Thursday 26 April 2007

Human rights: universal or particular?

Are the values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights and fundamental freedoms universal? Are they even European?

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe noted that “acceptance and realisation of the principles of democracy, the rule of law and human rights and fundamental freedoms are a necessary condition for membership in the Organisation” (Resolution 1547, 18 April 2007).

But the same Assembly sees “a need to reduce the gap between standards on paper and the reality on the ground”.

Terrorism poses interesting questions on the real effectiveness of these values.

The Parliamentary Assembly stated that even the most serious human rights violations, such as enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, secret detentions, torture and inhuman treatment, still occur in Europe, and that impunity, even for these most serious human rights violations, has not been eradicated in Europe.

The Parliamentary Assembly, at least, seems to share some fundamental values: “Terrorism is one of the key challenges for Europe’s open societies; it can and must be vanquished without violating the very principles of human rights, the rule of law and tolerance that terrorists are out to destroy.”

The Assembly called upon all member states to “fully respect human rights while fighting terrorism, as already requested by the Assembly on numerous occasions, refuse to expel or extradite any individual to a country where there is a real risk of him or her being subjected to serious human rights violations, regardless of assurances received, as well as to sign and/or ratify at the earliest opportunity the Organisation’s conventions and instruments pertaining to human rights, including those on combating terrorism.”

It is not clear how much government departments or governments in member states have aided and abetted human rights violations, but in spite of less than enthusiastic co-operation from some European governments, there have been efforts within the Council of Europe and the European Union to uncover the truth, and some judicial proceedings have been initiated in member states.

Far from perfect, this state of affairs can be contrasted with the atmosphere of impunity surrounding the so called War on terror.

Have human rights and fundamental freedoms become shared or dividing values for Europe and the USA?

Ralf Grahn

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