“Diminish Fear and Flight by Building Human Rights Based Democracies”


Morten Kjaerum2Several representatives from the Institute are attending the 6th International Human Rights Education Conference in the Netherlands. RWI’s director Morten Kjaerum delivered an opening speech at the event.

“Currently, in 2015, the threats to democracy, rule of law and human rights might not be as obvious as they were in 1941. But the threats are there nonetheless,” Kjaerum said in his speech.

Read the entire speech below

“In 1941, the world was on fire. War was fought on several fronts at the same time in Europe, North Africa, and Asia, and millions of civilians lost their lives. The world faced unprecedented uncertainty concerning what the future global order would look like.

“At this time, Franklin D Roosevelt addressed the US Congress with his State of the Union speech presenting a ‘moral order’ based on four freedoms; freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. The “four freedoms speech” is famous all over the world, due to its influence over history, forming the basis for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in the UN General Assembly 1948.

“The Universal Declaration has contributed to the development of a world where human rights are promoted and protected better today than they were yesterday.

“For example, the enrolment in primary education in developing regions reached 91% in 2015, and the under-five mortality rate has declined by more than half during the past 25 years. Or we can look to Myanmar, where 50 years of military rule recently ended, and systematic human rights violations are rapidly on the decline.

“However, as we are all painfully aware, there are also breathtaking challenges. The attacks and bombs in Baghdad, Beirut and Paris in November showed this with chocking clarity. So have the ongoing conflicts in many parts of the world, including Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan and Iraq. Today’s world is marked by violations of human rights as well as of racism, terrorism, and political tensions and divisions

“There are obvious historical similarities between the world today and the situation in 1941. This comparison offers us both guidance and hope. The four freedoms speech focuses the attention on some key aspects of the challenge that we stand before today.

“The most striking historical similarity is the extent to which people are on the move. There are more people displaced around the world today than at any time since the Second World War. Globally, it is estimated that 60 million people are forced on the move.

They are not mere numbers, they are single men, entire families and more than half are women and children – many children arrive without their parents. They flee from Syria, Afghanistan, from Ukraine, from the Horn of Africa and from many more countries. “Freedom from fear” is what they seek and the fear is what forces them to leave their homes. But also the “Freedom from want” is still a dream and far from a reality for too many. Their economic desperation continues to push them to move in search of livelihoods. Here we meet people from West Africa and some of the poorer countries in Asia.

“The sudden arrival of people in need of protection brings to surface the values and attitudes of both societies and individuals. It brings these values and attitudes into full visibility for everyone. In Europe we have witnessed an outburst of solidarity and humanism from Greece to Northern Sweden. But also nationalistic and racist agendas are finding increasingly fertile ground. Profound “us-and-them” dichotomies are injected into our societies and misused for political gains. Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are gaining momentum to a degree where it again impacts our societies at large. Once again in European history, we have to remind ourselves about the “the freedom of worship”.

“The challenges connected to the large numbers of people on the move must be confronted with open eyes. It is each State’s obligation to ensure the human rights of the individuals, not only citizens, but everybody within their jurisdiction. And these human rights have to be ensured at all levels of society.

“It is now imperative to work towards inclusive societies that can absorb individual differences and guarantee for everyone freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. Allow me the freedom to add one new right here: The right to a future also for refugees.

“Let me turn to another issue where parallels can be drawn to Nazi regime: Rule of law based democracy and human rights values were under minded.

“Franklin D Roosevelt saw a world where human rights and rule of law values were under blatant attack by Hitler and his allies. Democratic institutions were systematically dismantled and ignored, and the attitudes and values that were given legitimacy in Nazi Germany, and sadly shared by many others, lead to the atrocities of the Second World War. Let’s not forget that Hitler was democratically elected on a platform of hate.

“Currently, in 2015, the threats to democracy, rule of law and human rights might not be as obvious as they were in 1941. But the threats are there nonetheless. A shrinking democratic and human rights space is the reality in the world today. Globally, we witness that civil society is under attack and the possibilities to speak and create awareness about key human rights concerns is met by brutal force or sophisticated methods but with the same result of silencing important voices, including many journalists. New legislation governing the media puts severe restrictions on their possibilities to report. Freedom of expression is challenged. In parallel the independence of key democratic institutions such as the courts and ombudsman institutions are systematically eroded.

“No doubt, economic inequalities and the failure to achieve the “Freedom from Want” are factors contributing to these developments that are threatening democracy, rule of law and human rights. Roosevelt said: “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living.” This point deserves to be repeated today in 2015.

“Globally, social and economic inequality is now more severe than at any time since the days of Franklin D Roosevelt. Governments are not able to ensure that their populations have the conditions to live their lives with their basic needs provided for. At the same time, thanks to increased transparency, people witness how small groups of elites get richer and richer and how corruption undermines ordinary peoples’ right to education, health and fair trials. Having traveled Europe and the world extensively I have detected a growing anger and frustration that should not be ignored.

“I would also like to remind you that the social and economic inequality has a disproportionate impact on women, especially on women who are already disadvantaged. In order to build a stronger economy, a more just society and address inequalities we must secure full equality for women and girls.

“To contribute to a society that is based on freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear, human rights education offers a key tool and method. Referring to the wordings of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training of 2011, human rights violations and abuses can be prevented through human rights education.

“Individuals can be empowered through this education. Empowered to contribute to the building and promotion of a universal culture of human rights. Human rights education can also be implemented to promote changes in societies allowing it to be based on the foundation of human rights for all.

“Through HRE, people are equipped not only with knowledge about human rights and the values that underpin them, but also with skills on how to claim these rights in practice. Through human rights education, both rights holders and duty bearers are empowered to integrate and practice human rights in their functions.

“Through HRE, a police can not only understand which HR applies to her work, but also relate to the persons she meets in her work with respect and understanding of their rights. In a society with raising political tensions, decreasing respect for persons from different countries, racism, and incidents of police violence, HRE becomes even more important.

“All of us have a responsibility to protect and promote human rights within our spheres, some with societal responsibilities, such as representatives of state and government, some within the smaller communities, such as municipalities, and even families, in the respect and dignity we show each other. HRE provides the tool to make this happen.

“Returning to Franklin D Roosevelt and his proclamation of the global advancement of the four freedoms as a strategy to respond to the challenges of the time. We should acknowledge that we now in our time share many of those same challenges. With this acknowledgement we should take to heart the “four freedoms” project.

“And the road to a new ‘moral order’ is laid out for us and the project has four strategic aims:

  1. Diminish fear and flight by building and promoting human rights based democracies;
  2. Get rid of “us-and-them” dichotomies and replace them with inclusive societies
  3. Decrease inequality with full respect for economic and social rights;
  4. Address the shrinking space with an expansion of democracy and rule of law.

“If we manage this it demonstrates that we have learned from history.”