Soviet Human Rights: an Oxymoron?

This presentation will focus on whether it is meaningful to speak of Soviet human rights. Firstly, I will argue that it is meaningful to speak of a distinctly Soviet conception of human rights and not just human rights in the Soviet Union. Based on Marxism, these rights differed from the more familiar ‘Western’ model of human rights in three respects: they were focused on collective rather than individual, socio-economic rather than political, and positive rather than negative rights. This was reflected in theoretical writings, Soviet Constitutions, and Soviet participation in drafting of international instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Secondly, I will address the question of enforcement. Even though the Soviet Union’s rhetoric on the international plane focused on enforcing rights, it was not matched by any public law systems of enforcement such as judicial review. This, in turn, impaired the effectiveness of the Soviet model of human rights in practice. Thirdly, continuing with the practical aspect of Soviet human rights, I will turn my attention to ubiquitous violations of these proclaimed guarantees – not only political but socioeconomic – in practice.