There is rise in terrorism across the world, especially the Islamic State, which have taken over large tracts of territory in Syria and Iraq. This has led to the refugee crisis – millions of people seeking refuge in European countries including Germany, the venue of the seminar. The future of the Eurozone is in jeopardy. The European Union is grappling with one crisis after another. As a reactionary force, there appears to be a rise in right-wing forces in Europe, in countries such as Poland and Hungary, and elsewhere too; the fear being that long-cherished Democratic rights of the people could be a casualty. There are various other developments all across the world which are threatening the very survival of the little man, the little voter, the little citizen – with a free voice.
And against this tumultuous backdrop, a group of young lawyers, politicians and activists from 23 countries descended at Gummersbach for the IAF Seminar on Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights: the Liberal Approach. It was like getting a bird’s eye view of world affairs and then testing the times against the concepts of Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights.
We tend to become too practical and concentrate on actions without pausing to think about and clarify our understanding of concepts which ought to be the driving force behind our actions. What our very skilful moderators and the group discussions did was to clarify my own concept of what Rule of Law means. We learnt the various concepts of Rule of Law, from the thinnest (Rule by Law) to the thickest (Social Democratic Rule of Law or the fattest, as our liberal moderator preferred to call it), Rule by Law having hardly any safeguards and Social Democratic Rule of Law being a point where the State itself assumes the role of the Father, mother, guardian and regulator. The liberal approach is to prefer a liberal Rule of Law where the State is neither too intrusive, nor too withered away. The citizens are allowed to breathe and grow – the State only creating the fertile ground. I seemed to agree to the approach to a great extent.
The work group requiring us to explain the Rule of law and fundamental rights situation in our own countries enabled me look at India, my country, with an objectivity which I hitherto lacked. I returned as a citizen of my country and much in love with it, yet with the awareness of its deficiencies.
The discussions on fundamental rights and the three generations of Human rights was the one I greatly enjoyed. We poured all our ideas on to the floor and with the help of efficient marshalling of discussions by the mdoerators, we educated ourselves about democracy and democracies and rights and their extents and the general world situation of rights. What I learnt was that the liberals vouch for the first generation rights first and later move on to the second and third generation rights. I disagreed with Dr Rolf, our moderator and said that in my opinion, the first and second generation rights should go hand and hand. What the discussion culminated into is not important – but I took away from the debate a far enhanced understanding of the essentials of democratic thought and endeavour and I am much grateful to our erudite moderators. (Doctor and I have promised to continue our debate by email). To aid our understanding we were introduced to the Rule of Law Index published by the World Justice Project and the Bertelsmann Transformation Index, both of which will be of great help to me in future.
The underlying issue which overshadowed the seminar was the refugee crisis. Important questions about the right to freedom of movement (how free and unrestricted is it) were raised and we deliberated on them. Coming from a country having its own share of migrant and refugee problems, I was able to share my inputs. How far should refugees be allowed unrestricted access to countries like Germany? How far will they be able to blend with german culture? What could be the repercussions if they couldn’t. What security risks could be posed by refugees (with reference to the recent Paris Terror Attacks). We analysed threadbare, the problems – and possible solutions – rationing of refugees, establishing camps in their own countries run by the more developed countries. We also considered the legal aspects, which have helped sharpen my own understanding of refugee and migrant issues, being a lawyer engaged in refugee related work in India.
For 12 days, we were like family. It seemed barriers between cultures, religions, territories had all melted and the fact that we were all human beings possessing the same characteristics of humanity took precedence.
The excursions to Cologne and Strasbourg only increased the bonhomie and also gave us a chance to explore new places, meet new people and witness cultures first hand. We also made an interesting visit to the International Institute of Human Rights where we also became aware of the obstacles language could pose when working in the field of human rights. There can be no Rule of Law and fundamental rights without people. The food and lodging were excellent to say the least. Apart from the seminar proceedings, we had freewheeling yet engaging discussions at the bar and while travelling, sharing experiences from our respective countries. In the modern world, learning is exchanging.
