Human Rights and Freedom from State Tyranny: Study Questions

Suggested Study Questions and Activities

Teachers: The following are questions and activities that can be given to your students after they read the materials in each section. The questions are meant to be asked as a review exercise, although some encourage critical thinking as well. The activities can be presented as classroom exercises or as individual homework assignments. Unlike the questions, they tend to require additional research. Some call for students to create mock trials or debates that would engage the entire class. Both the questions and the activities are formatted so that they might be used directly by students, although you may rewrite them as you feel necessary.

Essential Principles 


Are human rights truly universal? What is the basis for universality in political and philosophical theory? Some countries’ leaders argue that human rights are a Western concept: which countries make this argument and why? Are there exceptions to the need to adhere to human rights standards? What in international law allows governments to suspend human rights (e.g. what conditions are specified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that allow suspension of non-derogable rights)? What examples are there for a legitimate suspension of human rights? Are there examples in US history? 


Read carefully the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and compare these to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Which concepts of the period of the American and French Revolutions are found in these modern human rights documents? 

Compare the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights. Discuss the following: What rights were added to the latter covenant that are not in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? What differentiates these rights (e.g. which are inalienable and which are not, which should governments not take away and which should governments provide)? Use the Country Studies to find examples of countries that justified the taking away of derogable rights due to the need to maintain public order. Which circumstances are allowable and which circumstances are not allowable for suspending derogable rights (such as habeas corpus). 

Organize a classroom debate around the question: “Should Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights Have Equivalence with Civil and Political Rights?” 

Compare economic and human rights statistics (e.g., those in the UN Development Program's Human Development Index, Freedom House's annual Freedom in the World survey, and IMF and World Bank measurements of economies provided in the summaries or in updated listings). Is there a correlation between human rights, democracy, and economic well-being? If there is, what is it? Are there alternate explanations for such a correlation? Are there exceptions to this correlation?



Indonesia, the fourth most populous country, is commonly called the world’s “largest Muslim democracy” for having successfully made the transition from authoritarian dictatorship to elected government. What makes Indonesia a democracy? What are the major challenges it faces in consolidating democratic government? Are minorities respected? How are different religious views tolerated? Why did Freedom House downgrade Indonesia’s status from “free” to “partly free”? 


Review the Country Study and other resources and divide the class into groups to discuss how Indonesia has dealt with different aspects of democracy. Compare to one or two other country studies from the region (e.g. Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Vietnam) or, separately to Morocco, the country in this section having been more consistently categorized as “partly free” by Freedom House. Evaluate Freedom House’s ranking of Indonesia and its downgrading of Indonesia’s status to “partly free” in comparison to its nearby countries or to Morocco. Based on these comparisons, have the class act as Freedom House evaluators to discuss Indonesia’s status. Have them research current events in the New York Times and Economist web sites to discuss: Should Indonesia be considered “free” or “partly free.” Students should keep in mind there is no “right” or “wrong” answer, but rather use the exercise to consider the different aspects of freedom and their importance in evaluating the status of each country. 

Within this discussion or as a separate activity, have students research the five principles of the Indonesian constitution (Pancasila): what was their origin and intent? How have these principles functioned in periods of dictatorship and electoral democracy? Why did Freedom House consider the NGO law’s insistence on adherence to Pancasila as so important? (See also, for example, article in New York Times from May 11, 2014.) 



Since independence, what type of government has Morocco had. How has Morocco’s government violated human rights? Were reforms undertaken by Hassan II and Muhammed VI cosmetic or substantive? Have human rights improved since the February 20, 2011 demonstrations inspired by the Arab Spring? What actions were taken by the government in response? Were these substantive changes or cosmetic ones? 


Similarly to the activity for Indonesia, compare the similarities and differences in the human rights situations in Indonesia and Morocco. Now look at the Freedom in the World rankings. What explains the differences in the rankings? Do you agree with them? Why or why not? 

North Korea 


What unique communist system was adopted in North Korea? Is it similar to other communist regimes (see, e.g., country report on Cuba)? What is the extent of control by the state in North Korea? What areas of life does it effect? The UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea issued its report in February 2014. What did the Commission find? Were previous reports of human rights violations exaggerated or did they mask the severity of the situation? What concrete actions did the COI recommend? Can these actions be effective in changing the DPRK government’s behavior? How? 


Korea's history is mainly one of harsh dynastic rule and a rigid aristocratic structure. The Japanese occupation was a further trauma for Koreans. Yet the South, after a period of authoritarian rule, democratized while the North developed into a totalitarian state. Examine the Country Study and links/articles in Resources. Considering that the countries share a common history, what explains the differences between the paths taken by North and South Korea? Were external influences (such as American and Soviet foreign policies) the most important factors? What lessons about democratic development can be learned?

Human Rights and Freedom from State Tyranny: Resources


Essential Principles

Avalon Project. Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy. See, e.g.:
     Magna Carta (1215).
     Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776).
     Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (August 26, 1789).
     13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution (1865–70).
     Atlantic Charter, August 14, 1941.

European Court for Human Rights (home page).

Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Four Freedoms Speech (annual address to Congress: 1941).

Human Rights Organizations
     Amnesty International (home page).
     Anti-Slavery International (home page).
     Freedom House. Home Page and 2016 Survey of Freedom in the World.
     Human Rights Watch. Home Page and World Report 2016.
     International Federation of Human Rights (home page).
     Global Policy Forum. International Special Tribunals.

Holocaust information sites:
     Jewish Virtual Library (home page).
     JewishGen: Home Page and The Forgotten Camps.
     U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (home page).

Human Rights Web. "A Summary of United Nations Agreements on Human Rights" (1997). See links for:
     Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
     Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
     Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.
     Convention on the Prevention of Genocide.
     Convention on the Rights of the Child.
     Convention Against Torture.
     Geneva Conventions.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
     Philosophy of John Locke.
     Philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau.
     Philosophy of Immanuel Kant.

UN Human Righs Council (home page).

US Department of State.
     Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Bureau.
     Country Reports for Human Rights Practices: 2015.
     2015 Trafficking in Persons Report.

Recommended Films:
"Judgment at Nuremberg" (directed  by Stanley Kramer, 1961).
"Milosevic on Trial" (directed  by Michael Christoffersen, 2007).
"Z" (directed  by Costa-Gavras, 1969).


Economist magazine. Topics Index: Indonesian Politics.

The New York Times. World: Times Topics: Indonesia. See, e.g.,: 
     Embrace of Atheism Put an Indonesian in Prison,” May 13, 2014.
     “’The Act of Killing’ Reenacts Indonesian Massacres” review by A.O. Scott, July 19, 2013.

Human Rights Watch. World Report 2016: Indonesia.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Office
     “National Plans of Action for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights—Indonesia," 1998–2003.

Recommended Films:
"The Year of Living Dangerously" (directed  by Peter Weir, 1982).
"The Act of Killing" (documentary directed by Joshua Openheinmer, 2013).


Economist magazine. Topics Index: Morocco.

The New York Times. World Times Topics: Morocco. See, e.g.: 
     Morocco’s King Slow to Deliver on Pro-Democracy Vows.” June 11, 2014.
     “Moroccan Government Cracks Down on Journalists and Activists.” October 11, 2015.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Morocco page: Opinion and Research (link).
     “The New Morocco Constitution: Real Change or More of the Same?” by Marina Ottaway (2011).

Human Rights Watch: World Report 2016: Morocco/Western Sahara.

Moroccan Association of Human Rights (link).

North Korea

Economist magazine. Topics Index: North Korea. See, e.g.:
     “North Korea: Humanity At Its Very Worst,” February 22, 2014.
     “Follow My Leader,” Books and Arts, May 18, 2013.
     “Inside the Cult of Kim,” April 6, 2013.

The New York Times. Times Topics: North Korea. See, e.g.:
     “Leader Tightens Hold on Power in North Korea,” April 9, 2014.
     “Rights Panel Seeks Inquiry of North Korea,” March 28, 2014.
     “North Korean Leader Boast of Strength After Purge,” January 1, 2014.

BBC News. “U.N. to Investigate Human Rights Abuses in North Korea,” March 23, 2013.

Council on Foreign Relations (Home Page). See, e.g.: 
     Backgrounder: The Six-Party Talks on North Korea’s Nuclear Program (link).

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea: Home Page and Publications.
The Hidden Gulag. Fourth Edition: 2015.

Daily Mail. “I Saw My First Execution at Seven,” April 15, 2013

Human Rights Watch: North Korea page and World Report 2016: North Korea.

Journal of International Affairs.
     “North Korea: The World’s Principal Violator of the Right to Protect.”  February 6, 2012.

United Nations Security Council Report (link). See also: U.N. Documents for DPRK (North Korea).

United Nations Human Rights Council (link). See, e.g.:
           Resolution on the Situation of Human Rights in the DPRK. March 27, 2014 (link).
           Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK (link).

Human Rights and Freedom from State Tyranny: Country Studies — North Korea

North Korea Country Study

Rankings in Freedom in the World 2016: Status: Not Free. Freedom Ranking: 7; Political Rights: 7; Civil Liberties: 7.


The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea, was formally established under the trusteeship of the Soviet Union on September 9, 1948, formalizing the partition of the Korean Peninsula following World War II. In 1950, North Korea launched a war to unify the peninsula that ended in an armistice in 1953 dividing the North and South along the 38th parallel. North Korea, modeled initially on Soviet communism, developed its own Communist state ideology, called Juche, or "self-reliance." Under this Communist regime, North Korea has been one of the most repressive, closed, and internationally isolated states in the world and is consistently judged to be among the worst violators of human rights by Freedom House's annual Freedom in the World survey as well as by other human rights organizations.

North Korea

North Korea’s population is approximately 25 million by the UN’s 2016 estimate, the 50th largest in the world. Given the lack of independent information sources, reliable economic data are lacking. The United Nations in 2014 ranked it 104th in total GDP output ($15 billion). The World Bank, UN, and CIA, however, all classify North Korea among the lowest-income countries. The IMF measurement of nominal GDP per capita in 2015 was $583 per year (174th out of 186 countries), while the CIA World Factbook measured it at $1,200 (149th out of 191 countries). Since the mid-1990s, it is estimated that as many as two million people have died unnatural deaths from food shortages brought about by the combination of natural disasters and economic mismanagement by the government. Although North Korea received significant amounts of food assistance over the previous decade as a result of international agreements limiting nuclear weapons development, most assistance stopped after the government reneged on those agreements and resumed nuclear and missile development. Much of the national budget is dedicated to security services and the military. Under previous and current leaders, the government has assumed an aggressive security policy of developing nuclear weapons and threatening their potential use against South Korea, the United States, and other targets. The North's economic and political record contrasts starkly with that of South Korea, which emerged from a period of authoritarian rule to become a stable democracy and in 2014 was the world's 13th largest economy in nominal gross domestic product at $1.4 trillion in total and 28th highest in average GDP per capita at more than $27,500 per year.


Ancient History: Chosun and Lolang

The Korean Peninsula was first inhabited by peoples migrating from the northwestern regions of Asia, speaking a distinct language that was later influenced by Chinese and Japanese. Walled city-states emerged around 400 BC with the rise of the first kingdom, called Old Chosun, which spanned the bronze to the iron ages. This period saw the beginning of influence from China, whose Han dynasty established commanderies, or military prefectures, in Korea around the first century BC, including in Lolang, near modern-day Pyongyang. Current North Korean historiography, based on Juche ideology of “self-reliance,” denies the existence of this period of Chinese dominance in the northern part of the peninsula.

Kingdoms and Dynasties

Beginning in the fourth century AD, three Korean kingdoms arose (the Paekche and Koguryo kingdoms in the north and the Silla kingdom in the central region). Reflecting the continuing influence of China, each adopted Buddhism as the common state religion, Confucian practices in education, and introduced Chinese characters and mural art in writing. Ultimately, the Silla kingdom, with its capital in Kyongju, allied with the Tang dynasty in China to defeat the other two kingdoms. The Silla Kingdom then drove the weakened Chinese off the peninsula by the late seventh century to introduce an era of Korean self-reliance and isolation. Kyongju was known as the "city of gold" for its temples and other architecture as well as for its high culture (the oldest known example of woodblock printing was discovered in Kyongju, dating to 750, well before its development in Europe). Not surprisingly, the southern kingdom adopted stratified social structures, with little social mobility. The practices of slavery and indentured servitude were widespread. estimated 2 million people engaged in protests aimed at liberating Korea from [Japanese] occupation. . .

