From The Archives: Amnesty International Global Report 121BC – Rome

TVNZ is celebrating 50 years of mostly average programming. This is a mostly average blog with a tendency to copy anything that has worked for others, and I know a bandwagon when I see one. But before I hop aboard let me assure you I have no intention of simply regurgitating some of the execrable crap written from time to time on this site (and shame on you for even reading that stuff).

Instead let us delve into the archives of history, like a big delving thing, and look at some of the top stories of the past.

Episode I: This week Amnesty International issued its 2010 report on the state of human rights. The usual suspects, such as China, get a grilling for their appalling humans rights records and lack of legal process.

But what were they saying about the big players in the past? I chose a year at random to examine, 121BC Have things changed much? Let’s take a look.

The Report – Rome

Rome continues to be a shining beacon of civilisation and stability in a region of the world that has traditionally been prone to savage human rights abuses.

But a few minor issues need to be addressed.

Rome continues to make extensive use of the death penalty, and torture and detention without trial remain commonplace.

Freedom of religion is severely curtailed in Rome, and the public worship of any deities other than Roman ones is prohibited.

Women, the poor and slaves continue to have almost no civil rights. Slavery is widespread, and the entire economy relies on the forced labour of slaves.

Roman authorities have continued to clamp down on freedom of expression and assembly. Agrarian land reform advocates have been detained or, in some cases, even killed in the streets.

The lack of action on agrarian reform remains deeply concerning. This has led to widespread violence, and most recently led to a bloodbath in which one of the peoples’ representatives, Gaius Gracchus, committed suicide, while many of his supporters were murdered.

Especially worrying was the unprecedented invoking of draconian powers by the Roman senate under a Senatus Consultum Ultimum, a legislative instrument authorising the consuls Lucius Opimius and Quintus Fabius Maximus Allobrogicus, to crush the unrest. It is believed that up to 3000 of Gaius Gracchus’ followers may have been killed in the fighting that followed, and in the criminal trials that eventuated. Most trials suffered from a complete lack of judicial due process.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time Rome’s political leadership has taken drastic steps to crush a popular movement. In 133 BC the brother of Gaius Gracchus, Tiberius, was murdered by elements from the Senate, after also pushing for agrarian reform. The senate and ruling classes continue to block land reform, and this will continue to cause unrest until genuine reform takes place.

Reform of the political and electoral systems would also assist in giving the ordinary citizens of Rome more say in the nation’s affairs. In particular, the unusual electoral system of the Roman Republic continues to ensure power remains in the hands of the few. The methods used to conduct elections are also deeply suspect.

Rome’s military activities continue to be of concern, especially in Transalpine Gaul. A Roman army under the consul Fabius Maximus this year defeated the Gallic tribes of the Allobroges and Arveni, and much of the region was destroyed during the campaign. The Romans appear to make little effort to conduct war without harm to civilians, and as a result thousands have been either murdered or reduced to slavery.

Rome’s ongoing occupation of Hispania also displays characteristic brutality. There has been less unrest in this region since the end of the Numantine War, but the legacy of that brutal war is still being felt by the inhabitants of the province, with poverty and hardship being the lot of most inhabitants.

These minor incidents show that Rome continues to lead the way in advancing the cause of human rights in the region.