Human rights – a cornerstone of German foreign policy


Some things are non‑negotiable: Germany continues to campaign assiduously for human rights around the world.

Some things are non‑negotiable: Germany continues to campaign assiduously for human rights around the world. Indeed, working for human rights is not only a basic tenet of our foreign policy – it is also in Germany’s interests.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Universal Declaration of Human Rights© picture-alliance/dpa

A world in which all people would be protected as individuals, their dignity sacrosanct. With this aim in mind, they adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is based on the premise that all human beings possess “inherent dignity and [...] equal and inalienable rights”, without distinction being drawn on any basis such as colour, sex, language or religion. Everyone is entitled to human rights – simply by virtue of being human, and irrespective of any characteristic that may be used to differentiate between individuals.

The basis of every community

Germany’s commitment to human rights work is also a lesson learned from the darkest chapter of our history. Human dignity and inviolable and inalienable human rights are accordingly enshrined in Article 1 of Germany’s Basic Law “as the basis of every community, of peace and of justice in the world”. The Basic Law thus not only guarantees human rights in Germany, but also obliges us to protect human dignity and fundamental freedoms throughout the world.

Moral obligation and political interests

Campaigning for human rights is not, however, only a moral and legal obligation under the Basic Law. Upholding human rights is also in Germany’s diplomatic interests. Examples from around the world show that long‑term peace and sustained development are not possible where human rights are violated. In contrast, where freedoms and dignity are protected, the conditions are right for creativity and prosperity.

Within the Federal Foreign Office, alongside Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid Bärbel Kofler, there is an entire division responsible for human rights and gender issues. Together they make use of a great variety of instruments. Funding programmes for non‑governmental organisations, political dialogue, public statements and quiet diplomacy, for example, have already improved the human rights situation in many countries.

The best defender of human rights – a vibrant civil society

If human rights are to be protected, it is vital for the general public to be vigilant and to respond to any violations. Germany makes this a key priority in its international work. In dialogue with non‑governmental organisations, religious groups, intellectuals and activists, Germany seeks to support vibrant and vigilant civil societies in countries around the world. If citizens are able to be active in independent groups and public fora, this constitutes one of the best forms of protection against a wanton disregard of human rights.

Germany’s international human rights obligations

Germany is a party to all major UN human rights conventions and their supplementary protocols. Germany most recently signed the Additional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as well as the individual complaint mechanism of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In Europe there is a closely‑knit network of institutions dedicated to the protection of human rights. The European Union and above all the Council of Europe and OSCE play a key role here.

The protection of fundamental rights in the EU

Council of Europe

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

Additional content

Bärbel Kofler
Bärbel Kofler© Michael Gottschalk/photothek.de

Bärbel Kofler is the Federal Government's Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance.

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