Following the decline of the Silla Kingdom in the 10th century, Korea had two long-lasting dynasties, the Koryo dynasty (918–1392) and the Choson dynasty (1392–1910). The Chosun dynasty's founder, Yi Song-gye, switched the capital to present-day Seoul in order to weaken the old ruling structures. Song-gye instituted a number of reforms aimed at reducing the power of aristocratic clans by placing farmland under state control and strengthening the practice of Confucianism, instead of Buddhism, among elites. The Chosun dynasty developed highly ritualistic practices and its own stratified social structures. It came to be known as “the hermit kingdom” for its enforced isolation from neighboring Japan and China.

The Japanese Annexation

The 600-year-old Chosun dynasty ended when Japan annexed Korea as a colony in 1910. Korean leaders had withstood European and US attempts to control trade from the peninsula but towards the end of the 19th century they were forced to succumb to the growing industrial and military power of Japan. Lasting until August 1945, Japanese rule was harsh. Unlike European colonial powers that staffed their colonial bureaucracies with indigenous populations, Japan sent 700,000 administrators to implement a legal system of racial discrimination against ethnic Koreans. The Korean aristocracy was eradicated; Japanese conglomerates dominated the economy; and forced labor and sexual servitude were widespread. Koreans were forced to abandon Buddhism and Confucianism and to worship at Shinto shrines. Even the Korean alphabet, language, and books, as well as Korean history, were suppressed. Japanese history stresses positive developments that occurred in Korea under its rule (such as industrialization), but Koreans remember the occupation as an historical tragedy.

Resistance to Japanese Rule and the Establishment of Two Koreas

There was ongoing resistance to Japanese rule. The most significant event occurred on March 1, 1919, when an estimated 2 million people engaged in protests aimed at liberating Korea from occupation. The protests were forcibly suppressed, with thousands of people killed and many more wounded. While the resistance movement failed, it led to the establishment of a provisional government-in-exile in Shanghai, which, between 1919 and 1948, was formally recognized by many states as the legitimate government of Korea. Accordingly, it is considered to be the legitimate precursor to the Republic of Korea (South Korea). North Korean history, however, bases its legitimacy on the communist guerrilla resistance organized against the Japanese invasion of neighboring Manchuria in 1937. Unable to defeat the Japanese, the guerrilla forces nevertheless created difficulties for the occupation and assisted the Soviet army's last-minute entry into the Asian theater of conflict during World War II. The Korean Communist Party guerrillas became the advance guard for the Soviet Union’s occupation of the northern half of the peninsula.

Kim Il-sung

The United States entered southern Korea on September 9, 1945, well after the Soviet army occupied the North. Earlier, US President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and China’s Chiang Kai-shek had pledged to establish a "free and independent Korea," but this promise was abandoned in the 1945 Yalta Agreement signed by Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin. It called instead for a trusteeship of Korea. To avoid further conflict, the US proposed an initial division of the Korean Peninsula along the 38th parallel, a natural marker, and future negotiations to unite the two areas. Stalin accepted the proposal, but refused later to negotiate unity. Stalin installed communist guerrilla leader Kim Il-sung as head of the North Korean Provisional People's Committee to consolidate Soviet control. The Soviet Union boycotted UN deliberations to broker unified elections, and elections took place only in South Korea. Syngman Rhee, who had been a member of the provisional government in the south, was elected president. On August 13, 1948, the Republic of Korea was established. Kim Il-sung declared the establishment of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea three weeks later.

Molding a Militarist Totalitarian State

The Korean Peninsula was thus divided between north and south as profoundly as post–World War II Germany was divided between east and west (see Country Study). After the founding of the DPRK, Kim Il-sung followed a strict Soviet model and adopted a doctrinaire Communist ideology. Kim’s regime nationalized the economy, confiscated property, collectivized land, and built a powerful police and administrative apparatus. The government imposed a rigid totalitarian system that repressed all citizens' political rights and civil liberties. A system of forced labor camps was established in which millions of people have been punished.

Drawing upon Soviet-trained anti-Japanese guerrillas and Korean veterans of the Chinese Communist revolution, Kim built a large army and directed his efforts toward reunifying the peninsula. With Stalin's approval, he launched a nearly successful military invasion of the South in 1950. A UN coalition force, comprised of fifteen nations including the US, intervened to help the South Korean army push the invasion force back. After three years of stalemate and a total of more than a million civilian and military deaths, an armistice was signed that ended the fighting but left rival armies in place across a demilitarized zone (DMZ). Kim Il-sung never accepted the outcome of the war. Among other initiatives, he constructed hundreds of miles of tunnels designed for another secret strike — these were discovered before they could be used. To date, a permanent peace agreement has not been signed. Approximately 28,500 US troops remain in South Korea to deter a future invasion. Intermittent talks between North and South Korea to formally end the war have failed, although there have been some agreements that resulted in family re-unification meetings and a joint manufacturing facility (the North-South Kaesong Industrial Complex). Marxism-Leninism in the Soviet Union and Maoism in the People’s Republic of China, a distinct ideological variant of communism called Juche . . . has controlled all aspects of life in North Korea.

North Korea’s Unique Communism: Juche

Like Marxism-Leninism in the Soviet Union and Maoism in the People's Republic of China, a distinct ideological variant of communism called “Juche” (self-reliance) developed by Kim Il-sung has controlled all aspects of life in North Korea. Under Juche, the military, not industry or agriculture, is the central element of the North's economy. It is thus the source of wealth and stature and the basis of North Korea’s class structure. Juche allowed Kim Il-sung to maneuver between the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, as well as to transform himself into a mythic figure central to the DPRK's birth and existence (see below). After Kim Il-sung's death in 1994, his son, Kim Jong-il, was appointed head of the Korean Workers' Party (KWP) and chairman of the National Defense Commission, the highest political office in the state. The country's centrally planned economy declined to the point of near collapse under Kim Jong-il in the mid- to late1990s. Barter became the normal means of exchange. From 1995 to 1998, North Korea experienced widespread famine, which ended only when the government accepted offers of food, medical, and other aid from the international community. It is estimated that food shortages resulted in up to two million deaths. Thereafter, the system has stabilized, but North Korea remains impoverished. After his death in 2011, Kim Jong-il was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-un.

Human Rights

Korea’s history, rich in civilization and culture, was dominated by monarchical ruling structures that restricted the development of political and economic freedom and isolated the peninsula from outside influences. Korea’s longest-ruling dynasty ended in 1910 with annexation by Japan and the introduction of harsh colonial rule that destroyed existing Korean cultural and social structures. The division of Korea by Soviet and US armed forces at the end of World War II resulted in the division of the peninsula and the creation of two distinct states that were cemented in place by the military stalemate of the Korean War. The Republic of Korea in the south emerged from a period of authoritarianism to develop a stable democracy and a thriving economy. Initially under Soviet influence (Stalin himself wrote the original constitution), the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the north evolved to adopt a distinct communist dictatorship maintained through dynastic leadership.

In North Korea, citizens are deprived of all human rights and they suffer under a totalitarian regime that controls all aspects of their lives and has impoverished the country. North Korea's original constitution established a “dictatorship of people’s democracy” under the control of the Korean Workers Party. In its adapted form (see below), the constitution imposed a governing structure built around a single leader, Kim Il-Sung. The governing structure ensured that Kim Il-Sung has been succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-il, and grandson, Kim Jong-un. All three generations of Kims have kept power through their control over a vast military and security apparatus; purges and arbitrary executions of anyone posing a threat to their leadership; mass imprisonment and forced labor; control over all information and the economy; and a system of political and social conformity that is required of every citizen. Millions of citizens have died due to state oppression, government-created famine, and other causes.

The Cult of Personality as a Governing Structure

The constitution is supplemented by the Monolithic Ideological System, whose ten principles were adopted in 1974 during the Sino-Soviet split to institute North Korea’s distinct communist system under Kim Il-Sung, known as juche (self-reliance). To illustrate, the first principle is, “We must give our all in the struggle to unify the entire society with the revolutionary ideology of the Great Leader Kim Il-sung.” The third is, “We must make absolute the authority of the Great Leader comrade Kim Il-sung.” Citizens must strictly follow the Ten Principles and are required to memorize, study, and reflect on them in organized self-criticism sessions. In North Korean propaganda, Kim Il-sung achieves God-like status as “the tender-hearted father of all the people” whose “heart is a centripetal force uniting the [people] as one.” Any questioning of Kim Il-sung's "love" and "paternity" of North Koreans resulted — and still results — in imprisonment or death. His son and grandson, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un, have similar, although lesser, cult-of-personality status as “Supreme Leaders,” but their legitimacy is through the original “Father” of the nation. He is now accorded the status “Eternal Leader.”

In practice, each of the Kims consolidated power by assuming positions as head of the Korean Workers Party, head of state, and head of the National Defense Committee, now the highest state office controlling military and security structures. A highly stratified governance structure exists around a core of apparatchiks who are deemed politically loyal and who help maintain the dynastic cult of personality. The individuals who comprise this inner core can change suddenly. Purges of higher officials are frequent in order to prevent any individual from challenging the Supreme Leader (see Current Issues).

No Free Expression, Association, or Movement Allowed

All political, social, and economic institutions in North Korea are controlled by the state, the ruling party, and the military. All facets of a person’s life, including employment, education opportunities, residence, and access to medical facilities and stores, are determined through a system of social classification. Citizens are given security ratings under three main classifications: “core,” “wavering,” and “hostile” (within which there are 53 subgroupings). A person’s category is based on their and their families’ assessed loyalty to the regime. political penal labor colonies, or kwan li-so, hold between 150,000 and 200,000 individuals . . . who have been seized by officers of the National Security Agency for alleged political transgressions.

The state controls all media, which is simply an instrument of state propaganda and the ruling ideology. There are no independent newspapers or broadcast media. Religious worship is allowed only by organizations linked to the state. The ownership of a Bible is illegal and can result in imprisonment or even execution. Black markets and individual economic transactions are tolerated, but are under strict observance and control by a special division of the security services. Freedom of movement is forbidden and trying to leave the country without permission is considered a treasonous act. Even so, tens of thousands attempt to cross to South Korea, often by round-about way through China. Those who succeeded have provided first-hand witness testimony of North Korea’s gruesome regime (see Resources). Many, however, fail or are forcibly returned by China. These individuals are imprisoned within the penal and labor system or executed.

The Machinery of Terror

The North Korean state maintains a vast prison system modeled on the Soviet GULAG’s penal labor prisons and slave labor camps. The penal labor colonies, or kwan li-so, are under the control of the National Security Agency. It is not known the total number imprisoned since 1948 but it counts many millions of people. Today between 80,000 and 130,000 people are held for alleged political transgressions. These prisons do not operate within a formal legal system and no due process exists. The harsh conditions in these camps and the long sentences meted out often mean that prisoners do not survive. The National Safety Agency, more akin to a regular police, runs a separate prison system for supposed common criminals, where prisoners are also subject to forced labor. The rate of death in these camps is also high, due to harsh conditions of overwork and lack of nourishment. The police also run detention facilities where unsuccessful refugees, economic migrants, and others are kept and often tortured. The prison system swelled during the period of the famine, when many peasants were imprisoned for supposedly stealing food.

Current Issues

Kim Jong-un, the grandson of Kim Il-sung, was declared by the head of the Supreme People’s Assembly to be “Supreme Leader” of the party, military, and state on December 28, 2011 at the state funeral of his father, Kim Jong-il. He has since assumed the positions of First Secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party, Supreme Commander and Marshal of the Korean People’s Army, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission and National Defense Committee. To consolidate his power, Kim Jong-un has carried out widespread purges of the state and party leadership (among them all pall bearers other than himself at his father’s funeral and four officials chosen by his father to be his initial political mentors). In December 2013, the regime announced the summary execution of Jang Song-thaek, Kim Il-sung’s brother-in-law and the second most powerful figure within the state hierarchy. Kim Jong-un then carried out arrests and executions of Jang’s military associates and family members. It was reported that the purge was connected to infighting over profits in export trading controlled by Jang. In a New Year’s message, however, Kim Jong-un, said he had acted to tighten the Party’s “revolutionary ranks by making a timely decision to ferret out and purge the anti-party, anti-revolutionary factional clique.” In March 2015, Kim Jong-un gathered hundreds of officials to witness the public execution of the Minister of Defense by means of anti-aircraft fire. He had reportedly fallen asleep during one of Kim’s speeches.

In May 2016, Kim Jong-un presided over the first Congress of the Korean Workers Party held since 1980, a stage-managed event aimed at re-coronating him again as its leader and reinforcing the role of the “leading party” as a central institution in the state machinery. During the Congress, Kim Jong-un repeated his determination for North Korea to be a nuclear power, claiming it gave the country “dignity” (see below).

