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?