|A Soviet "nonperson" vanishes: commissar Nikolai Yezhov retouched after falling from favor and being executed in 1940.|
Some common ways in which people become nonpersons are:
Asserting that someone is a nonperson is implicitly a normative statement; by doing so, it is implied simultaneously that the person referred to is entitled to the rights that any person should have. Who is a person and what every person is entitled to depends on context and social norms. For example, wards that are under the authority of a legal guardian due to infancy, incapacity, or disability are not usually considered nonpersons.
Some people are covertly held by governments or other bodies, and effectively cease to exist. This has happened in dictatorial regimes such as Chile under Pinochet, the USSR, and fascist Spain. To dodge pointed questions regarding supposedly democratically controlled governments covertly holding people or employing torture, plausible deniability of knowledge might be used. The existence of alleged ghost detainees in a secret CIA prison system is an example of this.
To an extent, this is made both easier and harder by technology – easier because reliance upon technology is such that if a person's information is electronically deleted or was never stored in that manner, they effectively cease to exist; harder because, during every stage of a person's life, from birth to death, the accumulation of bureaucratic transactions makes it more and more likely that they will leave an official record somewhere.
Also, some legally detained prisoners can be considered to be in a quasi-nonperson status, temporarily or indefinitely, to different extents depending on the reasons for and conditions of their detention. For example, in most countries, ordinary prisoners are denied political rights such as voting; in the most severe cases, total or partial isolation from the outside world can be inflicted.
This was the situation in the Nazi state with regard to Jews, and in most societies with regard to gypsies, and it is often applied in times of war to the entire enemy nation; its people are stripped of their "person status" and demonized, making them appear to be monsters (not humans), and thus indirectly justifying any excess or abuse committed against them. An example of this is the demonization of the Serbs during the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, which led to the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.
It can be argued that the "nonperson" status, apart from the Nazi camps, can be found in its most literal form when considering certain prisoners of war, especially if they are or are considered to be illegal combatants. An example is the Guantanamo bay prison in which several people have been held without public precise charges being brought against them, are denied any form of access to the outside world (and vice versa), and are in an unclear and controversial legal status.
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