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Reinhard Müller, FAZ: Stabbing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the back for the 60th birthday

Otto Kolbl

Eleanor Roosevelt 1948 with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, at whose elaboration  she played an important role. Photo: US Administration 1948.

Eleanor Roosevelt with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, at whose elaboration she played an important role. Photo: US Administration 1949.

Reinhard Müller graduated in law and has also written a PhD in this field. Since 1998 he works for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), one of the most prestigious German newspapers. He is specialized on topics related to law and justice, which is why he wrote the editorial on December 10th 2008 for the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The result was more of a knife in the back of this fundamental text. The only explanation which I can come up with is that the author did not even read the text which he pretended to honour.

In his article, he stresses again and again that the human rights are a "moral obligation spanning the whole world" ("Eine weltumspannende Verpflichtung"), which is also the article title. He argues against the perception that they represent a "Western crusade" and quotes examples where states all over the world open up to this concept. He promotes the building of an international justice system where the people can sue for their rights. All this belongs to the fundamental principles of human rights.

However, when addressing the question what rights belong to the human rights, his article is in stark contradiction with the text which he pretends to defend:

Auf der anderen Seite ist eine gewisse Übersättigung und Überforderung nicht zu leugnen. Soziale Rechte wie ein Recht auf Arbeit (das nicht als Anspruch auf einen Arbeitsplatz missverstanden werden darf) wie auch Gruppenrechte – an erster Stelle das Selbstbestimmungsrecht der Völker – haben ebenfalls eine lange Tradition. Doch eine zügige weltweite Durchsetzung deutscher Sozial- und Minderheitenstandards wäre nicht nur anmaßend, sondern gegenüber den "unterentwickelten" Ländern auch ungerecht. [emphasis mine]

On the other hand, a certain oversaturation and overstressing can not be denied. Social rights like the right to work (which should not be misinterpreted as a right to a job) or collective rights – in the first place the right to self-governance of the people – have also got a long tradition. But trying to impose rapidly the German standards in the field of social security and the protection of minorities would not only be pretentious, it would also be unjust towards "underdeveloped" countries. [translation mine, emphasis mine]

The social rights are detailed in six articles (22-27) of the Declaration. The right to work is clearly part of them:

Article 23.

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

The text also contains clear indications about how these rights are to be understood:

Article 22.

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Even when you take the social rights seriously, you can in no way require a fast implementation of German standards, as Müller pretends to fear, because the "resources of each State" must be taken into consideration. Within the framework of the UN, the international community has repeatedly affirmed that as well the civil and political rights as the economic, social and cultural rights are intimately linked and form together the human rights.

It is quite remarkable that at the time when the Declaration was elaborated, mainly communist and "under-developed" Third-World countries pleaded for including the economic, social and cultural rights into the human rights., whereas most Western industrialized states preferred to forget about them.

Even after both aspects were included into the UN human rights tools, the West has always tried to ignore this fact. Müller's article is therefore not a Western crusade for human rights, it is part of a crusade lead by many Western jurists, politicians and media in order to amputate the human rights of an important part (see our article Europe and human rights – the history of a silent amputation). So far, this crusade has had a remarkable success.