Opinion: The EU Must Lead the Global Fight for Human Rights | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 13.01.2007
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Opinion: The EU Must Lead the Global Fight for Human Rights

The 2006 Human Rights Watch report paints a bleak picture of human rights abuses all over the world. DW's Ulrike Mast-Kirschning says that it is up to the European Union to uphold the banner of human rights in the world.


It seems as if conditions at the US prison camp in Guantanamo could be lending a fatal kind of pseudo-legitimacy to the "treatment" of despots, dictators and their helpers: If the most powerful democracy in the world -- the USA -- debases the standards of human rights or, in the case of torture, seems to be ignoring them altogether, one wonders why anybody else would bother to observe them.

Human rights -- and this is what the Human Rights Watch report clearly shows -- are endangered all over the world. Peaceful coexistence, human progress and the overcoming of unworthy living conditions are, however, possible only if human rights are constitutionally guaranteed through civil society. This is what Europe has learned from its centuries of conflicts and wars.

Today, the countries of the European Union would like to contribute to peace, security, globally sustainable development and mutual respect among nations. This is, among other things, what the EU formulated in the draft of its constitution. Europe, however, can take over the vacant leading role in the area of human rights only if the political will for such a project prevails.

That's why we must put an end to secret prisons and secret transfers of prisoners without any rights! The primacy of human rights for the EU's anti-terror policy must be re-established on all levels. But other human rights should also be guaranteed better in the future, for example in the context of protecting refugees, asylum procedures, and in the fights against human trafficking and against racism and anti-Semitism.

Strengthening human rights through foreign policy is also important. It could, for instance, take the shape of exerting more pressure on Russia, China and the USA to rectify their current human rights deficits. That and an engaged commitment to the newly established UN Human Rights Council would create a chance for human rights to again become the measure of political action worldwide.

Only if Europe improves its human rights credibility in action, both internally and externally, can the registered erosion of human rights be stopped and a new path forged. A leading role in this process belongs at the moment to Germany -- in its presidency of the European Council, at the G8 summit and in the UN Human Rights Council.

Ulrike Mast-Kirschning is an editor at DW-RADIO (tt)

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