The best aspects about this seminar were its emphasis on practical realisation of all that we were discussing and secondly, the freedom of expression it gave us. The world is becoming intolerant towards diversity and conflict thought yet here we were given an absolutely free forum where we could simply explain and express ourselves in the manner we liked.
Finally, we were asked to prepare project proposals to enhance Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights. We presented our proposals. The moderators were very appreciative.
I went to Gummersbach as a citizen of India and returned as a conscious and vigilant citizen of the world. My outlook has been broadened, the knowledge has deepened, and seeds of truly liberal thought have been planted in my being. I only expect it to grow and guide me in my actions and endeavours towards making the world a better place for ourselves and others.
I am grateful, IAF.
by Deepan Kumar Sarkar
Some impressions from our excursion to Strasbourg and Karlsruhe
Berlin, Cologne, Aachen amd Düren – these were the stations of the visiting program titled “Transparent, accountable urban governance and administrative systems”. The aim of the one-week program was to showcase how health, transport and finances are handled on the municipal level in the Federal Republic of Germany. “Respect for the rule of law is a main reason why German municipalities succeed in spite of financial deficits”, said Anjali Srivastava, Program Officer at Praja Foundation from Mumbai. She, together with her fellow travelers, enjoyed the meetings with German officials and experts and also the sightseeing like here at the historic Cathedral of Cologne.
More information on our work in Southasia:
On October 20, 1989 the United Nations General Assembly approved the Convention on the Rights of the Child, CRC. On September 2, 1990 it became effective. This document defined for the first time a worldwide standard for child protection and rights. 195 out of 197 countries endorsed the convention. An approval that largely outreaches all other UN conventions. Thus the convention acquired almost universal relevance.
The legal scenario, threats and protection possibilities regarding minors were also core elements of the course held this year on international law in terms of human rights delivered by the René Cassin International Institute for Human Rights (Institut International des Droits de l’Homme– René Cassin) in Strasbourg. This 3-week course allows each year the conveyance of current knowledge and topics concerning international law in terms of human rights, based on international conventions and mechanisms. Around 300 participants from numerous countries attended this meeting that offers each year a venue for intense learning and engaged debates. The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom invited 9 experts in human rights from Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mali and Turkey to take part in the course and acquire updated knowledge. The purpose is that knowledge and contacts should be useful for those projects in which participants are actively engaged.
In the topic courses the notion of “child” was addressed from the most varied perspectives: children in violent conflicts, protection of children against sexual exploitation, religious practices and children’s rights, children as victims of human rights abuse in wars and civil wars, children’s rights and criminal law related to young offenders, legal scenario regarding international kidnappings, protection of non-accompanied children during migration, child protection and new technologies, fight against forced labor of minors.
Particularly current in the last decades was the issue concerning the recruitment or forced use of “child soldiers”. Unfortunately, many countries and militias involved in war or civil war conflicts do not want to leave the practices of recruiting children and teenagers for fighting purposes. The UN child convention prohibits their direct and active engagement in violent conflicts. However, their provisions are not accurate, mainly as to age limits. This was one of the reasons why the USA, almost in solitaire, did not endorse the convention. (Another reason probably lies on the prohibition of death penalty for children.) The practice of military schools to recruit extremely young candidates would particularly collide with the convention.
The core question “What is a child?” is replied in the convention with a “mild” answer. A child is a person who has not reached 18 years of age, provided the states’ national laws do not determine otherwise. Establishing an age limit is thus left to discretion of the national law, which –regarding the recruitment of child soldiers– leads to extremely unsatisfactory results. Some verdicts of the International Criminal Court and other courts have restricted even further the engagement of children and teenagers in combats. According to the statute of the special court for Sierra Leone, engaging child soldiers is considered a war crime.
