Human rights need us defending democracy

Today, 10 December, is International Human Rights Day. Governments and politicians across Europe are urged to recommit to promoting and maintaining human rights standards.

The European Commission and the Council Of Europe in a joint statement said:

“Human Rights Day 2017 is a moment for honest reflection, and a call for concerted action.

Recent trends in Europe show that the overall commitment to human rights is not what it once was. European countries have long been the staunchest defenders of human rights but we now see a real risk that we are going backwards.

We have all witnessed worrying examples: freedom of expression being curtailed; discrimination being tolerated and in some cases incited; and the rule of law being applied selectively.

Those who value freedom and justice cannot accept this clear erosion of individuals’ rights. The peace and stability of Europe depend on democracy, the rule of law and full respect for human rights. One should never be used against the other, as history has taught us.

The European Convention on Human Rights set out in 1950 the basic protections to which every adult and child is entitled.

The European Convention was agreed by consensus in the wake of a devastating world war and atrocities that must never be repeated. It was designed to withstand the passing of time and to ensure that the lessons of the bleakest periods in our history are never forgotten.

Every EU Member State and nineteen other European countries have ratified the Convention. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union is built on it.

The Council of Europe and the European Commission work hand-in-hand to ensure that human rights are upheld in practice. These rights are not negotiable. But to deliver them we depend on the full and unequivocal cooperation of every member country of the European family, and that cooperation and commitment needs to improve.

Last year the European Court of Human Rights handed down 488 judgments concerning EU member states, and three quarters of them confirmed at least one violation of the European Convention.

Meanwhile, six out of ten of the countries with most violations relative to population size were EU Member States.

The warning lights are flickering and it is time to heed them. We call on every European government and every European politician to heed the warning and get to work.

All our European states must recommit to a culture of human rights, abide by the commitments that they have made and implement the rule of law on that basis.

Only then can every European enjoy the opportunity to live a full life without the threat of discrimination or abuse.”

If we want to protect human rights, defending democracy is indispensable. As European Council President Donald Tusk said on 8 December 2017:

“For me, the most crucial European values continue to be human and civil rights, freedom of speech and conscience, the rule of law, and respect for minorities’ rights. I believe that the only guarantee of the survival of these values is liberal democracy, questioned in so many corners of the world. Imperfect, fragile, in need of constant effort and care. Underappreciated and violated, defenceless at times, but – if you, like me, put freedom first – alternative-less.”

On this year’s Human Rights Day, let’s commit to actively defend democracy — including against Russian interference.