Crimean Tatars under Stalin: Ethnic cleansing or an act of genocide?

By Kumush Suyunova

Kara-gun (dark day) – May 18, 1944 was a day when the Crimean Tatars learned the full horror of the sanitized term “deportation” as part of Stalin’s ethnic cleansing program. [1] Under the slogan “Za Rodinu”- “For the Motherland” less than a week ago, they fought in the ranks with their multinational compatriots in The Great Patriotic War.

Rifle units of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs surrounded all Tatar suburbs and drove the frightened residents to several specially designated transit points. The mentally injured Tatars were given less than an hour to collect some belongings. Accused of treason, they coped with injuries, death, inadequate living conditions, poverty, lack of community support, even their names were removed from official documents. The authorities wiped their homeland off the map, abolishing the Crimean Autonomous Republic and making Crimea a province. [2] The offensive on the cultural roots of the Crimean Tatars took place after the dispatch from their homeland.

If we refer to the origins, in his masterpiece Axis Rule in Occupied Europe R.Lemkin – the father of the term “genocide”, stated: “genocide … is intended to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups… The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups…”. [3]

A. Jones argues that in the case of the Crimean Tatars intention of genocide implied in its design of phased and general destruction of the nation, rather than in specific and clear desire of killing, as the mass death of the victims had taken place during the transit and after arrival at the place of exile as a side effect. [4]

In the history of forced resettlements, it was during transportation that the death rates were very high. In the 40s, given the situation of infrastructure and vehicles as a result of a long trip to Central Asia (mainly to the Uzbek SSR), the high death rate could certainly be predicted. It is estimated that from 190 thousand Crimean Tatars 70-90 thousand died on the way or in the first years of exile. [5]

As John Quigley argues that forcing a group out of its home area, as well as its forced assimilation arguably destroys it. As a result of threats or legal prohibitions, a group’s members may refrain from speaking their language, or from practicing their religion or customs, which can lead the group to cease to be identifiable as such. He considers two possible ways of intending to destroy a group: an intent to injure, but short of killing; and an intent to destroy the group’s social identification, like it was planned in the case of Crimean Tatars. [6]

Furthermore, N. Naimark notes that the Genocide Convention did not include crimes against social and political groups, only in order for the USSR to join the Convention. The scientist writes that “according to any objective understanding of international law, Stalin’s violence against the Soviet people could have been included in the Genocide Convention” and that researchers cannot exclude these cases from the study of genocide based on the politically motivated provisions of the Convention. [7]

William A. Schabas argues that genocide as well as ethnic cleansing may have the same goal of removing an undesirable group from a particular place of residence. He admits that ethnic cleansing, called “deportation”, remains a punishable crime against humanity and a war crime. Ethnic cleansing is also a warning sign of the coming genocide. Genocide is the last resort for disillusioned ethnic cleansing. [8]

Only after the death of Stalin in 1956 the Crimean Tatars were released from administrative supervision, but without the right to end the banishment and recovery of forfeit property. In 1967, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR eliminated the treason charge, but this decision was purely hypocritical. When Crimean Tatars tried to return to Crimea, they were sent back, as the ban on their return continued to apply.

Until 1989, no significant measures were taken. The “Declaration on the recognition of illegal and criminal repressive acts against peoples subjected to forced relocation and ensuring their rights” adopted in 1989 became the first official confirmation of victimization of the Crimean Tatars under Stalin. According to Article 2 of the Law of the RSFSR of 26.04.1991 N 1107-1 (ed. from 01.07.1993) “On rehabilitation of repressed peoples” Crimean Tatars were included in the list of repressed people under the Stalinist regime. However, their forced resettlement was mentioned as an act of genocide very vaguely and ambiguously. [9]

It is interesting to note that the question of the fate of the Crimean Tatars, seemingly, received due attention after the events of 2014. The political response by Ukraine to the annexation of Crimea by Russian Federation was the declaration of May 18 as the “Day of remembrance of the victims of the Crimean Tatars genocide”. Following Ukraine, in 2019, the parliaments of Latvia and Lithuania, as well as Canada, recognized the forced resettlement of Crimean Tatars as an act of genocide.