Without "Parallel in the Contemporary World”

In March 2013, the UN Human Rights Council took the unusual step of establishing a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to investigate human rights violations in the DPRK (the only other active COI is for Syria). The government refused to cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry, but the COI held extensive hearings in a number of countries to receive oral and written testimony on the human rights situation in North Korea, especially accounts of victims and first-hand witnesses. In February 2014, the COI issued a comprehensive report condemning the government of North Korea for “a wide array of crimes against humanity, arising from . . . policies established at the highest level of State.” It further stated that “the gravity, scale and nature of these [human rights] violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world. . . .” (See link in Resources for the COI report.) A resolution of the UN Human Rights Council was adopted in March 2014 that continued recommended action by the UN Security Council to authorize the International Criminal Court to investigate individuals responsible for crimes against humanity, including Kim Jong-un. The UNHRC re-affirmed that resolution in 2015 and authorized the opening of an office for continuing monitoring of the human rights situation. In March 2016, the UN Human Rights Council announced that it would seek ways to prosecute human rights violators despite North Korea not being a signatory to the Rome Convention and subject to the International Criminal Court.

The Drive for Nuclear Weapons

Despite the country’s destitution, Kim Jong-un has continued his father’s and grandfather’s policies, begun in the early 1980s, to develop a stockpile of nuclear weapons. He often threatens their use against the US and South Korea. Kim Jong-il reneged on several international agreements to suspend development of nuclear weapons, both in the 1990s and 2000s, and the UN Security Council has adopted a regime of international sanctions since 2009 to prevent trade of military and nuclear technology to North Korea as well as to put economic pressure on the regime. So far, these restrictions have not prevented North Korea’s nuclear development. In late 2012, Kim Jong-un initially declared his willingness to resume negotiations within the framework of what are called the Six-Party Talks, but subsequently resumed nuclear and missile testing. There were three underground atomic nuclear tests since. In December 2015, he announced detonation of a hydrogen bomb, which is much more powerful than an atomic bomb, but experts have not agreed that such an explosion actually occurred.

The United States, which under the administration of President George W. Bush eased sanctions in 2008 in response to the apparent adherence of North Korea to one of the broken agreements, resumed sanctions in 2009 when Kim Jong-Il withdrew from the agreement and resumed nuclear weapons development. President Obama instituted additional economic sanctions in January 2015 following a North Korean cyberattack on the Sony Corporation for its production and distribution of the movie “The Interview,” whose theme was a fictional plot to kill Kim Jong-un. In March 2016, the UN Security Council adopted new stringent measures aimed at the North Korean regime for its nuclear program, including full inspections of cargo ships and new sanctions on luxury goods, technology, arms, and specific individuals. Nevertheless, North Korea continued to test its ballistic missiles (failing again in a third launch later in March). The Obama Administration announced in April 2016 that it would seek means to ensure enforcement of existing UN and US sanctions regimes to maintain pressure on the North Korean regime to end its nuclear weapons program.

Human Rights and Freedom from State Tyranny: Country Studies — Morocco

Morocco Country Study

Rankings in Freedom in the World 2016: Status:  Partly Free; Freedom Ranking: 4.5; Political Rights: 5; Civil Liberties: 4. 



The Kingdom of Morocco is located on the northwestern coast of Africa. Originally populated by Berber tribes, Arab settlers established a series of dynastic kingdoms that successfully resisted colonial occupation. In 1777, Morocco, under the Alouite kingdom, was the first country to recognize the sovereignty of the United States and in 1786 it signed the American-Moroccan Treaty of Friendship, the oldest active treaty between nation states. After the French and British extended colonial influence over northern Africa in the 19th century, the country fell to French colonial rule in 1912. Morocco regained independence in 1956, ruled by a hereditary monarchy that initially was quite severe in its governance but gradually reformed. In 2011, King Mohammed VI responded to protests inspired by the Arab Spring in neighboring countries, by announcing a new constitution, holding elections for parliament that November, and allowing the moderate Justice and Development Party (PJD) to lead a new government. Political power, however, did not devolve significantly and the King retains power over foreign policy, the armed forces, the security services, the judiciary, much of the media, and a large part of the economy. Although political parties function, there are a number of restrictions of basic human rights. Expressing criticism of the King or his advisers, Islam, and actions related to Morocco’s rule over Western Sahara is banned (Morocco remains in control over the Western Sahara, a province once controlled by Spain that seeks independence). Freedom House consistently ranks Morocco in the lower end of the “partly free” category (4.5 in freedom ranking) and its 2016 Freedom in the World Report gives it lower scores in several political rights and civil liberties measurements.

Known for its trading centers, scholarship, and a previously general climate of moderation and tolerance, Morocco was once home to the world's largest Sephardic Jewish community before its members largely emigrated to Israel. By ethnicity, Morocco’s population of 33 million people (2014 estimate) is today almost exclusively Arab and Berber and by religion is 99 percent Sunni Muslim. Today, the kingdom suffers from widespread poverty and low levels of economic development. In 2014, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) ranked Morocco 61st in the world in nominal GDP overall (approximately $110 billion in total output). Its per capita ranking, however, was only 122nd in the world in nominal gross national income (GNI) at approximately a $3,000 average yearly income.


The Maghreb, a Berber term for the northwest African region west of the Nile, was populated by as early as 10,000 BC by Berbers, a largely agricultural and hunting community with a distinct language. They become increasingly nomadic as climate conditions in North Africa grew harsher. Around the 12th century BC, the area was colonized by Arab-Phoenicians, who dominated the economy by developing trading colonies in eastern parts of the country and integrating the area into the Mediterranean economy. From the eighth to the second centuries BC, Carthage held sway over northwestern Africa until it was defeated and the city razed by Rome in 146 BC. In the Carthaginian and Roman periods, military regimes dominated the economy and trade over the coastlines but not in the interior, where Berber kingdoms negotiated payments of tribute to the dominant power. The fall of Rome in the fifth century AD left Morocco open to invasion by the Vandals, the Visigoths, and , subsequently, the Byzantine Greeks.

The Origins of Modern Morocco

In the seventh century AD with the arrival of additional Arab traders and settlers and the adoption of Islam by the Berbers. Arabs asserted political control but because of Morocco’s distance from the original Damascus and Baghdad caliphates, the country evolved separately from Arab countries in politics and religion. The Idrisid dynasty (788-974) rebuilt the country as a center of learning and trade. Morocco's Arab rulers ceded power to a joint Berber-Arab tribal confederation that dominated the Maghreb. Spain established control of the territory for 200 years until the 13th century. Arab tribes retook power in 1511 with the establishment of the Saadi dynasty (1511-1663). The Alaouite dynasty that followed (1664–1912) was the longest period of uninterrupted rule in Moroccan history. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Morocco consolidated its hold over coastal territory facing Spain, and defeated an invasion attempt by the Ottoman Empire. The Alaouite kingdom was the first government to recognize the United States and signed a friendship treaty with the American government in 1786, the oldest active treaty between nation states.

French Colonization—Moroccan Resistance

The Moroccan kingdom resisted foreign control until the 19th century, when the French and British extended their control over North Africa. Gradually, the French gained special status over most of the Maghreb. In 1912, with the signing of the Treaty of Fez, Morocco became a French protectorate. Spain, was awarded the Western Sahara. As a protectorate, Morocco retained technical sovereignty under the leadership of the sultan, but in practice it was governed under a colonial administration. The general policy of the colonial administration was to encourage settlement by French citizens (known as colons), who would receive favorable treatment in business, government, and civilian life. Modernization in transportation, industry, and agriculture was designed to assist the French economy. Following World War I, a Moroccan nationalist movement arose and in December 1934 the Moroccan Action Committee (CAM) proposed a "Plan of Reforms" that included a return to indirect rule, the establishment of representative councils, and the inclusion of Moroccans in government — all of which had been stipulated in the original Treaty of Fez. Radical members split from moderates in CAM to form a nationalist political party with the explicit aim of independence. The group was suppressed in 1937 but formed the basis of a more successful party called Istiqlal (Independence) established at the end of World War II.

From War to Independence

When American and British forces invaded Morocco n November 1942, the country was under the administration of the collaborationist Vichy government. Assisted by Moroccans, the Allies routed Vichy French forces as part of the successful campaign to drive the Axis powers out of northern Africa. In January 1944, the newly formed Istiqlal Party, citing the Atlantic Charter's promise of self-government for all peoples (see History), presented a demand for independence to the resident general of the new Free French government. The sultan, recognized by the Free French as the local leader of Morocco, supported the call for independence, but the resident general rejected any change in protectorate status since colons and French business interests largely remained opposed to independence or reform.

In 1952, the murder of a Moroccan labor leader sparked riots in Casablanca The French authorities responded harshly by banning the Istiqlal and Communist parties and exiling Sultan Mohammed V to Madagascar in 1953. The sultan's replacement, Mohammed Ben Aarafa, was widely seen as illegitimate by Moroccans and his appointment galvanized opposition to French rule. Considering the deteriorating conditions in neighboring Algeria, a more important colony, the French government capitulated to public protests and brought Sultan Mohammed V back from exile in 1955. The sultan, now universally popular, negotiated the return of Moroccan independence, which was formally recognized on March 2, 1956. In 1975, Spain agreed to end colonial rule in Western Sahara. Morocco gained control over the northern part of the territory and Mauritania gained control over the southern part. 

King Hassan II of Morocco

Authoritarian Monarchy: Repression and Reform

Moroccan independence did not bring freedom. Mohammed V imposed a constitutional monarchy in 1957 citing fears that radicals in the national movement wanted to overthrow the sultanate and establish a one-party state. He assumed the title of king and repressed any opposition to his rule until his death in 1961. His son, Hassan II, assumed the throne for a reign that lasted 37 years. Initially, Hassan II sought to establish his own legitimacy through a referendum on a new constitution that created a bicameral parliament and an independent judiciary. But the king retained supreme executive powers. Hassan ordered "states of emergency" in response to political opposition, attempted military coups, and social upheaval. This early period of Hassan II's rule was known as "the years of lead" because of the number of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and arrests of political opponents.

Unusually for an authoritarian leader, especially one known for severe repression, Hassan II initiated a reform and reconciliation process during his last years of rule. He freed political prisoners in 1991, enacted constitutional amendments in 1996 that established a new parliament with expanded powers, launched an independent commission of inquiry to examine human rights abuses, and invited exiled opponents to return. Despite reports of irregularities during elections held in 1997, many previously banned parties gained representation in parliament’s Chamber of Representatives. Hassan II asked the leader of the opposition Socialist Party to lead a coalition government.

Regional Policy and Western Sahara

Hassan II, generally known as a pro-Western leader and ally of the United States, was also a proponent of peace with Israel after the 1973 war and established de facto recognition of Israel. But Hassan’s son and successor, Mohammad VI, suspended Morocco’s ties with Israel in 2000 due to the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Morocco’s pro-Western and moderate reputation is contradicted by its Western Sahara policy. Historically part of Morocco, the territory was under Spanish control from 1884 until 1975, when the post-Franco government relinquished northern and southern parts of the Western Sahara to Morocco and Mauritania, both of which annexed their respective territory. Since 1973, Polisario, an independence movement, has sought national self-determination for Western Sahara and fought an ongoing guerrilla war with Morocco and Mauritania. In 1979, Mauritania ceded its claim to Morocco, which annexed the southern part. In 1991, a UN-brokered peace agreement called for a referendum to determine whether the territory would be granted independence from Morocco. Although a cease-fire has been in effect since then, no referendum has been held and efforts to resolve who should be able to vote have repeatedly failed.

Unusually for an authoritarian leader . . . Hassan II initiated a reform and reconciliation process during his last years of rule.  

The Moroccan government has a record of human rights abuses in the territory and continues to repress Sahrawi (Western Sahara) nationalists as well as Moroccans who express disagreement over the government's policy toward the region. In 2005, demonstrations for independence in El Aaiun were followed by a severe crackdown condemned by the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Unfinished Reconciliation and Reform

When King Hassan's son, Mohammed VI, assumed the throne in 1999, he continued generally in his father's reformist political direction. Mohammed issued two amnesties that freed thousands of political prisoners and reduced the sentences for tens of thousands of others. The 2002 election saw improved procedures and international monitors deemed them free and fair. A plurality of the vote was won by the Union of Popular Socialist Forces (USPF) and a majority of seats were held by socialist and nationalist parties previously considered to be in opposition. In addition to allowing greater electoral democracy, Mohammed VI’s government allowed Berber to be taught in schools for the first time in 2003, passed a law in 2004 improved women’s rights by placing restrictions on polygamy and allowing women to initiate divorce, among other provisions, and, also in 2004, established the Equity and Reconciliation Commission (IER) with a mandate to investigate human rights abuses under his predecessors from 1956 to 1999. To head the IER, he named a former opposition leader and political prisoner, Driss Benzekri. The IER’s scope was limited (it lacked the power to compel testimony or formally charge officials), but it allowed the public testimony of victims and families and compensation to be awarded to victims. The public nature of the commission led to the resignation of several officials.

