Parliaments Must be Involved in Human rights

This appears as a chapter in a new book edited by Elena Servattaz “Why Europe Needs a Magnitsky Law”

Human Rights and Human Dignity
By Denis MacShane

Getting human rights right should now be easy. When the UN and European Convention on Human Rights were written at the end of Europe’s thirty years’ civil war (1914-1945) it was thought that the with the worst of Nazism buried protecting human rights would become a lot easier. The opposite turned out to be the case. New ideologies or systems of authoritarian government rose up as bad as anything that European dictatorships or imperialisms had invented. Even the worst crime of the Nazis, that of seeking to deny Jews their rights to live by their faith, culture and history, came back to life as anti-semitism surfaced in many different ways and the president of Iran felt secure in starting his term of office by denying the Holocaust and then calling for the eradication of Israel from the face of the earth.
After 1945 the disgusting racism of white supremacists in the United States mocked the UN declaration of human rights as did the McCarthyite system that led to distinguished professors being denied the right to work because at some stage in their student days they had made some remarks opposed to capitalism. The Soviet Union became a giant prison camp with many more locked away than in German concentration camps, even if Stalin and his successors did not go as far as Hitler did in terms of organized mass murder on an industrial scale.
And even when communism was formally over the world woke up one day and learnt that modern Europeans, obeying the orders of a Serb politician, Slobodan Milosevic, had in 1995 taken out 8,000 fellow Europeans who were Muslim and shot them one by one. Exactly the right number of plastic ties to bind the hands, the right number of cartridges for the weapons, the right number of excavators to dig the mass graves, the right lengths of timber had been brought to the forests, for the mass killings to take place as Europe, the United States and Russia just turned to look the other way.
In Latin America, in South Africa under apartheid, in all the Arab states the crimes against human rights continued taking place despite the elaboration of UN protocols, the work of the Council of Europe, the creation of the UN Human Rights Council or the rise of new NGOs like Amnesty, Human Rights Watch or Article 19 which used the techniques of modern public opinion forming to campaign against human rights.
And even when apartheid was ended, Soviet communism buried, Latin American generals back in their barracks, and greedy kleptocrats like Muabarak and Ben Ali toppled the cause of human rights remained to be fought. The greatest honour the world can bestow on someone is award them the Nobel Peace Prize. Sometimes the prize has gone to superior world statesman who concluded a peace but still had much blood on their hands. But no-one can say that of Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese writer and pro-democracy activist, who has simply, persistently argued for the right of Chinese fellow citizens to speak their minds.
Liu Xiaobo was flung into prison for his pains and he languishes there as a reminder to other Chinese citizens that not even a Nobel peace prize guarantees democracy or freedom if the interests of the state are perceived to be under threat.
Indeed, the example of China gives the lie to one of the early points made by human rights theoreticians and campaigners – namely that market economics could not co-exist easily with human rights. On the contrary we are seeing the growth of states’ indifference to human rights issues whenever they clash with the profit principle. As a former member of the House of Commons in London I tried to get the British prime minister, David Cameron, to condemn the imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo. In the Commons I urged the British prime minister to pronounced Liu Xiaobo’s name and call for his release. He refused. His predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, had no such qualms about calling for the release of Andrei Sakharov, the Russian Nobel Peace Prize winner, imprisoned by Soviet Communists. Indeed, when President of France, Francois Mitterrand, mentioned Sakharov’s name at a Kremlin banquet.
For the British government the interests of the City of London and British trade with China far outweigh any obligation on the British prime minister to raise in public the case of China’s imprisoned Nobel laureate, Liu Xaiobo. Had Russia been an authoritarian but capitalist state in the 1980s open to business from France it is doubtful if Francois Mitterand or Margaret Thatcher would have bothered to seek Sakharov’s release. Indeed, we know that the then British prime minister described the South African black liberation movement, the ANC, as a ‘terrorist organisation’ in order to please the then apartheid rulers seeking to keep South Africa in the hands of a minority of white supremacists. When money is to be made, human rights considerations fly out of the window.
This is clear from the behavior of today’s European leaders. M Hollande like Mr Cameron has refused, for example, to speak publicly on trips to Moscow of the case of Sergei Magnitsky, even though the dead Russian’s name is probably the best known Russian in West Europe after Vladmir Putin and some of the better known Russian oligarchs. There is big money to be made in Russia, in China, in Sausi Arabia and the Gulf States and in the struggle between the bottom line of profits and the universal obligation to promote human rights, the latter comes off a poor second.