As B. Glyn claims, Stalin used WWII as an opportunity to carry out ethnic cleansing. Already in 1943, Stalin began a series of surprise operations aimed at the destruction of entire national groups, including the Crimean Tatars, who were arbitrarily considered guilty of “mass collaboration” with the Nazis. The accusations of mass national treason were, in all probability, just a pretext for ethnic cleansing of the border areas of the Soviet Union from the non-Slavic, mainly Islamic, population. Stalin actually used the term “Chistit”-“clean” in his orders. [10]

According to Norman Naimark, Stalin may have had some reason for questioning the loyalty of the Crimean Tatars and genuine fears of a military-political nature in connection with the strategic vulnerability of the Crimean Peninsula. However, he believes, that the forced resettlement and persecution of national groups were caused primarily not by real threats of war and infiltration, but by Stalin’s general xenophobia and his pathological fear of losing power. [11]

As a result, the attacks on certain “enemy” nationalities, like in the case of Crimean Tatars took on genocidal characteristics. In 1944, during the war, the Muslim peoples from the northern Caucasus and the Crimea were sent to “spetsposeleniya” in Central Asia. In the process of deportation and resettlement a substantial percentage of those peoples, Crimean Tatars in particular, died. It was not an act of a direct blood purge, however, Naimark claims that at the very least, the attacks against the Crimean Tatars should be considered as attempted cultural genocide. [12]

After the deportation of Crimean Tatars and the re-formation of the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic into a region in 1945, the Soviet government used enormous resources to eradicate any memory of the existence of an entire culture. Topographical names of historical origin were changed, for example, the area of Ak-Metzit (White mosque) became the Black Sea district, Alushta was renamed in honor of the Russian General Kutuzov, as Alexander Pushkin honored his visit to Bakhchisarai, it was renamed in his name, and so on. Most topographical names have become a reflection of Russian history, in contrast to the Crimean Tatar history. The cultural and administrative Russification of the Crimean Tatar homeland was accompanied by government-sponsored settlement of Russians from other regions in Crimea. [13]

Furthermore, textbooks of the Crimean Tatar language published in the 1920s were burned and many aspects of the centuries-old history of the Crimean Tatars on the Peninsula were destroyed, including religious and cultural architectural elements such as cemeteries, mosques, marble fountains, and other buildings with cultural elements. Large mosques in Crimea were re-registered for use as warehouses, museums or for other purposes, including Kuma-Kami, Kebir-Kami, Khan-Kami, and the Uzbek Khan mosque, while smaller ones were destroyed on the spot. [14]

The question remains open: whether an act of genocide took place or not in the case of Crimean Tatars under Stalin. However, the facts are that half of the nation died due to expulsion, their national identity was suppressed, their cultural and traditional values were destroyed, their historical, linguistic and religious heritage was demolished, and their textbooks and literary works were burned. In addition, they were exiled due to unjustifiably strained charges of treason and were not restored to their rights, were not compensated for any moral or material damage.


References

[1]  Brian Glyn Williams, The Crimean Tatars. From Soviet Genocide to Putin’s Conquest (London: Hurst & Company, 2016), 99.
[2] Adam Jones, Genocide: a Comprehensive Introduction (London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2017), 344.
[3] Dominik J. Schaller and Zimmerer Jürgen, The Origins of Genocide: Raphael Lemkin as a Historian of Mass Violence (London: Routledge, 2013), 5.
[4] Adam Jones, Genocide: a Comprehensive Introduction (London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2017), 343.
[5] Brian Glyn Williams, The Crimean Tatars. From Soviet Genocide to Putin’s Conquest (London: Hurst & Company, 2016), 109.
[6] John Quigley, Mark Findlay, and Ralph Henham, The Genocide Convention An International Law Analysis (Abingdon, Oxon: Taylor and Francis, 2016), 101.
[7] Norman M. Naimark, Stalin’s Genocides (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), 4.
[8] William Schabas, Genocide in International Law: the Crime of Crimes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 234.
[9] N. V. Mikhailova, L. M. Savina, Crimean Tatars: Deportation and Rehabilitation, Bulletin of the Moscow University of the Ministry of internal Affairs of Russia, 2015, 32-37. Original title: Н.В. Михайлова, Л.М. Савина, Крымские Татары: Депортация и Реабилитация, Вестник Московского Университета МВД России.
[10] Brian Glyn Williams, The Crimean Tatars. From Soviet Genocide to Putin’s Conquest (London: Hurst & Company, 2016), 98.
[11] Norman M. Naimark, Stalin’s Genocides (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), 84.
[12] Ibid, 135.
[13] Ibid, 111.
[14] Ibid, 112.

