State and Violence: Impact of State Violence on Freedom & Civil Liberty

State and Violence: Impact of State Violence on Freedom & Civil Liberty

Society and state interactions can lead to disruptions like civil wars due to issues like intolerance and modernization. Such unrest challenges policies and highlights human rights concerns. State violence and secretive intelligence services underscore the tension between national security and individual rights, emphasizing the need for balance in democratic governance.

Let’s understand the impact of state violence on freedom & civil liberty.

How Do State Agencies and Society interact?

Human beings live in a society that has developed certain norms and standards on the basis of the consensus of the community. These standards are based on the values and cultural sensitivity of the community that have been in vogue for years.

Ordinarily, members of society abide by the normal standards of society. Sometimes, the social structure is not impervious to breakdown and may embrace individual or collective violence in the form of rebellion, riot, revolution, or civil war. The disruptions have an impact on society and state agencies. These disruptions are sometimes called “the law and problem.”

Different thinkers ascribe causes of social disruptions to many factors, including rapid modernization of society, tearing away traditional culture, underdevelopment, poverty, lack of political participation, incohesive nature of social identifications, and ethnic or religious intolerance.

State agencies are often participants in civil violence, either as targets or as aggressive agents of coercion. Many violent events play themselves out between private parties, rival ethnic or racial groups, religious communities, or contending political or economic formations.

Civil Violence

Some kinds of civil violence could be classified as non-violent actions since they start peacefully but escalate into violent actions because of outside intervention.

The crucial criterion would be the distinction not between force and non-violence but between different kinds of force and violence. For instance, striking workers demonstrate peacefully, but employers’ determination to resist strikes and the means they are prepared to use against striking workers may lead to violence.

Civil violence may be categorized into two groups: Collective violence and personal violence. In the first category comes strikes, violent demonstrations, riots, revolutions, or civil wars.

In the second category, personal violence includes violence against weak or socially disadvantaged sections of the community, including women.

Collective Violence

Every history book indicates that collective violence is quite common. It has occurred in the past, exists at present, and will continue in the future. Many writers believe that there are several causes for the manifestation of collective violence.

First, a sense of deprivation prevails. This implies that discontent arises from the perception that there is a discrepancy between what people feel they deserve and what they receive.

Second, people are not contented with the political system or government.

Third, the strength of law-enforcing agencies is small or weak.

Collective violence means the deliberate destruction of property or violence on persons by people acting together. It signals a change in social arrangements and a sign that strong interests are engaged against challenging certain policies or the structure of governments.

For example, Afro-Americans were frustrated with discriminatory practices in the US and they agitated to remove them, often violently.

Their persistent violent demonstrations led the administration to pass in 1964 the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. In 1986, “people’s power” removed President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and forced him into exile in Hawaii. In 1990 in Bangladesh, civil disorder led to the resignation of the military President.

In 2003, violent unrest took place in Venezuela to force the President to call for a referendum on whether the President could continue in his position. In 2005, widespread protests led to the resignations of the Lebanese Prime Minister and the President of Kyrgyzstan.

Communal or Racial Violence

Communal violence between majority Hindus and minority Muslims has been a common occurrence in India. It takes place in circumstances where discrimination, frustrated feelings of powerlessness, and a new mood of resistance grow in the minority community.

Economic deprivation or little representation of minority groups in the affairs of government, coupled with a long history of tense co-existence between two groups that put one group clearly distinguished by custom and culture from the “mainstream” community, often trigger violence that gets out of control.

It occurs when the mainstream community wants to impose its culture and values on the minority community.

In Africa, tribal or racial conflicts are common. The “ethnic cleansing” in Rwanda in 1994 between Hutu and Tutsi tribes resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

The 1992-95 racial conflict between Bosnian Muslims and Serbs in Bosnia and in 1999 between Kosovar-Albanians and Serbs had been a shocking history of “ethnic cleansing. Eventually, in 1999 NATO attacked former Yugoslavia to protect the Kosovars from the oppression of Serbs.

Violence on Women

The most common feminist concern includes violence against women, personal affronts, and economic subordination of men. Violence against women encompasses every aspect of a woman’s life and is a worldwide phenomenon.

It occurs in almost every developed and developing country. Rape is seen as a security concern for women. Domestic violence may take the form of wife-battering. In the area of family planning, women often lack autonomy and are forced against their wishes to act often under the threat of violence to meet prevailing masculine-based socio-cultural norms.

A recent report of domestic violence on women in Australia revealed that domestic violence was a problem not confined to any particular social strata.