A few years after the Convention was approved, it was generally agreed that protection-related provisions were not enough to control the acute threats faced by children. Therefore, three additional protocols were signed:
1. Additional protocol against child exploitation, child prostitution and child pornography (2002)
2. Additional protocol about children in armed conflicts (2002)
3. Optional protocol on individual appeal procedures (2002)
An interesting aspect in the evolution of documents refers to the fact that –unlike the Convention– the additional protocols were endorsed by the USA.
From the extensive provisions set forth in the Convention, five basic core rights for children are derived:
– The right to survival
– The right to development
– Non discrimination
– Advocacy of children’s interests in all relevant decisions thereof
– The right to participation
All the contractual parties in the Convention are committed to use their available resources to enable the children’s development (education, instruction, health) and gradually engage them in social processes.
The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969) considers the possibility that a state could ratify a treaty without granting its agreement to the contents, but only “under reserve”, which restricts the engagement. This option has led to a generalized practice of restricting the rights granted by the Convention by means of extensive restrictions. Thus Iran endorsed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, with the condition that the sharia and the national criminal law should remain unaffected. That is why a 9-year-old child in Iran can still be sentenced to death. Singapore endorsed it with the exception of its national law; Saudi Arabia did it under reserve of the sharia. In Brunei, the Convention is only valid if it does not interfere with the Constitution and Islamic law. That means, a generalized tendency to subordinate the bonding nature of the international conventions to national law can be perceived. An evolution that does not precisely benefit the children’s development opportunities and that infringes the Vienna Convention’s spirit. There is still a lot left to do!
For the Foundation’s participants, efforts have resulted worthwhile. Despite a heavy workload under summer temperatures of up to 44 ºC and in spite of Ramadan, which Muslim attendants abided by, almost all the participants passed the difficult final test.
by Dr Gabriele Thöns
A delegation consisting of eleven representatives from the Public Relations Bureau of the Ministry of Law and Human Rights went to Germany on a Study Trip on “Democracy, Rule of Law and Human Rights: German International Cooperation”.
After arriving in Germany the delegation was greeted with an opening dinner attended by H.E. Dr.-Ing. Fauzi Bowo, the Indonesian Ambassador to Germany. The Ambassador welcomed and supported the study trip as Indonesian trade with Germany is one of the most active one to date.
The program covers visits to the German Federal Ministry of Justice, the Berlin Constitutional Court, the Head Office of Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit in Potsdam, a dialogue with the Indonesian diplomats at the Indonesian Embassy in Berlin, a discussion with a former German Human Rights Commissioner, and a city tour of Berlin.
At the Federal Ministry of Justice, the delegation was greeted by the Head of a Department at the Ministry, Mr. Mathias Hellmann, followed by a dialogue on the topic of ‘International Legal Cooperation and Rule of Law.’
At the Berlin Constitutional Court, the delegation had a discussion with the Vice-President of the Berlin Constitutional Court Dr. Robert Wolfgang Seegmüller on the topic of ‘The Role of the Judiciary: How to Ensure the Rule of Law’.
During the visit to FNF Head Office, the delegation was greeted by the Desk Officer for Southeast Asia, Mr. Wolfgang Heinze, who gave a presentation on the international works of FNF in the world and in Asia.
The Dialogue with the former German Human Rights Commissioner, Mr. Markus Löning, focussed on the how Germany maintains its fulfilment of citizen rights, including safeguarding tolerance and pluralism. This is a topic that drew lots of questions from members of the delegation who were curious about how Germany manages religious tolerance.
The study trip is one of the activities set out in the cooperation between Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit and the Ministry of Law and Human Rights of the Republic of Indonesia, and was the first activity within the scope of the cooperation this year.
Jakarta, 19 May 2015
The IAF International Seminar on Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Information 2015 took place from April 19th to May 1 in Gummersbach, Bonn, Cologne and Hamburg. Twenty-six participants from twenty-five countries world-wide explored the current state of media freedom in their respective countries and identified core threats like political oppression, religious fundamentalism, self-censorship and digital surveillance.
