Fidest – Agenzia giornalistica/press agency

Quotidiano di informazione – Anno 34 n° 25

Posts Tagged ‘powerless’

Dorian Gray in Europe – The End of Shame and Human Rights

Posted by fidest press agency su martedì, 2 giugno 2015

dorian grayOne prominent member and funder of the Council of Europe, Russia, suppresses civil liberties, makes a mockery of elections, undermines freedom of association and speech and invades another member state. The prime minister of another member state, Hungary, suggests it might be a good idea to have an open debate about reintroducing the death penalty. Yet another founding member, the United Kingdom, is threatening to ignore judgements from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg that it finds inconvenient. On 1 June, a government spokesman was quoted in the Guardian as saying:”The UK prime minister’s position on what needs to happen on human rights is set out very clearly in the Conservative manifesto. That is the approach that the whole government is behind. That is scrapping the Human Rights Act, breaking the link between the ECHR and here and making the supreme court in the UK the ultimate arbiter of human rights in the UK.All of this is happening at a moment when the Council of Europe is already weakened by its inability to call a dictatorship a dictatorship and to condemn clearly even the most outrageous and systematic violations of the European Convention in certain member states.The times call for clear messages and decisive actions, as human rights – and the international instruments protecting them – are challenged across Europe. And yet at the hour when it is needed most, Strasburg appears lost.A new essay in the summer 2015 issue of the Journal of Democracy puts the crisis of Europe’s oldest human rights institution into a larger contextToday, Europe has more human-rights treaties, employs more human-rights commissioners, awards more human-rights prizes, and is home to more human-rights organizations than at any point in dorianits history. And yet it was no great challenge for the autocratic regime of President Ilham Aliyev in Azerbaijan to paralyze this system. By capturing the Council of Europe, the Azerbaijani government managed to neutralize the core strategy of the international human-rights movement: “naming and shaming.”This crisis affects all European democracies and challenges the international human rights movement as it developed since the early 1960s:Ilham Aliyev, the son of a Soviet-era KGB general, was born the same year that Amnesty International and the modern international human-rights movement were launched. In May 1961, outraged by the news that two Portuguese students had been jailed for raising a toast to freedom, British human-rights lawyer Peter Benenson published an article in the London Observer. Alongside photos of six people jailed in different countries, he wrote about “forgotten prisoners.” Benenson appealed to international norms such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He put his trust in the power of public opinion: “When world opinion is concentrated on one weak spot, it can sometimes succeed in making a government relent… . Pressure of opinion a hundred years ago brought about the emancipation of the slaves.” In August 1975, European democracies, the United States, and Canada joined the leaders of the communist bloc in signing the Helsinki Accords. European democracies had pushed for human rights to be included in these talks. The United States was skeptical; Henry Kissinger famously said that the human-rights provisions of the Helsinki Act could be “written in Swahili for all I care.” … As historian Samuel Moyn put it: “It was not until the 1970s, with the emergence of dissident movements in Eastern Europe, that [human rights] entered common parlance. This is the period that historians need to scrutinize most intently—the moment when human rights triumphed as a set of beliefs … “This legacy and its achievements are now under threat, in Europe and in much of the rest of the world:Four decades after the signature of the Helsinki Final Act, human-rights discourse has been marginalized across Europe. Most governments have human-rights commissioners, but these are rarely positions of influence. The EU’s External Action Service created a special post for human rights, which so far has played no role in shaping policy. When foreign-policy think tanks convene gatherings to discuss the continent’s future, the issue of human rights seldom comes up. Academics largely ignore what is happening to pan-European human-rights institutions. There is, of course, a world of human-rights NGOs, but often these organizations end up talking mainly among themselves or to individual government officials tasked to “deal with” human rights.
In a March 2015 speech, Ilham Aliyev explained that international treaties are “only a piece of paper that aren’t worth anything … We see it and everyone else can see it too. We see this throughout the world—might is right.” There are no moral principles or international human-rights obligations. There is no voice for the powerless. There is no room for shaming. Once torturers are treated with respect, even torture will cease to be considered shameful.An illustration of how marginal human rights have become in European policy is the fact that the European Commission still gives substantial aid to oil-rich Azerbaijan. This is the very moment in which Nils Muiznieks, Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe, stated that “in no other Council of Europe country are all my partners in jail.” In a 10-minute clip posted on Youtube in May 2015 the EU presents itself as a proud partner to “reform efforts” and the “exchange of best practices” with Azerbaijan. It describes its budget support to Azerbaijan, which amongst other things is being used to modernise the justice and penal systems. It is time to reclaim the political symbolism in support of human rights. Personalized sanctions, travel bans and asset freezes against specific human rights violators might restore a sense of shame and honour. They might even give hope to those who languish in jail for promoting core European values. It would, however, take some political will for European leaders to put aside short-term political expediency. In Brussels, Strasburg and most European capitals, this will is currently missing. And this is a problem that goes much wider than Azerbaijan, and bodes ill for the future of human rights protection in the twenty-first century (Gerald Knaus) (photo: dorian gray)

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