The sustentation of human rights primacy on the world stage has been met with significant challenges following the events of September 11/ 2001.
Following the Second World War, the US became an icon for liberty, democracy and the dreamland for those seeking refuge from persecution. With the growth of the US leadership, various administrations in USA began to monitor the applications of those principles across the globe. The US congress held regular audits on human rights violations and produced annual reports on the performance of various countries. By the early 1990s it seemed plausible to expect that human rights might affect foreign policies. In fact an 'ethical foreign policy' was put forward in the UK election campaign in 1997. Other members of the western alliance shared this sentiment.
The 9/11 2001 terrorist attacks in the US truly represents a dramatic landmark in history. The US saw itself as the injured party and as such justified a series of disputable measures to combat 'terrorism'. In doing so it sidelined some of the fundamental principles pertaining to human rights. That led to a most disappointing state of affairs, where the pre-existing momentum for a progressive global movement came to a confusing suspension. The victory of' 'real politik' and general expediency over the application of human rights principles exposed the individual pioneers worldwide. The" embryonic "human rights organisations,which started in some countries,were ,thus, either aborted or at best not allowed to flourish.
At this juncture, it seemed reasonable to conclude that 'human rights' was consideredjust a luxurious commodity, only applicable at times of peace and political stability. In this uncertainty, the pursuance of human rights applications and ideals appeared at one time a dangerous exercise and at best a mountainous struggle.
In this thesis I shall endeavour to disentangle the concept of 'human right' from its ethical and moral correlates. I will examine the ascent and downfall of the principle and consider whether 'human rights' should better lend itself to international relations as opposed to an outdated fixation on morality or ethics, if a more secure placement ,for it, is desired in the future.
Research on collective trauma,(Merridale, 2008;1 Cairns, 1996) 2 or the effects of human rights violations (Pedersen et al., 2000)3 on communities rather than individuals might currently be hampered by the lack of appropriate investigative instruments, (Wessel & Moulds, 1994).4 These need to take into account a number of factors such as type of trauma, culture, resilience and defence mechanisms rather than, simply, measuring the effects on individuals and extrapolating from the results onto communities.
My proposal for this purpose would be, first, considering a theoretical model, whereby, adopting a new concept in which the community is not, merely, viewed as the sum-total of individuals but a system of interplay of factors. These will include: geopolitical, cultural, historical, and inter-individual dynamics. (Vas, 2007;5 Bronfenner,1994;6 Johnson et al., 2008).7
A starting point might be to consider the effects of torture in communities where political oppression is carried out through an organised police state, (Amnesty, 2005;8 Okasha, 2008).9 In this system, the goal is to consolidate a grip on power and create a state of fear in the whole community; the latter will act as a deterrence to any ambitious group from putting themselves forward as an alternate replacement. The effects, however, intentionally or unwittingly are more far-reaching i.e. affecting the entire population as opposed to targeting certain political opponents and thus getting them to accept eternally the status quo; eroding their self-control; bringing an illusion of 'political destiny'; and as such transposing the 'locus of control' i.e. externalising it. The outcome is hopelessness and helplessness. The latter mood states harbour community failure and cultural desintegration.
Following the events of 11 September 2001 in USA, torture prevailed indiscriminately. (Bates, 2004;10 Amnesty, 2005).11 The practice in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere have been well documented. The source this time was an icon for liberty and not the classical police state. Naturally, that created confusion and despondency among human rights activists and organisations. It is, therefore, timely to re-examine the concept and its application and/or violation at this precarious stage.
Following the Second World War, the USA became a symbol for democracy and liberty. Its geopolitical existence on the world stage was increasingly intertwined with espousing human rights ideals. The fateful events of 2001 seemed to have struck hard into the moral fabric of that society. A climate of tolerance was replaced by Islamophobia. The supremacy of human rights principles was severely shaken and a culture of expediency prevailed whereby the emphasis became one of 'extracting confessions'. New definitions were born: Freedom fighters against oppression or occupation 'all came under the rubric of terrorism'. Torture became 'moderate pressure'; suicidal attempts became 'self-injurious behaviour' or SIB for detainees. The outcome was that torture became justified and the rights of detainees were eroded. To deprive detainees from the rights guaranteed by the Geneva Convention, the term 'unlawful combatants' was volunteered. Unfortunately, many developed countries followed suit. The geographical location of Guantanamo was an alarming indication that the detainees might not enjoy the legal framework of the USA, and as such 'ex -communicated' -to borrow a Christian Middle Ages terminology.
