New Internationalist

The Right To Freedom From State Violence

March 1992

new internationalist
issue 229 - March 1992

[image, unknown]

All too often it is the state, which should be the guarantor of human rights,
which itself inflicts violence upon its citizens. But the last decade has
seen many states adopt a new respect for human rights.



Not so long ago, Chile was the most inf mous offender in the realm of state violence upon its citizens. But a newly-elected government is changing all that. As well as establishing the truth about human-fights violations over the 16 years of military rule, it plans reforms to guarantee the right to a fair trial, and to eliminate the death penalty. Many political prisoners have been pardoned.

In Hungary the death penalty was abolished on 24 October 1990 as an unconstitutional violation of human rights. All political prisoners have been released and people can now opt for civilian instead of military service. Conscientious objection is now recognized.

Czechoslovakia abolished the death penalty in May 1990. Critics of the regime have been released. And, in the June general election, former prisoner of conscience Vaciav Havel was elected president. Since then the legal system and the constitution have been completely reviewed to meet human-rights standards. A civilian alternative to military service has also been



Hundreds of government opponents have been imprisoned in Sudan, including many trade unionists who were tortured in unofficial detention camps called 'ghost houses'. Flogging and amputation are official punishments for crimes like robbery. People convicted of demonstrating against the, Government are often flogged, as are those guilty of alcohol and sex-related offences. In 1990 30 army officers were executed after unfair trials, while Government troops committed dozens of summary executions.

Burma (Myanmar)'s record on state violence has been appalling ever sinc 3,000 democracy campaigners were killed by government forces in 1988. There have been many reports since of summary executions, beatings and torture of political prisoners, Muslims and suspected rebels. Because access to the country is so limited, information on what is happening has to be gained from refugees.

Although the United States of America is not in the same league as countries like Sudan and Burma when it comes to human-rights violations, its level of state violence is unacceptably high. After years when the death penalty was not used, capItal punishment has again become routine. The US has executed 90 juveniles since the 1970s which, according to Amnesty International, is more than any other country except Iraq and Iran. Most were aged 15 to 17 when they committed their crimes and came from seriously deprived homes.

Sources: Amnesty International Reports, 1988-91; Human Rights Watch Report, 1990; The Guardian, 9.10.91; consultations with experts in the field.

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