Picture Credits: National Bank of Ukraine, Flickr.

The Istanbul Convention does not save lives in Turkey anymore

By Kardelen Besime Tepe

What are the first three words one could say about Turkey? The first three words that pop up in my mind are “home”, “disgrace”, and “death.” This is not a pessimistic perspective though, even if it seems so. Facing the facts is one of the most effective ways to deal with all the problematic social issues in Turkey, especially for women, so that we can be aware of the challenges and injustice to rise against them. 

How are women rights protected in Turkey?

The modern Turkish Republic was founded in 1923 from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. Its unique historical background has caused complexities even after the series of adaptations, reforms and regulations that were adopted by the new Republican authorities, ranging from secularism to gender equality. 

Even though the success of these adaptations is still questioned, Turkey has been trying to improve its regional policy and to receive structural funds by embracing the influence of Europeanisation after the Helsinki Summit of 1999. These efforts are directed at achieving European Union (EU) standards and have challenged traditional Turkish governing institutions. Thus, the country’s gender equality policies after 2000 could be seen as motivated mostly by Turkey’s preparations for EU accession. 

The necessary legal mechanisms for the protection of women against violence already exist. In 2012, Turkey was the first country to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention

In the same year, the Turkish government also passed Law Number 6248 to Protect the Family and Prevent Violence Against Women and introduced gender equality policies. Still, violence against women can be observed in every aspect of Turkish society and, unfortunately, there are nearly no authentic actions taken by the government to truly protect women’s rights. 

The Withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention

Even though the ratification of international treaties rests with the TBMM (Grand National Assembly of Turkey), on March 20, 2021, just twelve days after the International Women’s Day, Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention with an official presidential announcement. This withdrawal was spearheaded by conservative forces blaming the Convention for harming traditional values of family structure, advocating for the LGBTQ+ community and promoting homosexuality, given the pact’s non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s cabinet is trying to comfort people with an official declaration by the Foreign Ministry, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who declared that “[t]he elements of the convention and various practices created sensitivity in the public opinion and caused criticism…. Women’s rights in the national legislation of the Republic of Turkey is safeguarded by the most advanced forms.”

The latter also argued that the withdrawal from the Convention will not cause corruption on domestic regulations focusing on women’s rights and that Turkey did not need an international treaty to protect women’s rights. However, because of this withdrawal, women in Turkey are no longer under the protection of a Pan-European legal framework. 

Turkey’s decision regarding the Istanbul Convention faced brutal but reasonable international backlash. The High Representative of the European Union, Josep Borrell warned and urged the Turkish government to reconsider its decision to withdraw from the treaty by declaring: “This decision risks compromising the protection and fundamental rights of women and girls in Turkey. It also sends a dangerous message across the world. We therefore cannot but urge Turkey to reverse its decision. We hope that Turkey will soon join again the European Union in defending the rights of women and girls, a fundamental element of human rights, peace, security, and equality in the 21st century.

A unsurprising move

Turkey’s insistence on sticking to old-fashioned mindsets and understanding of gender roles, rather than implementing key changes, fuels toxic masculinity and nurtures violence against women. There is a shortage of reliable political and judicial administration to enforce for the protection of women, combined with systematic government propaganda that puts even more pressure on women in this patriarchal society.

Gender roles for women commonly include motherhood and faithfulness. As in other cultures, women are associated with motherhood characteristics. But Turkish culture requires them to devote themselves and fulfill their duties for their families and children, thus openly equating womanhood with motherhood.  

In 2014, Erdoğan also said in a speech that women and men could not be treated equally “because it goes against the laws of nature.” He simply disregarded and ignored women’s rights despite the legal tools that exist and of the laws that were passed by his own government. He and his cabinet members have increased their statements and imputations about women, ranging from abortion to having a career, over the years.

If a woman wants to work, according to Erdoğan, it means she is “a woman who rejects motherhood, who refrains from being around the house” and however successful her working life is, it is “deficient and incomplete”. When women are married and use the birth control pill, they are committing “treason.”