Media, unfortunately on the decline in recent years in a number of countries, was identified as an indispensable part of liberal democracy driving political liberties and fundamental rights. The optimism still linked to social media and the versatility of new mobile digital devices has been seriously cautioned by new authoritarianism and an increase in physical violence towards information-doers and practicing journalists in war-torn or conflict-prone societies. Digital spying and surveillance motivated by commercial or security interests add a new dimension of global danger to the freedom of information and the protection of privacy.
Visits to the Deutsche Welle in Bonn (read more about our visit here) and to leading German media houses in Hamburg complemented the academic part of the 12 days programme. The participants met various interlocutors who shared their practical experiences, insights and professional concerns.
In a final proactive work group the participants identified and drafted a number of concrete interventions and projects to enhance media freedom in their countries and regions in accordance with the concurrent UN World Press Freedom Day 2015 theme:
Let Journalism Thrive! Towards better reporting, gender equality and media safety in the digital age.
- – Freedom of the Press Report 2015 published by Freedom House
- – About the media situation in Turkey and Germany
…was my thought when I realized that we’re asking all sorts of information from our online course participants – except for their social media profiles. We strongly encourage users to network in our online-courses – and we totally failed to provide them with the means to do so. Read the rest of this entry »
The workshop started on Friday morning in the taxi. My driver – let’s call him Dragan for privacy reasons – embodied everything I knew about and experienced again in my second trip to Serbia: A dynamic country with a young population that makes do with the imperfect economic and political situation of their beautiful country. Besides driving his cab, Dragan also owns a small online media agency. We struck up a good coversation about content and learning management and I was very happy to give some tips.
The International Academy for Leadership – or IAF – is the most valuable and arguably also the most popular of the many international programs sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF). Over the years, a large number of young and also senior leaders from India have attended the courses in the Western German city of Gummersbach. FNF New Delhi’s Omair Ahmed was invited to join the recent workshop titled “Religious Power in Politics. Political Power through Religion?” as a co-moderator. We asked him to share his impressions.
“The seminar was filled with argumentative, boisterous and convivial discussions.”
This was only to be expected with such a sensitive topic, and with people from the Arab Spring countries like Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt, as well as from countries as varied as Mexico, Malaysia, Russia, Tanzania, the United States, Ukraine, the Palestinian Territories, and India. All of the participants felt strongly about the issue, some of whom asserted that they were ‘fundamentalist’ in their interpretation of faith, though not in a militant sense, while others stated their own ‘fundamentalist’ belief in atheism or non-theism.
The discussion was ably assisted by Arno Keller, a former country director for the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF), and assisted by Sagarica Delgoda, another former country director for FNF. They brought in a great deal of personal experience, from countries as diverse as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Germany, trying to get at the root of the idea of secularism and what it means in the modern world. Referring to the multiple ways that ostensibly secular countries such as the United States, Germany, France and the United Kingdom have official religions, collect religious taxes, have religious political parties and a host of other practices, Mr Keller demonstrated the confusion on the very idea of “secular” for most everyone. Instead he encouraged the participants to discuss the issues and get at main principles and themes. Ms Delgoda spoke about Buddhism as a meniator of values, and how even such a religion could be manipulated for nationalistic sentiments.
While participants from the Arab countries, who had seen revolution and radicalisation recently, were often vocal in their fears and opinions, the important stories of the experience of minority communities in Malaysia and the role of religion in war-making rhetoric in the Ukraine-Russian crisis also figured in the discussion. An exercise by the participants, in which five groups were asked to list the basic values of liberalism, Christianity, Islam, non-theistic Humanism, and Hindu & Buddhist thought threw up a host of overlaps, showing the participants visually how much they had in common. The exercises were an important part of the seminar, as was the trip to Cologne and an interaction with the Rabbi of the Synagogue there. Each member of the group pledged to complete a particular assignment within three months of the end of the seminar, and when they parted, it was with a great deal of new thoughts, as well as with a number of new friends from across the world.
by Omair Ahmed, Delhi/India
This article first appeared on www.southasia.fnst.org: “Religious Power and Politics: An international liberal debate in Germany”,
7 October 2014.