The right to life is considered to be an inherent right accorded to all people based on the virtue that they are human beings. The limitations to the right to life are subject to provisions stipulated in international statutes and national legislation. While the right to life is among the most important rights, all other human rights such as the right to be treated with dignity, the right not to be discriminated against on any given grounds and the right to a free and fair trial just to list a few are equally important. The lives of other human beings should not be gambled with on the mere basis that some feel superior to others.
Crimes committed against humanity thus violate a wide range of human rights. These crimes devalue the right to life and the mere aspect of being human. This was the case during the Nazi era in Germany. The Nazi persecuted and killed many Jews on the mere ground that, the Nazi felt superior to the Jews. The Jews were subjected to inhumane conditions that saw many opt to die or were killed to the amusement of the Nazi. On these grounds, this paper will explore the controversial case of Adolf Eichmann and seek to determine whether justice was accorded. Additionally, this paper will address the strengths and limitations associated with trials on crimes against humanity; how totalitarianism as a system of governance dehumanizes and eliminates human plurality; and how Arendt’s book resonates with current affairs in terms of personal and collective responsibility with regard to addressing crimes against humanity. The main point of reference will be the crimes committed against the Jews in Nazi Germany and the role played by Adolf Eichmann.
Adolf Eichmann was captured in Argentina and tried in Israel for the crimes against humanity which he had played a role in. The Israeli court stated that it was important that Eichmann be tried and justice be served accordingly. In this regard, following Eichmann’s willingness to face justice after being captured, the Israeli Court set a trial date and even had him choose from three trial judges to represent him throughout the trial process. In terms of giving Eichmann a free and fair trial, the justice system lived up to its mandate (Arendt, 1964). The trial ensured that both the prosecution and defense presented their case before making judgment. The court went further and allowed for the defense to appeal the judgment passed by the trial court. The ruling of the Supreme Court however found that Eichmann was indeed guilty for all 12 charges presented against him.
The Courts considered all evidence brought forth and the testimonies of the witnesses prior to making its judgment. In the end, the Supreme Court upheld the judgment that had been passed by the lower courts and pronounced the death sentence against Eichmann relative to all 12 charges faced (Arendt, 1964). However, the execution of judgment was done in a manner that raised questions pertaining whether or not justice was accorded. In the long term, all factors considered, the Court granted justice to all the afflicted parties in the Adolf Eichmann case. With no relevant precedent to turn to, this case was the first of its kind and therefore the court had to exercise high levels of sobriety in passing judgment. Sentencing Eichmann to death primarily served as justice for all the crimes he had played a hand in against the Jews.
Arendt in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem (1964) presents Eichmann as a thoughtless and terrifyingly normal individual. Her perception of Eichmann is based on the fact that Eichmann considered himself as an innocent victim who was simply acting on orders from above. Furthermore, Eichmann was of the opinion that, his actions did not in particular reflect his intentions towards the Jews who he played a role in their torture and killings. Ideally, Arendt’s position that Eichmann was thoughtless and disturbingly normal was founded on the fact that, Eichmann was not particularly remorseful for what he had done. According to Eichmann, he was only carrying out orders, nothing more nothing less. In this regard, his thoughtlessness and anti-Semitic attitude was what his senior used to fuel the atrocities against the Jews. On this basis hence, justice was done to all the Jews who lost their lives during the Nazi regime. The facts presented vividly revealed the injustices done against the Jews under Eichmann’s watch.
Arendt argues that evil should be understood as banal. This is such that evil does not have any originality. Therefore, evil should not be taken lightly or excused on the basis that it was executed blindly (Arendt, 1964). As such, Eichmann’s claims that he was simply acting on orders is but a thoughtless argument that holds no bearing. In essence, Arendt’s contention that evil should be understood as banal serves as a confirmation that in many cases, evil is accepted as a norm as long as it is backed up with an excuse as in the case of Eichmann. The injustices committed against the Jews by the Nazi regime went beyond executing orders (Burdon, Appleby, LaForgia, McIntyre, & Naffine, 2014). This is so much so that, the like of Eichmann who first claimed he was not in support of the idea then soon conformed to the idea and practically enjoyed committing these atrocities. This is deduced from the fact that, the stages involved in torturing and killing the Jews could only be executed in the manner they were with an attitude of malice (Arendt, 1964).
The trial of cases on crimes committed against humanity present a number of challenges and strengths involved in achieving justice. The Eichmann case was a first of its kind and thus, the justice system had a number of challenges regarding how to approach deciding the case. Ideally, there were a number of legal challenges that the justice system encountered such as the procedure used in arresting Eichmann in Argentina (Karl, 2006). The court had to determine the proper procedure to use in determining the case. Among the challenges that are encountered in trying cases on crimes against humanity is separating the moral and political influence behind the crimes. The arrest of Eichmann for instance could have been deduced from a moral and political point of view. The morality behind it was based on the fact that, his actions violated the rights and dignity of many Jews. Politically, based on an agreement between Israel and Argentina, Eichmann had to be held responsible for the crimes he committed.
The first challenge thus in achieving justice in crimes against humanity is determining to what extent the state is involved and at which point were the perpetrators of the crimes acting on their own accord (Karl, 2006). The difficulty in this is that, the courts handling such cases have to determine who to prosecute so as to achieve justice. Some of the crimes committed against humanity go beyond the perpetrators personality and are executed on the will of the state. Thus, it is important to draw a distinction between the actions of the state and the actions of the independent perpetrators of the crimes.