The political shaming, oppression, and constant statements about women, unfortunately, take away the joy out of their lives and possibly encourages the idea that women are worthless compared to men no matter what they do. In this context, Turkish women endeavor for surviving in an environment shaped and ruled by politicians who prioritize males and their needs and where women are not seen as equal partners in life. 

Femicides in Turkey: an endless problem?

The construction of such a discriminatory discourse and the difficulties it creates for women, lead to the devaluation of women in Turkey in terms of defending and protecting their rights, especially within legal institutions. In Turkey, women have been killed inhumanly, most of the time after extended torture. 

Losing the precious legal tool that constitutes the Istanbul Convention will have critical repercussions on their lives. Even before and after the ratification of the Convention, barbarous femicides happened in Turkey. Domestic violence is a grave problem in Turkey with reports revealing that “90% of Turkish women [are] experiencing violence at the hands of their husbands and boyfriends.”

A monstrous example most common in the East of Turkey was the case of Güldünya Tören. She was raped by a relative and then got pregnant. Later, she was killed by a family decision, in 2004 because her pregnancy was compromising the family’s honor.

The killing of women and girls happens when a woman allegedly steps outside her socially designated role, particularly, but not only, with regard to her sexuality and to her interaction with men outside her family. The notion of “honor” forms part of a whole system based on a code of behavior imposed on women and girls. 

In this system, a man’s honor is perceived to be his status as a member of the community (şeref) or as defined by the chastity of his female family members (namus). A threat to the namus encourages the man to act in defense of their “honor.” When namus has been lost by unchaste conduct, it can only be restored by killing its offender.  

Because of this behavior code; getting a divorce – or even asking for ome – is another reason for femicide. As a Kurdish woman born and raised in Turkey, I have witnessed this violence myself, as Gamze Gezeroğlu, my own cousin, was stabbed 12 times and killed by her husband just because she wanted to get divorced, in 2011.

Even after divorce, women are under threat. This was the case of Emine Bulut, whose ex-husband killed her in front of her 10-year-old daughter at a cafe. A video posted on social media showed the mother screaming “I do not want to die” and holding her neck as her 10-year-old daughter begged her not to die.

Women think twice before starting a relationship, starting a job, or even going out because they witness inhumane murders by strangers, stalkers, bosses, and boyfriends. A murder by a stranger: Özgecan Aslan, who was beaten, stabbed, and burned to death by a bus driver just because she resisted rape, in 2015. Her death shocked the public and in a way proved that violence against women does not necessarily need a bond. Activists demanded the Turkish government to pass an “Özgecan Aslan law”, which would prohibit judges from reducing a man’s sentence for having been “provoked” into the murder of a woman.  Unfortunately, this request has not been approved yet. 

Turkey has been plagued by countless gruesome similar stories where women have been victims of men’s violence. From the murder of Pinar Gültekin, to that of Münevver Karabulut and Şule Çet, femicides have sparked protests initiated by organizations such as the We Will Stop Femicide platform and support on social media for the victims’ families, both in Turkey and internationally.

Since Turkey does not keep official statistics on femicide and does not release any regular data about the murders of women, most statistics come from human rights NGOs that jointly try to collect data. According to Bianet’s data, from 2014 to 2020, at least 1.983 women were killed in Turkey.

Is Turkey giving up on women’s rights?

The İstanbul Convention was critically important because it requires the force of a nation to achieve real gender equality, and it sets the standards for the member countries. It aims for a zero-tolerance approach against violence against women and domestic violence. 

With this Treaty, the statement of the plaintiff is essential and, if there is a proven violence threat, authorities must ensure that violence will be prevented before it escalates. The prevention of violence against women has the strength to save lives and to improve the condition of life.

Finally, the Convention launched Grevio, an objective expert committee, whose sole mission is to monitor the legal necessities and adaptations of its governing members. The European Court of Human Rights, as the overarching legal guider, then supervises the implementation of the Convention in the member states.20 
Consequently, withdrawing from the Convention is like losing one of the few legal shields that protect women in Turkey. Still the decision confronts resistance from the public. Women gather for demonstrations to reverse this decision. They truly cannot stand losing one more of them. May they never walk alone.