It was stated that it was probably people in high-income groups who might have the greatest desire to hide that they were victims. The report stated that domestic violence in Australia affected businesses through absenteeism, staff turnover, and lost productivity.

The Australian government spent about US$ 25 million on projects to tackle domestic violence. Domestic violence on women increased in Western countries for a number of reasons including drunkenness and gambling addiction.

To address domestic violence, in Hawaii, the local government has organized “Men-Anger Management Group” where men accused of domestic violence undertake lessons on domestic relationships so that they are patient and civil towards their wives or partners.

Separately, women experiencing abuse in relationships participate in women’s group sessions.

In Asia, women have been victims of ill-treatment and disfigurement by acid attacks.

Women suffer harassment because of the non-receipt of dowry from the bride’s family. In patriarchal society, women have always been discriminated against and vulnerable to social pressure from men. In India in five years (1991-95), crimes against women increased by 45 per cent.

In India; pecial laws were passed by Parliament for violence against women, besides the existence of ordinary criminal laws in the country. It is noted that law alone cannot meet the whole range of socially undesirable practices against women.

If violence against women is to be avoided, not only male individual behavior be trained from an early age but also social sanctions must increase if male behavior exhibits violence against women. What is needed is social awareness that women must be treated on par with men in all spheres of life with dignity and self-respect.

State Organized Violence

State-organized violence has revealed the dark side of the modern state.

Eminent philosophers Hegel (1770-1831) and Rousseau (1712-78) saw the state as an institution that could bring peace to humankind, prevent people from mutual destruction, and introduce some kind of order within the state. It was unthinkable for them that a state could initiate violent actions on its own citizens.

Glorifying the state as the embodiment of a social contract, Rousseau suggested that “the subjects do not need guarantees against sovereign power because it is impossible to assume that the organism will want to damage its members.”

Much of the respect for sovereign power was based on its performance of certain specific functions that include the maintenance of internal peace and order, the protection of economic activity, and the defense of national independence and interests.

The notion of sovereign power as an organizer of social and economic life was introduced, among others, by Thomas More (1478-1535) who was inspired by Plato (427-347).

During the Cold War, many nationals of Communist governments in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union had been victims of state-organized violence and repression. In many developing countries, protesters are oppressed or killed by state agencies.

In September 1988, Myanmar’s (Burma) army had reportedly killed as many as 3,000 pro-democracy demonstrators in a crackdown.

In 1989 in China, the massacre of civilians in Tiananmen Square by the military with tanks and artillery could be cited as one of the instances of state-sponsored violence. In Africa, Zimbabwe opposition political leaders and supporters have been subjected to torture by state agencies.

Human Rights vs. State Violence

History and politics have provided the contextual dimension of human rights while philosophy has given them meaning and the law has dealt with machinery to implement them. In modern times, a state has lost some of its control over the treatment of its own citizens because the human rights movement whose theme has been the liberation of individuals from the iron grip of the state scrutinizes state activities with respect to their citizens.

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights heightened the awareness of human rights among the international community.

All areas of state activity are judged by the yardstick of observance of human rights contained in the Declaration. In recent years, the ascendancy of individuals’ sovereignty has diminished the sovereignty of states. Associated with this development are a number of factors that have diluted the state’s sovereignty.

First, states have become parties to international human rights instruments and as a result surrendered their exclusive sovereignty in the human rights field. They could not treat their nationals as they would wish and if they did, it would incur strong disapproval from the international community.

Furthermore, insofar as developing countries are concerned, they may risk foreign assistance as donor countries often link aid to the performance of human rights.

Second, individuals are now regarded as “subjects” of international law. (The pre-1945 law considered individuals as “objects” of international law.)

Since individuals are subjects of international law, they are entitled to protection from international procedures laid down by Human Rights institutions, namely the UN Human Rights Commission, the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and the African Commission.

Third, fundamental human rights have become a part of “jus cogens” of international law. In Article 53 of the 1969 Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties, “jus cogens” has been defined as “a peremptory norm of general international law accepted and recognized by the international community of states as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted”.

This means that no state can derogate or violate such a category of human rights irrespective of whether a state is a party to international human rights conventions/treaties.

Law Enforcement Agencies and Violence

With the increasing power of states regulating every aspect of life of their citizens, there seems to be a lack of acceptance by states of the role of individuals in initiating social, political, and economic change. Change is only believed to be appropriate when it is initiated by states.

States take upon themselves the right to impose, often through violence, their will to fix the behavior of their citizens. As force is used by states, the life of ordinary citizens is increasingly under surveillance by the symbols of the state and their agents, police, secret services, and military.