Human Rights

The reforms undertaken by Hassan II and Mohammed VI were seemingly impressive in their scope by the standards of the Middle East and North Africa, but these reforms and those adopted in 2011 in response to the Arab Spring  protests (see below) make no real institutional changes to the constitutional monarchy. (By contrast, see the Country Study of Tunisia.) Overall, human rights abuses have abated under Mohammed VI, but there are no institutional impediments to prevent their recurrence.

The king retains full decision-making in most significant areas and the parliament has limited powers. The king continues to appoint and dismiss cabinet members, the prime minister (although requiring approval by the legislature), security and military chiefs, and all judges. He also retains the power to dismiss parliament (although now it is in consultation with the prime minister) and to declare states of emergency without parliament’s approval. Political imprisonment and torture remain common, especially against Sahrawis, secular Moroccans expressing criticism of government policy, and members of the Salafi Islamic sect, who challenge the King’s constitutional role as “commander of the faithful.”  It is reported that several hundred of the 1,000 Islamists arrested in 2003 in response to a terrorist attack in Casablanca remain in prison serving sentences imposed after unfair proceedings in which many due process rights were violated.

The monarch dominates the economy, giving the king enormous leverage to enforce his rule. Mohammed VI is the majority stakeholder in a broad network of private and public sector firms.  As a result there is a high concentration of wealth both around the king (whose assets are estimated to total at least $2.5 billion according to Forbes magazine) and his close associates, known as the Makhzen. Such wealth concentration has resulted in Morocco’s low standing in most economic indicators (it ranks 130th in the world in the UN Human Development Index). More than forty percent of the population is illiterate and fifteen percent lives in dire poverty.

Broadcast media is entirely or partially state-owned, while the government exerts significant control over other media through its broad economic control (for example by directing businesses not to advertise in certain newspapers). Although there are many independent papers, self-censorship remains common due to the harsh punishments for libel and common court actions for coverage deemed inappropriate by the government. Newspapers that report on sensitive issues, such as corruption, policy in Western Sahara, or the role of the monarchy, are shut down or fined, and their editors have been imprisoned.

Freedom of assembly, and association are tolerated to some degree but not respected in any full sense. The government has tolerated protests organized by the February 11 Movement, trade unions, and others, but often they are prevented or dispersed. The trade union movement is generally independent but its right to strike is restricted and it is not allowed to take positions on broad national policy. Many organizations are denied registration.

Morocco signed UN human rights conventions as part of Muhammed VI’s early reforms, but the government has directly challenged the UN human rights system in its policy towards Western Sahara by failing to adhere to the UN agreement mandating a referendum on independence. Morocco continues to violate both the agreement and human rights conventions by denying self governance to Sahrawis (Western Saharans) and frequently violating their human rights (see below).

Current Issues

The face of the February 11 Movement, the rapper Mouad  Eelrhouat, has been arrested three times. . . . In general, February 11 Movement activists express skepticism of any future changes.

The Arab Spring began with successful protests that toppled the longstanding dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt in late 2010 and early 2011. Even earlier in 2010, however, a group of opposition intellectuals had met to issue the Casablanca Appeal, which called for political reform in Morocco. The events in Tunisia and Egypt inspired protests in Rabat on February 20, 2011. Protesters demanded greater democracy. In response, King Mohammed VI agreed to political changes and drafted a new Constitution that required the King to form a government from the leading political party, established greater gender equality, and established Berber as an official language. Elections in November 2011 were won by a new moderate Islamist party, the Justice and Development Party (PJD). As required by the new constitution, Muhammed VI asked the PJD leader, Abdelilah Benkirane, to be prime minister, and he put together a coalition government that included the opposition Istiqlal. Political changes, however, proved largely cosmetic, with political decision-making, especially in areas of security and religion, still controlled by King Mohammed VI and the Makhzen. Istiqlal withdrew from the government in July 2013 in protest over anemic economic policy and the PJD had to form a new coalition government.

Since the 2011 reforms, however, Muhammad VI has backtracked on implementing broader changes and cracked down on democracy activists. The Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) documented 2,000 cases of arrests in the past few years. A number of leading participants in the February 11 Movement were sentenced to imprisonment for from six months to one year for participating in a union protest in April 2014 After the same event, a leading trade union activist, Wafae Charaf, was sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment for “falsely reporting” a crime to security police that she had been abducted and tortured by unknown men. Another February 20 youth activist, Oussama Husn, was sentenced to 3 years’ imprisonment for posting a video online describing his own abduction and torture by unknown men. Mouad Belrhouat, a rapper who became the face of the February 11 Movement for his song “Stop the Silence,” has been arrested three times, the last time for allegedly selling tickets illegally to a state football match. He was  sentenced to four months in prison and fined $1,200. In general, while February 11 Movement activists continue to organize protests, they express skepticism of any future changes.

A large group of political prisoners are Sahrawis who protest in favor of independence or otherwise express opposition to the Moroccan government’s policies. Twenty-two Sahrawis were sentenced to lengthy terms of 20 years to life imprisonment in 2013 for their involvement in a violent incident provoked by police who forcibly dismantled a protest camp in Western Sahara in 2010 resulting in the deaths of 11 security officers. In all cases, the convictions were based on confessions that the defendants said were obtained through torture. The government did announce that it would cease to try Sahrawis in military courts and transferred the case of one Sahrawi activist, Mbarek Daoudi, to a civilian court, which sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment.

The authorities continue to harass and repress journalists who criticize the government. Mahmoud Lhaisan, a television journalist, was arrested in July 2014 after he reported on the forced dispersal of Sahrawi demonstrators who called for independence during a rally in Rabat.Authorities also impeded journalist Ali Lmrabet from registering a new satirical weekly after a 10-year ban on his practicing journalism in Morocco had expired. In May 2015, Hiram Mansouri, an investigative journalist, was sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment for adultery, a crime under Moroccan law, which Human Rights Watch called a clear political application of the law.

Human Rights and Freedom from State Tyranny: Country Studies — Indonesia

 Indonesia Country Study

Rankings in Freedom in the World 2016: Status:  Partly Free; Freedom Ranking: 3; Political Rights: 2; Civil Liberties: 4. 

Note: Indonesia was previously categorized as “free” from 2006 to 2013, but its status was downgraded to “partly free” in Freedom House’s 2014 Freedom in the World Report due to the adoption of a restrictive law on non-governmental organizations. While it's political rights ranking remained at 2, reflecting Indonesia's advance as an electoral democracy, the drop in its Civil Liberties score to 4 put its overall Freedom Ranking at 3 and thus partly free." For purposes of Democracy Web’s Comparative Studies in Freedom, Indonesia counts as an electoral democracy (it had free parliamentary and presidential elections in 2014). Indonesia is thus an excellent example of a country bordering between "free" and "partly free" and demonstrates the continuing challenges for countries attempting a transition to democracy. 



Indonesia declared independence in 1945 after centuries of colonial rule, mostly under the Netherlands. Indonesia was ruled by authoritarian regimes from independence until 1998, when democracy protests sparked by a financial crisis forced the long-standing dictator, Suharto, to resign. Since then, Indonesia has held numerous democratic elections, experienced peaceful transfers of power, and addressed a number of human rights concerns. Still, corruption, police and military abuses, and violations of civil liberties have held back political progress. One rebellious region, East Timor, achieved independence in 2002 following a referendum held under U.N. auspices. Despite resolving one other regional insurgencies, Indonesia, like the Philippines (see Country Study), continues to face significant violence from terrorist and separatist movements active over many years. In 2014, Joko Widodo was elected president, thwarting the bid of an ex-security officer under Suharto. 

Indonesia is an archipelago nation made up of more than 17,500 islands, 6,000 of which are populated, lying between the Asian and Australian continents and the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Its only land border is with Malaysia on the island of Borneo. Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country and the 4th largest overall (259 million inhabitants as of 2016). The Economist writes that Indonesia is among the fastest growing economies in the world over the last decade. In 2014, it boasted the world’s 16th largest economy, with a nominal Gross Domestic Product of $888 billion. Nominal per capita Gross National Income, however, ranked only 118th in the world, at around $3,500 per year, lagging far behind neighboring Malaysia and Singapore (see Country Studies). Corruption is a major problem, but under President Wikodo Indonesia’s ranking in the 2016 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index improved to 90th out of 176 countries from 106th in 2014. 


Early History and Kingdoms 

Fossil records indicate that human ancestors inhabited the Indonesian archipelago as far back as 700,000 years ago. The recorded history of modern inhabitation dates to 4000 BC. After several alliances of seafaring city-states, Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms established their dominance over the archipelago in the first millennium. The Srivijaya Kingdom, which ruled on the principal island of Sumatra from the 6th to the 15th centuries AD, introduced Hinduism. Buddhism was introduced to western Java, western Borneo, and the southern Malay Peninsula. As in Malaysia, Arab traders arriving in the 11th century introduced Islam to the islands. The last prince of the Srivijaya Kingdom adopted Islam in 1414 and began a new kingdom on the Malay Peninsula called the Sultanate of Malacca. Several kingdoms developed on Java, the other main Indonesian island. The Majapahit ruled from 1293 to 1500 but was driven to the outpost of Bali by the Sultanate of Malacca. The Mataram Sultanate succeeded the Majapahit in Java in 1570. 

European Colonization: Levels of Brutality 

The Portuguese established the first European foothold on the islands, but the Dutch took control starting in 1602 (Portugal kept the island of East Timor). The Dutch East India Company (VOC) was granted a full monopoly over Indonesian trade by the Dutch parliament and quickly seized key ports to establish a monopoly on the lucrative spice trade. The islands became known as the Dutch East Indies. Dutch rule was marked by brutality. In 1619, the Dutch took Yagakarta (the capital of the Mataram Sultanate), razed it to the ground, and then rebuilt it as present-day Jakarta on the model of Amsterdam. Another example of its rule was the order to slaughter or deport the entire population of the Banda Islands for continuing to trade nutmeg with the English. The islands were repopulated by indentured servants and slaves. 

The VOC went bankrupt in 1799 during the Napoleonic wars. When a reconstituted United Kingdom of the Netherlands reasserted control over the archipelago in 1816, the Dutch moved to a system of plantation farming that relied on forced labor. Rubber, spices, and coffee were the main crops (Indonesia supplied three-quarters of the world's coffee for a time).  During the 19th century, Dutch rulers denied indigenous Indonesians any voice or representation in the administration of the island. An "Ethical Policy" adopted in 1901 led to a greater investment in local education but left demands for political representation unsatisfied. Two leaders, Sukarno and Muhammad Hatta, emerged to organize respective secular and Islamist groups demanding national independence. In the 1920s, the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) also became a strong political force. 

Japanese Invasion and the War for Indonesian Independence 

During World War II, the Japanese invaded Indonesia in early 1942. To forestall local resistance, the Japanese convinced Sukarno and Hatta to take over the system of local administration, from which posts they pushed a unifying theme of nationalism. Japanese occupation was severe — the UN estimated that four million people died from all causes under Japanese rule, many due to forced labor and starvation. Still, the wartime collaboration of both leaders was not considered a contradiction in the struggle for Indonesian independence. 

On August 17, 1945, after Japan's military withdrawal, Sukarno issued a declaration of Indonesia's independence and gave himself executive authority under a provisional constitution. Using Japanese-trained soldiers, the nationalist movement fought a British force ordered to prevent postwar chaos and then the Dutch, who regained control over the islands after fierce fighting. The resilience of the nationalist movement and the Dutch public’s unwillingness to accept the cost of a continued empire led Queen Julianna’s to recognize Indonesia's independence on December 27, 1949. The cost of independence, however, had been high: 6,000 Dutch and 150,000 Indonesians lost their lives during the fighting. 


Sukarno: "President for Life" 

Sukarno assumed the dominant political position in Indonesia as head of state. A new constitution instituted a state ideology based on five principles (Pancasila): “belief in the One and Only God; just and civilized humanity; the unity of Indonesia; democracy guided by the inner wisdom of deliberations of representatives; and social justice for all the Indonesian people.” The new constitution also provided for parliamentary democracy, with the president chosen by parliament. In national elections that were not held until 1955, approximately 60 parties won representation to parliament, creating such a fractious political environment that a stable government could not be formed.  In 1959, President Sukarno re-validated the 1945 provisional constitution, which had granted him executive power, and proclaimed a period of “Guided Democracy.” He formed a coalition among the country three key political forces to rule the country: himself as president, the armed forces, and the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI). In 1963, Sukarno declared himself “president for life.” 

