A political group exists when people assemble together in order to promote a common ideology and achieve particular objectives in the public, governmental sphere. Political parties and trade unions are political groups. These days the existence of an opposition party is usually regarded as the characteristic of a democracy itself, as the strength of democracy is to allow political dissent.
Governing elites are likely to use political repression for several reasons. It is often the case that political repression and lack of democratic representation are linked. Government officials use political repression against opponentseal or potentialn order to weaken their capacity to question or offer alternatives to official government policy.
In some situations governing elites view certain political groups as inherently suspect, because the ideology advocated by the group, or its methods, threaten democracy itself. This is the case with respect to fascist movements or terrorist groups. The difficulty here is that categorizing a political group as "antidemocratic" because of the ideology it promotes is very subjective. For example, during the apartheid regime in South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC, the movement of black resistance against racial separatism) was considered a terrorist organization and thus banned. The head of the ANC, Nelson Mandela, spent twentyseven years in jail for so-called terrorist activities. He was released in 1990 and in 1993 he received the Nobel Peace Prize with the then president of South Africa, F. W. de Klerk. Mandela was subsequently elected president of South Africa in 1994.
The effectiveness of political repression is controversial. Repression can decrease opposition activity, for example, when it limits the ability of opposition groups to mobilize resources and supporters. Conversely, repression can increase opposition activity and harm the popular legitimacy of the political elite. Actors that previously were neutral may decide to engage in opposition, by reaction against repression. Experience has shown that when the level of repression is high, there are fewer activist opponents, but they become more radical: Violent opposition increases, while nonviolent opposition decreases.
The persecution of political groups may lead to the violation of several human rights recognized in the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These include the right to self-determination; freedom of expression and the right to hold opinions without interference; the right to peaceful assembly; the right to freedom of association, for instance, the right to form and join trade unions; and the right of equality before the law.
When the persecution of political groups reaches a certain thresholdhat is, it becomes widespread or systematic, and purposely targets a civilian populationt may qualify as a crime against humanity. Qualifying the persecution of political groups as genocide is more problematic. According to the 1948 International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, a crime (such as murder) may constitute genocide only when the person persecuted is targeted because he or she belongs to a "national, ethnical, racial or religious group." This list is limitative, and it is notable that political groups are not included; such an approach was also confirmed by the definition adopted in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Consequently, according to these international conventions, the persecution of people because they belong to a particular political group may not qualify as genocide. Hence, numerous scholars have determined that the massacres perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia from 1975 through 1978, in which about one-fifth of the population was exterminated, cannot be categorized as "genocide" according to the 1948 Convention. It nonetheless certainly qualifies as one of the most horrific crimes against humanity. However, some national laws adopt a broader definition of genocide and include political groups (e.g., Article 211-1 of the French Penal Code, and Article 281 of the Ethiopian Penal Code).
In addition, it remains possible that members of a political party may also share an ethnic, religious, or national identity. For example, in Northern Ireland the Sinn Fein Party assembles mainly members of the Catholic community, while the Ulster Unionist Party is mostly composed of Protestants. In Rwanda the Front Patriotique Rwandais (FPR) is principally composed of Tutsi.
Political groups' oppressors may be prosecuted if their actions qualify as a violation of fundamental human rights, such as the right to freedom of expression. If political persecutions are widespread or systematic, and target civilian population, alleged offenders may face charges for crimes against humanity. In some countries their crimes may also amount to genocide.
In any case, when asylum seekers are likely to be persecuted in their country because of their political opinions, they may benefit from refugee status (Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees Adopted by the United Nations on 28 July 1951).
SEE ALSO Minorities
Harris, Peter, and Ben Reilly, eds. (1998). Democracy and Deep-Rooted Conflict: Options for Negotiators. Stockholm: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA).
Mandela, Nelson (1994). Long Walk to Freedom. London: Little, Brown and Company.
Ramaga, Philip (1992). "The Bases of Minority Identity." Human Rights Quarterly 14:40928.
Rodley Nigel, Sir (1995). "Conceptual Problems in the Protection of Minorities: International Legal Developments." Human Rights Quarterly 17(1):481.
Schabas, William A. (2000). Genocide in International Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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