The second challenge with achieving justice in trials concerning crimes against humanity is with regard to the laws that apply (Karl, 2006). Essentially, international laws and the national laws of the countries involved have to be considered and applied accordingly to ensure justice is served. In the case of Eichmann, the laws of Germany were considered in the sense that, his lawyer presented to the court that based on the Argentine statute of limitations, Eichmann had ceased to be liable to criminal proceedings against him in May 1960 (Burdon, Appleby, LaForgia, McIntyre, & Naffine, 2014). Additionally, his lawyer argued that capital punishment would not be applicable as it had been banished in Germany. Therefore, trials on crimes against humanity have to cover a wide scope of laws to achieve justice.
Nonetheless, the trials to achieve justice for crimes committed against humanity have its strengths. First, these trials have the capacity to bring to justice all perpetrators of crimes that violate the rights and dignity of human beings. This is such that, the trials ensure that all perpetrators of crimes such as genocides are brought to terms with their crimes regardless of their positions of power. A number of political heads who have committed heinous crimes against humanity have since been brought to justice. Second, the Eichmann trial revealed that crimes against humanity can be tried internationally to ensure that justice is achieved for the victims (Karl, 2006). This is so as to eliminate the possibility of the perpetrators whether individual or the state from interfering with the course of justice. The international trials thus help in ensuring that the victims of the crimes against humanity are protected and the deceased victims are accorded justice. This advantage has made it possible for the poor victims to gain protection from the international community from possible attacks from the crime perpetrators.
The limitations of trials seeking to achieve justice for victims who have been through crimes against humanity shed light on the fears that Arendt holds in reference to totalitarianism. Arendt perceived Eichmann as a totalitarian who had no remorse for the crimes he committed. On the contrary, Eichmann believed that he was the victim in the entire case as he was merely following orders. The banality of evil as exposed by Eichmann goes beyond human comprehension. Totalitarianism is a system of government that is centralized and dictatorial demanding complete subservience to the state (Burdon, Appleby, LaForgia, McIntyre, & Naffine, 2014). The Nazi regime exercised totalitarian rule over the people of Germany and thus perceived Jews to be lesser people and thus did not deserve to live. The “Final Solution” was the code used to kill all Jews. Totalitarianism seeks to ensure that it is the will of the state that passes regardless of the violations that will occur.
Essentially, Arendt treated Eichmann as the villain he was primarily due to his thoughtlessness over human life. Eichmann believed that his doings were correct and outside his persona as they were but obligations to the state. The totalitarian system of government exercised during the Nazi regime dehumanized the Jews by eliminating human plurality. Eichmann’s innocuous personality rendered him to carry out orders without due consideration of the effects of his actions on his targets (Arednt, 1964). Human plurality in this regard was not entertained as therefore, the extermination of the Jews was indistinguishable from any other bureaucratically assigned responsibility for Eichmann. Eichmann’s complicity to the totalitarian regime and his failure to exercise internal dialogue with himself thus rendered him to be less of a victim of totalitarianism as the Jews were and be more of a perpetrator.
The judgment passed by the Court of Appeal handling Eichmann’s case was fully justified. The Court of Appeal revised the judgment of the trial court in which, the Court of Appeal found that, Eichmann was not following any orders from his superiors. On the contrary, he was a superior of his own and made all decisions regarding Jewish affairs (Arendt, 1964). This is so much so that, the Court felt that it would not have made any difference to the Jews if Eichmann did not exist. Furthermore, while Eichmann claimed that indeed he was a victim in the entire ordeal, the Court of Appeal was of the stance that, the Final Solution mission against the Jews would not have been executed as ghastly as it was against the Jews. The flayed skin and tortured flesh of the Jews that was witnessed would not have occurred as intensely as it did if Eichmann was truly just a victim of state control. On the contrary, the execution of the Jews in the manner that it occurred spelt animosity, zeal and blood thirst from the perpetrators who openly stated that he was anti-Semitic. In this regard, the judgment passed by the Supreme Court was ultimately justified even though it did not live up to its promise. This is because, even at the brink of death, Eichmann remained egotistical and unapologetically elated in Nazi fashion without due consideration of the crimes he committed.
Arendt’s book resonates today as more political factions continue to commit crimes against humanity. In the fight for democracy, the people are often subjected to dictatorship whereby, the lives of the people are disregarded and those opposing the political regime are subjected to untold suffering and torture. The position held by the Israeli courts in ruling over crimes against humanity has served to open opportunities of change. This is in the sense that, Israel taking the mantle to oversee the case made it possible to establish an international court that would preside over cases on crimes against humanity (Karl, 2006).
The book further sheds light on how people understand persona and collective responsibility in addressing crimes against humanity. As such, the lessons based on the banality of evil as presented by Eichmann shed light on how much it is assumed that perpetrators are also victims when in reality, they have the capacity to avoid committing the crimes. Essentially, the book also reveals that the perception of crimes against humanity is limited in the modern day world to comprise of genocides while in reality it goes beyond the murder of people. Crimes against humanity encompass a number of violations committed against people that dehumanizes them and eliminates human plurality.