March 17, 2009

English summary

The March issue of Diplomaatia addresses the topic of human rights, with special emphasis on the oldest human rights organisation in Europe that celebrates its 60th anniversary this year – the Council of Europe.

The March issue of Diplomaatia addresses the topic of human rights, with special emphasis on the oldest human rights organisation in Europe that celebrates its 60th anniversary this year – the Council of Europe.

English summary

The March issue of Diplomaatia addresses the topic of human rights, with special emphasis on the oldest human rights organisation in Europe that celebrates its 60th anniversary this year – the Council of Europe.
Andres Herkel, Member of the Estonian Parliament and Vice-President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (CE), writes in the opening article: “It is true that the CE is the only organisation that is, quite literally, solely based on values. However, these values have been on sale at knockdown prices for some time now.” This unfortunate situation has arisen because of states that do not comply with the acceptance criteria, Russia in particular, but which have become member states of the organisation: “Russia continues to cause problems. As a result, values are devalued and internal conflicts make progress impossible, leaving no time for serious democratic efforts. /—/ There is still no answer to the unsavoury question of whether the CE has made Russia more democratic or Russia has made the CE less democratic.”
According to Herkel, the CE’s most effective instrument is the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), but the problems relating to the accession of Russia and other non-democratic countries affect even the work of the court: “It is a widely-held view in the old Europe that the ECtHR is a beacon of hope that is able to throw some light on debatable and intellectually interesting issues, which have been previously unsolved by international judicial practice. However, the rapid enlargement of the organisation has forced the ECtHR to focus on the defects of the national judicial systems of the new member states.”
Sulev Kannike, Permanent Representative of Estonia to the Council of Europe, also writes about the tensions between democratic and non-democratic countries. Kannike thinks that their conflicts stem from different interpretations of the relationship between human rights and democracy: “It is right to include the protection of human rights on the same list with the promotion of democracy and the rule of law, since the best proof of the quality of a state’s political power is its attitude towards its own citizens. Therefore it is important to regard them in the following order: democracy and rule of law guarantee, as their product, the safeguarding of human rights. The protection of human rights must be a natural function of democratic rule of law. The claim that the contrary is also accurate is still debatable.””
Kannike adds: “This is why it is important to correctly select a core value that can serve as a starting point for our analysis of the CE’s dilemmas. If the starting point is human rights, then these dilemmas are measured on the scale of state sovereignty vs. outside interference. This is a traditional approach in which states cannot be clearly differentiated on the basis of their political regime.
However, if we were to take democracy as our starting point, we would find that the CE has become an actor in the emerging global opposition between liberal democracies and authoritarian political regimes.”
Kannike attempts to foretell the future: “Looking forward to the next decade, it is safe to predict that the main challenge facing the CE will be its ability to mobilise itself for the protection of the democratic model of statehood within the community of the member states of this organisation.” The key issue will be the reformability – possibly from the outside – of modern non-ideological authoritarian regimes: “What will guide such states to the path of liberal democracy – multilateral dialogues, the provisions of international standards, monitoring systems or international pressure? If democracy prevails, the CE will be set for a rebirth.”
In an interview with Diplomaatia, Thorbjorn Jagland, a candidate for the post of Secretary General of the Council of Europe, says that universal human rights are based on the fact that people all over the world, from Afghanistan to Norway, need the same things – they have to have work, education, food and rights. Jagland claims that the reputation of those who fight for human rights must be spotless. “For example, the Americans are definitely facing a hard task – they want to be on the forefront of protecting human rights and democracy, but they have made so many grave mistakes while doing it. The statements previously made by the new leader of the US administration, Barack Obama, suggest that the USA will see some changes. The Americans thought that they could do everything themselves and that they could solve Afghanistan’s, Iran’s, the world’s problems. This period is now over,” says Jagland.
According to Jagland, it is very hard to promote human rights imperialism and to force countries to accept human rights and democracy. “However, we should help those domestic forces who want to safeguard human rights and democracy. For example, in Afghanistan, it is impossible for democratic forces to defend human rights because of the violent acts by the Taliban and the warlords.”
Ehtel Halliste, a veteran Estonian diplomat and a member of EU election observation missions to Pakistan, Nepal and Cambodia, shares her experiences of applying human rights in Asia at grassroots level. “It is understandable that Asian people, who have lived for centuries they way they have wanted to, do not embrace and apply Western liberal values right away,” writes Halliste. “They have their own similar values, but it takes time for these values to become dominant. In addition, the general level of education must be raised in order to spread these values. Societies can be changed only from the inside. Transformation cannot be forced on people from the outside because changes decrease the public’s sense of security, which is why people have to be ready for changes.”

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