< Viewpoints < 2006
high time to make human rights a reality"
[03/10/06] The credibility of
international human rights standards will ultimately depend on whether they
are made into reality. More energy has to be directed towards their
implementation. Governments need to work out a more systematic and
comprehensive strategy to ensure the full realisation of human rights
treaties – not least the European Convention on Human Rights and the revised
European Social Charter.
Let me suggest a checklist of 10 points on what a well-intentioned
government could do to secure the realisation of human rights:
1. Ratify European and international standards
It is a great achievement that all European governments have ratified the
European Convention on Human Rights – this also allows for cases to be
brought by citizens of these countries to the European Court of Human
Rights. However, there are substantial gaps. For instance, some countries
have still not ratified Protocol No. 12 on the prohibition of discrimination
or, indeed, the revised European Social Charter.
2. Protect the independence of the judiciary
There are today clear tendencies of political pressure on the judiciary in
some countries, while corruption of judges through bribery also continues to
be a real problem. A self-critical analysis needs to be conducted on the
dangers that this entails, and concrete measures need to be adopted to
protect the independence of the judiciary.
3. Appoint Ombudsmen and respect their independence
The idea of an independent, quasi-judicial institution that can act upon
complaints from individuals has turned out to be very valuable. Most
European countries now have such institutions and/or human rights
institutions focusing on structural human rights problems. It is crucial
that the independence of such institutions is protected by law. The idea of
similar institutions on a provincial and local level should be explored.
4. Open the door to non-governmental groups
Civil society groups are central to ensure respect for human rights.
Structures should be created for regular dialogue between authorities and
non-governmental human rights organisations. Laws should promote and protect
these groups, but in a way that they do not strangle them through
unnecessary bureaucracy or worse.
5. Respect media freedom
The media can monitor human rights problems effectively, if they have the
freedom to operate without interference. Each government wanting to be
serious about human rights needs a clear media policy that protects
journalists and guarantees that different voices are heard.
6. Encourage human rights learning and awareness
Everyone is entitled to know their rights. Such knowledge is indeed one of
the main conditions for the realisation of human rights. However, school
education about human rights is still inadequate in most countries, at all
levels. Also, there is a need to ensure that professional groups like the
police, judges, teachers, social workers and journalists get a solid
education in human rights, and that those already in service have a chance
to update their knowledge. Moreover, programmes are needed to reach society
at large about how people can claim their rights.
7. Clarify provincial and local responsibility
Local authorities have an important role in the implementation of human
rights, as they are often in charge of areas such as policing, schools and
social security. One weakness in the national implementation efforts has
been the lack of vertical co-ordination between authorities. Sometimes local
and provincial authorities fail to understand that European and
international norms are legally binding for them. Action plans at the
municipal level for children’s rights, gender equity, the rights of persons
with disabilities and multicultural understanding have given positive
results, where tried.
8. Take part in the international defence of human rights
The bodies set up within the Council of Europe and the UN to monitor human
rights implementation should be taken seriously: competent independent
experts should be nominated to them and governmental reporting should be
regular and committed. The principle that no one is above scrutiny should be
accepted by all. Also, we have an obligation to respond to grave violations
outside our own borders. Today, European governments should react more
forcefully to the genocide in Darfur and the torture of foreigners by the
CIA. Passivity in the face of such transgressions undermines the credibility
of international standards.
9. Introduce human rights concerns into the political process
Human rights concerns must remain at the forefront of the political agenda.
Parliaments and local assemblies should raise human rights issues with those
responsible, and the executives should report to them on how they have dealt
with human rights problems. When budgets are discussed, there should be an
evaluation on how proposals affect the rights of, for instance, children and
persons with disabilities.
10. Work out a national action plan for human rights
The World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna 1993 recommended that
governments draw up a National Action Plan for the protection and promotion
of human rights. The idea was for governments to bring together all major
stakeholders in a process which would lead to a comprehensive plan covering
all substantial human rights issues. Objectives and a coherent framework of
benchmarks should be defined. Where this has been tried, the Action Plan has
been found useful, for instance, to improve the protection of the most
vulnerable groups who otherwise often tend to be forgotten or marginalised.
Such steps can bring us closer to genuine implementation. The noble
principles have to be turned into reality for all.
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