Growing Gaps Mac_Ivan
Youth of the nation for Euro integration

Dear followers of international politics,

At times you may have felt disorientated in the never-ending flows of international news. You may have often been sitting in front of your computer, tablet, iPhone or some other screens, constantly connected to your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest accounts, dazed by the massive waves of world headlines. Media production, according to Robert Kautsky and Andreas Widholm are more and more characterised by speed and immediacy. It’s time and again hard to make sense of this impressive deluge of information. However, it’s still worth a try.

Having watched a further news bulletin on Sunday 01/12, I immediately recalled an excellent book by the Council of Europe’s previous Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg. The book is called “Human Rights in Europe: Growing Gaps” (available to read here) and starts with the sentence: “During my missions throughout Europe I have learned that certain groups of people are particularly vulnerable to exclusion or discrimination […] and various human rights violations”. This severe, acute verdict lit up the remaining of my Sunday evening. It all made sense, this weekend had been a weekend of growing gaps. Among the enjoyers and the deprived of certain rights. Among the haves and the have-nots. Allow me to take some examples.

In Ukraine, huge rallies took place both on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (it has been reported that up to one million demonstrators gathered on the Independence Square in Kiev on Sunday). Protesters called for the ousting of the incumbent government of Viktor Yanukovych after his decision to suspend the conclusion of an agreement with the European Union. Cases of police violence were reported on Saturday, with a special task force, armed with clubs, shields and tear gas dispersing the demonstrators. In light of the events, the EU representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy has issued a statement together with the EU Commissioner for Enlargement Štefan Füle condemned “the excessive use of force last night by the police in Kyiv to disperse peaceful protesters, who over the last days in a strong and unprecedented manner have expressed their support for Ukraine's political association and economic integration with the EU”. The incumbent Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe Niels Muiznieks warned for further violations of the freedom of association: “Freedom of assembly is a fundamental human right and as such must be always upheld by the authorities. Several cases of excessive use of force were reported, both against the demonstrators and the journalists covering the events”. The President Yanukovych is said to be “deeply outraged” by the events, referring to some attacks perpetrated against police officers. The outlook of these protests does not seem bright, as the Ukrainian government seems to be considering to impose a state of emergency in a near future. Political instability and further violence may await, as protestors are still marching on the square, as the Ukrainian government is meeting behind closed doors to discuss the political future of the country as I am writing now.

In Croatia, a referendum was held on Sunday and resulted in banning same-sex marriages. Two-third of the voters backed the proposal to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in the Constitution. The idea of a vote on this issue was introduced by the Catholic group “In the Name of the Family” who had managed to collect more than 750,000 signatures to demand a nation vote on gay marriage. This citizens’ group had put the incumbent government of Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic in a very difficult position, as he later declared the vote was "sad and senseless". As the newest member of the EU, Croatia had thoroughly improved LGBT rights at recent stages, with for example allowing gays and lesbian couples to register as “life partners” in 2003. Croatia is still much divided on this issue, since human rights activists, protestors and celebrities denounced the referendum as discriminatory (such as the Croatian actor Vili Matula).

In the United Kingdom, the government is still showing harsh positions concerning the implementation of several judgments by the European Court of Human Rights of Strasbourg. The Court first stated in 2005 that the current blanket ban preventing all prisoners from voting was incompatible with human rights. The issue is quite sensitive in the UK, both among citizens, judges and political leaders – with the Prime Minister Cameron declaring in 2010 thatit makes me physically ill to even contemplate having to give the vote to anyone in prison”. After eight years of controversy, the government finally published a draft bill last year setting out three political options: according to a ban for prisoners sentenced to four years or more, a ban for prisoners sentenced to more than six months, and a restatement of the existing ban – in effect defying Strasbourg. The bill is still under examination of a draft committee from the UK Parliament, but there is still a wide risk that any attempt to give some prisoners the right to vote would be blocked by MPs. The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, the Norwegian Thorbjorn Jagland participated at the beginning of November in a hearing of the committee underlined defying the Court’s rulings would mean that the UK would be in breach of its international obligations. In order to push for a rapid implementation of the judgments, the Court recently unfroze some 2,281 pending compensation claims brought by individual prisoners, making the UK government pay for all the claims. Nonetheless, a bit before the weekend, on Thursday, the UK Supreme Court Justice Judge Lord Sumption made a speech in which he highly criticized the Court: “The European court ofhuman rightsexceeds its legitimate powers, usurps the role of politicians and "undermines the democratic process". The issue of this controversy is still uncertain.

Dear readers,

You might probably find that the summary of this weekend is biased and partial. It might be, as it only selects some of the headlines from major news agencies. But this is my own collection. My own attempt to find a meaning in the chaos of international politics. Your attempts, however different, dissimilar and diverse, are more than welcome.  

Photo credits:
Edited by: Réka Blazsek