In many states, a culture is boosted by propaganda that only leaders have the vision and wisdom to carry people to their destiny. As these norms are imposed in society, oppression, repression, and violence become part of the strategy to keep people in subservience.

Police Society looks to police to provide a sense of security and safety and to protect society from transgression of all types.

States have to find a balance between granting police sufficient powers to be able to discharge their lawful duties and restraining them from an over-powerful police and turning into a police state.

Empirical evidence suggests that law-enforcing agencies change their behaviour when they realise that their actions have no public accountability. They begin to substitute normal due process of law and act in an unlawful manner, often restricted from public view.

Secrecy becomes the norm of the agencies and violence is used as a legitimate exercise of power to suppress any dissent or disagreement against government policies.

State authorities use police to repress any large protest against governments. History provides ample examples of police becoming all too powerful oppressing groups of the very public which in principle they should serve.

Police violence is essentially a form of police misconduct but is often allowed by state authorities. Police in general are involved in scandals of corruption, violence and other forms of misconduct.

In developing countries including South Asia, numerous incidents and accusations emerge regularly from police’s dealing with public order situations. Often they are accused of violence and brutality that are covered by media for public attention.

On many occasions it was not only the demonstrators who caused deep concern and anxiety, for instance throwing stones and petrol bombs, setting fire to cars, but also on a great number of occasions, police were seen to have allegedly stepped out of line and out of control. Some police officials become violent to show how loyal they are to governments to enable them to gain favor from governments.

Even in Britain, in a study Police and People in London, Smith found “that 22 per cent of the people who were arrested said that officers used force or hit them, 18 per cent considering this to have been unjustified…. A considerable minority of suspects are assaulted, threatened and verbally abused, suggesting a pattern of conduct among what may be a substantial minority of police officers.”

Police Culture Some authors have analyzed police violence from different angles and have concluded three explanations for such violent behavior

  1. conduct of individual police officials (the bad apple theory),
  2. the situation in which they use violence and
  3. culture of the organization in which they work.

Minority police officials have used violence in situations in which violence was not warranted. The police officials should have received appropriate disciplinary actions but often their actions go either unnoticed or unpunished as senior police officers are prepared to overlook acts of unjustifiable violence.

Threats to safety of police officials pose the biggest risk in terms of police aggressiveness towards the public, notably when lives of police officials have been threatened or when a police officer has been injured or killed.

Public hostility towards police grows from a perceived gulf between the police as “them” and public as “us”. Under these conditions, face-to-face contacts become suspicious and aggressive in nature.

Poor relations between police and public contribute to misunderstanding about each other’s role in society. The authorities seem to ignore unacceptable relationship with the public so long police serve their dictates to keep them in power.

Police culture often guides the activities of police personnel. “Culture” as a concept is useful to analyze each of these approaches.

Culture connotes a realm of activity allowed within police service. The culture rotates around two principles: (a) the fear of loss of control and (b) the fear of losing face and these appear to be obstacles to changing police culture.

Police are largely committed to an unquestionable loyalty to fellow police officials and solidarity among them allows many officers to go unpunished for their palpable excesses or outright illegalities.

Intelligence Services and Their Role

Intelligence is a well-recognised method of collecting and analysing information for the benefit of policy makers. Intelligence services are a necessary outfit of states. It existed in the past, exist at present and will continue in the future.

They gather information within inside and outside of possible subversive activities that may threaten directly or indirectly territorial integrity of states. Mughal Emperors in India had used it to protect their empires from attacks.

They are broadly divided into two: civil and military. An intelligence agency is a “think-tank” and views of intelligence agencies have an impact on foreign and domestic policies. They collect information largely through three methods:

  • human intelligence
  • electronic intelligence through radio, telex and microwave broadcast and
  • photographic intelligence such as imagery using a wide variety of sensor systems.

Since the 1960s, sophisticated gadgets including spy satellites or unmanned planes for intelligence gathering have replaced human intelligence. Troop locations, deployment, and movement of troops through satellite images are being gathered twenty-four hours.

Some intelligence experts believe that intelligence gathering by human beings has no substitute and the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US occurred because machines could not detect the terror cells in the US.

After the September 11 incidents, the human element has again been strengthened in intelligence gathering. The photo-reconnaissance satellite is one of the most important technological developments in espionage history, and many intelligence experts believe that without it, the history of the 20th century would have been different.

Intelligence operations deal with activities in multifarious areas including:

  • espionage, political and military,
  • economic and criminal intelligence,
  • disinformation,
  • sabotage and subversion,
  • terrorist activities,
  • security of leaders of states,
  • counter-intelligence.

