Principles of Germany's human rights policy
Respect for and development of human rights
Respect for and development of human rights are a key priority for the German Government. Germany's human rights policy in international relations has a concrete obligation: to protect individuals from violations of their rights and basic freedoms and to create a viable framework to ensure that suppression, the arbitrary use of power and exploitation no longer have a chance to flourish.
This aspiration is derived from the Basic Law. In Article 1 human rights are described as the basis of every community, of peace and of justice in the world. So the text immediately places the subject of human rights in an international context.
Principles of German human rights policy
- Concern for the individual is the focus of human rights policy. Human rights protection does not differentiate between Germans and non-Germans, between members of majorities and minorities.
- Human rights are indivisible and must not be played off against each other. The aim of German human rights policy is worldwide implementation and protection of the entire range of civic, political, economic, social and cultural human rights. In this connection, the Federal Government is also working towards the elaboration of a concept of the right to development on which consensus can be reached.
- The Federal Government is committed to the universal validity of human rights and is thus opposed to cultural relativism in relation to human rights. At the same time, it categorically rejects hostile stereotypes and arrogance towards other cultures.
- Human rights policy begins at home. Only on this basis can international human rights policy be credible. Germany has therefore submitted to various instruments of control under numerous international conventions which give the international community the right and possibility to monitor and examine the observance of human rights in Germany.
- Grave human rights violations endanger or destroy international stability and security, dent countries' economic prosperity and harm their economic and social development, whereas protection and promotion of human rights release human resources, creativity and energy and serve the interests of stability, peace and development. The protection and promotion of human rights are therefore in the political interest of all states.
- Where people cannot be otherwise protected from violations of their rights and fundamental freedoms, international controls, international pressure and public criticism must be used to enforce these rights and freedoms. However, the heart of preventive diplomacy remains a human rights policy and conflict prevention based on dialogue and cooperation. Dialogue and cooperation in human rights policy are provided for in the UN Charter (Article 56).
- Human rights policy is a horizontal task covering all policy fields. Moreover, it is dependent on a continual exchange of opinions and experiences with interested sections of the public.
Human rights in Europe
The Council of Europe, which was founded in 1949 and whose members include 47 of the current 49 European states, plays a crucial role in protecting human rights in Europe. The court of last resort for Europe's 800 million citizens in human rights matters is the European Court of Human Rights, by whose decisions all Council of Europe member states 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.
Together with the Council of Europe, the OSCE is an engine for integration in a democratic Europe based on the rule of law and protective of human rights.
In 1999 the Federal Government successfully proposed the elaboration of an EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Upon the entry into force of the EU Reform Treaty, the Charter will become legally binding by means of an article referring to it.
Human Rights in the United Nations
Within the framework of the United Nations, the Federal Government is consistently working with its EU partners towards the protection and continual development of human rights standards. This is done in regular, close cooperation with the UN institutions, in particular the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.
The key fora in the UN framework are the regular meetings in Geneva of the new Human Rights Council (HRC, successor to the Commission on Human Rights) and the meeting of the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly in New York in the autumn. Both fora examine the state of human rights in the world, as well as the development of further legal instruments and programmes to promote human rights.
The adoption of resolutions on human rights creates a solid reference platform which supports civil society in particular in its work on the ground.
The Federal Republic of Germany was a member of the former Commission on Human Rights without interruption from 1979 till 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 states). The HRC has a wide-ranging mandate to consider human rights issues.
Germany as a State Party
Germany is a State Party to all major human rights conventions of the United Nations and their additional protocols. Germany most recently signed the Additional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
As is the case with their counterparts at European level, these human rights conventions and their protocols have created direct legal obligations for all States Parties. States Parties are obliged to render account regularly in country reports to independent committees of experts on the implementation of their obligations under these conventions.
The competent committees evaluate these reports and publish their conclusions. This reporting process pinpoints shortfalls as well as concrete legal or administrative measures government institutions are taking to alleviate them, thereby improving the protection of human rights in their countries.
The Common Core Document is the primary document the committees rely on and in Germany it 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.
Despite all the bilateral and international endeavours, the number of grave human rights violations worldwide remains alarmingly high. Since its establishment in 2006 the Human Rights Council has already had to consider the situation in Darfur on several occasions. So the international community is still called upon to take all necessary steps to resolutely counter human rights violations. However, the question as to how the international community, and especially the United Nations, can live up to this responsibility is in many cases still the subject of political controversy.
Increasing economic globalization is also not without consequences for human rights. On the one hand, it creates new potential for prosperity and the free exchange of information. On the other, the negative social impact of unrestricted competition must be avoided, globalization must be embedded in a worldwide structure of human and social rights, and Third World countries in particular must be enabled to gain from globalization. The discussion on universally valid working and social standards is, however, extremely difficult.
Dialogue with civil society
Human rights and the existence of a democratic social order based on the rule of law complement and strengthen each other. A lively interest on the part of the public, in particular NGOs and the media, in the protection and promotion of human rights is crucial. German foreign policy is therefore prepared to discuss human rights not only with other Governments but also with groups and individuals active in the field of human rights. The work of the NGOs represented in the Human Rights Forum, as well as of political parties, foundations and churches, require and foster the commitment of the German Government to human rights.
The work of the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office (currently Günter Nooke) is described on this website.
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 external link, opens in new windowwww.bpb.de
Last updated 14.08.2009