The distinction between a police state and a transient suspect such as the USA has not always been possible over the last few years. This is particularly so since the practice of 'rendition' was uncovered. However, in my opinion the rendition practices used more subtle preparatory and practical planning such as:
Media hype, only, displaying extremists, downplaying more moderate voices, conducting, in many instances, trials by media.
Administrations repeatedly reiterating the new definitions listed above.
Dissociating violent events from any historical antecedents.
Exaggerating contemporary risks.
Providing a hasty list of suspects or rather 'convicts' soon after the attack on the World Trade Centre.
Surrounding the detention and its consequences with unjustified secrecy.
The above techniques have one aim that is to de-humanise the opponent (in that case the detainees) and to rob them from conventional entitlements. We are left with questioning the reasons which led to this pronounced drop of ideals!
To answer that question, I revert to Abraham Maslow hierarchy of Human Needs. I suspect that the centrality of human rights in a global sense, which took place, over the last one hundred years in the developed nations must have been linked to successful economies, political stability, achieving maximum security and ironically the relaxation of religious ties. Fulfilling those basic instincts allowed for the evolution of some concepts transcending the individual. To me this evolution was a most satisfying development since it allowed for the development of what was thought of as 'collective conscience'. However, its sudden disappearance must now question the foundation upon which it rested. Since this thesis is not concerned with morality and ethics, the philosophical reasoning behind all that will no further be followed.
What will be addressed is how this concept can be bi-directionally related to political dynamism. Before entering into aetiology or consequences, I wish to, briefly, discuss the 'War on Terror'. What concerns me here is how and not why the latest wars are conducted. We are constantly being bombarded with the terms 'carpet bombing, collateral damage and friendly fire'. Quite apart from the fact that these are obscene terms when you realise the costs in human lives, they are designed to minimise the value of the victims' lives. Sometimes, the victims are allies and not foes! The impact of this on human dignity and rights must be of untold proportion.
The effects of human rights violation
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has achieved wide recognition in the clinical and legal domains. It is associated with other psychiatric syndromes such as: depression, alcohol and substance dependence, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) (Kessler et al., 1995)12 but even more damaging is an enduring personality change which represents a late onset personality disorder in chronic cases of PTSD. The diagnosis of PTSD is not always self-evident across all cultures. In some cultures there is under-reporting of symptoms suggestive of anxiety. This is, often, the case in military and police personnel .It is not uncommon for PTSD to, first present through its secondary complications such as alcohol or substance misuse and/or dependence. A lower threshold for picking up traumatic events and assessing their clinical effects is needed to make the diagnosis in many instances. There are lessons to be learnt from studying grief reaction, (Prigerson et al., 2000).13 The experience of grief is a natural process; its suppression could lead to secondary negative effects which can have more deleterious consequences than the grief itself. In some cultures, the grief rituals are different in both sexes. Men are expected to show 'resilience' and be less demonstrative in their emotions. The contribution of 'positive psychology' in emphasising the importance of resilience is recognised. I do, however, have some reservations about over-rating 'resilience' in cases subjected to trauma. Whilst acknowledging its value in enhancing coping strategies, I am less certain of its role in dealing with the emotional aspect of trauma consequences. Of course it will be argued that behaviour and emotions are linked and as such form the basis for Rational-Emotive-Behavioural Therapy (REBT). My point revolves specifically around trauma involving human rights violations. The negative feelings which follow, includes bitterness and anger about injustice and loss of dignity and feelings of 'being a lesser person', hostility towards society which is perceived by the victim to have tacitly colluded with the aggressors. The argument arises, that rectifying the root causes is paramount for resolution. In this particular case I fear resilience might provide a focus for an unwelcome defence mechanism which hampers progress. The experience of Truth Commission in South Africa is the minimum requirement for a process of resolution to start. Here an acknowledgment of culpability by the aggressor is offered, together with at least a semblance of empathy with the victim. I am not certain as to how much of that is reproducible in a clinical or legal setting. To put it in more simple terms, it is possible that some individuals are able to 'rise above the occasion, in psychiatric parlour sublimation'. But I maintain that those capable of doing so will be very few and definitely do not represent the majority of violated subjects.
We are left, therefore, with the broad base of violated subjects who will form a potential 'time bomb'. If untreated or un-dealt with, some subjects will endure a personality change. The anger or passive aggression that these individuals are carrying make them capable of inflicting untold damage on people who they perceive as negative observers of their sufferings.
The world has grown into a global village and international boundaries are blurred due to a complex system of economy; new era of media exposure and pressure; as well as competition for energy. Due to this complexity, our celebrations, success, failure, despondency and anger are no more limited to the confines of our little units and tend to take international proportions.
