A blog on why norms matter online

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I'm a Post-Doc Fellow at the Cluster of Excellence "Normative Orders" of the University of Frankfurt and lecturer at the Institute of International Law of the University of Graz, Austria. I've studied international law in Graz, Geneva and at Harvard Law School. I enjoy thinking and writing about Internet Governance and discussing and shaping the future of the Internet

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Why Internet Governance is Just a Bit Like Christmas

It's Christmas - time to reflect on what happened in the past year and to think about what will shape the next. 

Have you noticed that Internet Governance is a bit like Christmas?

1. You're basically really happy that you're involved, but it can be stressful.

2. The multistakeholder structure (the family) sometimes makes the whole affair really overwhelming. 

3. There's always one representative (one familiy member) who'll carry on much too long in workshops (at the Christmas table).

4. After IGFs (after Christmas dinners) you feel like you've heard too much to think clearly (eaten too much to get up).

5. You never actually do know which principles will shape Internet Governance (which presents you will get). 

It is in this spirit that I wish you  Happy Internet Governance 2011 and, of course, Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Improving Facebook: The 10 Most Important Conclusions of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner's Report

Does Facebook violate the privacy of its users? 

Yes, some of their policies do, says the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, who, on 21 December 2012, published the outcome of his audit of Facebook Ireland (which manages data for all European Facebook users). 

From the 150 page report, here's what I consider the 10 most important conclusions: 
  1. Facebook's  privacy policies need to be made more simple.
  2. Users need to be provided with more information as to why they are targeted by certain advertisers.
  3. The current policy of retaining ad-click data indefinitely is unacceptable; Facebook agreed to move to a 2-year-retention period immediately.
  4. Facebook employees have too much access to user data; Facebook agreed to implementing a new access provisioning tool.
  5. Deleting a friend requests (or a poke) must mean they are permanently deleted and not stored.
  6. If a user wishes to irrevocably delete their account, the account and all data have to be deleted completely within 40 days of receipt of the request.
  7. Personal data collected by Facebook must be deleted when the purpose for which it was collected has ceased.
  8. When law enforcement authorities make requests for user data, these should be validated by a designated officer of a senior rank.
  9. There is  sufficient justification, including child protection, to allow Facebook's policy of refusing pseudonymous access to its services to stand.
  10. The means in place for users and non-users to report abuse are "appropriate and accessible".
But why the audit in the first place? The audit was held in reaction to complaints lodged with the Commissioner by a group around Max Schrems, a Vienna University law student (and they say that law students only look to make partner fast).

In a press release, Commisioner Billy Hawkes underlined that it was a "challenging engagement" and the "most comprehensive and detailed ever undertaken by our Office" and lauded the cooperative spirit of Facebook.

Both the report and the appendices are a treasure trove of information on the policies and practices of Facebook. They make for very interesting reading and will be the topic of this blog in the weeks to come.

In a first statementRichard Allan, Director of Public Policy, Facebook EMEA, expressed his content at the engagement with the Commissioner, even though the conclusions have identifed violations. On his website, Max Schrems criticizes Facebook for downplaying the negative aspects and requested further changes of policies, but concludes on a positive, if ironic note: "can it be true:  data protection experts and Facebook are both happy?" (my translation).

In retrospect, users shouldn't be too happy though because the recommendations (on pp. 5 et seq. of the report make for troubling reading. The Data Protection Commissioner, inter alia, finds and/or recommends

  • that Facebook must work towards simpler explanations of its privacy policies, easier accessibility and prominence of these policies during registration and subsequently enhanced ability for users to make their own informed choices based on the available information;
  • that Facebook must be transparent with users as to how they are targeted by advertisers;
  • that Facebook should improve user knowledge of the ability to block or control ads that they do not wish to see again;
  • that It should also improve user knowledge of the ability to block or control ads that they do not wish to see again;
  • that the current policy of retaining ad-click data indefinitely is unacceptable (Facebook agreed to move to a 2-year-retention period immediately);
  • that data on users or non-users must be provided upon access request within 40 days;
  • that user’s should be provided with an ability to delete friend requests, pokes, tags, posts and messages and be able to in so far as is reasonably possible delete on a per item basis;
  • that personal data collected must be deleted when the purpose for which it was collected has ceased;
  • that  no use is made of data collected via the loading of Facebook social plug-ins on websites for profiling purposes of either users or non-users (something the Commission is satisfied with finding);
  • that the current Single Point of Contact arrangements with law enforcement authorities when making requests for user data should be further strengthened by a requirement for all such requests to be signed-off or validated by a designated officer of a senior rank and for this to be recordable in the request;
  • that more tools should be in place for ensuring that staff were authorised to only access user data on a strictly necessary basis; and
  • that there must be a robust process in place to irrevocably delete user accounts and data upon request within 40 days of receipt of the request.

