The Berlin International Human Rights Congress (BIHRC)
"Human Rights and Democracy in a Globalized World - Moving Towards an International Consensus"
Politicians, academics, journalists, and other international stakeholders are in widespread agreement on the importance of human rights standards. Despite this agreement, however, there exist a wide range of perspectives on a number of key issues in the field. These issues include the derivation of human rights, their categorization, their universality, and who should be responsible for their enforcement? The issue of human rights therefore plays a key role in international diplomacy, with human rights records a key factor in determining membership of international organizations, in outlining foreign policy priorities, and in justifying the threat and use of economic sanctions or military action. The BIHRC will explore these debates from an interdisciplinary range of perspectives, using a diverse range of case studies and with a focus on the German approach.
Closely related to the issue of human rights is our understanding of democracy and how democracy is put into practice in different contexts. As Germany looks back at two decades of a unified democratic state, there is considerable debate at the international level as to the definition of the term. In particular, there are diverse opinion on whether democracy refers only to a state that holds “free and fair elections”, or whether additional factors must also be taken into account, such as an independent judiciary and a free press. The Berlin International Human Rights Congress will consider the varying definitions of democracy and, through international case studies, explore the challenges and opportunities ahead.
The overall aim of The Berlin International Human Rights Congress is to encourage inter-disciplinary, cross-cultural discussions on salient issues surrounding the field of Human Rights and to promote greater understanding across national borders.
Human Rights and Culture (Friday, 1st October)
The first component of the program will consider the history and development of the field of human rights and how the subject is viewed in different regions of the world today. Experts will outline contrasting perspectives on the adherence to, enforcement of, and understanding of human rights standards, and consider the extent to which cultural differences are influential in these areas.
Understanding Democracy (Saturday, 2nd October)
The second component part of the international conference will focus in detail on the issue of democracy, beginning with an interdisciplinary analysis of what the term means, considering both broad and narrow definitions. This part of the program will also consider the extent to which human rights are linked to democracy, and how democracy is understood and implement different across the world. Finally, the program will consider how international actors can strengthen democracy.
Case Study: Germany and the Fall of the Berlin Wall (Sunday, 3rd October)
The third component part of the conference will begin by analyzing the impact of the Fall of the Berlin Wall on human rights, global politics and the process of globalization over the subsequent two decades. On the 20th anniversary of German reunification the program will then move to consider the importance of this to the integration and expansion of the European Union. Finally, Germany’s role as an international actor promoting human rights and democracy across the world will be considered. Speakers will include leading figures from German politics, diplomacy, and academia.
On the evening of Sunday, 3rd October, participants will have the unique opportunity to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of German reunification on the streets of Berlin.
Human Rights and Democracy: The Path Ahead (Monday 4th October)
The fourth and final component of the international conference will look at the key challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in both fields. Of particular focus here will be the role of international organizations and civil society in promoting cross-cultural understanding, the formulation and application of international law, and new strategies aimed at promoting human rights and democracy globally.
The Berlin International Human Rights Congress will pursue the following aims:
- To explore the history and development of the field of human rights and consider different perspectives on their derivation and universality
- To consider the definition of democracy and the extent to which human rights standards should be included under the term
- To explore through comparative case studies the development of democracy and democracies since the fall of the Berlin Wall
- To analyze the impact of the process of globalization on our understanding of democracy and human rights
- To provide clear policy recommendations for decision makers active in these fields
- An interdisciplinary analysis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- The role of international and regional organizations in the promotion of democracy and human rights standards (including the UN, EU, AU, ASEAN)
- The influence of globalization on the interpretation and promotion of democracy and human rights
- The role of Non-Governmental Organizations in influencing the behavior of national governments (including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International)
- A case study of Afghanistan and Central Asia: The progress of democracy?
- The relationship between democracy and human rights: Is one possible without the other? To what extent should human rights standards be used to measure the level of democracy in a country?
- Are human rights derived from natural law or do they constitute a social contract?
- Varying definitions of democracy – how is it understood and practiced differently in different parts of the world?
- The implications of interdependence for progress in the fields of human rights and democracy