The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is over 70 years old. On 10 December 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the historic agreement, which now forms the basis of international human rights law. Human rights in the European Union are protected by the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and are considered a fundamental value of the EU alongside respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law.
Yet are we at risk of taking human rights for granted? International organisations such as the UN, and NGOs such as Freedom House and Human Rights Watch all warn that fundamental civil and human rights are under assault globally. Are autocratic governments and populist politicians chipping away at an international rights framework that has taken decades to construct?
What does the picture looks like in your own country? Do you feel that your human rights are well-protected and enforced? Or do you get the feeling that either human rights in your country are not being uniformly applied, or that there is a rollback or erosion of rights?
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Emrah, who feels that his human rights are well protected as a citizen in the European Union. He believes this is something we should feel proudest of as European citizens. Is he right?
For another perspective, we put the same question to Mina Jaf, Founder and Director of the NGO Women Refugee Route. What would she say to Emrah’s comment? Does she feel her human rights are well-protected as a Danish citizen?
I used to feel like my human rights were protected as a citizen of Denmark, but as of the last few days, I’ve actually feared for my human rights. On the first of August, Denmark implemented a rule for Muslim women who wear burqas – it is now illegal to wear it. That’s part of how a person decides how to dress. For me it’s against human rights values to limit the freedom of how people dress. But there are many other rules coming up every day that I fear are going against my human rights as a citizen in Denmark. I don’t feel protected. I’m actually afraid about where that will bring us in Danish society in the end.
In recent years, some European countries have been receiving criticism for alleged weakening of human rights. Hungary, for example, has been highlighted in reports from NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. We had a comment from Gabriella, who believes this criticism is politically-motivated, and that it exaggerates the situation in those countries. Is she right? Why are international NGOs so critical of Hungary’s government?
To get a reaction, we spoke to Zoltán Kovács, Hungarian Government Spokesman in the Cabinet Office of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. What would he say? Why is Hungary receiving so much international criticism over civil and human rights in the country?
Because that’s the very nature of NGOs today. They have, for the past couple of decades, increasingly become political organisations, and the criticism coming from them is political criticism. And that’s no good, neither for human rights agencies nor for the international arena, that NGOs are stepping out from their original role (which is presenting a professional, legal standpoint). Instead, they have chosen a different path, and that is a political path.
So, there are a number of problems with that. First, that they formulate their opinion and criticism from a political angle, which unavoidably leads to excessive formulation of opinion and also a very loose and free use of terms and words, even if there’s no problem and no issue that should be addressed. And the second is that, professionally, it is a problem because we’ve seen NGOs not simply using the original sense of international agreements and charters, but over-interpreting and over-representing them, which is no good for the professional elements of that issue.
On 25-27 September 2018, the Fundamental Rights Forum took place in Vienna, organised by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). The Forum aimed to reboot human rights conversations. It represented a space where inventive people from many walks of life could connect, reflect and act.
Are human rights under threat in your country? Or are human rights equally protected and enforced across the European Union? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!