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Germany

Opinion: Our dignity is inviolable

Attention is usually drawn to power politics, economic interests and populism. Yet more respect for human rights must be cultivated.

Has the Universal Declaration of Human Rights deteriorated into a mere afterthought in world politics? Has the charter of conscience that Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of Franklin D. Roosevelt, read at the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, lost credibility?

If one looks at the war crimes in Aleppo, it is tempting to answer yes. The earth is on fire. One terrifying report follows the next: war in Syria, war in Yemen, terror in Nigeria, the dismantling of the constitutional state in Turkey and even human rights violations in Poland and Hungary, right in the middle of Europe. The list of global human rights breaches has reached a frightening scale.

Human dignity is inviolable

These dramatic developments are reflected in Germany, even though the country adopted the main tenet of the Human Rights Declaration in its constitution in 1949. "Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority," states Article I of the German constitution.  

Prange de Oliveira Astrid Kommentarbild App

DW's Astrid Prange

Yet human dignity has not always been respected in modern Germany, where refugee homes are set on fire, terror attacks create fear and hate speech and racism are on the rise. This development cannot only be attributed to the admission of hundreds of thousands of refugees in the autumn of 2015. Even 20 years ago, refugee shelters were burning.

The German Institute for Human Rights has clearly named these deficits in its latest report. Berlin should not just take note of this in a routine manner but actually take more action to counter this dangerous trend. The observance of human rights begins at home. In 2015, when Berlin received the refugees, the government proved that human rights are an essential part of German politics.

Germany needs some extra coaching

But now, after this huge humanitarian effort, it is time to convince the country it was the right thing to do. A part of the population does not seem to be aware of the fact the human rights are meant for all of the country's inhabitants. Human rights must be defended and enforced on a daily basis - for German citizens and foreigners. The observation of human rights permanently puts democratic societies to the test.

Of course, creating a comprehensive human rights policy is a utopian goal, as international conflicts are much too complicated and wars are unbalanced, while political and economic interests are too contradictory. In foreign policy it will be extremely difficult for Germany and the EU to gain lost credibility in human rights issues. As long as the West criticizes the human rights situation in Cuba but is silent about mass executions in China, politicians like Russian President Vladimir Putin or Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have an easy job.

If that's not enough: In foreign policy, the German government always contradicts its own values. The list of sins is long, ranging from the controversial EU-Turkey refugee agreement and arms deals with Saudi Arabia to the refusal to grant whistleblower Edward Snowden asylum.

Berlin has only one way of addressing this frustrating human rights policy failure: It must at least set a good example in its own country. Respect and enforcement of Article I cannot be compromised for the sake of austerity, political considerations or populist quick-fixes, which every party seems to think is the formula for success. Germany rose from the rubble of the World War II because of its commitment to freedom, justice and peace.

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