(Interview as part of the theme year on responsibility at the Berlin School of Economics and Law)
What moved you to switch to teaching and pass on your experience to students?
During my international career, I have always sought academic exchange in order to combine theory and practice. In Germany in particular, decision-makers in business and politics have become accustomed to the idea that national regulations and procedures automatically corresponds to international human rights standards and often even surpasses them. However, the number and density of international regulations and decisions is leading to an increasing gap in regulation and implementation in Germany as well.
In addition, standards that are still being developed are often used by the public and by the internationally connected civil society to point out deficits and violations. In Germany, we can benefit from the experience of other countries in this regard. Especially in the area of the police and security management, I can support the internationalisation of university training.
Through the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), people around the world show solidarity with fellow human beings at risk and call on their governments to take action. To what extent has working on this issue influenced you?
The UN was founded after the Second World War to prevent mass human rights violations caused by war and humanitarian disasters. The founders of the organisation were very aware of the connection between oppression and violence against their own people and the maintenance of world peace, through the example of Nazi Germany. We are less aware of this connection today.
While the notion of interdependence is slowly gaining ground, for example, in climate protection, pandemic control, counter-terrorism or the handling of refugee crises, a government’s treatment of the people in its country are still largely seen as an internal matter and interference is discussed from an ethical or moral point of view.
This is partly due to the difficulty of scientifically proving the connection between preventive measures and subsequent events in this area. The R2P opens up possibilities for action in the extreme cases where we need to make progress if we do not want to weaken the international legal order as a whole.
How can the commitment of a university and its members (students/teachers) contribute to the cause of R2P?
There is a lot of commitment and solidarity with refugees in Germany and in their countries of origin in the form of donations and development aid. People also follow the developments in Belarus, for example, but often feel helpless.
The members of the university could help to explain the direct and indirect effects of conflicts on Germany and offer communication spaces with people from the affected countries.
Partnerships with higher education institutions in countries that are particularly exposed to a risk of severe human rights violations can open channels of conversation and promote shared learning. Long-term partnerships offer the best prospects for resilience in times of crisis. In addition, better knowledge of R2P actors and approaches can support the development of solutions across academic disciplines.
Which part of the world are you currently looking at with the greatest concern – and why?
Depending on which aspect you focus on, different concerns arise. We should always be concerned when conflicts reveal the limits of joint international engagement.
Wherever the international community, especially in the UN Security Council, cannot find a common position to intervene in conflicts in response to violations of basic human rights or the R2P, a margin of accepted behaviour is also created for other governments. The collective security system is failing. Violations internally are always accompanied in the long run by aggression externally, not least to prevent interference. This is why the situations in e.g. Myanmar, Ethiopia, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland and Hungary are particularly worrying.
In what way do you think each of us could take some responsibility in our daily lives to better protect human rights?
The inclusion of human rights in decisions always leads to better results. Decision-making processes may become more cumbersome, but the solutions become more sustainable. Everyone can start by listening to the people who are affected by our decisions. Instead of talking about them, we should involve them, especially children, older people and people with disabilities.
Then, for every decision, we should ask ourselves whether its outcome intentionally or unintentionally discriminates against people. The feeling of having been treated unfairly compared to others is a common cause of conflict in communities. Finally, it helps to be aware of who is actually responsible for improving a particular situation. Here, human rights help to analyse rights and responsibilities. This helps in turn to distinguish between legal accountability and solidarity and commitment.