Our Declaration on Human Rights
All over the world, human rights are in peril. War and displacement, poverty, exploitation and corruption, plus growing authoritarian and nationalist tendencies conspired to create a bleak picture of human rights in 2017. The conflicts in Syria, Yemen and South Sudan continue to smoulder. At almost regular intervals, there are reports of gruesome war crimes and human rights violations, such as the bombing of hospitals or the use of banned weapons. Over 65m people across the world have been violently displaced and are looking for protection anywhere there is political and economic stability. In an increasingly globalised world, the impact of these crises affects everybody.
Instead of supporting and reinforcing universal human rights, its opponents are attacking the international human rights consensus in increasingly harsh terms: under the guise of protesting Western value imperialism, they reject any criticism of human rights violations and discrimination. This is affecting multilateral cooperation at the level of the United Nations. The consensus of the World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna in 1993, is fragmenting. Even the International Criminal Court, a key institution in the prosecution and punishment of international human rights violations, is losing support. Not less than three African countries have announced their intention to withdraw. Donald Trump will not only drastically cut back on his country’s support for the United Nations, but apparently will also terminate the United States’ role as the world’s human rights enforcer.
In addition, the number of people executed worldwide has exploded. In 2015, the number of executions reached its highest level in a quarter century. The vast majority took place in four states: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan. China continues to keep its high numbers secret. In many of these countries, the reintroduction and frequent application of the death penalty is linked to an unconditional war on terror. Other countries, too, are seeking to reintroduce the death penalty, including the Philippines and Turkey.
In addition, fundamental human rights are under pressure in many parts of the world. Freedom of expression and media freedom are being curtailed and limited in an increasing number of countries. Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea, China and Russia stand out as negative highlights. The Raif Badawi scandal is a case in point, as was the fate of Boris Nemtsov. Turkey, too, has deteriorated considerably since the dramatic events of the summer of 2016. Every month, dozens of journalists are arrested – Deniz Yücel represents only the most prominent of many cases.
In many countries, digital media and communication tools are being systematically censored and controlled. This denies many people their right of free access to the internet. But here, too, social media and new means of communication are changing the political discourse and opinion-forming processes. Targeted fake news, anonymous hate speech and mass-produced, simulated expressions of opinions are digital phenomena which we are still learning to deal with.
The technical possibilities of the digital era are also being leveraged increasingly to intrude on the personal sphere. True, the security agencies are facing considerable challenges in addressing internationally-based terror networks but authorities should not be allowed to use sweeping references to the “War on Terror” to de facto abolish the right to privacy, as is currently happening in the UK under the “Investigatory Powers Act”. Moreover, effectively unrestricted surveillance – especially by US intelligence services – is being accepted despite the violations of basic rights this implies.
Finally, political figures seeking to distance themselves from the political establishment and positioning themselves as “the man (or woman) of the people” are focusing on people’s unhappiness and resentment, thereby dividing societies. Right-wing populists do this by directing fear and hatred against specific groups such as “refugees”, “immigrants” or “drug traffickers”. For example, the president of the Philippines is encouraging the merciless persecution of alleged drug traffickers and endorses extrajudicial executions. He appears to have convinced a majority of citizens that addicts and dealers do not enjoy basic rights. In the US, on the other hand, the Trump administration is continuing its targeted attacks on liberal – American – values. It is thereby undermining the foundations of a liberal and open society, leading to exclusion and discrimination and a possible erosion of the rule of law.
Worldwide, many people continue to be subjected to massive discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. While homosexuality continues to be a crime across much of Africa, on the Arabian Peninsula and in South Asia, homosexual acts are even punishable through death by stoning in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Yemen. But even in Europe and Germany, lesbian, gay, bi-, trans- and intersexual persons are still subject to daily discrimination and violence from citizens.
Respecting and protecting these human rights is primarily a government responsibility. But in today’s globally networked world, large corporations also bear an increasingly important human rights responsibility. A fairer world order is needed, in which economic freedom is brought into alignment with respect for human rights. Individual rights can only be comprehensively realised when individuals are able to pursue their economic interests freely.
Every person is born free and with the same inalienable dignity and rights. Today, this principle of universal human rights has to be defended more assertively again - worldwide.
It is time for us to redouble our efforts in support of liberal basic values, of democracy and civil liberties – of our human rights. We have to do this with courage, conviction and passion in Germany, in Europe and all over the world.
The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom sees this as its core responsibility and has been promoting democracy, the rule of law and human rights for many years, both in Germany and abroad.
We cannot allow the world to continue watching passively as people are killed in Syria, Yemen or South Sudan – echoing Rwanda and Srebrenica. Where support for the United Nations and the European Union is dwindling, we must remind our fellow citizens emphatically of the successes and the purpose of multilateral cooperation.
The death penalty has proved to be ineffective in the fight against crime. It must be opposed as a matter of principle; it also cannot solve complex problems such as extremism and terrorism. Instead, the death penalty represents a human rights violation of the right to life and often of human dignity too. In this matter, we want to continue changing minds and hearts. But other activities, like promoting voluntary export restrictions on chemicals used in executions, can also help a great deal.
Freedom of expression and media freedom have to be protected. We cannot remain silent while liberal and opposition voices are being silenced. Human rights also have to apply in the digital sphere. This applies equally to freedom of expression and to protecting privacy. The “right to be forgotten” has to be implemented. Overall, free access to the internet must not be restricted.
We consistently oppose discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity – not only in Germany, but worldwide. The new UN expert on this topic deserves our support. The issue is not “Western values imperialism”, but protecting the most fundamental rights to dignity, physical integrity and equal treatment.
We are not going to win the fight against global extremism and terrorism by giving up the right to privacy. The hasty expansion of security and intelligence agencies’ power to intercept and intervene is a clear threat. The abuse of data collected in this way, especially when they get into the wrong hands, is being exposed time and time again by whistleblowers. They have to be protected when necessary.
Finally, we also promote a new and fairer world economic order. For this, economic freedom has to be brought into alignment with human rights responsibilities. The power of innovation – of German companies in particular – can achieve a lot in this regard. People in other regions of the world are not only interested in our values of democracy and human rights, but especially in our economic success after times of war and destruction. The fact that this success is inextricably linked to universal human rights – as formulated in our Basic Law of 1949 – is our core message.