Picture text translation: “We cannot stand losing one more of us”

Picture Credits: Melike Yavuz (@melikeyphotography) – 25/11/2020

The right to privacy in the fight against terrorism

By María Belén Silva Campos

The events of  September 11, 2001 led, aside from the emergence of a new international political-legal order, to the rise of a new phenomenon: global terrorism. Since then, the fight against this phenomenon has increasingly required global efforts to cope with the challenges and significant implications that it has for security, the rule of law, the fundamental values of States, as well as human rights (HHRR). 

The international community has enhanced its cooperation by promoting actions and  legislation in order to effectively respond to terrorist attacks, end their spread, and protect the core values of States, as well as individual rights. Nevertheless, terrorism is not only directly impacting the respect for HHRR, but it is also placing States in a difficult position as to what extent these rights can be guaranteed within its fight. 

Continue reading “The right to privacy in the fight against terrorism”

#StandWithBelarus: Looking back at six months of protests

By Leyre Castro and Hannah Bieber

This article is part of a project designed to raise awareness about what has been happening in Belarus since August 2020, at the occasion of the Day of Solidarity with Belarus launched by Sviatlana Tikhanovskaya. In order to understand the past and current events better, The Euroculturer Magazine will organize a live interview with a belarusian Euroculture alumni on 07/02/2021. Scroll down to the end of the article for more information!

The elections that sparked the rebellion

On August 9, 2020, Alexander Lukashenko, often referred to as the last dictator of Europe and who has been ruling Belarus for 26 years, claimed he had  been re-elected with 80% of the votes after the presidential elections. His main challenger, Sviatlana Tikhanovskaya, had allegedly collected only 10% of the votes, despite her strong popular support. This announcement sparked unprecedented protests right after polls had closed. 

Continue reading “#StandWithBelarus: Looking back at six months of protests”

“Piekło Kobiet”: What is happening in Poland?

By Leyre Castro

Last Thursday October 22nd, 2020 was a dark day for Polish women. Poland’s Constitutional Court ruled abortion due to fetal defects as unconstitutional. Until then, it was legal to have an abortion in three cases: in case of rape or incest, if the mother’s health and life is threatened  or in case of fetal defects. This last provision, which accounts for 98% of the terminations carried out in the country, has now been ruled unconstitutional. 

Poland was already one of the strictest countries in terms of abortion laws in Europe, but the ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) has been trying for a long time to make the abortion law even stricter. Back in October 2016, demonstrators all across the country took the streets to protest on the PiS party’s attempt to enact this law. The Parliament rejected the abortion ban on October 6th. After the controversial judicial reforms in the country and the nomination of court judges by PiS, it comes as no surprise that the ban could be passed this time.

Continue reading ““Piekło Kobiet”: What is happening in Poland?”

Insights into the Stasi: a surveilled life in former Eastern Germany

By Hannah Rittmeyer

“Happy slaves are the bitterest enemies of freedom.” – Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

In February 2020, I attended a seminar of the Konrad-Adenauer-foundation, where I am a scholar and where I was honoured to spend a day of interesting lectures and readings with Dr. Karsten Dümmel, a contemporary witness of the former Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR). This experience made me think about how little this important part of German history is discussed in schools and by people in Germany, but probably even less in other parts of Europe and the world. With the current corona crisis, one can observe the long-lasting effects of the DDR regime, particularly with regard to surveillance and the considerably higher fear of many Germans, compared with their European neighbours, of measures like a corona tracking app, curfews and compulsory vaccination. This article wishes to provide some insights and a deeper understanding of the DDR, especially regarding surveillance, mainly pursued by the Ministry State of Security (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit)commonly known as the Stasi. Continue reading “Insights into the Stasi: a surveilled life in former Eastern Germany”

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: The EU’s failure on violence against women and abortion

By Agnese Olmati

Last January (2019) I had the opportunity to get in contact with the European Women’s Lobby in Brussels. There, I discussed the current situation of women’s right in the European Union, focusing on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
The EWL, which is the biggest European network of women’s associations, aims at influencing the general public and the EU decision-makers in support of women’s human rights. It is continuously working to ensure every woman’s dignity and the respect of SRHR in the Union.
Here are some reflections following my contact with them.

