The disconnect between human rights and democracy

In today’s editorial I had planned on celebrating International Human Rights Day that will take place this Thursday [10 December] – but then I followed yesterday’s regional elections in France and witnessed the alarming growing support for the extreme right, which has now become the first political party of France. How do the two connect? We take for granted that human rights and democracy always go hand in hand, but it is not the case. As proven yesterday, we might democratically elect people who have little respect for human rights.

When I was working in the Balkans I saw first-hand the High Representative’s Office exercising two powers: one to enforce human rights decisions and another to remove from office nationally-elected officials who would prevent the implementation of such decisions. Once, a mayor did not want to implement a decision from the European Court of Human Rights. The question I had was: could he be removed from his position of power despite having the support of the vast majority of his electorate? How could human rights implementation go against democratic processes?

As Social Platform, we always frame our narrative on human rights as a basis for our democracies. What the extreme right is currently doing is changing the narrative of democracy. It divides us on the grounds of our nationality, ethnic group, faith and religion to exclude some of us from enjoying certain rights. Once in power, the extreme right would make changes to national laws, thus our rights. Something that we consider as a given – a fundamental value shared by all in the EU – could be reversed by Member State governments.

Yesterday’s elections in France were regional. In 18 months, it will be time for the national elections – for the Head of State and the national parliament. France sits in the European Council on equal footing with the other 28 Member States of the EU. The extreme right’s agenda regarding the EU is already clear: no EU, and regression in equality and human rights standards.

Human rights may exist on paper, but it is up to our elected representatives to protect and promote them by enshrining them in our democracies. If you too wish to support them, do so at the ballot box by taking a stand against the far right. The rights of all people in Europe – not just your countrymen and women – depend on your decision.

Let’s engage!

Pierre Baussand, Director