Suharto: A Violent Counterinsurgency and the Era of the New Order

Sukarno was concerned by the growing influence of the military, which he himself had strengthened with his aggressive foreign policy to take military control over the western half of Papua New Guinea (which had remained under Dutch control) and to provoke a major confrontation with Malaysia over contested territories. He thus allowed the PKI to arm peasants and other loyal social groups as a counterforce to a potential military takeover. In 1965, when six army generals visiting Sukarno were shot and killed by pro-PKI palace guards, the head of the Army Strategic Command, General Suharto, took charge of the government and launched a military campaign against what many believed to be an attempted Communist coup. Suharto’s counter-insurgency campaign was one of the worst episodes of government-sponsored bloodshed in global postwar history: from 500,000 to 1 million Communists and suspected Communists were killed. A similar number were imprisoned. Sukarno remained president until March 1966, but without power. In 1967, Suharto had himself appointed to a full five-year term as president by a Provisional People's Consultative Assembly. Sukarno was placed under house arrest (he died in 1970). Meanwhile Suharto instituted a systematic dictatorship marked by a much higher degree of political control than previously. The “New Order” movement, comprised of a pro-government political party, Golkar, and three satellite parties, dominated the legislature. Other political parties were banned. The People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), the congress of both legislative houses, elected Suharto to seven successive five-year terms as president. During his 31-year regime, security forces responded to insurrections, terrorist activity, and political opposition with force and repression, while the government exercised control over the media, judiciary and many social organizations.

Throughout Suharto's reign, many individuals braved imprisonment and death to stand up for human and labor rights.

The Victory of Democracy

Throughout Suharto's reign, many individuals braved imprisonment and death to stand up for human and labor rights. But, while opposition parties existed, they faced restrictions. Only political parties that were part of “the New Order” could run candidates for office. A split in one of the New Order satellite parties, the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), helped bring down the Suharto regime. 

The PDI was the party of Sukarno, for whom there remained a high degree of nostalgia as Indonesia’s first leader. Suharto allowed the PDI to remain active within the “New Order” movement in order to give himself greater legitimacy. To keep this veneer, he asked Sukarno's daughter, Megawati Sukarnopoutri, a housewife without political experience, to join the PDI in the mid-1980s and she was elected on the PDI’s slate to the rubber-stamp House of Representatives (DPR), the main legislative chamber. By the early 1990s, Megawati, wishing to restore her father’s legacy, distanced herself from Suharto and gained support to head the PDI. When police intervened to block the party congress from meeting in December 1993, she declared herself chairwoman and later was elected at a party assembly hidden from police. The government rejected Megawati’s election, recognized Suharto loyalists to lead the PDI, and seized the party offices from Megawati. Supporters tried to reclaim the offices, but were violently suppressed by police. . Five people were killed and 23 went missing. The event became known as "Black Saturday" and was a rallying cry for the growing opposition. When Megawati’s PDI faction was banned from the 1997 elections, she organized mass anti-government protests. 

Two events propelled Suharto’s departure. During the East Asian financial crisis in 1998, Suharto forced the legislature to adopt a highly criticized austerity plan required by the IMF in exchange for a bailout fund to stabilize a plummeting currency. Later that year, Suharto insisted on being elected to a seventh term in office. Mass protests erupted that revealed the enormous dissatisfaction with Suharto’s long rule. Megawati’s party, renamed the Indonesian Democratic Party–Struggle (PDI–P), joined forces with two outlawed Islamist parties — the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the National Mandate Party (PAN) — to demand Suharto's ouster. In the face of domestic opposition and international pressure, Suharto resigned in favor of his vice president, who ended the repression of opposition parties and scheduled new parliamentary elections. Elections were held in 1999 under the old system, however. The PDI-P won a plurality to the House of Representatives, but the Islamist vote split to leave Golkar, which also retained a large number appointed seats, the second largest bloc. Initially, the Islamist leader of PANopposed women in public office and teamed up with Golkar to elect as president Abdurrahman Wahid, the leader of the more moderate Islamist party, PKB. But Megawati, who was elected vice president, ended up succeeding Wahid the next year when he was impeached for incompetence and corruption. 

In three years, Megawati achieved significant democratic reform, including constitutional amendments to eliminate appointed seats for the military in the legislature, to establish direct national elections for president and vice president, and to adopt a federal system that decentralized political power. The latter reform allowed Megawati to negotiate an end to the Free Aceh guerilla movement’s 30-year-long regional rebellion in 2004, after that year’s devastating tsunami, by granting the province greater autonomy. Despite these achievements, Megawati’s popularity waned and she lost the country's first free election for president in 2004 to a former general, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The parliamentary elections held at the same time resulted in the restoration of Golkar, the party of power under Suharto, as the main party. Yudhoyono’s newly formed Democratic Party came in second and Megawati’s PDI-P was only a distant third. After a term of fitful reform combined with economic growth, President Yudhoyono won re-election in 2009 and his Democratic Party supplanted Golkar as the largest party in the legislature. The PDI-P remained in opposition until winning elections again in 2014 (see Current Issues). 

Human Rights

Since Suharto was forced to resign in 1998 as a result of a peaceful popular rebellion, democratic politics have taken root in Indonesia, the world's most populour Muslim country.

For much of Indonesia's history, its citizens lived under repressive authoritarian or colonial political systems that had little regard for human rights and denied political representation to the population. When Indonesia gained independence, it was governed under an authoritarian ruler who was then supplanted by a much more repressive dictator, Suharto, whose initial years in power were spent in the brutal suppression of a communist insurgency. Since Suharto was forced to resign in 1998 as a result of a peaceful popular rebellion, democratic politics have taken root in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, and the government has pledged to ensure the human rights of its citizens. Indonesia’s democratic governments, however, have not similarly rooted respect for human rights in government practices. Military and police services continue to commit transgressions with impunity and civil society is now restricted by a repressive law. Corruption is still pervasive and thwarts democratic governance.  


Since the 1999 parliamentary election that instituted democratic rule, three subsequent national elections for parliament and president have been held under new constitutional provisions that eliminated previous anti-democratic features (such as mandatory appointed seats for the military) and made the offices of president and vice president subject to a direct national ballot. The changes also established direct elections for regional and local leadership positions for governors and mayors. Although violence has marred balloting in some regions and there remain questionable ballot practices in others, the parliamentary elections held in 2004, 2009, and 2014 have been deemed free and fair by international and domestic observers, as were separate direct presidential elections held in the same years.

Parliamentary elections in 2004 resulted in a victory by the former governing party, Golkar, and the defeat of the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), which had led the reformasi movement that ousted the Suharto dictatorship. A new Democratic Party, formed around the successful presidential campaign of a former general, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, came in second. The 2004 presidential election resulted in the first peaceful transfer of executive authority in the country's history through elections, as Megawati Sukarnoputri ceded power as president to Yudhoyono. The new president presided over rapid economic growth and won re-election in 2009 and his Democratic Party won a decisive plurality in the legislative elections over Golkar, the PDI-P, and a new nationalist party, Gerindra (Greater Indonesia Party), led by a former high-ranking security officer form the Suharto regime. Yudhoyono, constitutionally limited to two terms, was succeeded by Joko Widodo, who won elections in July 2014 as the candidate of the PDI-P. A second transfer of executive power through elections was achieved (see Current Issues below). 

Adopting Universal Standards 

In 2005, Indonesia ratified the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Since 1999, Indonesia has also ratified all eight of the core ILO conventions (see Freedom of Association), one of the few countries in the Asia-Pacific region to do so. In addition, the government's new human rights office adopted the Indonesian National Plan of Action on Human Rights, which was tasked with making sure Indonesia was in compliance with the new conventions. Its formal aim is “invigorating the Indonesian effort to promote and protect the human rights of the Indonesian people, in particular the segments of the community that are most vulnerable to human rights violation." The plan also seeks to improve the quality of life and to reduce poverty. 

Indonesia’s human rights record is mixed. Military and police forces still act with impunity and have not fully accepted demo-cratic controls on their behavior. New legal restrictions have been placed on civil society.

Human Rights Practices

Certainly, human rights are much more respected in Indonesia today in contrast to the Suharto era, when political repression was pervasive, civil liberties were routinely trampled, and the security forces regularly suppressed dissent with violence. (In the Suharto era, Freedom House ratings were routinely 6 for political rights and 4 or 5 for civil liberties, placing Indonesia in the “not free” or low end of the “partly free” categories. Since 1999, Indonesia has been in the “free” or upper end of the “partly free” categories, with freedom rankings of 2.5 or 3).  Still, Indonesia’s human rights record is mixed. Military and police forces still act with impunity and have not fully accepted democratic controls on their behavior. New legal restrictions have been placed on civil society. And the brutal legacy of dictatorship remains unexamined. 

Freedoms of speech, association and religion are generally respected, but there are significant problems in each area. Media is now free and independent with open and frequent criticism of the government and regular reporting on corruption, abuses by security forces, and other issues. Regulatory restrictions, however, force many broadcast media (up to 1,000 radio and television stations) to operate outside legal protection. Defamation laws are used frequently to protect vested interests, resulting in self-censorship by journalists. Transparency laws provide for full freedom of information, but the government continues to shield the security services and corrupt agencies. Violence against journalists, especially in regions affected by separatist and terrorist groups, is ongoing. Overall, Indonesia’s media has been considered only “partly free” in Freedom House’s Freedom of Media Reports. 

Independent trade unions represent 10 percent of the registered workforce and have the right to strike, except for public sector employees. Indonesia’s recent adoption of ILO conventions means that foreign investors are subject to international labor standards. Still, many worker rights abuses at foreign-owned firms go unchallenged and there is weak enforcement of child labor and minimum wage laws. There is an active civil society, with around 28,000 registered non-governmental organizations. Citizens’ groups petition the government on significant issues and many monitor human rights and report violations to the government’s human rights office. A new law adopted in 2013, however, placed new restrictions and government oversight on NGOs (see Current Issues below). 

Freedom of religion is guaranteed in the constitution for the six recognized religions (Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism). But Human Rights Watch documents frequent discrimination, harassment, and violence at the regional and local level against both recognized religious groups and minority religious sects. Freedom of worship is often restricted by the denial of permits to build churches and mosques. There is a general lack of protection for non-Sunni religious worshipers who are the objects of mob attacks and local discrimination by authorities, especially followers of Ahmadiyya, a heterodox Shi’ite sect with 400,000 followers. Muslims who do not submit to Shari’a courts or who publicly reject the belief in God are subject to court action.  Atheism is not recognized as a legitimate belief and blasphemy is outlawed, with a number of cases of convictions for blasphemy in recent years. 

Abuses by police and military forces have been ongoing sources of concern for human rights advocates. Counterinsurgency forces in Aceh province tried to undermine the peace agreement reached between President Megawati and the GAM separatist movement in 2004. In other regions where there have been autonomy and separatist movements, such as Papua and West Papua, security forces have carried out extra-judicial killings, other violence, warrantless arrests, and torture, all with relative impunity.  Torture of criminal suspects is still common. On the other hand, the special anti-terrorist security force has been praised for effectively preventing terrorist bombings and pursuing a number of cases against groups associated with al Qaeda and Islamic State, both of which have carried out several gruesome attacks.

Indonesia has emerged from fifty years of authoritar-ianism and hundreds of years of colonialism to join the world’s community of democracies through regular, free and fair elections. . . .[But] there are continuing problems in the area of human rights.. . . 

Current Issues

In April 2014, Indonesia held its third national parliamentary election under constitutional provisions that made all 560 seats in the House of Representatives and 132 seats in the Senate directly elected by party list and single district elections. In addition, Indonesia’s voters elected 2,112 assemblymen in 33 regions and almost 17,000 legislators at the district level. Turnout of the country’s 190 million registered voters was estimated at 70 percent. Despite the threat of violence by Islamic extremists and separatist groups in certain regions, the balloting at 550,000 polling stations was generally peaceful, free and fair according to both international and domestic observers. The legislative elections were contested by 12 national parties that met significant requirements for registration on a national and regional level. 

In the parliamentary elections, the Democratic Party of Indonesia-Struggle (PDI-P), still led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, won a plurality to return to power for the first time since 2004. But its 20 percent of the vote was less than expected. Golkar, the former government party under Suharto now led by the billionaire Aburizal Bakrie, came in a distant second with 12 percent of the vote. Third place, at 11.5 percent, went to the Greater Indonesia Party, or Gerindra, which is headed by a former general who has been accused of serious human rights abuses during Suharto’s rule. The Democrat Party of outgoing President Yudhoyono dropped to fourth from its leading position in 2009 with 9 percent, the probable result of numerous corruption scandals during his administration. Two Islamic parties and several other regionally based parties retained their positions in parliament. 

Presidential elections held in July 2014 were won by Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, a popular governor of Jakarta known for walking the streets and talking directly with citizens. He received 53 percent of the vote, but his mandate, like that of his party, PDI-P, was less than expected against Gerindra’s leader, the former general Prabowo Subianto. Since taking office, Jokowi has adopted major economic reforms (such as getting rid of fuel subsidies) but disappointed his followers with the appointment of a Megawati advisor under investigation for corruption as head of the police. As well, Jokowi allowed the executions of eight foreign nationals convicted of drug trafficking, causing several countries to suspend diplomatic relations. 