An instance of disinformation may be cited. Prior to the Second Gulf War in 2003, it has been reported that some of the reports of intelligence agencies of the US and Britain were “fakes” to sway public opinion for war against Iraq.

On April 22, Dr. Hans Blix, the UN chief inspector said to the UN Security Council:

“Is it not disturbing that the intelligence agencies that should have all the technical means at their disposal did not discover that this (import of uranium by Iraq) was falsified”? I think it is very, very disturbing.

During the Second World War, intelligence activities were at their peak. For instance, German intelligence units had printed counterfeit notes of British currency to destroy the financial foundations of Britain. Often intelligence agencies are used for political purposes.

After the end of the Cold War, economic or industrial intelligence has been very active and widespread. Economic intelligence collects information about technological advances in industrial and manufacturing fields of other countries so as to be able to be competitive.

In big contracts, they can penetrate inside bureaucracy to find out the lowest tender prices and thus outbid a competitor to obtain the contract.

Counter-intelligence includes protecting one’s own secrets and neutralizing any risks or threats posed by foreign intelligence agencies.

Covert intelligence means collecting information secretly while overt intelligence is open and lawful information. It is believed 80 per cent of intelligence gathering is through lawful means.

For instance, the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations provides that a diplomat is entitled to gather by lawful means conditions and developments in the receiving state (where the diplomat is posted) and report thereon to the government of the diplomat’s country (Article 3 of the Convention).

Several intelligence agencies are well-known across the globe. For example, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the US, the Soviet Union’s KGB (now Russia’s FSB – Federal Service Bureau), and Israel’s Mossad are generally known for their global coverage.

In South Asia, India’s RAW (Research Analysis Wing) and Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) are noted for their intelligence activities. Often such intelligence personnel are part of some diplomatic missions overseas. Bangladesh’s intelligence agencies comprise of National Security Intelligence (NSI) and Forces Intelligence (FI).

Intelligence Services and Human Rights

Intelligence activities are useful to states. The difficulty is that activities of intelligence agencies are secret and in democracy, secrecy is not the norm.

There appears to be a dilemma for democratic governments because on the one hand, national security is vital for territorial integrity and political independence, on the other hand, clandestine operations are alien to democracy and liable to be misused.

Intelligence agencies are not always used for states’ security. Sometimes they are used to gather information about opposition political parties for political gains. In a democratic political system, political opposition parties are necessary processes to keep governments accountable and honest. Political opposition to governments is not the same thing as opposition to the state (treason).

It was believed that the internal intelligence agency – US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) – under former Director late Edgar Hoover had files on every politician in the US and they could be used to blackmail a political leader.

Ordinarily intelligence services are not accountable to anyone except the executive head of the government of the day. Almost in all states, legal, constitutional, or parliamentary control of intelligence services is weak. Therefore, the temptation to use intelligence services for political power has become the norm of governments of the day.

Intelligence activities that include spying, covert acts, and propaganda violate norms of international society and routinely intrude on national sovereignty. These operations empower the user, and the most controversial covert acts of intelligence include kidnapping and assassination.

The more states worry about security, the greater the prospects that they will develop agencies to conduct intelligence and counterintelligence.

During the Cold War era, intelligence agencies from Communist countries were alleged to have killed their political opponents in a public place with sophisticated weapons in a disguised manner.

The attempt of assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981 was allegedly carried out by a Bulgarian-Turkish national in which Bulgarian and Soviet Union’s secret agents were implicated. The Pope was seen as the principal actor in loosening the grip of communism over Catholic citizens in Europe.

In fact, the independent trade union movement (Solidarity) in Poland led by a shipyard electrician Lech Walesa in 1979 was allegedly supported and funded by the Vatican, and the movement resisted the communist way of life in Poland until communism was abandoned in 1989 in Europe.

It is argued that information collected through intelligence services on individuals or groups within states constitutes a violation of human rights with respect to their privacy and other human rights, including freedom of movement, freedom of association, freedom of thought, and of speech.

The intelligence agencies act as “a big brother” to monitor all activities of citizens and report it to the authorities. With the modern and sophisticated satellite surveillance equipment, no activity of individuals is private or confidential.

Even telephone conversations and e-mail communication originating in any part of the world have been subject to scrutiny through satellites by the US/British intelligence services after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

Such activities are carried out secretly without public knowledge and are contrary to the human rights of individuals. However, some writers believe that cooperative intelligence activities may make the world safer instead of enhancing conflict.

The post-September 11 days have witnessed cooperation among intelligence agencies, notably between the US and Europe, to gather information on the existence of terrorist cells all over the world.