The logic of barbarism and human rights

Roman Martynovskyy
Lawyer, Leading Expert
NGO “Regional Centre for Human Rights”

Working Group on the Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories of the of the Legal Reform Commission under the President of Ukraine

Interdepartmental Working Group under the Office of the Prosecutor General on Crimes Committed in the Conditions of Armed Conflict (International Advisory Board of Experts on War Crimes)

Interdepartmental Commission on the Application and Implementation of IHL Rules under the Ministry of Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine

Human rights today are a product of the civilized development of mankind. At the same time, any rights are, after all, just a declaration if their implementation and observance are not protected by special mechanisms that provide adequate protection. They need to be constantly improved or substituted in the spirit of the times.

In conditions of armed conflict, human rights continue to be observed but in conjunction with international humanitarian law, based on the principle of lex specialis. This is explained by the nature of IHL, based on the principle of humanism, which is also characteristic of human rights in general.

In the recent eight years, the world community has witnessed how the Russian Federation ignored almost all the obligations imposed on it by IHL and violated human rights on a massive scale in the territory of occupied Crimea. All attempts to use the existing mechanisms for the protection of human rights not only did not bring a positive result but also convinced the “international bully“ of complete impunity for their massive violations, including war crimes.

Impunity became the reason for the subsequent large-scale armed aggression against Ukraine, which the Russian Federation resorted to from February 24, 2022.

After the Second World War, most countries of the world adopted fundamental acts of peaceful coexistence of various systems. They created appropriate mechanisms for their maintenance and observance, including acts in the field of human rights protection. By the end of the 70s – the beginning of the 90s, the world, or rather, its civilized part, began to perceive human rights as a value. The paradox of the situation lies in the fact that at the same time, the number of conflict situations in the world, which resulted in large-scale violations of human rights, has increased markedly.

The behaviour of the leaders of the countries that are pacesetting in terms of the scale of such violations fit into the logic of barbarism. They execute seizure, suppression, enslavement, plunder, and humiliation. These goals, in essence, are the antipodes of such a value as human rights. The logic of barbarism, which forms the basis of their domestic policy, cannot eventually exist only within its framework and therefore extends to the sphere of foreign policy. This sooner or later leads to wars, destruction, and large-scale human suffering. The names of Milosevic, Hussein, Gaddafi as well as Assad and Putin, who joined them, evoke horror and disgust throughout the civilized world.

At the turn of the first and second decade of the 21st century, it turned out that the existing mechanisms cannot protect against gross violations of human rights generated by regimes based on the logic of barbarism. Judicial decisions proved powerless in the face of behaviour based on such logic.

The problem is that unlike the situation with an ordinary thief, murderer, or rapist, it is impossible to negotiate with a kleptomaniac, a serial killer, and a serial rapist since their behaviour is often based on the motive of barbarism that they realize and internally justify. Any conversations with them lead only to the loss of time and strengthen them in their impunity. Obviously, the main goal in such cases should be the isolation of the “bully”, a harsh collective reaction to such behaviour, and the creation of safe living conditions for others.

Today, the leader of the Russian Federation, who adheres to the principles of barbarism and who has questioned the very existence of the Ukrainian nation and state, gives orders for the massacres of civilians in Ukraine, the destruction of its economy, its historical and cultural values. This behaviour is also reinforced by threats of the use of nuclear weapons.

It is quite obvious that the previously accumulated problems with the effectiveness of the mechanisms used to protect human rights, as well as the unjustified and brutal aggression of the Russian Federation towards Ukraine, should result in a revision of these mechanisms and the current system of world security. The ultimate goal of this revision should be to achieve the greater efficiency of the existing mechanisms and to create new ones that can influence the behaviour of “troublemaking states”, keep the world within a civilized framework, and oppose the logic of barbarism. This thesis is also confirmed by the publicly announced intentions of the Russian Federation to withdraw from the system of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In this regard, the expansion of methods of collective coercion and severe financial sanctions seems preferable, capable of cooling hot heads.

The March vote in the UN General Assembly on the issue of condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine indicates the existence of a universal consensus regarding the role of the Russian Federation in the armed conflict as an aggressor in relation to Ukraine, and a complete rejection of the use of force as a method of resolving disputes.

The existing consensus provides a unique opportunity to put the following issues on the international community’s agenda, which could strengthen the foundations of sustainable peace and human rights protection.

Firstly, the issue of the permanent membership of the Russian Federation in the UN Security Council, the role of the Council itself as a whole, and the principles of its design and functioning should be reconsidered. The right of veto has long become a vestige of the past – the fate of mankind should not depend on the will of one state, especially in conditions when this state itself poses a threat to humanity.

Secondly, more attention needs to be paid to the enforcement of decisions of regional and international judicial bodies by the countries to which they concern. Justice is done not when the decision of the court is announced but when it is executed. All coercive mechanisms to enforce the decisions should be activated as soon as the deadline for voluntary enforcement expires. It is not worth wasting human and material resources on the generation of decisions that cost nothing.

Thirdly, the methods of collective coercion and the application of financial sanctions for human rights violations should be expanded. The funds received from the application of such sanctions could go to a special fund. It could be used both to pay compensation to victims of violations and to finance activities to promote respect for human rights.

In the modern world and in the world of the future, there can be no place for the behaviour based on the logic of barbarism. And it doesn’t matter where it is coming from, a third world state or a state that is still a member of the UN Security Council.

At the same time, a society that is ready to get rid of dictators and tyrants that has embarked (or returned) on the path of civilized development should not be subjected to an unbearable burden for the mistakes of the past. Punishment should not turn into an instrument of humiliation and destruction. Otherwise, a humiliated society may eventually return to the path of dictatorship and war.

Expert article 3205

>Back to Baltic Rim Economies 2/2022

To receive the Baltic Rim Economies review free of charge, you may register to the mailing list.
The review is published 4-6 times a year.