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Europe

"The Protection of Human Rights is Endangered"

Thomas Hammarberg has taken over as the Council of Europe's chief human rights envoy. In an interview with DW-WORLD, he warns of the fight against terror's threat to human rights.

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Hammarberg will not leave a stone unturned when it comes to human rights in Europe

DW-WORLD: What are your plans for your term as Commissioner for Human Rights?

Thomas Hammarberg: One emphasis will be on defending human rights in times of terrorism. The protection of human rights is very endangered when governments take action against terrorism. There's also a lot to do, for example, to safeguard comprehensive human rights for people with disabilities. A further urgent issue is the treatment of Roma in some European countries.

What are you going to do differently than your predecessor Alvaro Gil-Robles?

He did outstanding work and it is essential that I carry on what he began. He visited 35 of the 46 member states in the Council of Europe and put together expert reports. I will go to the outstanding countries -- Germany is one of them -- and report on the human rights situation there. Subsequently, I will call on those countries my predecessor visited and report on the extent to which they have followed our recommendations.

Does a Commissioner for Human Rights even have power?

He has a certain power when he primarily communicates with non-governmental organizations and the ombudsman or the human rights commissioner on the national level in every country. The third point of contact is, of course, the media. These three play a significant role together. It is my intention to work more closely with them and to support their work. The Commissioner for Human Rights can thus be more than just a symbolic figure in Strasbourg.

What do you consider the biggest problems for your task?

I think it's currently xenophobia in Europe. People seem to be afraid of foreigners and suspicious of minorities. This is a warning signal. I hope that I can show with my work that these sentiments are not justified. It's important that all people in all societies have full human rights. This way, no divides can develop in a society, which make some people feel excluded and maybe even develop animosity towards the country in which they live.

What has been achieved through the position of the Commissioner for Human Rights?

Above all, recognition within governments that human rights are an important topic now exists -- that they have to be put on the political agenda and can no longer be ignored. If we can show that there are problems and refer to solid and independently researched facts, then we automatically have a basis for discussion with governments. My predecessor led a direct dialogue with most European governments, so that he could directly relay his recommendations to the right powers.

Click here to read about Hammarberg's assessment of the situation in Russia and intelligence activities in Europe.

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