So what can be done? Human rights organisations themselves are less certain in what they ask for. In an important new book, Human Rights Without Democracy. Reconciling Freedom with Equality (New York, Berghahn, 2013) one of Switzerland’s most distinguished human rights campaigners and theoreticians sets out a framework for new thinking. Gret Haller, is a jurist, a former Speaker of the Swiss Parliament, a former delegate to the Council of Europe and was OSCE Human Rights Ombudsman for Bosnia and Herzegovina in the period (1996-2000) when military intervention by western democracies put an end to the Serb originated genocidal killings associated with Srebrenica and the Slobadan Milosevic era.
Gret Haller has written a complex book and asked many tough questions, not the least of her own country, Switzerland, whose record on respecting the human rights of Swiss (Muslim) citizens as well sheltering the money of human rights criminals and profiteers from human rights abuses is more than questionable.
But she does lay emphasis on the need to return human rights questions to those charged with democratic accountability. To paraphrase a complicated argument she says human rights is too important to be left to human rights jurists and should become a question of permanent democratic debate.
‘Since internationally codified human rights hold for all nations that have signed the pertinent agreements, every debate on basic rights that take place in a national parliament automatically includes the discussion of international rights. Although it means indirect participation, parliamentary debate at least influences how governments will act in future international negotiation….When it comes to international negotiations on human rights, procedures in national parliaments or, if necessary, national constitutions could provide a formal mandate for a government to act in these negotiations….Since national parliaments would have to discuss the aspects of the mandate that are relevant to human rights – and only these – prior to taking up international negotiation, such procedures could decisively further the democratic legitimacy of those rights at the international level.’ (Haller pp143-144)
This crucial role attributed to national parliaments is central to the global campaign to obtain justice for Sergei Magnitsky. It has been the US Congress, both Senate and House of Representatives, that took the lead in putting into US law the act that seeks to require Russia to accept responsibility for the terrible death Magnitsky suffered when actually under the Russian state’s protection as a detained, arrested prisoner.
The campaign against corruption at the highest levels of the Putin state as well as the naming of the officials complicit in Magnitsky’s death are in a sense side issues although central to the campaign and especially to Magnitsky’s former work colleagues who have given so much money and time to insisting on the need for justice. What is important is to uphold the dignity, indeed sanctity of human life once freedom is removed. The British invention of habeas corpus was not intended to mean habeas corpse. It was that the state can never detain anyone without due process and anyone arrested by the state must be kept in reasonable physical and mental health.
None of this mattered to the US government and the State Department. The executive arm of American power actively discouraged the elected or legislative arms of American democracy from pursuing this case. Why bother about another dead Russian in a Russia where murder is part of business and political life? It is precisely because human rights in the Magnitsky case had moved into the realm of parliamentary debate and decision that democracy could wrest control of the human rights aspects of the Magnitsky case from the unelected state bureaucracy. The latter wanted to do business with the Putin bureaucracy. The former sought to connect with Russian democracy to insist in Terence’s formulation: ‘Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.’
The debates in many European parliaments on the Magnitsky affair, or the interventions by European parliamentarians including the open letter sent to French President Francois Hollande by a group of deputies and senators, have added a new dimension to the need to rethink human rights campaigning and widen it beyond the important work of jurists or the better known human rights NGO. So far, the executive bureaucracies of key EU member states have preferred to defend their fellow fonctionaries in Moscow. No European parliament has yet managed to summon up the will and impose into law an act similar to that signed by President Obama, after the US Congress legislated on the Magnitsky case.
The European Parliament elections in 2014 could be a good moment to ask all candidates if they will promise, once elected, to insist that the European Union adopts similar legislation. The argument of precedent needs to be overcome. To insist that a handful of named state employees should no longer have the privilege of visiting democratic European or North American countries, of owning property or bank account assets, or sending their children to elite private school and universities is a novel way of highlighting human rights abuses. It requires no sanction nor state-to-state demarche. It is modest and targeted and should encourage other state functionaries to desist from corrupt practices or human rights abuses that end in a human’s life being terminated simply because he sought to see the law of his land respected.
Involving parliamentarians in modern human rights for the 21st century is a new procedure. It is a welcome modern tool to add to the not always sharp or tempered tool-box of advancing human rights as part of international relations.

