Can Violence Be Justified Under Human Rights?

Jori Reiken
7 min readJan 5, 2022

Violence, in theory, should be a violation of human rights, but when is it justified under said rights? Time and time again the world sees their rights being violated and fought for, sometimes with the use of violence or violent behaviours. The question is, when are these violent behaviours justified in the search and quest for human rights around the world. These types of questions beg the answer of defining violence, before we can make the arguments to answer the big question. This paper will do just that and discuss when, if and how violence can be justified under human rights, and whether it is a possibility entirely.

First, it is important to discuss what is violence. Merriam Webster has two definitions of violence, the first “the use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy” and the second “intense, turbulent, or furious and often destructive action or force”. The first definition focuses on the intentions of the actions, whereas the second definition focuses on the outcome of the actions. These definitions provide a small portion of the picture of what violence is. Another factor to consider when defining violence is the societal and cultural pressures that assist in deciding what is acceptable in society and what is not. Since culture changes over time, so will the definition of violence. The definition that will be used in this paper is that violence is the use of physical force either intended to cause harm or in its consequences provided injury.

Instances of violence happen all the time in the pursuit for access to human rights by different groups of people. A prime example of this is the Stonewall Riots in 1969. The Stonewall Riots was a 6 day protest advocating for LGBTQ2S+ rights in response to raids of gay bars, the pivotal one being the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969. These riots included violence in many forms, but still created noise around the harassment and discrimination that people of the LGBTQ2S+ community experienced at the time. Although these riots did not end the discrimination, they sparked conversation and started to make changes within the law enforcement community. These riots are an example of how violence can be used when advocating for rights, even if said violence violates someone else’s rights. As well, this example uses the foundations that Martin Luther King Jr brings up when discussing unjust laws. “An unjust law is no law at all” this quote discusses the idea of following laws when they are just, but when they are…