finally, with Resolution 955 establishing the Rwandan War Crimes Tribunal and their explanations of vote, the Council members left no doubt that an internal humanitarian crisis was enough justification for intervention (F61). Article 2(7) is now a virtual dead letter.

With the exceptions of the creation of the Yugoslav and Rwandan tribunals, the Security Council has not shown much inclination to use this developing "freedom" to combat the roots of ethnic conflict. The international community offered no support for the break-away republic of Chechnya. Indeed, most states recognized, at least implicitly, Russia's use of brutal suppression of the Chechnyans (F62). Similarly, the international community has barely mentioned Turkey's crackdown on its Kurdish minority. Finally, little concern has been shown for the Indonesian suppression of East Timor (F63). While it may not be prudent for the international community to support the separatist demands of the minorities in some of these cases, an effort to pressure the state governments to avoid the abuse, especially in Turkey and Indonesia, which fuel the desire for independence may well reduce the tensions that are exploding.


 
HOW THE PROBLEM COULD BE HANDLED

 

Because of the problems discussed earlier, the international community should continue its distaste for secession in all but the most extreme of circumstances. It should not, however, ignore the problem of ethnic nationalism and the abuse of ethnic minorities that stoke the fire. The Council has already recognized the increased limitation of sovereignty in the post-Cold War world. In congruence with this trend, the Council should hold that violations of the human right aspirations of the U.N. Charter constitute a prima facie threat to international peace and intervene accordingly under its Article VII power. Certainly, this intervention cannot be physical intervention for each case of ethnic abuse. Rather, the Council can use any number of options to pressure the abusing state and to seek to facilitate understanding between the ethnic groups involved.

Even with this approach, problems admittedly exist. If the state is powerful enough, the international community's action toward it are limited. This is the nature of the system. While not actually intervening physically or with any kind of denunciation, a mere focusing of international attention on minority treatment is enough to make even the most powerful states wince. China, for instance, has been acutely sensitive during the last two decades to international criticism of its treatment of its ethnic minorities, and most observers agree that said treatment has improved significantly. The more serious problem is the continued preponderance of ethnic nationalism. The events in Yugoslavia, Nagarno-Karabakh, and elsewhere demonstrate that when the nationalistic fire is burning hot enough entire groups of peoples may disregard everything but the satisfaction of ethnic goals. Until nationalism is replaced by some other civic uniting force, the problems of ethnic conflict will remain troublesome. In the mean time, however, the policy proposed above makes use of existing international standards to get at the root of much ethnic conflict while preventing the damaging anarchy of the sub-division of the world into homogenous micro-states.


 
 
 
 

[ Home ]    [ Links ]    [ Maps ]    [ Footnotes ]