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Human rights challenge

Kersten Knipp / db December 10, 2012

Germany's human rights policies are quite successful, but not very influential. Experts say the challenge today is to find creative ways to help further human rights across the globe.

man bowing head sen from above, with welts on his back EPA/Cpl Neill A. Sevelius NOT
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Human rights are clearly set out in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the document, the United Nations set down the rights which apply universally and unconditionally. But the problem is that they have yet to be fully implemented.

In many parts of the world, human rights are disregarded and abused, sometimes openly, sometimes secretly. Almost 65 years after the declaration of universal rights, they have yet to be fully implemented almost everywhere.

Apart from ethical considerations, human rights defenders face another, more practical key question: how to convince politicians in countries with difficult human rights trackrecords to respect them more closely in the future? Put differently, does respecting human rights lead to a concrete political, social, or economic advantage?

Practical advantages

In its policy, Germany feels bound by ethical concerns as well as its free and democratic order, says Markus Löning, the German government special representative for human rights.

Commission on Human Rights, EPA/SALVATORE DI NOLFI +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
To promote and protect human rights: UN Commission on Human RightsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

In its foreign policy, Germany emphasises the benefits to strengthening human rights, Löning says. Establishing democracy and the rule of law improve a country's standing in international relations.

Germany's relationship with eastern European countries after 1989 is a good example, Löning says. "Consider the relationship with Poland 25 years ago," he says. "Today, Poland is one of our closest friends. The fact alone that a country is democratic makes establishing close, trusting relations so much easier."

Human rights and the economy

First and foremost, human rights are based on ethics, Imke Dierßen, an advisor on Europe for Amnesty International, agrees. But adhering to human rights does have many advantages, she told Deutsche Welle - including better economic ties.

Businesses need a reliable framework, so they usually set up in countries that offer these basic requirements, Dierßen says: countries with "sound legal systems and courts." Both are prerequisites for long-term investment. Hence, Dierßen is convinced, businesses should have an interest in human rights.

Eberhard Sandschneider, research director at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), is convinced that human rights speak for themselves. While the West tends to underestimate the attractiveness of its ownvalues, he says, other countries are closely watching the consequences of adhering to human rights. "If you make clear that human rights policies in Europe resulted in significant political stabilization, human rights acquire a completely new function and weight in the target countries," he says.

The West has a vested interest in standing up for human rights, Imke Dierßen from Amnesty International says. When human rights are neglected for a longer period, pressures build up that can erupt in violence. She points to Syria and Egypt, two countries which have yet to be pacified.

"Of course, that also affects the EU," the human rights expert says, pointing out their geographic proximity. "From a security policy and a geostrategic point of view, it is important to take a preventive approach. That's where human rights play a great role."

Morally ambivalent

Dierßen is confident that human rights concerns voiced by the German government are in fact taken seriously by governments. They also send enocouraging signals to people suffering from human rights abuses. "Dissidents, mainly in China and East Europe, are always telling me how important the criticism is," Dierßen says. "Again and again, they tell me: it is very good that you clearly address the issues. The fact alone that you make statements benefits and protects us."

a woman crouches on ground , Taliban in front of her Quelle/Website: Youtube
Women's rights are human rightsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Eberhard Sandschneider, however, believes that Germany's human rights policies face a dilemma: Germany deals with states whose governments take an opposed stance when it comes to human rights. Dealing with these countries requires good diplomatic skill, the political scientist says.

Dealings with them can taint Germany's credibility, but that makes those relationships all the more important, he says. "Whether we want to or not, we have to work with the bad guys," Sandschneider says. "Without that cooperation, stabilizing certain regions would not be possible."

Creativity is called for

German special representative Markus Löning notes that people living in "bad guys" regimes have high expectations of Western human rights policies - which cant always be implemented. These expectations are also voiced in the respective country's media, Löning says - where they can take on accusatory or polemic forms.

Western human rights policies can be influential, but the potential is limited. They can not perform miracles, which makes the challenge even greater to find creative ways to give human rights a better chance of a breakthrough.