Dr Denis MacShane was Britain’s former Minister for Europe and was UK delegate to the Council of Europe 2005-2010


This note was in response to an article on the Social Europe Journal site by Marc Saxer of the Freidrich Ebert Stiftung and the crisis of social democracy. He argues a Utopian project is needed.

Didn’t Oscar Wilde sum this up when he wrote “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not even worth glancing at, for it leaves out the country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias”

I would add two other comments to this fine article. When Marc Saxer writes of 40 years of neo-liberalism that covers Brandt, Schmidt, Mitterrand, Gonzalez, Delors, Blair, Persson, Kok and just about all post-1950 social democratic 20th century heads of government. The previous welfare state years were the years of Adenauer, de Gaulle, Macmillan, de Gasperi and communist dictatorship in east Europe. I wonder if the over-easy use of the insult word ‘neo-liberal’ needs reconsideration.

And the one question never answered in this debate is Wer bezahlt? Qui paie? Who pays? Classic 20th century social democracy at least up to maybe early 1960s did not ask any money from workers by way of income taxes and relatively low indirect taxes. Now the modern state has a huge payroll which has to be supported by workers handing over a good share of their personal income to the state (national, regional, local). This is not to argue pro or anti taxation but to politely request that some consideration is given to how much ordinary workers or middle/modest income professionals should pay in tax. As Laurent Jospin of the Nouvel Observateur has wisely written ‘La fiscalisme nest pas le socialism.’

Georgia on EU’s Mind

This is a quick comment to a wonderful Open Democracy piece on the nature of Georgian politics. Find it on the OD website

Georgia in 1918 was a model European social democracy – land reform, compulsory education, votes for women, trade union rights – much admired and visited by social democrats and UK Labourites. Then came Beria and Staiin. Colourful history and culture are fascinating but there were some serious reforms under Sakashvili and I witnessed blockades of parliament in Rustaveli Street that would not have allowed for ten seconds in Paris or London but he just let the anger roll down the streets. The media were not so intimidated that they stopped Ivanishvili winning power. Now rather than write off Georgia as incorrigibly folklorique we need better political, economic and social analysis. PP’s fine piece should encourage others to delve into why Saakishvili lost power and what is Ivanishvili doing with power. Georgia has to decide at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius 29th November what road it will take. Hopefully to maintain Saakashvili’s European direction.

