International Violations of Human Rights. Challenges and Expectations to the EU and other Democracies

Seminar Paper, 2021

21 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of contents

Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. International Violations of Human Rights
2.1 Transnational Repression

3. Expectations to and Actions Taken by Democracies

4. Case Study South Africa

5. Case Study Belarus
5.1 2004-2016
5.2 2016 – 2021 and Future Prospects

6. Discussion

7. Conclusion

8. Limitations

List of references

List of figures

1. Introduction

In the end of May 2021, an international uproar was caused by the Belarusian authorities. A Ryanair flight scheduled from Greece to Lithuania was diverted to stopover in Minsk on the basis of an alleged bomb threat on board the plane. Once landed, however, the passenger and opposition journalist, Roman Protasevich was arrested by Belarusian authorities and could not resume his flight. A bomb was not found. Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary called the whole affair a case of state-sponsored hijacking and thereby a prime example of a phenomenon called transnational repression (see CNBC 2021). Over the course of recent years such cases of open violation of human rights by autocratic regimes worldwide, even to the degree of doing so abroad, as we see with cases of transnational repressions, have become more frequent. Thus, dealing with these violations as well as their consequences have become one of the biggest challenges that democratic states, especially the European Union, have to face today. But what are democratic governments to do, and what even can they do, when faced with such acts? To find answers to this question the following paper will examine how the European Union has dealt and is still dealing with this challenge. To this purpose this paper first establishes what violations of human rights entail and why the European Union is so important in upkeeping them all over the world. Then, the term transnational regression as a subcategory of international human rights violations will be closer examined. This is followed by an analysis of the expectations democratic governments, and the EU specifically, face when they deal with such repressions, as well as the real possibilities they have to act on and against them. Further, two individual cases of repressions as well as their consequences will be investigated. The first case being that of the apartheid policy and its abolition in South Africa. The second being that of Belarus under Lukashenko’s reign with a separate analysis given to the latest transgressions including the Roman Pratasevich case. Lastly, a discussion on the future course of action against such violations as well as a general outlook on the topic will be given.

2. International Violations of Human Rights

The respect for some basic human rights should be a given. However, for the longest period of time, each country and therefore each government defined the extend of rights of the people who resided there by themselves. Human rights were something arbitrary. This changed only in late 1948 after the horrors and blatant disregard for human beings during the second world war when a document called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was drawn up. The document is meant to serve as a global reminder of, and a guideline for the right to freedom and equality of every human being. Since it is said to be universal every individual as well as every government, be it democratic or autocratic, should adhere to the basic rules noted down in the document, at least, however, the currently 193 member states (see United Nations 2021). These rules include “the right to be free from torture, the right to freedom of expression, the right to education and the right to seek asylum. It includes civil and political rights, such as the rights to life, liberty, and privacy. It also includes economic, social, and cultural rights, such as the rights to social security, health, and adequate housing” (Amnesty International 2021; see fig. 1). But the document is not legally binding and therefore those rights have been and are violated again and again all over the world, even by the member states themselves. In fact such repressions are a common practice to exert control inside and outside the nation’s borders and also to force the hand of foreign governments.

This ongoing disregard for human rights in itself is problematic, however, lately, democracies do not only have to deal with them in countries abroad. Instead more and more autocracies also deploy a method called transnational repression, interfering with the upkeep of human rights outside their borders, mainly in foreign democracies. The next chapter therefore takes a deeper look into this subcategory of human rights violations.


Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1: Universal Declaration of Human Rights with Illustrations for each Article

2.1 Transnational Repression

The term transnational repression is used to describe what could be called an extreme case of human rights violations in which governments transcend national borders to silence dissent in their diaspora and exiled communities (see Freedom House 2021, p. 1). Data collected about cases of transnational repression also show “that what often appear to be isolated incidents – an assassination here, a kidnapping there – in fact represent a pernicious and pervasive threat to human freedom and security […] a common and institutionalized practice used by dozens of regimes to control people outside their borders” (Freedom House 2021, p. 2). Also important is that many cases probably are not even part of that growing number, as they go undetected. Transnational repression tactics encompass a big spectrum ranging from online harassment and the use of spyware, generally less visible forms, to physical attacks, which are the tip of the iceberg (see fig. 2).

Figure 2: Methods of Transnational Repression Source: Freedom House 2021, p. 13

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

The reason for the increase in transnational repression is to be found in three main factors.

The first factor is threat. Due to globalization regimes today face a so-called illiberal paradox. This means on the one hand there is a desire of autocratic regimes to take part in globalization benefits, which entail allowing mass emigration, but on the other hand they want to keep exerting control over their citizens and are threatened by them moving abroad. Political activist who voice beliefs against their authoritarian leaders could nowadays just leave the country and thanks to modern technology still influence political opinions in their homeland with the exception that now, abroad, they cannot simply be arrested for it.

The second factor is that of capacity. It means that the same modern technologies that enable citizens abroad to take part in the political processes at home also enables regimes to use easily accessible spyware and social media platforms to digitally intimidate those emigrants and therefore effortlessly extend their reach across borders.

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Figure 3: Factors determining the use of Transnational Repression

The third factor is cost. Especially the technologies used as stated above are not very expensive, meaning they can be used without much consideration. Additionally another meaning of cost is the repercussion the regimes face when employing these methods (see Freedom House 2021, p. 5ff). The Freedom House Organization also writes that “the normative cost of using transnational repression has gone down, particularly due to the erosion of norms against states [especially democracies focused on human rights] using extraterritorial violence in absence of war” (Freedom House 2021, p. 7; see fig, 3).

Source: Freedom House 2021, p. 5

At the moment both, violations of human rights in a foreign country and cases of transnational repression, are treated similarly when it comes to measures taken against them from democratic governments which are affected directly as well as indirectly. The next chapter therefore discusses what is expected of democracies in case of such transgressions against the UDHR and what those measures can look like.

3. Expectations to and Actions Taken by Democracies

There has been growing concern about the rise of authoritarian leaders who are leading us into a so-called era of "illiberal democracy" by undermining the institutions of liberal democracy and the rule of law through their actions. Scholars therefore warned of the resulting impact on the global human rights agenda (see Matthews 2019, p. 5). But not only scholars call for action, but democratic civil society often also reacts strongly. It becomes a moral imperative to stop such actions as the directly affected people often do not have the chance to do so. The civil society in democracies is expressing their disdain mainly through actions like demonstrating, giving voice to the affected over the internet, especially the comment sections of new or politicians accounts, and petitioning the government and other legal institutes for help (see Tagesschau 2021; @tagesschau 2021; Münstersche Zeitung 2021). And even though these actions might seem small they are not in vain, as it is proven that greater knowledge of issues about human rights violations alone will instigate more effective and creative policymaking, and maybe in doing so spark new possible courses of action against or in prevention of the same (see Freedom House 2021, p. 58).


Excerpt out of 21 pages


International Violations of Human Rights. Challenges and Expectations to the EU and other Democracies
University of Stuttgart  (Sozialwissenschaften)
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ISBN (eBook)
Putin, Demokratie, Krieg, Sanktion, Sanktionen, Belarus, Weißrussland, Russland, EU, Europa, Europe, Deutschland, Germany, Sanctions, Ukrain, Ukraine, War, wirksam, Sanktionspaket, measures, Scholz, Zelensky, Biden, Democracy, Menschenrechte, Human rights, Navalny, Protasevich, Transnational Repression, Defense, Südafrika, South Africa, Apartheid
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Annika Zöpf (Author), 2021, International Violations of Human Rights. Challenges and Expectations to the EU and other Democracies, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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