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The Maastricht Diplomat

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If I can, then I will

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine remains one of the hottest topics of 2022, for obvious reasons I would say. In this Sunday summary, I don’t wanna simply report the latest news, but instead, I wanna discuss human rights protection issues in times of war, using the Putin-Ukrainian conflict as a starting point.

First of all, when I talk about human rights protection during a crisis, I am not limiting the discussion to war crimes and crimes against humanity, but I am also referring to the situation of decay to which social progress is subject. While the level of protection afforded to individuals during times of peace is the highest possible, it tends to diminish during times of conflict. The bar simply becomes lower. This is because society deteriorates and even the most obvious rights appear to be a great privilege. The situation gets even worse where at stake there are more controversial topics. Armed conflicts aggravate the vulnerable situation of many minority groups, and increase their likelihood to be exposed to abuse. I will make some examples.

LGBTQ+ people are still not granted reasonable protection in law and in fact. Especially in Eastern countries, including Ukraine, they face concrete challenges and discrimination in everyday life that non-LGBTQ+ residents simply do not experience. Now, having this background in mind, you can imagine how, during wars, the bedrocks that are being built to create a near Utopian inclusive society are destined to oblivion. Indeed, when the first Ukrainian citizens were ready to flee the country, trans women were not allowed to do so because their papers listed them as men.

Even though trans people in Ukraine can legally change their gender, the process is long and complex. As a result, these people were turned away by border agents because they were “legally” obliged to remain in the country and fight the conflict.

This is the result of a populist trend in Eastern Europe in which LGBTQ+ people are being demeaned by the state in the name of preserving “traditional values'' and in order to differentiate as much as possible from the West. Even in President Putin’s invasion announcement speech, he argued that the West sought to “destroy traditional values and force on us their false values that would erode us … because they are contrary to human nature”.

The LGBTQ+ community is not alone in this, unfortunately. The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine has also put a spotlight on alleged racism toward black refugees that were trying to leave the country, and toward the refugees from other countries in war. One example of the latter situation is David Sakvarelidze’s intervention on BBC News, where he explained that he was very emotional as he was seeing “European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed every day”. Sadly, he was not the only one making such spontaneous comments.

A hierarchisation of rights

The idea is that some rights are more important than others and that we should feel grateful for having this ridiculous level of protection – both during conflicts and peace. Not being discriminated against should not be a privilege, but one of the most basic rights. And this should not only be laid down in law, as an abstract principle, but be factually real and enforceable always.

I sometimes doubt what the real nature of human beings is… one day, people are living a normal life at work and with their families, the day after, they rape and kill other people – and they feel allowed to, only because they live in times of war. It all seems like a big purge, as if we always play a role in hiding our true instincts, and we take out the worst of ourselves whenever we have the occasion. We tend to distinguish ourselves from murderers, rapists and thieves, but when society allows us to act this way, we don’t question it and we justify ourselves with “the bigger picture”. So, the things are two: either we all are a herd of sheep waiting for an external factor to dictate our lives, or we are intrinsically evil and never destined to leave peacefully.

What we may take from this

I know that this Sunday summary may seem too pessimistic, and probably it is. Probably my conclusions are too drastic and no clear cut can be actually made about human nature. However, these events play a fundamental challenge in the understanding of our ethics and the hierarchical importance that we might give to certain people, rather than others. This is why I wanted to dedicate today’s summary to how armed conflict brings out the worst of people and puts social progress in a stalemate.

Hopefully, this will make some people reflect on how fragile human rights are, and how easily they can be revoked in times of war. Shouldn’t we pretend for a higher bar of protection?


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