Politisch. Praktisch. Persönlich.


Günter Nooke

Persönlicher Afrikabeauftragter der Bundeskanzlerin                                       Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung

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Donnerstag, 19 Okt 2017

Thoughts on the better coordination of and strategic focus for the Human Rights Policy of the European Union

Draft paper for the EU-human rights ambassadors retreat

Berlinat the Villa Borsig on September 25-26th 2009, Günter Nooke


Preliminary remarks

Human rights policy of the European Union is part of the CFSP and becomes more important with the Treaty of Lisbon. When it comes to international human rights policy, there is broad agreement between all 27 member states. It is rooted in the basic recognition of all human rights as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and in the two central UN human rights conventions, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The principles or guidelines of EU human rights policy clearly formulate strategic goals and indicate ways of achieving them.

They do not replace existing human rights guidelines on individual policy fields. The necessary operative cooperation in COHOM and EU coordination in Geneva and NewYorkis not to be called into question but be linked more to joint strategic considerations.

These considerations are based on two aspects:

  • The idea of human rights, the concept of individual, inalienable rights for all people, is often called into question outside the EU by governments and parliaments as well as national publics as a whole and the NGO sector.
  • Although the EU is or seems to be in agreement formally, different focal points and accents are set in the individual countries. Human rights policy is often very much geared to domestic policy goals and specific interests amongst civil society. Although this is part of our own cultural diversity and often contributes to a broader approach, sometimes not enough attention is paid to the consequences seen in the international sphere. This is particularly true of the UN context and work to guarantee strategic goals.

The following basic principles are by no means to be taken for granted either internationally or in operative EU work. Yet they are basic tenets to which we can gear or against which we can at least measure the EU’s CFSP and the work of international bodies.




Basic Principles of a Strategy for the Human Rights Policy



Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 1

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union Article 1

Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected.

Basic Law Article 1 (1) and (2)

Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.


The German people therefore acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights as the basis of every community, of peace and of justice in the world.


1. Human rights are the core of EU foreign policy.

Human rights policy does not replace security and development policy. But human rights are an important pillar, alongside security and development (Kofi Annan, In larger Freedom, 2005), for long-term peace in the world.

The protection of individual, inalienable human rights is the sine qua non for the co-existence in human dignity of nations and people across the world.

Efforts to combat terrorism and poverty must not violate elementary human rights. Due to its own history and values,Europehas a particular obligation to protect human rights.


2. Human rights are universal.

The EU member states are pursuing the protection of human rights first and foremost in their own countries and are taking care to face up to critical dialogue.

The same standards apply to EU member states as to all other countries. These standards must not be undermined by pointing to overriding goals or collective interests.


3. The idea of universality is the political core of the human rights concept.

Any attempt anywhere to relativize this idea must be clearly countered.

The protection of cultural diversity, traditions or religions as an alternative political concept to human rights is rejected. What is being advocated is a non-ideological human rights policy that allows for the diversity of cultures, religions and traditions based on the protection of elementary human rights.

That however requires to concentrate on elementary human rights as such. Only those rights that are without question basic human rights and not based on certain cultural or idealogical ideas can be applied universally.

Discussions on the understanding of human rights are important. They should not be dodged by pointing to terms such as human dignity and respect.


4. Human rights are indivisible.

Economic, social and cultural rights create the prerequisite for exercising classic civil rights and liberties.

The indivisibility of human rights means individual rights or categories of rights must not be played off against one another. Indivisibility does not mean all rights are equally important. It is important to set political priorities.


5. Human rights policy must improve the situation of people affected by human rights violations worldwide.

Implementing minimum standards and concrete steps to protect elementary human rights in all countries have priority over extending the catalogue of human rights as regards content and over codifying them legally without mechanisms of sanction.


6. The governments of sovereign states bear primary responsibility for the protection of human rights.

It is essential for national governments, the European Council, Commission and Parliament to take a public stance on grave violations of human rights no matter where in the world they occur.

The gravity of the violation and not the special, good or strategically and economically important relations to the state responsible should be the criterion of measure.

Standing up for the protection of elementary human rights does not constitute unauthorized interference in the internal affairs of a state.


7. Human rights protection is not possible without stable states.

Stability, good governance, the rule of law, development and democracy are essential steps when it comes to anchoring and implementing human rights. On a case-by-case basis, it may seem better to pursue these goals in stages rather than simultaneously.


8. Strengthening the competences and the independence of the International Criminal Court in The Hague is a key part of human rights policy.

Human rights policy must combat impunity.

Grave violations of human rights such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide must not go unpunished. The International Criminal Court inThe Haguemust be strengthened.


9. International human rights policy must not undermine the protection of basic rights and the rule of law in EU member states.

Maintaining scope for existence in a free, democratic and social state based on the rule of law is not something to be taken for granted.

UN resolutions can also impact the manner in which we live together in our own countries. Fundamental human rights standards in the EU cannot be played off against other goals of international politics.