Choice of Commission Not EP Matters

This article appeared in Libération 30 October 2013

L’Europe se jouera à la Commission
L’été prochain verra l’avènement d’un nouveau leadership européen. C’est le moment le plus important de l’histoire de l’Europe depuis le traité de Rome, l’actuel pouvoir étant considéré par beaucoup comme un problème plus que comme une solution.
Des leaders, tels qu’Angela Merkel, ont misé sur une rigoureuse austérité économique pour l’Europe. La France attend que le président Hollande trouve les moyens de restaurer la vitalité économique de son pays ou accepte de donner son accord à un large partage de souveraineté nationale. David Cameron, quant à lui, a mis la Grande-Bretagne de côté en attendant le référendum de 2017 dont beaucoup s’accordent à penser qu’il sortira l’Angleterre de l’Europe.
Depuis le traité de Rome, jamais la Commission européenne n’a été aussi faible que sous les deux mandats de José Manuel Barroso. La présidence du Conseil – innovation du traité de Lisbonne – n’aura pas changé grand-chose à cet état de fait et le Parlement européen ne convainc que deux citoyens sur cinq à se rendre aux urnes.
L’été prochain donc, tous les postes de direction en Europe seront soumis à élections et nominations. 766 députés devront être élus au Parlement européen. Les présidents de la Commission, du Conseil, de l’Eurogroupe et du ministère des Affaires étrangères de l’UE devront être nommés.
François Hollande a déclaré récemmentqu’«en mai prochain, le Parlement européen pourrait être en grande partie composé d’antieuropéens. Cela constituerait une régression ainsi qu’une menace de paralysie». Le dernier sondage d’opinion donne 24% d’intentions de vote pour le Parlement européen au Front national de Marine Le Pen. En Angleterre toutefois, les derniers sondages pour la même élection donnent 35% aux travaillistes, contre 22% pour l’Ukip (le parti antieuro) – les conservateurs au pouvoir en Angleterre et les socialistes en France venant en troisième position. Embarrassant certes, mais cela n’altère pas la domination générale du Parlement par les partis de gouvernement, démocratiques et largement pro-européens. En Grèce, le parti de gauche Syriza pourrait gagner quelques sièges de même que le Mouvement Cinq Etoiles de Beppe Grillo pourrait recueillir les votes de protestation contre la coalition gauche droite au pouvoir à Rome. En Pologne, le PIS (Droit et Justice) fera d’autant mieux que les électeurs polonais sont lassés du gouvernement Plateforme-Civique. Le PIS à droite comme Syriza à gauche ne sont pas des partis classiques dans le système européen, mais ils n’utilisent pas non plus le discours europhobe d’une Marine Le Pen ou d’un Nigel Farage (Ukip). De même, le Front national français, avec ses fondements racistes et antisémites, ainsi que l’Ukip anglais, antieuropéen, ne se ressemblent pas et ne coopèrent pas. Alternative pour l’Allemagne, le parti antieuropéen allemand gagnera un siège ou deux. Et, en Hongrie, le Fidesz fait face à des critiques semblables à celles qui sapèrent, dans les années 2000, le FPÖ de Jörg Haider. Hollande a tort de considérer tous ces partis comme un bloc uni et cohérent pouvant menacer le système.
Les partis antieuropéens sont en quelque sorte clivés : certains ouvertement antisémites, comme le Jobbik hongrois ; d’autres antimusulmans, comme le PVV hollandais. Ils représentent au maximum 10% des 766 députés européens. La plus forte voix fédéraliste à Strasbourg étant celle de Daniel Cohn-Bendit qui mène un groupe de 58 eurodéputés verts – additionné aux 274 eurodéputés de centre droit, 195 eurodéputés de centre gauche et 85 eurodéputés libéraux on obtient un bloc plus que confortable pour une majorité proeuropéenne au Parlement européen. Les socialistes français risquent de perdre des sièges, mais les travaillistes anglais et les socialistes espagnols pourraient en gagner quelques-uns, si bien que l’équilibre général sera maintenu. De plus, l’énergique président des Partis socialistes européens, Sergueï Stanichev, a la conviction que le PSE peut émerger comme groupe le plus important du Parlement européen puisque les électeurs ont tendance à sanctionner l’échec des politiques d’austérité menées par les partis d’Angela Merkel, Mariano Rajoy et autres partis conservateurs au pouvoir.
Quoi qu’il en soit, le défi ne sera pas tant de sécuriser un Parlement débarrassé de ses antieuropéens que de choisir une équipe de dirigeants capables de sortir l’Europe de sa morosité endémique. C’est l’exécutif et non le législatif qui fera la différence.
M. Hollande et Mme Merkel ont tout intérêt à réfléchir sérieusement et à discuter avec leurs homologues européens sur la façon de trouver un bon quartet de présidents pour la Commission, le Conseil, l’Eurogroupe et le Parlement – de même que les représentants des affaires étrangères afin de sortir l’Europe de son état actuel de misère économique engendrant extrémismes et xénophobie. On peut prédire un faible taux de participation à l’élection du Parlement européen et peu de changement dans sa composition. Mais l’enjeu réel est de créer une équipe dirigeante capable de transformer l’Union européenne avant qu’il ne soit trop tard.
Traduit de l’Anglais par Florence Ilouz.
Denis MACSHANE Ex-ministre britannique des Affaires européennes