In a major setback for human rights, a new law adopted in 2013, before the elecitons, placed additional restrictions and government oversight on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and imposed a new requirement that NGOs adhere to the national ideology of Pancasila. This is a set of five principles adopted as part of the 1945 Constitution written by Sukarno to serve as the founding ideology of Indonesia. The principles are both specific and vague: monotheism, a just and civilized humanity, national unity, democracy, and social justice for all Indonesians. Under the law, the government has the authority to dissolve organizations that commit blasphemy or advocate non-Pancasila ideologies, including atheism and communism, which are banned. Even before the new law, individual atheists were imprisoned under separate blasphemy laws (see New York Times article in Resources). Due to the adoption of the new law, Freedom House changed Indonesia’s status from “free” to “partly free” in 2014.

In the last three years, campaigns of intimidation and violence have been organized by religious authorities and groups against religious sects and to prevent blasphemous public events, such as a book signing by a well-known LGBTI rights activist and a concert by Lady Gaga (both events, among others, had to be cancelled). The Islamic Defenders Front forced organizers of the Miss World beauty pageant to move the event from Jakarta to the more liberal Bali region. In early 2016, government officials and members of parliament also began publicly calling for bans of gay organizations at universities and the banning of “pro-gay emojis” appearing on Twitter and other social media. At the same time, there are currently proposals to ban the Islamic Defenders Front for its use of violence against “blasphemers.”

In general, Indonesia has emerged from fifty years of authoritarianism and hundreds of years of colonialism to join the world’s community of democracies through regular, free and fair elections. Indonesia is the world’s largest predominantly Muslim country to successfully transition from dictatorship to self-government based on equal citizenship of all faiths. While former officials from the Suharto dictatorship continue to play prominent roles in Indonesia, democratic politics has been firmly planted in Indonesian society. There are continuing problems in the area of human rights and the problem of corruption remains prevalent — in one recent example, the speaker of the House of Representatives was forced to resign in early 2016 after it was revealed he took kickbacks from a foreign mining company. In the first year of Jokowi’s administration, however, overall human rights practices have improved according to both Human Rights Watch and Freedom House. Still, due to the application of the new law on NGOs, it remains in the partly free category.

Human Rights and Freedom from State Tyranny: History


The Origins of Human Rights

In Western thought, the concept of human rights is derived partly from the practices and texts of monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. One of the primary human rights in all international conventions is the right to life — a right first elaborated as the first commandment in the Old Testament: "Thou shalt not kill." Other ideas of human dignity, such as not to harm, injure, or steal as well as precepts of justice and fairness, are all elaborated in religious texts that influence the ethical beliefs of most people in the world today. Indeed, many of the founders of the United States and their supporters used religion to justify rebelling against the British king and establishing self-governance among equal citizens. In so doing, they sought to establish the universal significance of their cause.

The evolution of political freedom and the concept of human rights have many historical developments to draw from, such as the expansion of citizenship rights for males in ancient Athens by Cleisthenes and Cyrus the Great's abolition of slavery in the ancient Persian Empire. A more lasting foundation was King John's signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 in England (discussed in other sections), which established a foundation for the development of constitutional limits, the rule of law, and parliamentary rule in Britain.

The Enlightenment, John Locke, and Natural Rights philosophical underpinnings of modern standards of human rights are . . . found in the Enlightenment, the philosophical period when concepts such as natural rights, natural law, social contracts, and the rights of man were more fully developed.

The philosophical underpinnings of modern standards of human rights, however, are more recent. These are found in the Enlightenment, the historical period when concepts such as natural rights, natural law, social contracts, and the rights of man were more fully developed. Until the Enlightenment, most political philosophers, such as Thomas Hobbes, justified monarchical rule. Hobbes, for example, famously defended monarchical rule as the only way in which to avoid the brutish state of man's nature. The tumultuous English civil wars of the 17th century seemed to traditionalists to confirm this low assessment of human behavior. In response to Hobbes, the English philosopher John Locke set out to find a new basis for legitimate government. In his Two Treatises of Civil Government (1680–90), Locke asserted that the essential aspect of man's state in nature is not brutishness but rather his possession of natural rights endowed to him by God, namely those of "life, liberty, and estate." In Locke’s view, people come together to form government out of self-interest, not fear as Hobbes wrote, so as to give them the possibility to enjoy these rights.

Locke was not the first person to assert the existence of natural rights, nor was he the first to develop a political philosophy from the idea of the state of nature (examples date to the classical world). However, he was the first to posit that the natural rights of man lay the foundation for self-government among equal citizens and that "no legitimate government exists without the consent of the governed." A government based on monarchy or one leader is by its nature tyrannical and denies citizens the rights they possess by nature. This philosophy had a great influence on the founders of the United States: Thomas Jefferson considered Locke one of the three greatest men of the millennium. Locke’s assertions formed the basis for consensual government — republican democracy — first within the individual American colonies and then within the United States of America (see also Consent of the Governed). It was the first experiment in self-government and a state free of tyranny.

From Locke to Kant

From the natural rights of man to “life, liberty and estate” posited by Locke (and incorporated into the Declaration of Independence) there developed a more expansive definition of rights. The English Bill of Rights of 1689, adopted two years after Locke’s Two Treatises on Government, broadened the Magna Carta’s original restrictions on state power to re-confirm in a basic charter the additional rights that British citizens had established for themselves. These included the right of citizens to petition government for grievances and citizens’ rights to due process against the abuse of power by the king. The US Bill of Rights went further still by establishing political and civil liberties, such as freedom of speech, association, assembly, and religion as fundamental to a system of self-government (see also Constitutional Limits and Rule of Law). The 18th-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued for the universal application of rights and the abolishment of social distinctions within a system of political rights in his Second Discourse and The Social Contract. His ideas influenced the adoption in 1789 of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which embodied the more egalitarian spirit of the French Revolution (for example by granting suffrage to all male citizens regardless of class). Around the same time, the 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant revisited the issue of natural rights from a different perspective. He asserted that universal rights and duties were not just inherent from the self-interest of individuals to protect their rights and possessions but derived from the basic equality and moral autonomy of individuals. Kant asserted that the human capacity for reason provided the basis for moral action. In this view, natural rights are not granted or given by God. They exist as human rights and are universal based on the underlying rationality of human beings and their capacity for moral action. While one can cite many other philosophers in influencing the evolution of European political thought, these three — Locke, Rousseau, and Kant — had the most profound impact in establishing the modern philosophical foundation for the respect of universal human rights.

The Struggle for Abolition and Universality

Of course, neither the American nor the French Revolutions created full political equality or even an end to state tyranny. There existed many contradictions between the foundational principles each espoused and the practices of the governments they established. The French Revolution’s broad assertion of human rights did not prevent the descent into the Reign of Terror, which justified thousands of beheadings by the need to protect the revolution from its enemies. As well, notwithstanding the universality of his language, John Locke justified slavery and the exclusion of non-property owners from voting. Many of the founders of the United States, influenced by Locke's assertion that property was the principal basis for political rights, argued that property ownership, including the right to own slaves, was not only a fundamental right but the only basis for political participation in a republic.

The abolition of slavery was an essential step in establishing the universality of human rights. In 1807, the British parliament outlawed the slave trade and in 1833 it outlawed slavery within the British Empire. The government then undertook significant military efforts to prevent slave trading by other states. Leaders in France's First Republic outlawed slavery as early as 1794, but it was restored by Napoleon in 1802 and only banned for good in 1848. The Netherlands abolished slavery throughout its colonies in 1863, the same year that Russia abolished serfdom. Slavery was steadily abolished in Latin America after the wars of independence but not immediately (Brazil was the last country to do so in 1888). In the United States, where millions of people had been brought in chains from Africa for forced labor, slavery was abolished gradually in northern states by 1808 but only fully as a result of the Civil War with the secessionist Confederate States, one of the bloodiest conflicts in modern history. President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in Confederate states. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution adopted in 1865 definitively abolished slavery throughout the US. (Principles of equal rights and equal suffrage regardless of race — established in the 14th and 15th Amendments — were routinely transgressed, especially in the South where Reconstruction policies were defeated by adherents of white supremacy. There, a system of Jim Crow laws put in place that denied the most basic rights of African Americans. It was only through the efforts of America’s Civil Rights Movement over more than eighty years that the 14th and 15th amendments became the central legal pillars prohibiting discrimination. See also History sections in Free Elections, Majority Rule, Minority Rights, and Rule of Law.)

Broadsheet supporting the abolition of slavery, 1837

The abolition of slavery by the world's major powers in the 19th century, including in their colonies, made the right of persons not to be held in servitude one of the first universally established human rights. It is enshrined in Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Unfortunately, neither slavery nor forced labor has been eradicated globally. According to a US State Department report, human bondage and trafficking continues for an estimated 27 million men, women, and children.

The Rise of Independence; the Descent into Totalitarianism

In Europe and in European colonies throughout the world, progress toward national independence began to gain momentum at the turn of the 20th century. This progress accelerated at the end of World War I, providing further impetus to the idea of equal rights for citizens of a nation state and also to the connection between national independence and political freedom. In Europe, many countries previously under subjugation as part of the Austrian, Russian and Ottoman empires gained independence after World War I. Both before and after World War II, anticolonial movements arose in many parts of the world to press for political participation, democracy, human rights, and independence in countries and territories controlled by imperial powers.

Yet just as freedom movements were gaining traction in many areas of the world, Fascist, Communist, and imperial ideologies were taking hold in other parts. In the 1920s and 1930s, totalitarian movements seized power in Spain, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the Soviet Union (which had reconstituted and expanded much of the former Russian empire). The level of tyranny instituted by these regimes was unprecedented in the modern world and carried out on a massive scale affecting the lives of all citizens and also targeting whole nationalities and ethnic and religious groups for enslavement or extermination. The challenge to human rights was global: the aim of both fascist and communist regimes was world domination and the total subjugation of societies in the service of totalitarian ideologies. Nazi Germany partnered with Italy and Japan as the Axis powers to divide the world for occupation. The Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union divided Europe among these two totalitarian powers.

The determined resistance of Britain, the ultimate intervention of the United States, and the resistance of occupied populations and exile armies were decisive in thwarting the Axis plan for mass extermination and the total annihilation of human rights was thwarted. But the Nazis’ ultimate defeat was also due to Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union, ending the Hitler-Stalin partnership and forcing Stalin’s regime to take part in the struggle against Nazi Germany as a temporary ally of the free Allied nations. But it was the leaders of the US and the United Kingdom who established the essential principles for that struggle when Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met in August 1941 to sign the Atlantic Charter. It asserted that certain basic standards of governance would guide the postwar world, including principles of self-determination, non-aggression, disarmament, and freedom.

Out of the Postwar Rubble: A Foundation for Universality

From the rubble of World War II, there emerged a profound determination by the US and United Kingdom, working together with leaders of other free countries, to entrench the principles of the Atlantic Charter in international law to be enforced by a binding international framework. The main institutional foundation of the new international system was the United Nations. The Charter of the UN incorporated the Atlantic Charter’s principles of self-determination, non-aggression, and inviolability of sovereignty into the new world security order. It was signed on June 26, 1945 by representatives of 51 countries gathered in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organization.

One of the UN's first tasks was to create the foundation for an international framework also for human rights. It established a Commission on Human Rights in 1946, which was chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, the head of the US delegation. Two years later, after nearly 1,400 votes on the specific wording of the text, the General Assembly, now with 56 members, approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by a vote of 48–0. Eight states abstained. (See Essential Principles for further discussion of the adoption of the UDHR.) From the rubble of World War II, there emerged a profound determination . . . to entrench [basic standards of governance] in international law to be enforced by a binding international framework.

In addition to the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ad hoc Nuremberg and Tokyo International War Crimes Tribunals (as well as initial trials held at German concentrations camps) established the principle that state sovereignty did not protect individuals responsible for committing war crimes or crimes against humanity on behalf of a state government. These precedents were one of the foundations for the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted in 1948, which today is the most widely recognized international treaty governing the practice of nation-states (see also discussion in Rule of Law). In the 1990s, the UN established three special international tribunals to prosecute individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Other special tribunals were established for Cambodia, East Timor, Lebanon, and Sierra Leone. The Rome Statute came into effect in 2002, which created a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC). As of 2013, there were 139 total signatories to the Rome Statute and 18 cases being investigated and prosecuted of individuals from the Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Sudan, and Uganda (see link).

Another important institution in the foundation of international human rights is the International Labor Organization (ILO), which was established in 1919. It is the only institution of the League of Nations to survive and become a part of the UN system. In setting conditions for labor and freedom of association, the ILO brought worker rights into the framework of human rights (see also Freedom of Association).

