1. November 2005

Human Rights, NGOs and the Baltic Sea Region

On a meeting of the German Baltic Sea NGO Initiative at Oct 29, 2005 in Hamburg I have been asked to act as the German contact person for the NGO Baltic Sea Network on the issue of Human Rights. The subsequent paper lists some aspects of the Human Rights topic and deals with the question how NGOs generally and NGOs in the Baltic Sea countries specifically can promote that topic. Comments are welcome!

Contact: hubluber@web.de * Work: http://www.dieschwelle.de/ *
Blog: http://www.nienburg44.blogspot.com/

Dr Burkhard Luber
The Human Rights, Non-Governmental Organizations
and the Baltic Sea Region

- An initial navigation of uncharted waters -

Making the Human Rights universally was an act of the Western Allies against German Fascism in the mid of the 20th century. That it has been a Western concept is symbolized in choosing New York as the United Nations headquarter. Launching the Declaration of Human Rights demonstrated what the WW II winners thought to become world-wide standard. For more than five decades this concept did not face major problems (Cynics might say: It had not much genuine impact on the international community either). References to Human Rights worked well for inauguration speeches, sometimes it was a tool of reciprocal reproaches in the East-West Conflict. But it never underwent the major test, whether the UN countries would take the concept earnest and work with emphasis against countries violating Human Rights on a major scale.

Three events at the end of the last and the beginning of the current millennium changed this situation:

The disintegration of Yugoslavia with its broad-scale violating of human rights showed the sensitivity of the Human Rights concept and its application in conflicts of multi-ethnic countries.

The development of religions in the world has two contrasting spiritual tendencies. On the one hand you see an impressive secularization. Religion becomes less and less a decisive reference point for the population. It is merely an individual attitude not having a societal impact. On the other hand we see the renaissance of religious intolerance and fanatism.

The 911 terrorist attacks in the USA changed the dealing with the HR concept in three ways:

First it marked the long lasting universalism of the Human Rights concept. More and more people and countries are challenging this Human Rights uni­ver­salism by ranking religious values higher than observing Human Rights standards. That has even lead to an increasing disqualification of the Human Rights concept as a “Western imported product” to dominate the world. For an increasing number of countries the universalism of Human Rights is no longer valid, though so far none of those countries has acquitted its UN membership.

But 911 has also another 2nd consequence for the weakening of the universal Human Rights concept: Since the Bush administration narrowed its policy guidelines to concentrate more or less totally towards the war against terrorism, the universal observance of Human Rights became obsolete. Bush became more and more insensitive towards the Human Rights account of the allies he chose in his anti-terrorism strategy. That is at least evident for such authoritarian regimes like Turkme­nistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Third consequence: Countries beside the USA took Bush´s anti-terrorism strategy as a welcome chance to claim membership in this anti-terrorist alliance. That gave them the chance to declare as "terrorists" also in-house freedom-fighters, seeking secession minorities and other counter-government actors on their own territory. Prominent example is Russia´s stance against Chenya and other independence movements in the Caucasus, but other governments in Africa and Asia are taking that chance of political rhetoric too and more might take it in future. So Bush´s crusade against terrorism generates a severe decrease of relevance for the Human Right concept.

The Relevance of the Human Rights concept for NGOs
NGOs are natural partners of the Human Rights concept, since their specific contributions to a civil society - like: gender issues, lobbying for minorities and free media - can mostly take their justifications from the “Declaration of Human Rights”. NGOs can be watch dogs, which monitor the Human Rights account of their own government and society and - based on the universalism of the Human Rights concept - also internationally. NGOs are also suitable Human Rights monitors, since they are closer to the societal reality and the needs and wishes of the population than higher ranking administration and governments. And due to their small organization profile and well elaborated information exchange and brainstorming capacities, NGOs can better formulate designs for addressing and solving single Human Rights deficiencies than large government ministries and agencies.

When addressing the question whether there are there specifics for the Human Rights work for NGOs in the Baltic sea region one has to make a short political assessment of that region. Its political changes since the end of the Cold War are significant: Beside Sweden, Finland and Russia all the Baltic Sea region countries are now NATO members and beside Norway and Russia all are EU members too. However simultaneously to the membership expansion of NATO and EU in the Baltic Sea Region the relevance of both these GOs has dramatically decreased. NATO (at least as an independent military factor of itself, i.e. more than a mere logistic contributor to the US worldwide military strategy) does not play an important role in all curren$t major military events (Wars on the Balkan, Iraq War, War against terrorism). NATO´s irrelevance is matched by an EU being in a major crisis due to growingly irritations from the consequences of its recent expansion, its failed constitution ratification process and the looming danger of not having a properly approved budget in 2007. This is the broader international political context in which NGOs in the Baltic Sea Region are acting and the question is whether specific fields of NGOs work in that region can be defined. Here are some proposals:

Minority issues
which are relevant for the Russian minority in Estonia and Latvia. Here NGOs can contribute to stabilize a fair and just minority regime which can also have relevance to other European regions of multi-ethnicity (like SO-Europe and the Roma in Central Europe).

Work Employment Issues
which are relevant for all Baltic Sea countries be they tigers (Estonia) or trailers (Germany). Based on Article 23 of the Declaration of Human Rights, NGOs can contribute with proposals how to implement the Human Right for employment in economies, in which profit increase and work force decrease are complementary to each other. NGOs should publicly brainstorm the issue of unemployment much more ambitious than their governments do it, since governments for decades are unsuccessfully waiting for more economic growth with the vague hope that this would generate new jobs. Employment concepts drafted by NGOs could contrast that blind road thinking of governments by emphasizing that unemployment is no longer a temporary event but is the structural consequence of growing digitalisation and miniaturization of more and more economic processes which demands less and less human work force. NGOs can contribute to the current debate about the future of global economy and work force by shifting the focus of this debate from helpless seeking for government assistance programs. NGOs can emphasize that large areas of the economy do not need full employment of the available working force, which means that the employment issue is no longer a technical task, but has become an issue of justice and just distribution of the continuously decreasing number of necessary work forces in the production field.

Human Rights Issues which have a latent relevance
for all societies in the Baltic sea region like: Gender equality, protection of children, decreasing of violence in the mass media and the entertainment industry, right for conscientious objection against military service, protection against unjustified surveillance of the state against its citizen, freedom of mass media.

If NGOs in the Baltic Sea Region will deal with such Human Rights issues above, they will have sustainable relevance for this region as constructive and critical partners of governments and other major players in that area. Thus they can play an important role for the civic societies in their countries and the Baltic Sea Region.

To fulfil their monitoring roles adequately, NGOs should especially use all relevant electronic information and online publication tools (like emailing lists, blogging, podcasting etc), since their ease of use, low price level and quick public impact makes them highly appropriate tools for the NGO community, thus favoring their aims and work more than the traditional tools of NGO-commitments. Thereby NGO have the chance to act towards governments and big players in the society and internationally on an equal level of competence and efficiency.

Keine Kommentare: