The need for democratic coordination of foreign policy on human  rights #Forum2000online

December 22, 2021

In this week’s special episode of #Forum2000online Chat, Tinatin Khidasheli, the former Minister of Defense of Georgia, Tomáš Petříček, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic and Yevgeniy Zhovtis, the Chair of the Board of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, joined us to discuss issues concerning the growing need for coordinated action for defending human rights worldwide, making democracy appealing again, as well as opposing the threats that autocrats pose to human rights, and liberal democracy with their alternative political models.

Intergovernmental international organizations are not effective

Despite having developed systems of human rights monitoring, many intergovernmental international organizations fail to prevent autocrats from violating them. As Dr. Zhovtis underlined, this is because autocratic governments are represented in their decision-making bodies and thus can effectively influence their work. “Let’s look at the UN Human Rights Council’s composition, where we have Cuba, China, and Venezuela. We cannot expect that they would recommend good human rights standards”, he emphasized, adding that OSCE is facing the same problem. In the absence of effective multilateral solutions, democratic countries should put more effort into the bilateral dimension. 

Human rights defender should catch up

The international community established systems of human rights protection relatively long time ago. Now there is a need for a critical update. We need to be able to face new challenges coming from the information revolution and the way how autocrats use modern technologies. According to Ms. Khidasheli, “the human rights world is stuck in the past". “Many things that we had taken for granted in the 90s or the begging of this century are not there anymore. And a lot of things have changed — we live in the information society," she added. Commenting on how the approaches changed since the creation of the OSCE, Dr. Zhvotis underlined that “In Kazakhstan, the democratic countries push their agenda or foreign policy concerning human rights not directly, but through economic interest […] it became more rational and more effective."

Prosperity without human rights is not an alternative

The Chinese and Russian governments are not only human rights violators at home, but also they want to attract other countries to follow in their footsteps. They promote their political models based on economic prosperity without respecting human rights. "We have alternatives, we have the Chinese alternative, we have the Russian alternative, we have some kind of alternatives to democracy, a certain way of prosperity without human rights and a certain way of the rule of law," Dr. Zhovtis underlined. Countries which are still on the road to democracy are especially vulnerable to that. “We have seen in the past couple of years that many emerging and new democracies are facing a tendency that not very democratic measures are implemented,” Dr. Petříček warned. 

Together, we need to make human rights and democracy attractive again 

The panelists agreed that the deteriorating situation of human rights violations should be answered with a coordinated action aimed at preventing the autocrats from exporting their low standards and saving the established democracies from backsliding. “If democracy is to be still alight, and others are following, we need to do our homework as well, and still be attractive enough in the eyes of the world,” Dr. Petříček emphasized. However, this action would demand a different, more broad approach than the usual blaming and shaming. "Now it is much more interdependent and interlinked. And probably it is to a certain extent the way where we could move forward, trying to bring it closer together, to understand that market economy, the rule of law, institutions, and democratic governments, and human rights as the basis, are the most sustainable and the most prosperous,” Dr. Zhovtis underlined.

In this video, you will learn that: 

  • Autocratic governments make it difficult for international organizations like the UN or the Council of Europe to fulfil their commitments regarding human rights protection.
  • In the absence of effective international solutions, the international community should put more effort into the bilateral dimension to answer some of the most pressing human rights violations issues in the world today.
  • The democratic world should use a variety of leverages to prevent autocrats from violating human rights, including economic incentives and security guarantees. 
  • China and Russia are building and promoting their alternative visions of a political system. They promise prosperity without respecting human rights. Liberal democracies should work together with civil society to reverse these trends. 
  • Human rights defenders should rethink their strategies and renew some concepts, like the freedom of speech. They need to learn how to respond adequately to the challenges arising from technological advancement. 
  • Human rights are the prerequisite for well-functioning liberal democracy. Their observance and promotion are crucial for making democracy attractive again.  

The panel discussion was recorded on October 4, 2021 in cooperation with CADAL. An abridged version of the recording has been used to make the video.