«…LORD DARLINGTON: What cynics you fellows are!
CECIL GRAHAM: What is a cynic? [Sitting on the back of the sofa.]
LORD DARLINGTON: A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
CECIL GRAHAM: And a sentimentalist, my dear Darlington, is a man who sees an absurd value in everything, and doesn’t know the market price of any single thing.»…
Oscar Wilde, 1892, Lady Windermere’s Fan
How bold and ahead of its time are these statements made by Oscar Wilde!
Today if one is a cynic, based on the characteristics described above, will criticize relentlessly and mercilessly modern democracy and human rights alike. Disregarding the values portrayed in those two concepts. On the other hand, a sentimentalist would romanticise the ideas of democracy and human rights and in consequence will lose the holistic picture of the modern wold of states scene.
What is Democracy? What are Human Rights? What is their relation? Has any state mastered both? There are no simple answers. Nothing is straight forward for these questions.
All we can understand so far, from history, depiction of modern democracies and the impact they have on human rights is that those two somehow are evolving together. It seems that the western form of democratic state is able to protect human rights of its legal citizens even though occasional warfare or conflict makes the strongest democracies violate another state’s citizen’s human rights.
In the United Nations (UN) there are big talks about the rule of law. According to the UN office of High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR):
“Democracy is one of the universal core values and principles of the United Nations. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the principle of holding periodic and genuine elections by universal suffrage are essential elements of democracy. These values are embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and further developed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which enshrines a host of political rights and civil liberties underpinning meaningful democracies” (United Nations Human Rights Office of High Commissioner, 2020).
How far away is the right above statement from the actual everyday reality of the citizen of a democratic state? What happens if asylum or impunity covers the state’s crimes against its people by violating basic human rights? One, violation often disregarded “for the greater good”, is the rights to life, dignity and security of person.
For example we can take the neighbouring “democracy” of the state of Albania. Not very far in the past, an incident that shook the Greek public opinion and not just that but mostly the Greek community as well as our NGO happened on the 28th of October, in 2018. The RENEA, the special forces of Albania shot dead Konstantinos Katsifas. He was a young man at the age of 35 years old ethnic Greek. Konstantinos was born in a northern Epirus’ village called Burat (Vouliarates), located close to the western Greek-Albanian border (Kampouris, 2018). According to many interviews taken relevant to the incident as well as the European Commission’s response to a member of the European Parliament, the conclusion was that there was no reason to shoot dead Konstantinos. He could have been led to court to face charges instead (European Commission, 2019). This example of course has a long history behind of racial issues against the Ethnic Greek minority living in the north-west boarders of Albania, or with its ancient name North Epirus. Still there was no reason for the death of a man who was a citizen of the Albanian state.
Not to say here that it is only the Albanian state which lacks both the capacity of rule of law and being fair with all its citizens, the same thing happens to some extend in all democracies, but once a civilian is shot and there is no trial for the crime, then there are problems with both the security of human rights and democracy in action.
In this article I will not claim to be neither a cynic nor a sentimentalist. However, I do believe there are flaws in the way combination of democracy and the securing of human rights of the citizens. What we should do from here onwards, it to realise the personal duty of each citizen to support their neighbour’s human rights. If each citizen makes sure that his or her rights are not violated and support the protection of rights of another then democracy will become stronger. Especially if the freedom of speech is safeguarded, then human rights violations can be reported in a democracy, without repercussions on the victim. Hence a democratic state that manages such rights violations can pride itself to be a safe democracy for its citizens.
- European Commission, 2019. Answer given by Mr Hahn on behalf of the European Commission, Brussels: European Parliament.
- Kampouris, N., 2018. Who Was Konstantinos Katsifas; the Greek Killed by Albanian Police in Northern Epirus, Athens: Greek Reporter.
- Unisted Nations Human Rights Office of High Commissioner, 2020. Rule of Law – Democracy and Human Rights. [Online]
Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/RuleOfLaw/Pages/Democracy.aspx [Accessed 2 May 2020].
- Paraskevi Christodoulou, 15/05/2020
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