Separately, the Council of Europe adopted the European Convention on Human Rights, which entered into force in 1953, and established the European Court of Human Rights. It has overseen compliance with the Convention among the Council’s members, now numbering 53, for more than 50 years.

Universality in Principle and Practice

As noted in Essential Principles, many UN member states continued to violate human rights on a massive scale with varying justifications. The broad scope and extent of such violations even today is made clear by the annual Freedom in the World Report of Freedom House (see 2016 Report and the Country Studies in Democracy Web of “not free” as well as “partly free” countries). In total, Freedom House lists 50 “not free” countries in its 2016 Freedom in the World Report, as well as 59 “partly free” countries where human rights are also regularly violated. These countries encompass 60 percent of the world’s population.

Yet the Atlantic Charter’s assertion that the right of self- governance should be extended to “all peoples” and the UDHR’s assertion that all human beings are "born free and equal in dignity and rights" propelled a large expansion of human rights internationally. These fundamental concepts and the UDHR’s more specific definition of the rights that all human beings were entitled to inspired movements for de-colonialization, freedom, and democracy around the world that have led to the collapse of some of the world's major human rights violators, from South Africa to the Soviet Union. According to Freedom House, the number of “free” countries where human rights are generally respected is now 86 out of 195, an increase of 42 countries since the survey was first done in 1973. More importantly, the essential standards established by the UDHR and subsequent human rights conventions made universal the principle that human rights should be respected by all states. Even governments violating human rights feel obliged to sign human rights conventions. In doing so, they place themselves under international scrutiny regarding their human rights practices.

The UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) continued as a permanent UN agency for enforcement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other conventions on human rights among member states. The effectiveness of the UNCHR was limited since many of its members included blatant human rights violators. Thus, for example, the invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union — among the most blatant violations of state sovereignty and human rights in the post-war period — were not even deliberated by the commission. In 2005, with many democracies frustrated by its performance, the mandate of the UN Commission on Human Rights was ended in order to create a new UN Human Rights Council, which began operating in 2006. However, its membership also includes human rights violators and, in truth, its deliberations have become even more politicized and biased. For example, since 2006 there have been 50 resolutions with targeted criticism of Israel, the Middle East’s only democracy, while the human rights record of the People’s Republic of China was only dealt with once, in 2014, in a “uniform periodic review” that muted a number of criticisms and recommendations.

Despite the highly mixed record of both the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) and the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), nevertheless they have carried out essential monitoring of human rights abuses of UN member states and established numerous precedents in upholding international human rights standards. For example, after failing to address human rights violations in communist states over the course of decades, the UNCHR, along with the International Labour Organization (ILO), set an important precedent in the 1980s by consistently adopting critical resolutions of the Polish People’s Republic and appointing Commissions of Inquiry and Special Rapporteurs to investigate human and worker rights violations after the government’s imposition of martial law in December 1981 aimed at destroying the free trade union Solidarity. Focused criticism by the UNCHR and ILO of Poland under martial law, as well as of Chile under the rule of General Augusto Pinochet, of South Africa under the apartheid regime, and of many other dictatorships, were significant in assisting freedom movements in these countries. The UNCHR’s and ILO’s actions helped to maintain international attention on the human and worker rights situation in these countries, provide dissidents and opposition movements greater public legitimacy in their own countries and abroad, and prod both foreign governments and the UN to impose sanctions and other pressure on the authorities in these countries that resulted in concrete steps to abide by international commitments to protect human rights. More recently, the UN Human Rights Council established Commissions of Inquiry for Syria and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. These special commissions have issued comprehensive reports on human rights violations that are he basis for resolutions of condemnation and referrals for action by the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court (links to these reports may be found in Resources for Syria and North Korea.) The principle of human rights universality that the US government helped to establish through the UN and UDHR had a profound impact within the United States as well, providing an essential argument for achieving the civil rights victories of African Americans and other minorities in the 1950s and 1960s.

The principle of human rights universality that the US government helped to establish through the UN and UDHR had a profound impact within the United States as well, providing an essential argument for achieving the civil rights victories of African Americans and other minorities in the 1950s and 1960s. Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement like Martin Luther King and Bayard Rustin pointed to the principles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other documents as one of the bases for their demands to achieve, finally, equal rights in the US. Such victories led further to applying equal rights principles for women, persons with disabilities, and the LGBT community, both in the US and internationally.

The first human rights organizations were the societies organized against slavery in Britain and the US. Freedom House, founded in 1941 under the bipartisan leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt and the recently defeated Republican candidate for president, Wendell Wilkie, was among the first organizations to generally advocate for human rights worldwide and helped to develop the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today, the principle of the universality of human rights is reflected in the many human rights organizations that have been organized in the US, Europe, and throughout the world, including in many countries where human rights are being denied and human rights defenders risk prison and other repression for their work (see Resources).

Human Rights and Freedom from State Tyranny: Essential Principles

Essential Principles

"We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their
creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
American Declaration of Independence, 1776

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948

 When American soldiers entered Germany and helped to liberate its network of concentration camps at the end of World War II, what they discovered brought an awful clarity to the world's titanic struggle against Nazi Germany. Sergeant Ragene Farris, a medic with the 329th Medical Battalion, 104th Infantry Division, was one of those who arrived at one of the subcamps within the Buchenwald complex. He described the horrifying scenes he saw:

There were others, in dark cellar rooms, lying in disease and filth, being eaten away by diarrhea and malnutrition. It was like stepping into the Dark Ages to walk into one of these cellar-cells and seek out the living; like walking into a world apart and returning to bring these shadow-men into the environment of a clean American ambulance. In one bomb crater lay about twenty bodies. We pulled three or four feebly struggling living ones from the bottom of the pile; they had been struggling for five or six days to get out but the weight of the other bodies piled on them had been too much for their starved, emaciated frames. We saw those on a bank who had been cut down by machine guns in trying to escape the fury of the guards... One Parisian [prisoner] told me that many of the 3,000 dead in the camp had been worked, beaten, and forced at top speed until they could work no longer, after which they were starved off or killed outright.

The extent of the horrors of World War II fundamentally changed how the world perceived human rights.

Universal Standards

Prior to World War II, human rights were mostly a matter to be determined by each state. Out of the "barbarous acts that have outraged the conscience of humankind," there emerged a new consensus to establish universal standards of conduct by nation states and sovereign territories. In 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR. It was the first code of international standards for human rights and set the standards that all member states of this new international institution pledged to respect.

The most important principle of the charter was stated as the "recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family. . . .” Such recognition, the charter continued, “is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world." The UDHR's 30 articles enumerate a broad array of fundamental rights, including "the right to life, liberty, and security of person."
Eleanor Roosevelt with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Other rights include the right to emigrate and to find asylum; the rights to free expression; the rights to association and assembly; the right to petition the government for redress of wrongs; the right to practice one’s religion; the right to participate in the affairs of government; the assurance of due process; freedom from state tyranny; and the rights to work, leisure, and an adequate standard of living.

Most of the UDHR's individual rights had been previously established as essential components of any democracy through the British Bill of Rights of 1689, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man (see History). Yet, their status as the framework for universal rights for all people and for all countries, to be protected by a framework of international law and institutions, was new.

Definitions, Tiers, and Enforcement

The issue of how to define human rights remains. What are the essential principles? Are they only civil and political, or are they also social, economic, and cultural? Or are they all of the above? Do some have priority over others? Are they imposed as a "Western" concept, or are they truly universal? Part of the answer to these questions lies in how the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and subsequent conventions were adopted.

One of the main difficulties in writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was that it involved the participation of nondemocratic regimes whose aims were antithetical to human rights. The Soviet Union became a Western ally during World War II following Nazi Germany’s surprise invasion in June 1941, but in peacetime it returned to being a rival to the Western democracies. For the Soviet Union, the period after World War II was an opportunity to consolidate its control over Eastern Europe and extend its influence worldwide. Within the UN Commission on Human Rights, the Soviet delegation asserted the primacy of “competing" and "higher” economic and social rights against “bourgeois” civil and political rights proposed by the democracies. Eleanor Roosevelt, the former First Lady who headed the U.S. delegation, was chairman of the UN Commission on Human Rights from 1946 to 1951. She spent considerable effort in contending with the head of the Soviet delegation, Andrei Vyshinsky, himself a notorious human rights violator as Stalin's general prosecutor during the Great Purge trials of the 1930s that laid the groundwork for an estimated one million executions and four to six million people imprisoned in mass forced labor camps. Mrs. Roosevelt insisted on the preeminence of political rights within any human rights charter and argued that the emphasis on alternate rights as proposed by the Soviet Union were aimed at deflecting criticism of its own totalitarian dictatorship. The atrocities committed by the Nazi regime in Germany had overshadowed revelations of the Soviet Union's own terrible repression and treatment of its citizens in its own network of penal and labor camps. However, basic facts about the Great Purges, the forced famine in Ukraine, and mass imprisonment in forced labor camps — the victims of the Soviet system of “economic rights” — were emerging. atrocities committed by the Nazi regime in Germany had overshadowed revelations of the Soviet Union’s own terrible repression and treatment of its citizens.

To move forward, the commission members finally agreed to a single Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and to break up a proposed “International Bill of Rights” into two parts, which eventually led to the adoption of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, both of which were approved for ratification in 1966 and came into force in 1976. The UN later approved other human rights documents, including the UN Convention Against Torture and the Universal Convention on the Rights of the Child (see Resources for links to UN Human Rights Conventions).

The separation of the International Bill of Rights into two conventions and the adoption of subsequent human rights conventions led to various attempts to define the different categories of human rights. Some theorists defined them respectively as individual and collective. Others defined categories of human rights as first generation (individual), second generation (collective), and third generation (global).

Despite the tendency to generalize all rights, the UN system has in fact established a hierarchy both through its deliberations and through the oversight of its conventions. Thus, while other categories of rights are valid, the most significant for the UN has been the distinction between non-derogable and derogable rights. Non-derogable rights refer to what governments cannot do under any circumstances. Governments cannot wantonly restrict all rights; destroy ethnic or national groups; commit aggression or war crimes against another country; or otherwise kill, persecute, imprison, enslave, torture, or exile one's own citizens. The derogable category refers to rights that may be violated in emergency situations — such as freedom of expression, assembly, association, and some due process rights — but only for limited times to deal with such emergencies. The third major distinction is between what governments must do and what governments should do. This last category includes the protection of national, ethnic, and cultural heritage or ensuring the rights to employment, a decent wage, a decent environment, universal education, and access to culture.

When the UN Commission on Human Rights was established in 1948, Soviet-bloc states tried to deflect attention from civil and political rights towards social and economic rights. But the commission consistently focused its attention on adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and later on to the UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on Torture, and the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide (1948). This is the system of non-derogable rights and other essential rights that are derogable but may be restricted only temporarily and for limited reasons. The extent of time, scope, and cause of limiting derogable rights was determined through some clear precedents. In the 1980s, for example, the UN Commission on Human Rights rejected the defense made by the Polish government that it was justified in using indiscriminate violence and mass imprisonments over an extended period to repress the free trade union Solidarity on grounds of maintaining “public order.”

Economic, Cultural, and Social Rights

While civil and political rights have been given primary consideration within the UN system, economic, social, and cultural rights have also been given prominence through the UN Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966). In 1993, at the World Conference on Human Rights, the right of development was also considered for the first time as a human right and the United Nations has established an overall framework for countries to strive for development goals. Nevertheless, these other rights have not achieved the same universal standard as civil and political rights mainly because many relate to desirable government policies (such as full employment and universal health care) or undefinable rights (such as “economic security”) rather than civil and political rights that governments must not transgress or may only transgress in limited and defined circumstances. Thus, no country has been punished with sanctions due to violations of economic or social rights. Nevertheless, the ability of many Western democracies and other wealthy countries to achieve certain of these rights, such as universal access to health care, education, and housing, as well as basic welfare, has raised the standard of these rights. What has become clear over time also is that the countries whose governments argued in favor of the primacy of economic and social rights over civil and political rights within international human rights institutions — such as the Soviet Bloc and other communist countries — generally did not or could not provide or fulfill such rights within their own countries. Such arguments tended to mask not only these governments’ political repression but also their conditions of general poverty.

Lee Kuan Yew

 Human Rights Resisters

Despite the establishment of universal standards by the UN, many members continued to violate human rights on a massive scale with the justification of a variety of ideologies. Communism posed the single greatest challenge to universal human rights standards, but other challenges based on racism (apartheid), nationalism, or national security were constant.

The continued violation of human rights, however, does not negate their universality. Even the worst human rights resisters recognize the legitimacy of universal human rights principles by signing the international conventions of the United Nations, belonging to its institutions protecting universal principles of human rights, and making propaganda claims that they in fact adhere to human rights or claiming to be “people’s democracies.”

