“Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.” This is the clear mandate in Article 1 of the German Basic Law, in which Germany acknowledges “inviolable and inalienable human rights” as “the basis of every community, of peace and of justice in the world”. Germany also takes this obligation seriously in its relations with foreign countries. The protection and strengthening of human rights play a special role in the foreign-policy and international context, as systematic human rights violations are frequently the first step towards conflicts and crises. Together with its partners in the EU and in collaboration with the United Nations (UN), Germany advocates the protection and improvement of human rights standards.
Commitment to international human rights institutions
Germany is a contracting partner to the UN’s important human rights treaties and their Additional Protocols (Civil Pact, Social Pact, Anti-Racism Convention, Women’s Rights Convention, Convention against Torture, Children’s Rights Convention, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance). Most recently Germany signed the Additional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, both of which have been in force since 2009. Germany was the first European nation to ratify the Additional Protocol to the Children’s Rights Convention, which makes an individual complaints procedure possible.
The Federal Government supports protection from discrimination and racism, takes an active stand worldwide against the death penalty and for political participation and legal protection, defends the freedom of religion and belief, fights human trafficking, and pushes for enforcement of the right to housing and the right to clean water and sanitation. Almost 900 million people worldwide have no access to clean water. Germany is helping to change this situation by spending 400 million euros annually on several projects. Access to water, one of the more recent human rights issues, is the focal point of German development cooperation in 27 countries.
In 2012, Germany became a member of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, for the second time, and is currently applying to be re-elected for the 2016 – 2018 cycle. In 2015, Germany in the person of Ambassador Joachim Rücker became Chair of the Council for the first time. The German diplomat was elected President by the 47 members of the Human Rights Council for one year. The Human Rights Council’s most important tool is the Universal Periodic Review, which provides all UN member states with an opportunity to declare what actions they have taken to fulfil their human rights obligations, and answer critical questions. Germany underwent this procedure in 2009 and 2013.
Germany is one of the most active countries on the European Council, which has 47 member states and champions the protection and promotion of human rights, the rule of law, and democracy throughout Europe. With landmark conventions, in particular the European Human Rights Convention, the European Council plays a strong role in establishing a common European judicial area and monitors adherence to binding common standards and values on the European continent.
International human rights policy tools
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg, France is one of the European Council’s main institutions for enforcing human rights in Europe. Each and every citizen of the 47 member states of the European Council can resort directly to the ECtHR with complaints concerning a violation of rights protected by the European Human Rights Convention. Germany emphatically advocates that all member states of the European Council accept and implement the decisions of the ECtHR, as is incumbent upon them. The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the Netherlands, is responsible for the prosecution under international criminal law of serious international crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Germany is in favour of universal recognition of the ECtHR.
The Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, Bärbel Kofler, is based in the Federal Foreign Office. She observes international developments, coordinates human rights activities with other state bodies, and advises the Federal Foreign Minister. The German parliament, the Bundestag, has accompanied and monitored German human rights policy since 1998 through its Committee for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid. In 2000, the German Institute for Human Rights, a state-funded but independent body, was established in Berlin. As a national human rights institution as defined in the UN’s Paris Principles, it is intended to help the promotion and protection of human rights by Germany at home and abroad.
Humanitarian aid for people in acute need
Through its humanitarian aid worldwide the Federal Government helps people in acute need as a result of natural disasters, armed conflicts, or other crises and conflicts – or where there is a risk of this becoming the case. It is not about the causes of their plight. Humanitarian aid is an expression of ethical responsibility and solidarity with people in need. It is geared to the requirements of the needy and is based on the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence.
The Federal Government does not provide this assistance directly, but supports suitable projects conducted by the UN’s humanitarian organisations, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and German non-government organisations. In 2014 alone, the Federal Foreign Office allocated in excess of 437 million euros for humanitarian measures.
The protection of human rights is also an important field of activity for cyber foreign policy. Issues relating to the protection of data and privacy rights need urgent answers. In 2013 and 2014, the UN General Assembly passed resolutions on the right to privacy in the digital age. They were on the back of a German-Brazilian initiative. Germany is of the opinion that human rights online are just as valid as offline. In 2015, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution that for the first time envisages the appointment of an independent special reporter for the right to privacy. He will report on violations annually and follow the international debate.