History has seen many genocides and large scale killings. Some of those resulted in more deaths than the Holocaust. So why is the Holocaust special? It’s special because it was the first and last example of the industrial production of corpses. It was, quite literally, a murder machine. The murders were not the actions of… Continue reading What’s So Special About the Holocaust?
In the introductory post of this series, I summarized the dangers of limiting free speech while at the same time granting that such limits are necessary in some cases. One case is Holocaust denial, or Holocaust revisionism as it is referred to by its supporters. What is Holocaust denial? Holocaust deniers only rarely claim that… Continue reading Limiting Free Speech (2): Holocaust Denial
So we were in Berlin last weekend, and we passed the Holocaust Memorial next to the Reichstag. Our 5 year old son was intrigued by the structure and went ahead of us and entered it. He then started to use it as a playground, a maze, to play hide-and-seek. Of course, I wasn’t seeking. He still had a lot of fun, but… Continue reading An Almost Interesting Moral Question
If I count correctly, I have blogged about at least 12 ways in which our psychological or mental biases can lead us to violate other people’s rights: spurious reasoning justifying our actions to ourselves post hoc the role distance plays in our regard for fellow human beings the notion that what comes first is also… Continue reading The Causes of Human Rights Violations (52): Not Enough Bias
Can the living violate the rights of the dead? Assuming that the dead are gone, they can’t be harmed. So the obvious answer would be “no”. And yet, I’m not alone in feeling uncomfortable about cases such as the death of Whitney Houston some time ago: certain very intimate and private details about her and… Continue reading The Ethics of Human Rights (71): The Rights of the Dead
Many of the people who are considered poor in developed countries have a higher living standard than the average middle class citizens of some centuries ago. If we bracket the minority of the extremely poor in developed countries (the homeless for example), poverty today seems to be a relatively comfortable position to be in, once… Continue reading What is Poverty? (4): Does the Concept of Poverty Collapse Under the Weight of Historical Comparisons?
Allow me to engage in some simplistic historical generalizations. Although, like most us, I have abandoned my youthful illusions about the overall progress of humanity, I still think we’ve taken giant steps towards the moral ideal of human equality. See what you think about this: During the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, with the formation… Continue reading The Ethics of Human Rights (55): The Widening Circle of Equality
Should lies and false statements of fact be protected by free speech laws, or can the speech rights of those who intentionally lie be limited in some cases? The US Supreme Court believes the latter is true, somewhat surprisingly given the often quasi-absolutist nature of First Amendment jurisprudence in the US. In Gertz v. Robert… Continue reading Limiting Free Speech (46): Lies and False Statements of Fact
Take just one human right, the right not to suffer poverty: if we want to measure progress for this human right, we get something like the following fact: [N]ever in the world have there been so many paupers as in the present times. But the reason of this is that there have never been so… Continue reading Measuring Human Rights (20): What is More Important, the Number or Percentage of People Suffering Human Rights Violations?
We’re all aware of the horrors of recent history. The 20th century doesn’t get a good press. And yet, most of us still think that humanity is, on average, much better off today than it was some centuries or millennia ago. The holocaust, Rwanda, Hiroshima, AIDS, terrorism etc. don’t seem to have discouraged the idea… Continue reading Measuring Human Rights (17): Human Rights and Progress
It’s shouldn’t be surprising that there are so many human rights violations. Psychologists have shown how easy it is to induce cruelty, prejudice and hate. There’s for example the famous Milgram experiment. People seem to be very obedient to authority figures, even if they are told to be cruel to other people (giving them electric… Continue reading The Causes of Human Rights Violations (21): Hate is Just a Word Away
A few days ago, a senior US journalist by the name of Helen Thomas expressed the view that Jews needed to “get the hell out of Palestine” and return to their countries of historical origin (she named Germany and Poland, as well as “America”) (source). Subsequently, a lot of folks expressed the view that she… Continue reading Limiting Free Speech (40): The Chilling Effect of Political Correctness
How can there be genocides? Genocides, and especially the holocaust, seem to be impossible to understand. They leave even the most astute thinkers perplexed. What is it that makes ordinary people, people who have never before engaged in violence or crime, turn on their neighbors and even friends in the most extreme way, without any apparent rational… Continue reading The Ethics of Human Rights (20): Why Are There Genocides?
I’ve mentioned before that information on human rights depends heavily on opinion surveys. Unfortunately, surveys can be wrong and misleading for so many different reasons that we have to be very careful when designing surveys and when using and interpreting survey data. One reason I haven’t mentioned before is the framing of the questions. Even very small… Continue reading Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics (10): How (Not) to Frame Survey Questions
I often have the impression that people transform the right to free expression into a duty to free expression. And I don’t think that’s a good thing. For example, Muslims in western countries are often told that they should distance themselves from the more violent members of their religion. We require them to speak out… Continue reading Freedom of Expression, or a Duty of Expression?
Universal jurisdiction, according to Wikipedia, is: a principle in international law whereby states claim criminal jurisdiction over persons whose alleged crimes were committed outside the boundaries of the prosecuting state, regardless of nationality, country of residence, or any other relation with the prosecuting country. The state backs its claim on the grounds that the crime… Continue reading Human Rights and International Law (16): In Defense of Universal Jurisdiction
Only days after the attack on Dr. Tiller, the U.S. is shocked by yet another terrorist attack by a right-wing extremist, this time at the Holocaust Museum in Washington. Some have questioned the role of the media in all this. It’s true that parts of the U.S. media, especially on the conservative side, are not characterized by nuanced… Continue reading Terrorism and Human Rights (18): Right-Wing Terrorism in the U.S., and the Shared Responsibility of Conservative Media
Free speech is normally limited by dictatorial governments. They imprison, threaten, deport or kill dissidents. They take away their livelihood, put them in psychiatric hospitals, indoctrinate or “re-educate” them. They use propaganda. They prohibit opposition political parties, demonstrations, rallies and assemblies. They censor the media, kill or imprison journalists and create media-monopolies. Etc. But also… Continue reading Limiting Free Speech (13): Chilling Effects; Indirect, Covert and Non-Governmental Limits on Freedom of Speech
In this series, I examine the possibility of limiting certain kinds of speech, and especially the possibility of legal limits. As stated in the introductory post in this series, such limits are possible but should be exceptional given the importance of the freedom of speech. So-called derogatory speech is a form of speech which expresses… Continue reading Limiting Free Speech (4): Derogatory Speech
I’m a strong defender of human rights in general and of free speech in particular. But I’m also convinced that the system of human rights is not a harmonious whole and that some rights can conflict; some rights may harm other rights, in which case one right has to be limited for the sake of… Continue reading Limiting Free Speech (1): Introduction
I deeply hope that the horrors humanity has suffered during the 20th century will serve us as a painful lesson, and that the creation of the International Criminal Court will help us to prevent those atrocities from being repeated in the future. Statement made by Luis Moreno-Ocampo on the occasion of his election as first… Continue reading Human Rights and International Law (9): Impunity
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… Continue reading Cultural Rights (11): Genocide