The Bundestag elections are on 26 September. Many people have already voted, at least as many are still undecided. As far as election results can be predicted nowadays, we can expect a coalition of three political parties and thus a broad basis for ideas and solutions. Climate and economy and the question of social management of the necessary change dominate the election campaign discussions. Foreign and security policy, migration, the future of the EU, the goals of development aid and peacebuilding as well as the future of the UN are only discussed in buzzwords and without visible strategic approaches. Yet there is one issue that strategically links all these areas in analysing the situation and developing solutions: Human rights.
The search for this term in the party programmes is not very fruitful. The answers to questions from non-governmental organisations at the occasion of the upcoming elections remain vague. Certainly, this is not clear evidence of the role of human rights in the work of the parties – in some cases they seem to be at least unconsciously included. However, statements by the leading candidates do not exactly refute this impression either. In Germany, international human rights remain a niche topic for a limited number of experts and activists, suitable at most for political keynote speeches or moral argumentation. Despite the astonishing growth of the normative framework at the international and regional level and the increasingly active international movement for its observation and implementation, politics in Germany persists in the generally accepted position that the basic rights of the constitution already meet the highest international standards. That this is no longer the case has been shown by various UN recommendations following state reports or visits by special rapporteurs, and several companies with activities abroad have found out through court cases or media campaigns. The political discussion of important social issues also remains largely untouched by international developments and appears provincial and retrograde. The new federal government urgently needs to make improvements in various areas in the human rights field and open up to international discussion if we do not want to risk human rights, now an integral part of the international sustainability discussion, being neglected and becoming a competitive disadvantage for the country at large.
The new German government needs the integration of international human rights and their dynamically developing interpretation into all policy areas. In the medium term, this will also strengthen the position of German companies at home and abroad and eliminate competitive distortions caused by sustainability standards.
In foreign, security and development policy, Germany often overestimates its moral position and underestimates the impact of its economic influence. Because society predominantly sees itself as a victim of communism, Nazi socialism and other political regimes, we fail to recognise the view from the outside according to which historical constants run through our history, especially the killing of Hereros, Armenians, Jews and other minorities. We are a nation of perpetrators, credited with translating the lessons of history into strong institutions of stable democracy. But the stability of this development is measured by deeds, especially proportionally to Germany’s economic strength. Expectations are that the lessons of historical guilt are implemented in measurable political terms, both within and outside the country’s borders. If one considers the huge sums that are being made available, for example, in Jordan or now in Afghanistan, in order to ultimately prevent the migration of refugees to Europe, this illustrates an unwillingness to assume responsibility for the observance of international human rights and rule-of-law principles and an inward-looking foreign and security policy. A clear stand for human rights, also within the EU, would show Germany the way to international influence on the basis of its historical responsibility. An abstract human rights dialogue between governments or demands for sanctions against economically insignificant states for human rights violations is symbolic politics. In this context, the state cannot hide behind EU human rights policy, but must develop its own positions in a participatory manner, represent them visibly and implement higher standards on its own. This counteracts system fatigue and disenchantment with Europe and means leadership among equals.
Neglecting human rights standards in national policy only relieves companies and state institutions in the short term and fails to recognise the influence of global movements and the reputational damage that occurs for politics and companies when states develop national laws and companies apply standards that do not meet international norms. This is no longer a question of the legally binding nature of one international instrument or another. This is a question of the new federal government’s general human rights strategy, which either protects business and society by leading developments in a preventive manner or accepts incalculable disadvantages by painstakingly following international lessons-learnt. Only the necessary political weighting of international human rights obligations allows the appropriate consideration in political strategies of questions of climate protection, migration, distributive justice and participation in democratic decision-making processes. The integration of human rights means a struggle for the best possible solution for the different interests with the systematic inclusion of all stakeholders. This brings stability and predictability to a process of managing uncertain change. Concrete elements would include a mandatory human rights impact assessment for laws and reform programmes based on the guidelines of the UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and Foreign Debt. The currently discussed reform of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and a possible convention should be integrated into all economic development programmes, including state support and procurement. A ban on the import and sale of products manufactured or distributed in violation of human rights. Support for companies to shift production and distribution to products and services that respect international human rights obligations. Limit foreign engagement thematically to prevention and stabilisation through strategic concepts and finance it sustainably.
Voters should ask themselves who they think is most likely to make this necessary change after the elections and demand from political parties that this change plays a role in the coalition negotiations. Businesses, trade associations, trade unions, chambers of commerce and other interest groups should demand comprehensive human rights strategies with concrete measures from the parties and evaluate their implementation by the new federal government against integrated success criteria. human rights. better solutions.