Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Times They Are a-Changin'. This was the clear call from the civil rights movement in the 60s, as some of us may recall. But it applies equally well today as times have yet to change for very many people around the globe.
As Director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, I’m here to talk about human rights in today’s globalised world. I myself have been actively involved in human rights over the past 30 years, and looking back I can confirm, yes, times for fundamental rights have been changing. Thankfully, for the better, in the EU as well as globally, even though many challenges remain.
Before talking about globalisation and human rights, and the challenges, I will start with an overview of the key milestones that have brought about this change. I will wind up by talking about media and human rights, as a foretaste of what promises to be a most interesting and stimulating conference. So, what have been some of the key human rights milestones?
• In 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in the wake of the atrocities of two world wars.
• Then in 1950 there was the Council of Europe’s European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights three years later. So institutions were created and human rights became an important part of our foreign policy.
• After the end of the cold war things took a new turn. In 1993, some 150 countries reaffirmed their commitment to the Universal Declaration at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna. This is not by coincidence: After the cold war, countries finally started to clean up their own back yard in parallel to assisting abroad. Let me illustrate this with a short story:
• Shortly after the Vienna conference, South Africa held its first democratic elections. In my previous job we collaborated with the Danish police academy, training South African policemen. One evening over dinner in Cape Town, a Danish policeman asked an obvious question: why do we teach human rights to the South African police but not at home in Denmark? Shortly after, human rights became part of the curriculum in the general police training and has been ever since.
• This “coming home” of human rights is also reflected in the creation of national human rights institutions: in the 1990s there were only 5 such institutions, today there are over 100 worldwide! The establishment, four years ago, of a dedicated EU human rights institution, namely the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, was a logical next step. • Looking again at the EU - two years ago the European Charter on Fundamental Rights became legally binding, and last year the EU created a specific Commissioner post for fundamental rights, and signed the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities – the first international human rights treaty to be signed by the EU or by any regional body. So human rights truly were domesticated.
• The most recent development is that municipalities are increasingly integrating human rights in their work.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
How is all this linked to globalisation?
Well, in the last 20 years, human rights have become a truly global language. This common language speaks volumes as it allows us to discuss the global human rights benchmarks that have been set and the challenges that globalisation has
brought. It has tied us much closer together in a web of human rights engaged people – just look at this audience. They have become truly universal. So, concretely, what are the challenges?
Not all rights are moving at the same speed. Also, some groups are better protected than others, and some countries are more advanced than others. Let me give you some examples from within the EU from the human rights studies and surveys that the Agency conducted:
• In six EU countries, only 42% of Roma children attend primary school, compared to an EU average of 97.5%.
• Studies uncover shocking treatment of people with disabilities in care homes. And many countries deprive people with mental health problems from voting. • No EU country provides full legal equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
• In detention centres for irregular migrants on the Greek-Turkish border my staff witnessed 144 people huddled together in one tiny room with no heating, one toilet and one cold shower during winter. Pregnant women and families with small children were held in such inhuman conditions often over weeks and months. • Finally, the right to privacy and being master of the facts about yourself is being severely threatened by the aggressive collection of personal data about all of us, not forgetting of course, the challenge of eliminating racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, the difficulties in access to justice and the right to a fair trial, the debate over data protection versus the fight against terrorism, human trafficking, and the list just grows.
That is also Europe today. So what can we do? The EU has one of the most advanced human rights protection worldwide. Yet, as my examples have shown, laws alone are not enough if they merely exist. The must be implemented and be enforced properly.
But even this is not enough. People need to be aware of their rights, which two thirds of EU citizens are not, according to surveys. Clearly much work is needed
here. My agency is already working to improve human rights awareness within the EU with the police, border guards, local authorities, and last, but certainly not least, with the media.
Which brings me to the media and the crucial role they have to play. The media act as our eyes and ears. Together with civil society organisations, the media are often watchdogs reporting on human rights violations, bringing to our attention abuses, digging out facts, and keeping us updated on the latest developments, often at their own personal risk. In turn, the Agency can keep you abreast of what’s happening in the EU on fundamental rights. So you can report about the true extent of hate crime, of discrimination, and many of the other issues just listed.
Some argue that the media hold up a mirror to society. But if media want to reflect society fully, then the image should reflect today’s multicultural and diverse society. Currently this is not always the case in the EU. For example, research has shown that in news relating to minorities, minorities themselves are often not given a voice, while “experts” from the majority population are interviewed.
A proper and full reflection creates greater depth in reports, enhances reputation and builds credibility with listeners, viewers and readers – who increasingly also include diverse minorities. This can be most easily achieved with employing journalists from diverse backgrounds. Our work has shown that the media have in fact started addressing this. In Austria for example, where I currently live, some months ago the appearance of a new TV presenter hit the headlines – it was Austria’s first black TV presenter ever. But shouldn’t this just be normal? Ladies and Gentlemen, I conclude:
the media are undoubtedly a strong force which can foster positive change in society. Seeing you here today signals that you appreciate how important human rights awareness is, and the challenges we face. With the Council of Europe and the European Broadcasting Union, the Agency has been working on practical tools to support media professionals become even better equipped to report on diversity. We are also running a diversity workshop here tomorrow.
So in these ever changing times, let’s not forget that when we have the freedom to choose, we have the freedom to change.
Thank you for your attention.