Protecting human rights and promoting universal respect for them is a cornerstone of German foreign policy. In the international arena the German Government’s efforts are aimed not only at creating an international institutional and political framework for the protection of human rights but also - and most importantly - at protecting victims and potential victims of human rights abuses.
In practice this means that protecting human rights is a task which involves all areas of policy. It is in Germany’s own best interest to help make universal respect for human rights a reality. Enduring peaceful relations are achieved only through stable states, and there can be no long-term stability unless basic human rights are respected.
This was the rationale for the establishment in November 1998 of the post of Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance at the Federal Foreign Office. Since 1 March 2016 the post has been held by Bärbel Kofler.
Tasks of the Federal Government Commissioner
The Commissioner is contact point for all issues relating to human rights policy and humanitarian aid. His brief includes following political developments in these areas and submitting proposals to the Federal Foreign Minister on German policy in this connection.
The Commissioner liaises closely with many other institutions active in the area of human rights and humanitarian assistance.
the German Bundestag,
parliamentary groups in the Bundestag,
the Länder (federal states),
the Humanitarian Aid Coordinating Committee,
political and private foundations, and
national and international non-governmental organisations.
Strengthening international human rights protection
For human rights policy in the international arena to be successful, it is vital to maintain regular contact with EU, OSCE, Council of Europe and UN bodies concerned with human rights protection or humanitarian aid issues. The Commissioner devotes a great deal of time to such consultations as well as to the meetings of the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva, where he heads the German delegation.
Mobilising civil society
More than any other policy area, human rights policy requires the active and ongoing participation of civil society. As an interface between government and civil society, the Commissioner takes part in the national and international debate on human rights issues and is also involved in the work of international bodies and institutions concerned with human rights protection.
Human rights protection in Germany
The Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance helps shape human rights policy in Germany’s external relations. He is not responsible for investigating individual complaints relating to possible human rights violations in Germany or for issuing recommendations or censure in this connection. His role is not that of an ombudsperson.
Protection of individual human rights in Germany is in principle the responsibility of the courts. Under the German legal system, anyone who believes their rights have been violated is in principle entitled and obliged to take their case to court, as guaranteed by Article 19(4) of the Basic Law.
In addition to the courts, Germany has a whole range of government and non-government bodies and organisations working to protect human rights. Petitions committees and commissioners for citizens’ affairs provide people with a contact point where they can lodge their complaints. Such contacts are usually referred to as “ombudspersons”. Such ombudspersons also exist at European level.
Unlike longer-term development cooperation, humanitarian aid focuses on providing immediate assistance and disaster relief with the aim of saving lives and alleviating human suffering. Our commitment to provide humanitarian aid is, like human rights advocacy, an important dimension of German foreign policy and reflects the affirmation of human dignity enshrined in our constitution. When people are suffering, nothing else matters.
Christoph Strässer (January 2014 - February 2016)
Markus Löning (April 2010 - January 2014),
Günter Nooke (March 2006 - March 2010),
Tom Koenigs (January 2005 - February 2006),
Claudia Roth (March 2003 - late 2004) and
Gerd Poppe (1998 - 2003).
You can reach Bärbel Kofler via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bärbel Kofler has been the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance since March 2016.