Demarcating people into villains and good-doers is a model which suited half-a-century ago 'Hollywood cowboy movies', but it has outlived its purpose, if there was ever one! Humanity is a more complex system and its complexity is more evident than ever today.
Effects on Communities
The infliction of violations through wars, torture, threats or oppression has a huge impact on communities. (Somasundaran, 1989).14 This effect, I suggest exceeds the sum totals of that on individuals, for communities include not only the individual but also inter-individual dynamics, as well as affiliation and the prevailing local ethos and momentum. (Updegraff, 2008).15
Scientific enquiry into that area is limited to some studies following wars such as the Afghan War which measured the trauma impact of aerial bombardment in a Pakistani community, (Choudry, 2007),16 or following a terrorist attack such as the trauma impact following the Madrid attack in 2004. But this is a limited effort which added little to our understanding of the mass or collective effect of human rights violation.
Although some research took place following natural disasters, but their relevance to human rights violation is again limited since coping mechanisms in afflicted communities differ. In order to develop a methodology, I would suggest ,first,conceptualising a theoretical framework so that relevant research instruments may be appropriately adjusted.
Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) is a clinical syndrome that affects individuals and is recognised in ICD10 and DSM-IV-TR through symptom and criterion profiles. They include exposure to trauma; reactions of fear and helplessness; intrusive recollections; avoidance behaviour and hyper-arousal.
The screening instruments are based on this profile. There are different instruments for assessing the impact of trauma and global functioning. In a study following the Madrid attack of 2004, Carmelo Vasquez et al.17 wrote:
The interplay of politicians, journalists and academicians created an atmosphere of collective trauma, but in their study of 503 subjects found no scientific evidence for collective traumatization or an epidemic of PTSD.
However, following the 9/11 attacks of 2001 in USA, Schuster et al.,18 found that 90 per cent of a random sample of Americans interviewed displayed moderate stress. The Spanish researchers found that 'slightly changing the criteria for PTSD makes an enormous difference to the amount of identified traumatisation'.
The situation with regards to studying the effects on communities must rely on instruments capable of identifying collective traumatisation caused by human rights abuse. A starting point might well be to relate to sociological work in community pathology and identify some pathological traits which can be traced to cases of PTSD and its long-term consequences. But in doing this, community history, dynamics and aspirations will be ignored. However, we must acknowledge that research is generally reductionist and thus screening tend to be for 'forme frustes' cases and as such will always have limited scope in making generalizations.
To overcome some of these limitations, scientific enquiries ought to take account of the cultural specificity in the particular community. I would suggest that the following might constitute grounds for future research:
Community apathy, equivalent to individual's anhedonia.
Externalisation of locus of control as the community's loss of faith in controlling its own destiny.
Failure of governance with spread of corruption, opportunism and increased crime rates. This is related to heavy investment in political control, and as such the government hierarchy is busy at extracting loyalties which are often at the expense of delivering justice, equal opportunities and public protection. As a result, the violated community is dissociated from the government and its constitution and as such, individuals seek personal solutions irrespective of agreed conventions which can lead the way towards anarchy.
Examples of resultant social pathology are as follows: 1. The growth of violence as a mean of settling disputes (following the role model provided by the oppressing regime, as such, identifying with the aggressors).
2. The development of religious extremism and xenophobia in search for new affiliations and group acceptance (in individuals with PTSD; detachment and social withdrawal are recognised phenomena). This state of detachment provides a nucleus for recruitment to potential underground violence.
3. Preoccupation with retribution and loss of a focus for humanity. This will be reflected internationally. For example, the afflicted community will be disinclined to join in positive campaigns e.g. apathy towards global warming, combating epidemics etc. This is equivalent to individual's numbness in PTSD.
4. Community paranoia and becoming prey to rumours and tending to blame others.
5. Cultural dissolution as they suffer narrowing of the repertoire of interests and loss of feelings for the aesthetics.
6. Moral disintegration, disillusionment with ethics and values and resorting to expediency.
The above might indicate an unduly harsh judgement of the victims and tends to ignore the individuals and groups with sufficient psychological reserve to absorb the trauma and sublimate into a higher state of integrity, who despite their ordeal will not lose their 'soul' and continue to strive for 'justice for all'.
Violations beyond Communities
As I have indicated, violation is not only perpetrated by traditional police states. The colonial powers that have preceded those newly independent states might well have served as an inspiration for them. In the colonial times, human rights violations were exercised, for instance, in South Africa during the Apartheid and more recently, by the US in their so-called War on Terror. Therefore, identifying the aggressors can, logically, be expected to go beyond national borders. The pursuance of justice is a natural instinct in humans and will remain crucial for resolution of individual/societal conflicts. In this intricate system, individual and societal solutions are insufficient and my ambition here is to raise awareness for an international perspective to this problem, where, both developing and developed nations come to the realisation that their security and general interests lie in maintaining and not violating human rights. In my opinion, the interests of autocracy are served better by adherence to human rights since political oppression generally serves a short-lived goal.