Looking back at the events and debates that occurred across Europe in 2018, we are likely to notice that, on some issues, the European puzzle is rapidly falling apart. For several decades, the different puzzle pieces have been struggling to get closer through a long and demanding process of integration, but recently many of them have started to outdistance and even to crumble. Brexit was just the most evident expression of breach and disagreement, yet the EU appears quite fragmented also in other domains, including women’s rights – and especially SRHR.

Gender-based violence, surrogacy, pornography, abortion – the facets of SRHR are numerous and intricate and thus require a deep analysis. This article will concentrate on violence against women and right to abortion in Europe, as these topics have been in the limelight during the past year and have caused great disagreement among the member states, contributing to the breakdown of the puzzle.

First of all, it is important to recall the strong commitment of the EU to women’s rights. The Treaty on the European Union (TEU) upholds the principle of gender equality and non-discrimination (Article 2), whereas the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) confirms the political commitment of member states to fight against all forms of domestic violence (Declaration 19 on Article 8). The Charter of Fundamental Rights warrants people’s right to dignity (Title I) and equality (Title III) and includes specific provisions on people’s right to physical and mental integrity, outlawing any form of discrimination on the grounds of sex.
These (founding) documents present concepts and positions in a dreamlike manner – but do the reality of the EU and the actions of its decision-makers correspond to them? Continue reading “Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: The EU’s failure on violence against women and abortion”

Get out of this jail!

By Guilherme Becker

Berlin, August, 2006. After two weeks traveling from London – where I used to live at that time -, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, I had arrived in one of the most fascinating cities of the world – at least in my imaginary, which could easily be confirmed later. Summer breeze was blowing through the cafes and bars of Prenzlauer Berg. Kastanienallee was the perfect picture of how Berliners could enjoy their lives on a Saturday afternoon, with groups of friends and families hanging out and experiencing all types of foods and drinks, listening to different kinds of music and appreciating the sunny weather. All way down to Alexanderplatz distinct generations were sitting together in front of yellow, blue, green and red buildings talking about life and keeping problems completely away. Alone, I observed that and could barely believe that only a little more than 15 years earlier that part of the city was not that colourful and had nothing similar to that.

On the other side, Mitte was also full of people on the pavements observing passersby. Unter den Linden was like an anthill made by tourists that after walking the whole day could finally have some rest in the “Biergarten(s)” around. The city was beautiful, alive and tender following a World Cup that Germany had hosted less than a month ago and only a few days after the Swedish trio Peter, Bjorn and Jon had launched the classic “Young Folks”. You could feel the tenderness in the air. You could feel the spirit of happiness flowing freely in such a vibrant and great atmosphere. It was simply wonderful.

I knew, though, that at least in one of the seven days that was going to stay there I needed to take some time to cross the city and leave all that happiness and good vibrations behind. It would not be easy or pleasant, but I needed to do it. The goal was tough: Sachsenhausen.

Continue reading “Get out of this jail!”

Espera, la ayuda viene!

By Maeva Chargros

What would it look like, if the Charter 77 was still active, with members from all across the world and from all generations? One of the answers to this rather odd question took place for the 30th consecutive year in the city of Caen, in Normandy (France), on January 25-27, 2019. In French, it is called “Concours de Plaidoiries”; a competition of defence speeches and pleas for fundamental freedoms. Four of these fundamental freedoms were named by President Roosevelt on January 6, 1941: “the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear”[1]. And for this 2019 edition, the competition covered all four of them, defended by high school students aged from 15 to 18 years old, law students, and lawyers. Why, then, would this competition be in the continuity of the famous Charter 77?

It is essential not to forget, when it comes to history, for otherwise, we might not repeat history, but we might fail at taking a step further and risk taking a step back. The initial point is an improved version of our world two hours ago, but also ten centuries ago. Improved? For the sceptics among the readers of this article, please allow me to mention that ten centuries ago, the United Nations did not exist, nor did the Geneva Convention, the Istanbul Convention, and most of the texts quoted during the event I am writing about today were not even drafts, not even thoughts. Improvement does not mean perfection. And this is precisely what the Charter 77 was about: reminding a sovereign state of its own duties, namely, respecting human rights, international law, and the Helsinki Declaration.
This is precisely what these 37 people did during three days in the “Cité de l’Histoire de la Paix”, in this Memorial dedicated to peace and human rights: reminding sovereign states of their duties. They were coming from all corners of France and beyond.