Importantly, the Commissioner also concluded that Facebook "has advanced sufficient justification for child protection and other reasons for their policy of refusing pseudonymous access to its services" and that  the site has "appropriate and accessible means in place for users and non-uses to report abuse on the site."

While generally agreeable, Facebook's reaction to most of these findings and recommendations was future-oriented: they will phase in changes by the end of Q1 2012, they "have commited to showing demonstrable progress" ... It is up to the Commissioner's review to make sure that these targets are met. Ideally, an interim review and constant supervision would ensure that the social network is on track.

It will be interesting to see how the changes will be implemented in the day-to-day management of the network and how Facebook will communicate them. 

The affair isn't over, though. In  July 2012, a formal review will take place in which the Irish Data Commission will assess Facebook's efforts over the next six months. It's also up to the users to make sure that the social network meets its obligations.

Kudos to Max Schrems and his team - they did what states should have done a long time ago: stand up for the rights of social network users.

At the same time the engagement by Facebook and the Data Protection Commissioner is an interesting development in the emergence of a human rights protection framework within Internet Governance. 

By the way: If you're interested in Facebook, Google and what challenges the Internet brings for human rights, consider coming to Graz on 12 January 2012, where the latest of edition of the Austrian journal on law and politics, juridikum, will be presented.

All in all, there's only one thing left to be said on the report. 


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Why International Law is Like a Box of Chocolates

In 2010, I published an article in the Harvard Law Record, the Harvard Law School's student newspaper, on the question of whether and why (and how often) states comply with international law. The issues hasn't faded away, indeed in light of current events in Syria and Iran, North Korea and Myanmar, it is arguably as relevant as ever. 

Here's what I wrote: Forrest Gump’s mother famously said that life was like a box of chocolates: “You never know what you’re gonna get.” The same holds true for international law. Taking the box of chocolate und accepting “what you’re gonna get”, independent of whether you like the particular praline, is what international law is all about. Since the famous Peace of Westphalia of 1648, which brought along the emergence of today’s international legal system, states have taken the box and eaten both the bitter chocolate (i.e., they have accepted their obligations and changed their behavior accordingly) and the nougat (when they have enjoyed the international legal rules that reaffirmed their interests).

Then came along Harvard Law School’s Jack Goldsmith and University of Chicago Law School Prof. Eric Posner ’91. In 2005, they published The Limits of International Law, which argued vehemently for what could be termed a “nougat only approach” to international law. In essence, they posited that international law does not, in fact, pull states toward compliance. States conform with international law, they argued, only when it furthers their interests. 

The limits of international law

Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, and more influential thinkers before him, such as Thomas Hobbes, went so far as to question the very existence of international law.

Goldsmith and Posner don’t go nearly as far. They  merely relied on rational choice theory to argue that international law does not act as an external constraint on state behavior. The Limits of International Law was widely read and critically well-received. 

But some critics, such as international law and economics expert Anne van Aaken of Switzerland’s University of St. Gallen, rightly pointed out that there were limits to the Limits book, as the authors only took account  of the interests of states to conform their behaviour to international law at one – arbitrary – point in time. 

More significantly, Goldsmith and Posner ignored the possibility (and, I would argue, likelihood) that states have a non-instrumental interest in behaving in conformity with rules, so as to stabilize the system. Of course, in keeping with an state interest-focused “nougat” approach to international law, Goldsmith and Posner could counter that in so doing states are actually, again, acting in sync with their interests – their long-term ones.

A stronger observation is that rational states will accept the obligatory nature of international legal rules as rules, based on an ex ante assumption that international rules are legitimate since, by so doing, they can most likely achieve advantages incuding and beyond their own self-interest (such as world peace, a sound environment, or international security) in the long run. 

In what Professors George Norman and Joel Trachtman called a “customary international law game”, states sometimes choose to disobey a rule, but rarely question the rule’s legitimacy as such.

To better understand this point, think of a common thief. He will break the rule against violating another person’s property on an individual basis, but does not doubt the existence of the more general rule providing for the protection of property. Indeed, his risky acquisition of property is made because he implicitly trusts the state’s legal system to protect his property, even if it was illicitly obtained. Even thieves hate thieves. 

Similarly, in international law, it is often the rogue states that, while breaking international legal rules on an individual basis, believe (and only sometimes abuse) the international legal system in toto. Think of Iraq, consider North Korea, and look at Iran. In fact, the choice by a state to ignore an international rule, or to question the validity of this rule, might, in fact, contribute to an increase its power to oblige – by making others states voice their opposition to the violation. The real difference between theft and the violation of international legal norms by rogue states is that, while we see the consequences of the former on “Cops”, we have to wait for some years to see the outcomes of the latter – as “Breaking News” on CNN, or of late on AlJazeera.

Does Europe believe in international law?

In a November 2008 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Goldsmith and Posner apply their theory on the limits of international law to Europe. They write that “[l]ike the Bush administration, Europeans obey international law when it advances their interests and discard it when it does not.” In essence, they argue that even Europe, which professes to be international law-friendly, does not really believe in international law’s binding power.

