News Item

Putting human rights at the heart of Europe’s future

Putting human rights at the heart of Europe’s future - Rust, Austria, 7-8 September
On 7-8 September, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) brought together sixty human rights leaders and experts to discuss three major challenges: the climate crisis, the rise of disinformation, and the war in Ukraine. These are complex challenges that require multi-faceted responses. The aim was to consider what contribution human rights could make and to inspire bold action.

The discussions brought out new approaches crucial for the renewal of a human rights agenda for Europe. Threading through them are a few important themes: the unfulfilled promise of gender equity; the need for partnerships and cooperation; and inclusivity in language, decision-making and funding.

  1. Bring economic, social and cultural rights to the centre of our agenda - this becomes increasingly urgent with a worsening cost-of-living crisis which is hitting the most vulnerable hardest. Economic inequality feeds political polarisation. The human rights community needs to draw on its full range of tools and rediscover a truly integrated vision.
  2. Develop an inter-generational approach - the climate crisis, now firmly established as a human rights crisis, demands this. Its roots lie in an unsustainable economic model and its worst consequences will be borne by younger and future generations. Yet, many young people do not feel heard as they express their fears. The human rights community must respond to this, while also not leaving older people behind.
  3. Embrace inter-disciplinary thinking - it is particularly important to generate fresh economic thinking informed by human rights and to develop a more integrated approach to human rights, peace and security.
  4. Build public support for human rights - upon which the legitimacy of human rights ultimately rests. This is an ongoing process in which education, the arts and other communication and outreach play an essential role.
  5. Confront legacies of colonialism - both in the way we do human rights work and in our analysis of human rights issues. Europe bears a deep responsibility through its historic role in the world, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine represents a disturbing return of colonialism within Europe. As we confront economic inequality, the climate crisis and hegemonic control over our information ecosystem we need to understand historical and present dynamics of colonialism.
  6. Define responsibility and expand participation - in the work of protecting human rights. This involves looking beyond states and the EU, which bear primary responsibility, to corporations and cities; religious communities and civil society; individual human rights defenders; rights-holders; and young people. But the web of actors and disciplines involved in human rights is broad and includes litigation, journalism, the arts, religion, education, sports and economics.

Despite the magnitude of the issues discussed, the meeting ultimately gave rise to a qualified sense of hope, as fragile as the grounds may be. Cultivating hope involves optimism and pragmatism, breaking down the seemingly impossible into achievable steps, and being propositional about the future. The focus must be on building political will and public support for change and coalitions to enable this.

Hope is ultimately grounded in experience: in the ways that we have seen human rights work changing lives; in a belief in the fundamental decency of the people with whom we live; and in our ability to see ourselves in the vulnerability of others, seek out a story to link us and act upon it.

For a more detailed summary of the discussions, see the Summary Report.