Tadeusz Mazowiecki – a Pole who Changed European History

This was published in the Independent 1 November 2013

Tadeusz Mazowiecki: First leader of democratic Poland

Thursday, 31 October 2013
The world remembers the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 as the symbol of the end of the division of Europe. But the real grave-diggers of the Soviet imperium were further east, in Poland, where the first democratically elected government in the communist world had been busy establishing freedom since June 1989, when it took office.
Its prime minister was Tadeusz Mazowiecki who has died at the age of 86. One by one, the political giants whose intellect was behind the voice of Lech Walesa and the last great eruption of a European working class, have gone: Jacek Kuron, Bronislaw Geremek, and now, Mazowiecki.
Mazowiecki was that rare European intellectual and political animal who was incapable of making an enemy. The affection and respect that were naturally afforded him proved of historic worth, first when he helped set up Solidarnosc (Solidarity) in August 1980, and then when he negotiated a peaceful transition of power with Poland’s communist elder General Wojciech Jaruzelski in the spring of 1989. He had no side– and plenty of time to talk with anyone who was interested in the ideas that gripped him all his life: democracy, the right of Poland to be Poland under democratic rule, and a European union of nations where the values by which he lived would be sustained.
Mazowiecki was born into one of Poland’s innumerable minor noble families. He combined Catholicism with a commitment to social justice – the view that markets must have moral purpose, and not merely exploit human beings for the greed of shareholders and executives. So he never entered the lists of strident anti-communism encouraged by the McCarthy era politics of the early Cold War. He denounced those in the Second World War who were ready to work with the Nazis in the cause of anti-Sovietism, and as a journalist in the 1950s and 1960s he cooperated with communist rule in order to create a space for alternative thinking and writing.
The crushing of the Gdansk shipyard workers strike in 1970 with the killing of strike leaders changed his mind about the possibility of a so-called workers’ state ever doing much for workers. He insisted that those responsible should be held to account, and worked with other intellectuals to set up committees to expose how the communist state was betraying the working class.
Thus he had the confidence of Lech Walesa and other strike leaders in Gdansk in August 1980. He drafted the famous manifesto of 64 intellectuals in support of workers – “In this struggle the place of the entire progressive intelligentsia is on their side” – and provided the words that helped persuade the communist government to allow Solidarnosc to come into legal existence for the 16 months that changed modern Europe.
After Solidarity was shut down in December 1981, Mazowiecki spent a year in prison. He edited the underground union publications that were supported by trade unions from West Europe and the democratic world. In 1982, I was arrested in Warsaw, briefly imprisoned and appeared in front of a workers’ courts to be found guilty of running money to the underground printing operation.
At the time it looked as if communism had won. But Polish workers and intellectuals such as Mazowiecki, choosing the trade union form to represent their resistance, did not give up. With Walesa he organised huge strikes in Poland in 1988; a tired Jaruzelski, now with a reform-ready Gorbachev in Moscow, agreed to round-table negotiations that led to the first democratic elections in the communist world.
The imprisoned trade union editor became Poland’s first democratically elected prime minister. He governed for a brief 18 months, but that was long enough to write a constitution that conformed to classic European liberal parliamentary democracy and to establish a Polish republic, thus returning Poland to full democratic self-governance after an interlude of two centuries. The interwar Polish state had paid the merest lip service to democracy and was riddled with anti-Semitism.
Thereafter he returned to his writing, supporting Poland’s entry into the European Union which had taken place in 2004. A decade before, he had been named UN envoy to Bosnia, but he resigned in disgust at the cowardice of John Major’s government and others who refused to lift a finger to stop the massacre carried out by Serbs at Srebrenica.
His drooping eyes, long face and a lock of white hair he would push away were familiar to all who visited him in a small office in Warsaw where he tried – without much success – to shape his Democratic Party into a bigger political force. Nevertheless, he became a key figure in the Poland that has now established itself as a leading European nation. Unlike other former leaders who go off to make money or who crave status and recognition, Mazowiecki was content to be a European intellectual committed to liberal values, market economics tempered by social justice with the curiosity of a journalist to know what was going on.
Mazowiecki resisted any witch hunt or retribution against previous communist rulers insisting in 1989 that a “thick line” should be drawn under the past. The peaceful transition to democracy he helped engineer was studied in South Africa and remains a model for moving from authoritarianism to democracy without violence or revenge.
Denis MacShane
Tadeusz Mazowiecki, politician: born 18 April 1927; married Krystyna (died), Ewa (died; three sons); died 28 October 2013.