The days when developed nations saw the countries of the south as merely potential markets for their products are now over. Civil wars in Africa will resonate in distant localities. Violation and its repercussions are worldwide problems that require global solutions.
Lessons from Guantanamo
In some meetings,* my remit as a psychiatrist was to predict the psychiatric clinical condition of detainees in Guantanamo, and taking account of some cultural and religious issues which might impact on forming a legal defence should these cases go to courts or military tribunals. I was supplied with some background information, some of which came from a human rights surgery in Whitehaven in the United States. Further information was provided by the office of Clive Stafford-Smith, who used to practice in the US, and later, chaired Reprieve in London, UK. Stafford-Smith was directly involved with a number of Guantanamo detainees as he was approached by their families to legally represent them.
.*I was invited to address a group of American attorneys as well human rights activists in Oxford university in March 2003 which was followed by 2 other similar meetings one by Reprieve Amnesty /international in London and another follow up meeting in Oxford university in 2004- 06.
The first prediction I made was that Self Injurious Behaviour (SIB) was a genuine problem. Suicidal attempts, and under dire circumstances, death by suicide was a distinct possibility. And sadly, that proved to be the case. I based my prediction on the fact that for each one of us there comes a breaking point, irrespective of the protective factors provided by religion. (Wasserman, 2001;19 Smith, 2006).20 At a later point I also learnt through one of the members of the defence team that a detainee was so keen on martyrdom that he actually hastily confessed!
The second lesson to be learnt is that confession under duress is unreliable since a state of false memory can develop under certain conditions. (Brainard, 2005).21
The human degradation which took place in Guantanamo did not, to date, yield generally successful prosecutions. Many detainees were released after some years without undergoing any trials which left a sufficient doubt as to the identity of the actual culprits of the 9/11 terror attacks. These ex-detainees described the deplorable conditions they were kept in, which was given extensive publicity worldwide. They revealed that religious, sexual, and physical abuse was taking place in these detention camps. These practices were once considered unthinkable by US administrations.
The momentum for a legitimate 'War on Terror' was undermined through these covert practices. And thus the political and cultural divide between the 'North and South was further consolidated.
The leadership of the USA in advancing human rights principles and their application has been severely damaged. A state of political antagonism developed against the USA. The feelings of personal security as suggested by the hierarchy of human needs was reduced rather than enhanced through the infliction of personal injury onto others and, hence, guilt and a state of anticipatory anxiety developed in the aggressors.
Needless to say, that the author does not, in anyway, intend to diminish the enormity of criminal behaviour for men resorting to political violence towards innocent civilians. However, the root causes for such heinous crimes must be understood and a remedial plan must be incorporated into the fight against political crimes.
The media stereotypes for certain religious groups must be ridiculed by politicians, and a state of political maturity should be promoted and measured by adherence to those principles.
The release of many Guantanamo detainees is a success to human rights organizations and activists. The pioneering work of Clive Stafford-Smith from Reprieve and Kavy Mousavi from Oxford University must be commended. The media was used when it was thought relevant and the legal arena was resorted to at other times. Hope and maintenance of focus were needed at all times. It is true that there were moments of desperation and no light could be seen at the end of the tunnel. But the campaign began to bear fruit after two years or so. Progress was slow and hesitant. In 2003, it did not even seem possible that we will be getting assurances from the American administration for the closure of Guantanomo Bay prison.
Lessons from Other Sources
Extreme and bizarre ideas, concepts or principles cannot be overcome by violations or torture. These can only be remedied by promoting the alternatives of moderation and tolerance. Media stereotypes and onslaught should be criticized and exposed. Through the current technology that is available, it is now possible to provide alternate, fair and even-handed information through media.
Violent practices will not be overcome through carpet-bombing and haphazard arrests and ex-communication. Criminal suspects should be prosecuted only if a legal case can be raised against them. Violating their rights and de-humanizing them is not going to solve the problem, in fact, it is going to further complicate it, since the torture and oppression that these people are subjected to will validate and consolidate their morbid ideas.
The seeds of political violence are sown in military or political prisons where respect for human dignity or life is missing. No geographical boundaries exist for political violence as it recently emerged where human rights violations did not follow the usual 'North-South Divide'. These issues must be addressed globally and by individual nations. The economic impact of these human rights violations must be highlighted if the goal is to achieve an end to poverty in a planet with depleting resources.
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