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Germany: Parties Differ on Human Rights Approach

Platforms Show Variations in Foreign, Migration Policy

Election campaign posters for the upcoming general election are pictured in Berlin, Germany, September 12, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

(Berlin) –The platforms of the German parties most likely to be elected to the Bundestag differ greatly on protection of human rights in foreign policy and migration and asylum policy, Human Rights Watch said today.

“The election platforms of the main German parties offer a clear roadmap for voters when it comes to making sure their elected representatives will protect human rights,” says Wenzel Michalski, Germany director at Human Right Watch. “Of course, what matters is the actual political work after the elections, which we will closely monitor.”

Three parties, the SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands – Social Democratic Party of Germany), Bündnis90/Die Grünen (Alliance 90/The Greens) and FDP (Freie Demokratische Partei – Free Democratic Party) – devote separate sections of their platforms to human rights in foreign policy.

In their shared platform, CDU (Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands – Christian Democratic Union of Germany) and CSU (Christlich Soziale Union in Bayern – Christian Social Union in Bavaria) seek to champion democracy, freedom, human rights, and Europe. They say that Germany’s role in the world should be based on its commitment to values like human dignity, protection and promotion of human rights, rule of law, democracy, and tolerance. The heading of the chapter on development cooperation refers to the close connection between human rights and development policy. However, there are no details about how to carry out these commitments. On migration and asylum policy, CDU/CSU agree that people in need should receive help. But they call for reduced migration, and quick and consistent deportation of rejected asylum seekers. They also praise the EU-Turkey deal, even though it has trapped asylum seekers and migrants in abusive conditions on the Greek islands.

The term “human rights” is not mentioned in the Bavaria Plan, the separate CSU election program. The CSU emphasizes, however, that the values of German foreign policy remain clear. These include international law, democracy, and rule of law. “Ending the persecution of Christians” is cited as a specific foreign policy goal, but there is no mention of protecting other religious denominations. The CSU advocates an arbitrary numerical limit on asylum seekers, irrespective of their protection claims, a violation of international law obligations, and limiting family reunification.

The SPD platform says that protecting and promoting human rights is a foreign policy priority. It says that peace and development are unthinkable without human rights. In concrete terms, this means that human rights activists need to be better protected, women fully involved in peace and security efforts, and LGBT individuals able to live free from violence. The party also advocates the expansion of corporate responsibility. The SPD also calls for strengthening international law and the International Criminal Court, and prosecuting those who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. It seeks to ban autonomous weapons, to contain arms exports – in particular, to ban the export of small arms – and to bind human rights standards for all trade, investment and economic partnership agreements. The platform asserts that migration policy should be based on respect for human rights and adherence to the international Refugee Convention, and says that the temporary suspension of family reunifications should be lifted.

The Linke’s (The Left) platform says that Germany should act in accordance with international law and universal human rights, including civil, economic, social, and cultural norms. German foreign policy should create a global social infrastructure that enables everyone to gain access to education, health, work, and a self-determined life in dignity and social security. The protection of human rights is a clear priority when it comes to a fair world economic order, corporate responsibility, and the right to food. The Linke says the production and export of arms should be stopped. It rejects invoking human rights to legitimize military intervention and calls for strengthening international law in this regard. It also says the German government should join the Additional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, so that people whose rights are violated can appeal to the UN committee for a remedy. On asylum and migration policy, the party believes the basic right to asylum is not adequately guaranteed in the German constitution, and opposes an upper limit to asylum seekers, and restrictions on family reunification.

Bündnis 90/Die Grünen's election platform on foreign policy contains a separate subsection on “Peace, Global Equity and Human Rights.” It says that foreign policy engagements should follow the guiding principles of human rights and international law. Specifically, it supports greater protection for human rights defenders and the appointment of dedicated human rights consultants at all German embassies, and the establishment of a council for peace, sustainability, and human rights to review government action related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The platform says that development policy should be based on human rights, that women’s rights are an important factor for foreign and development policy, and that there should be worldwide protection for LGBT people. Arms exports to conflict areas and countries in which severe human rights violations are taking place should be prohibited by law. The platform supports the principle of “responsibility to protect” in cases of crimes against humanity. It says that trade relationships should be held to human rights standards, and that companies are responsible for the social consequences of their actions. On migration and asylum policy, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen advocates protecting the right to asylum, and opposes an upper limit on asylum seekers and restrictions on family reunification.

The heading of the FDP’s chapter on foreign policy is “Freedom and Human Rights,” which it seeks to strengthen worldwide. It says that Germany should be prepared to provide military assistance to end severe human rights violations and that Germany should clearly condemn the oppression of members of the opposition and civil society in Russia. It also advocates sanctions against EU member states that permanently violate fundamental and human rights and calls for the worldwide recognition of the International Criminal Court. The party opposes discrimination against LGBT people worldwide. The party also wants to promote an international freedom of information treaty that would secure the global internet's freedom and independence and curtail its surveillance and censorship. The FDP considers the right to asylum non-negotiable and rejects any kind of fixed upper limit.

In the AfD’s (Alternative für Deutschland – Alternative for Germany) chapter on foreign and security policy, the term human rights is not mentioned. While the party commits itself to the values set down in the Charter of the United Nations and to the tenets of international law, the platform does not explain what this would mean in terms of protecting human rights. In its migration and asylum policy, the AfD calls for a restrictive amendment to the Basic Law as well as a renegotiation of the Refugee Convention to accommodate “the threat to Europe posed by population explosion and migration flows.”

“The election platforms clearly show the positions of parties contesting the Germany parliamentary elections when it comes to human rights,” Michalski said. “Now, it is up to voters to make a decision.”

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