Among the ten lawyers present, only four were from France. Two were from Belgium, one from Québec (Canada), one from Switzerland, one from Mali, and one from Benin. It is this one, from Benin, whose defence speech is the source of the title I chose for this article. These were among the last words Maître Koukpolou said in his plea. “Hold on, help is coming!” (“Espera, la ayuda viene!”, in Spanish.) Even if he did not win any award, his speech was among the most touching for me. His word symbolised the message of this year’s edition: there is still hope, as long as there are still humans who care about and defend others. He was the only one, of all three competitions, to focus on the political and humanitarian crisis currently killing so many people, including children, in Venezuela. The title of his plea: “Give me food and I’ll do whatever you want”. Continue reading “Espera, la ayuda viene!”

Ethnic & Caste Segregation: Deepening Social Divisions in India & Europe

By Nikhil Verma

On June 2014, a tattered body with a swollen face was dumped in a shopping cart in North Paris. After having found the lying body on the road, Ion Vardu Sandu, 49, a Roma mechanic, said that “he was barely breathing, and his eyes were closed.” In the following sentence, he added “but he was also a notorious thief. Teens like him steal and give Romani people like us a bad name.” The body belonged to a 17-year-old Roma known as “Darius” and who went into a coma.
Two months earlier, more than 7000 kilometres away, in the village of Kharda, India, Nitin Aage, a 17-year-old boy was found hanging on a tree. Nitin was a ‘Dalit’, and his only mistake was to speak to a girl from an upper-caste community. All 13 men who were accused of Nitin’s murder were acquitted in 2017.
But what killed Darius, Nitin and million others like them? Is it the dehumanisation, the stigma or the fear of loss of dominance? While the magnitude of the violence varies, the undercurrent remains the same. A similar social hierarchy can be observed in other parts of the world. The condition of Buraku in Japan, African-Americans in the US, Osu in Nigeria – groups that also suffer prejudice in their respective countries – also mirror the terrible condition of ‘Dalits’ in India, and ‘Roma’ in Europe. Racial and caste discrimination manifest themselves in ways that are demeaning to the core of human existence.

Caste & Race

In an essence, caste and race are contemporaries. Segregation, discrimination and violence along with a social status determined by birth occur in these societies. The Indian discriminative order is based on the notion of ‘Sanctioned Impurity’ often reiterated through menial jobs such as manual scavenging and leather tanning by Elitist Brahminical upper-caste forces; the African-American varies and is based on the notion of an inferior subhuman race and often reiterated through violence – termed as untamed ‘savages’ by European settlers who encountered native population.
However, in terms of similarity, both ‘Dalits’ and ‘Roma People’ stand at the lowest level of the socio-economic hierarchy in respective continents of Asia and Europe. Both groups are intentionally excluded from consumer markets, employment and housing. Both ‘Caste’ and ‘Race’ impose enormous barriers in civil and political rights.
Babasaheb Ambedkar and Martin Luther King Jr. were fighting against the oppression of their own kind. But while King was able to humanise white people, Ambedkar couldn’t emulate the same in the Indian ethos due to Gandhi’s intervention on a multitude of legislative and social fronts – most famously his persistence to keep Dalits in the Hindu fold by denying them a separate electorate, the communal award and subsequently blackmailing Ambedkar to sign the Poona Pact through his hunger strike[1]. While political activism has been able to consolidate ‘African-Americans’ in the US, unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the Indian social fabric.
This is evident from the fact that Dalits sit separately in government schools in 37.8% of the villages. In 27.6% villages, Dalits were prevented from entering police stations, In 25.7% of the villages, they are prevented from entering ration shops, and in 33% of the villages, public health workers refuse to visit Dalit homes.
In the case of Roma, there is pervasive illiteracy or semi-literacy (e.g., half of Roma adults in Greece, 35% in Portugal, and 25% in France report being illiterate) and extremely low-rates of completion of secondary schooling (from 77% to 99% of surveyed Roma across 11 European countries do not have an upper secondary school diploma). Continue reading “Ethnic & Caste Segregation: Deepening Social Divisions in India & Europe”