Germany’s human rights policy has a very concrete goal: to prevent human rights abuses and protect fundamental freedoms.

Respect for and development of human rights

Respect for and development of human rights are a key priority for the German Government. Article 1 of Germany’s Basic Law describes human rights as the basis of every community, of peace and of justice in the world. This means that Germany has an obligation to respect human dignity and protect fundamental freedoms not only in Germany but throughout the world. Internationally Germany is pushing for the establishment of effective deterrents to repressive or arbitrary acts and exploitation.

Principles of German human rights policy

Human rights relate to every field of government policy. No policy field – foreign, security or whatever – can be “fenced off” from human rights issues.

Human rights are indivisible. Everyone has these rights, irrespective of their background, age, gender, religion, colour or any other attribute. Advancing universal respect for human rights requires attention to the whole spectrum of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Human rights abuses are not just cruel. They also threaten international stability and security and within countries they undermine economic and social progress. Protecting and advancing the whole spectrum of human rights, on the other hand, promotes peace and development and helps people develop their potential.

Germany has signed up to nearly all UN human rights conventions as well as all core European human rights norms. On our homeground, too, it is important to monitor how effectively we protect human rights in practice. For only then will our stance on human rights around the world remain credible. In 2001 the German Institute for Human Rights was established with a mandate to monitor implementation of human rights conventions and educate people about human rights.

Responsibility for Germany’s human rights policy lies with the Federal Foreign Office’s Task Force for Human Rights. The Task Force works together with their country division colleagues and Christoph Strässer, the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, to advance human rights protection around the world. This is done in a variety of ways, ranging from human rights dialogues, demarches, public statements and behind-the-scenes diplomacy to project activities and public relations work in specific regions.

The success of these activities also depends greatly on ongoing contacts with the informed public and non-governmental organisations. The only basis on which lasting progress can be achieved internationally, is mutual respect. The Task Force for Human Rights and the Commissioner for Human Rights therefore attach great importance to dialogue and cooperation with partners from civil society, business and politics.

Human rights in Europe

European Court of Human Rights

European Court of Human Rights

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European Court of Human Rights

European Court of Human Rights

European Court of Human Rights

The Council of Europe, which was founded in 1949 and whose members include 47 of Europe’s now 49 countries, plays a crucial role in protecting human rights there. For Europe’s 800 million citizens their last resort in human rights matters is the European Court of Human Rights, by whose decisions all Council of Europe members have agreed to be bound. With the Commissioner for Human Rights, a post instituted in 1999, the Council of Europe has a further important instrument for reviewing the human rights situation in Europe.

Like the Council of Europe, the OSCE is also engaged in the process of building a democratic Europe committed to the rule of law and the protection of human rights.

Back in 1999 the German Government had successfully proposed the drawing up of an EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Through the inclusion of a reference to it in the Treaty of Lisbon, the Charter achieved the status of law when the Treaty itself entered into force.

Fundamental rights – a foundation for Europe

Human Rights in the United Nations

Together with its EU partners, the German Government works hard in the United Nations to protect and further develop human rights standards. To this end it cooperates closely and regularly with UN institutions, in particular the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

Key UN fora here are the regular meetings of the new Human Rights Council (HRC, successor to the Commission on Human Rights) in Geneva and the meetings of the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly every autumn in New York. Both fora are concerned with the human rights situation around the world and the development of additional legal instruments and programmes designed to promote human rights. They discuss and adopt resolutions on human rights issues, which notably civil society actors can find very helpful for their work on the ground.

The Federal Republic of Germany served on the former Commission on Human Rights without interruption from 1979 until its demise. In 2006 Germany was elected to the new Human Rights Council with the highest number of votes within the western group (which comprises 47 countries). The HRC has a wide-ranging mandate to deal with human rights issues. Since 1 January 2013 Germany is once again a member of the HRC and will stand for a further term in 2016‑2017.

Germany’s international human rights obligations

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
© picture-alliance/dpa

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Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Germany is a party to all major UN human rights conventions and their supplementary protocols. Most recently it signed the supplementary protocol to the Convention against Torture as well as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is currently preparing the ratification of the supplementary protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which provides for the introduction of a communications procedure.

These human rights conventions and their related protocols create legal obligations that are directly binding on all parties. Countries that have signed up to them are required to submit to independent committees of experts so‑called country reports detailing how they have implemented the conventions in question.

After examining these reports, the committees then publish their findings. This reporting process serves to identify deficits in a given country and indicate what concrete measures could improve human rights protection there.

The Common Core Document is the primary document the committees rely on here, which in Germany is compiled under the direction of the Federal Ministry of Justice. It contains data on the country and its population, history, form of government and state structures and, most importantly, information on the general legal framework for the protection of human rights as well as a wealth of statistical data, thus making comparisons with other countries possible.

Common Core Document of the Federal Republic of Germany

Dialogue with civil society

Keen public interest in protecting and advancing human rights is something that Germany believes is very important for the success of our efforts in this area. We therefore actively seek dialogue with groups and individuals working on human rights issues. This kind of civil society dialogue complements the dialogues we have at intergovernmental level. The work being done in this area by the NGOs represented in the Human Rights Forum as well as by our political parties, foundations and churches both requires and reinforces the German Government’s engagement with human rights issues.

The Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office sees dialogue with civil society as part of his job. Through his work he helps raise public awareness of the German Government’s human rights agenda.

A German‑language collection of important UN and European human rights documents and declarations, as well as further documents on regional protection of human rights, can be obtained for a fee from the Federal Agency for Civil Education at www.bpb.de.

Last updated 27.02.2014

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