One of the more stubborn arguments against the universality of human rights was made by authoritarian leaders in Asia such as Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir Muhamad, former prime ministers of Singapore and Malaysia, respectively. They defended their regimes’ authoritarian systems based on Asian “cultural values,” arguing that democracy and human rights are Western concepts incompatible with Asian countries where there are different morals and cultural practices based on respect for authority and social uniformity. They argue that Asian countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, and China have been able to develop economically and achieve political stability through principles of authoritarianism that they maintain as compatible with capitalism and free markets. China’s leaders also repeatedly argue against democracy as a Western concept. Recently President Xi Jinping has ordered a crackdown on teaching Western political thought at Chinese universities. Yet, while these countries may have recent economic achievements, generally the most economically well-off and politically stable countries are not these but democracies respecting civil and political rights, including such Asian countries as Japan and South Korea, the third- and thirteenth-largest economies in the world in GDP. Such examples make clear that the argument justifying Asian authoritarianism is used mainly to justify repressive policies and avoid international obligations under UN conventions (see also discussion in Economic Freedom), the establishment of universal standards by the UN, many members have continued to violate human rights on a massive scale with the justification of a variety of ideologies, such as communism and certain forms of nationalism.

A Global Assessment

Indeed, for the past 70 years, when Asian, African, North and South American, and European societies have been free to choose, they have all chosen democracy and human rights over dictatorship and repression. Of course, there remain many dictatorships, most significantly Russia and China, the largest countries in the world respectively in area and population. In total, Freedom House lists 50 “not free” countries in its 2016 Freedom in the World Survey, as well as 59 “partly free” countries. The “not free” (as well as the “partly free”) Country Studies in Democracy Web describe the many ways in which countries deny their citizens human rights.

Still, despite a decade in which Freedom House has recorded that many indicators for freedom declined overall, the number of “free” countries where human rights are generally respected is now 86 out of 195, an increase of 42 countries since the survey was first done in 1973. An additional 37 countries count as electoral democracies having “partly free” systems where human rights are at least partly respected. The balance sheet for human rights is incomplete, and there remain "barbarous acts that outrage the conscience of humankind," but since the time when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted to address such acts, there have been also significant advances for human rights and freedom from state tyranny.

Rule of Law: Study Questions

Suggested Study Questions and Activities

Teachers: The following are questions and activities that can be given to your students after they read the materials in each section. The questions are meant to be asked as a review exercise, although some encourage critical thinking as well.  The activities can be presented as classroom exercises or as individual homework assignments. Unlike the questions, they tend to require additional research. Some call for students to create mock trials or debates that would engage the entire class. Both the questions and the activities are formatted so that they might be used directly by students, although you may rewrite them as you feel necessary.

Essential Principles


What did John Adams mean when he argued that the principle of self-governance required “a government of laws, not of men”? How is this argument related to Thomas Paines’ assertion that “the law is King”?

Why is the rule of law essential to democracy? Are there some aspects of rule of law as defined by Rachel Kleinfeld Belton that are more important than others? What aspect of the rule of law is the most important?

How did the United States overcome the essential contradictions of the rule of law in its practice of slavery and segregation? What did Martin Luther King mean when he stated that “the long arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.” Why did President Obama quote this statement of Martin Luther King at his inauguration and when commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March for voting rights?


Identify an example of democracies among the Country Studies or in Freedom House’s Survey of Freedom in the World where the rule of law broke down but has been reestablished through social and political movements (e.g. Chile, Philippines, or Poland). Using the list of important aspects of rule of law defined by Rachel Kleinfeld Belton, have students identify some examples of reestablishing rule of law principles to countries. How did this bring about change? What does this tell you about the concept of rule of law?

Using the three quotes at the beginning of the Essential Principles section as a basis for discussion, have students use historical examples to discuss the question: should the rule of law be defined by its ends or its means?

View one of the Recommended Films in Resources to discuss elements of the rule of law: due process, trial by jury, equality before the law, among others. What leads to the absence of rule of law? Within the framework of rule of law, what leads to justice and injustice? How does rule of law break down?



How did rule of law break down in 1933 Germany? After the Nazi tyranny, how was rule of law re-established in West Germany? Why did East Germany not re-establish rule of law principles? What were the principles of a communist dictatorship (for answering this question see also Country Studies of Poland and Estonia.) Did the reunified Germany keep West Germany's Basic Law as its constitution or adopt a new common constitution? Why? 


The Weimar Republic was the first democratic regime of unified Germany, but it is known in history as a failed state: it was a democracy that created the conditions for a terrifying dictatorship. Refer to the New York Times article “How Democracy Produced a Monster” and other links listed in Resources for historical background. Answer the questions: What characteristics of the rule of law existed in the Weimar Republic? How did the constitution enable the Nazis' rise to power? Can democracy turn to dictatorship easily?

Find another example in the Country Studies of cases where democratic elections resulted in dictatorship or semi-dictatorial conditions (e.g. Turkey, Venezuela). How is this case similar or different than the example in Germany?

View one of the Recommended Films in Resources to discuss elements of the rule of law: due process, trial by jury, equality before the law, among others. What leads to the absence of rule of law? Within the framework of rule of law, what leads to justice and injustice? How does rule of law break down?



What were the similarities and differences between the paths to independence taken by Malaysia and Singapore? How did Singapore succeed as an economic model? Was it through principles of economic freedom or through a directed state policy? What characteristics of the rule of law described by Rachel Kleinfeld Belton are observed in Singapore? Which are not?


Generally, democracy and economic freedom have coincided but recently there has arisen a political model of economically successful authoritarianism. Singapore is an example. Its long-time leader, Lee Kwan Yeu, argued that democracy is incompatible with Asian values and uses Singapore as an example of the success of economic freedom and authoritarianism. See the Resources section for interviews and articles by Lee, Fareed Zakaria, and Amartya Sen. Assign a paper or class debate: Does economic success justify authoritarianism?

Singapore was once part of Malaysia before becoming an independent city-state. See the Country Section on Malaysia in Multiparty Systems and compare with Singapore. Identify the common patterns of governance in both countries and also differences that might affect their future democratic development. Look at political developments in each country and select which country is likely to improve its freedom ranking to free. Explain the reasons for your conclusion.

Saudi Arabia


What is the relationship between the rule of law and Wahhabism? Is there an independent judiciary? Who controls the courts in Saudi Arabia? What distinguishes Saudi Arabia from Iran? Is Saudi Arabia a theocracy? Compare the two countries. Which country is more likely to see democratic changes? Why?


Does any aspect of rule of law as defined by Rachel Kleinfeld in the Essential Principles section exist in Saudi Arabia? Assess the principles of the rule of law she lists in relation to Saudi Arabia.

What social, economic, and political influences in Saudi life might contribute to change in the Kingdom? Review Caryl Murphy’s article listed in Resources. What does she predict regarding political change and why? Compare her analysis to other reports and articles on Saudi Arabia cited in the Economist and New York Times. Are her predictions shared?

Rule of Law: Resources


Essential Principles

The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy. Yale Law School: New Haven, 2008.
     Declaration of the Rights of Man, 1789.
     Magna Carta, 1215.
     English Bill of Rights, 1689.
     U.S. Declaration of Independence, 1776.
     Constitution of the United States and Bill of Rights, 1787 and 1791.
     Habeas Corpus Act, 1679 (available at LONANG Institute).

Human Rights Web. "A Summary of United Nations Agreements on Human Rights." 1997. This site Contains descriptions of and links to relevant documents, such as:
     Charter of the United Nations 
     Universal Declaration of Human Rights
     Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
     Convention Against Torture

Chornohorska, Anastasiia. “Deportations, Genocide, and Russia’s War Against the Crimean Tatars.” Euromaidan Press. May 18, 2016. A brief history of the Crimean Tatar nation and its current struggles.

Kleinfeld Belton, Rachel. “Competing Definitions of the Rule of Law.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Carnegie Papers: January 21, 2005.

United Nations (see also above: Human Rights Web).
     Dag Hamerskjold Library Research Guides: International Law (link)For descriptions of International Courts of Law.
     United Nations Human Rights Council: International Human Rights Law (link).

Democracy Papers. Bureau of International Information Programs.
     "The Role of an Independent Judiciary." Philippa Strum. U.S. Department of State: 2001.

Recommended Films
     A Struggle for Home. A Documentary on the History of the Crimean Tatars. (2015).
     The Nuremburg Trials. Directed by Stanley Kramer (1961).
     To Kill a Mockingbird. Directed by Robert Mulligan (1962).
     Twelve Angry Men. Directed by Sidney Lumet (1957).
     Fury. Directed by Fritz Lang (1930).


Economist magazine. Topics Index: Germany. See, e.g.:
     “Is the Welcome Culture Legal? Angela Merkel Faces a Court Test.” February 13, 2016.
     “Erich Priebke: Unrepentant Organizer of the Ardeatine Caves Massacre.” October 26, 2013.
     Country Survey: Germany: “Europe’s Reluctant Hegemon.” June 15, 2013.
     “Colours of the Rainbow: A Guide to Germany’s Federal Electons.” June 15, 2013

The New York Times: World: Times Topics: Germany. See, e.g.:
     Germany’s Pursuit of Death Camp Guards,” May 9, 2014.
     Germany Announces Deal on Art Looted by Nazis.April 7, 2014.
     “Shedding Light on a Vast Toll of Jews Killed Away from Death Camps.” January 28, 2014.
     A Guillotine in Storage Bears Signs of a Role in Silencing Nazis’ Critics.January 14, 2014.
     “How the Revival of Postwar Germany Began,” by Bruce Bartlett. June 18, 2013.
     “Hitler Exhibit Explores a Wider Circle of Guilt,” by Michael Slackman. October 16, 2010.
     “How Democracy Produced a Monster,” by Ian Kershow. Sunday Opinion. Feb. 3, 2008.

Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Constitution of the German Democratic Republic.

Craig, Gordon. The Germans (Meridan: New York, 1982.Shirer, William. The Nightmare Years.

Stern, Fritz. Five Germanys I Have Known (Farrar, Straus & Giroux: New York, 2006.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
     Holocaust Encyclopedia: The White Rose. See also related resources listed on the page.

U.S. Department of State Human Rights Country Reports (go to current year Country Report drop down menu for Germany).

Recommended Films
     "Kinderblock 66: A Return to Buchenwald." Directed by Ron Cohen (2013).
     "The Nightmare Years”: A TV Miniseries (Consolidated Films).
     "Schindler’s List." Directed by Steven Spielberg (1993).
     "Torn Curtain." Directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1966).
     "The Lives of Others." Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (2007).


Economist magazine. Topics Index: Singapore. 

The New York Times. World: Times Topics: Singapore. See, e.g.:
     “Singapore Clamps Down on News Web Sites,” June 9, 2013.

PBS: "Commanding Heights: Singapore."

Singapore Democratic Party. "Chee Found Guilty for 'Attempting to Leave Singapore."

U.S. Department of State Human Rights Country Reports (go to current year Country Report drop down menu for Singapore).

Saudi Arabia

Economist magazine. Topics Index: Saudi Arabia. See, e.g.:
     “The Saudi Succession: Next after next….” April 5, 2014.
     Economist Country Survey: Saudi Arabia: A Long Walk. January 6, 2006.

The New York Times. World: Times Topics: Saudi Arabia.
     “Saudi Arabia’s Duplicitous Legalism,” Oped Article, by Eman Al-Nafjan. June 19, 2014.
     “Online Chats Between Sexes Denounced in Saudi Arabia.”  May 29, 2014.

Ansary, Abdullah F. A Brief Overview of the Saudi Arabian Legal System. GlobaLex: NYU Law School.

Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (CDHR). See suggested links.

Center for Religious Freedom/Freedom House
     “Saudi Arabia’s Curriculum of Intolerance,” 2006. Summary and Full Report.

Foreign Policy
     "The Kingdom's Clock." Rachel Bronson and Isobel Coleman. September–October 2006.
     “Teaching Intolerance.” Eman Al Nafjan, May-June 2012.        

House, Karen Elliot. On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines—and Future. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 2012.

Murphy, Caryle. “A Kingdom’s Future.” Wilson Center: 2012. 

New York Review of Books. “Will Saudi Arabia Ever Change?”. Hugh Eakin. January 10, 2013.

Reporters Without Borders:  2016 (see Saudi Arabia in drop down menu and previous reports).

US Department of State Human Rights Country Reports (go to current year Country Report drop down menu for Saudi Arabia).











Rule of Law: Country Studies — Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia Country Study

Rankings in Freedom in the World 2016: Status: Not Free. Freedom Ranking: 7; Political Rights 7, Civil Rights 7.