In their first example, Goldsmith and Posner consider the case of Yassin Abdullah Kadi and the al Barakaat International Foundation. Kadi’s assets were frozen according to a UN Security Council Resolution against financing terrorism, which had been inscribed in an EU regulation. Goldsmith and Posner write that, deciding the Kadi case, the “the European Court of Justice ruled that the Security Council resolution was invalid.” They are wrong.

In its 2008 judgment, the ECJ merely ruled that the regulation implementing the Security Council resolution was invalid because it violated Kadi’s fundamental rights. 

The ECJ noted that the protection of fundamental rights must be “considered to be the expression, in a community based on the rule of law, of a constitutional guarantee stemming from the EC Treaty as an autonomous legal system which is not to be prejudiced by an international agreement.” This does not mean that the ECJ would ignore international law – on the contrary. The protection of fundamental rights is deeply rooted in international law. By referring to a “constitutional guarantee,” the ECJ likens its role to that of a constitutional court ensuring that all acts passed by the organs it oversees respect fundamental rights. There is nothing wrong with that.

Goldsmith and Posner interpret the decision as meaning that “European countries must disregard the U.N. Charter … when it conflicts with European constitutional order.” 

Again, they are wrong. 

The Court merely pointed out that any EU regulation implementing a UN Security Resolution must meet minimum human right standards. By reforming the Sanctions Committee, established to oversee these resolutions, the UN has in fact taken up some aspects of the ruling to render the system more accountable.

Another example that Goldsmith and Posner bring to support the idea that Europe has a self-interest-focused approach to international law is the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo. “European nations,” they write, “participated in NATO’s bombing of Kosovo without Security Council authorization.”  

This is true, but as a Commission that looked into the intervention later concluded, their action was at least legitimate. Further, the intervention served to stop bloodshed and massive human rights violations in Kosovo and thus served one of the most important goals of the international legal order: protecting individuals. The Kosovo case was later  seen as the first important example of so-called humanitarian interventions, many of which have gone on to be officially sanctioned by international legal bodies. The evolution of the “responsibility to protect” has also been influenced by the Kosovo intervention. 

Rather than ignoring international law and enforcing their own interests, the Kosovo intervention thus served to confirm underlying principles of international law.

Errors have been made – but also corrected

I have to concede that Europe’s approach to trade disputes in the framework of the WTO has not been exemplary. But very often, especially with two of the issues Goldsmith and Posner mention – “resisting importation of genetically modified foods, or beef from cattle raised with growth hormones” – Europeans follow an international legal concept, namely the precautionary principle, in opposing imports. It is true that European countries did not implement WTO rulings against them in these cases, but as legal history in both the U.S. and the EU amply shows, the non-implementation of certain rulings, in exceptional cases, does not serve as evidence of a system’s comprehensive failure. International economic law has been a huge success story, but only a few well publicized disputes make the headlines. 

It is also true that some European countries have cooperated with the U.S. with regard to extraordinary renditions, but this attitude has changed. As a number of cases before UN bodies including the Committee Against Torture and the Human Rights Committee show, mistakes have been made and international law has been violated. But again, this does not help Goldsmith and Posner in showing that European states do not believe in the binding nature of international law or ignore it whenever they feel like it.

The importance of values

Goldsmith and Posner mention other examples, including European states’ sometimes wavering support for the ICC, and follow this up with the conclusion that “Europeans hold their values and interests dear, just as Americans do, and will not subordinate them to the requirements of international law.”

But they neglect to mention that values are influenced and honed by international law and international law, conversely, serves to express and implement these values. 

There is no relationship of subordination. Rather, international law, like every legal system, creates and is supported by a value system based on intricate power equilibria and sometimes mutually contradictory goals. 

The international legal system is more complex than any national system, even though – or because – it has far fewer actors. That on the international legal plane values clash, bad choices are made, rules are broken and judgments remain unimplemented cannot be doubted. But this is also the situation in every national legal system  and cannot be used to cast a shadow of doubt over the clear evidence that states consider international law to be just that: law.

The end of the Cold War brought what the Finnish international legal theorist Martti Koskenniemi termed, an “enthusiastic revival” of international law. New actors emerged, new laws were made, new hopes voiced. Within the last twenty years, the system of international was greatly energized, and the United States was an important contributor to and shaper of international legal norms, which reflected, inter alia, American values.

Given this fact, it is incongruous to argue, as do Goldsmith and Posner, that international law reflects only the interest of powerful states and is therefore not “good” as such.

Just like a box of chocolates

But there is also no reason for a prima facie assumption that a system reflecting the interests of powerful states is bad. This bears out especially in light of the renewed commitment, by the Obama administration, to international law as the prime tool to engage other states and to find peaceful and sustainable solutions to international conflicts. And with the notable exception of historically explainable, but outdated institutional rules, such as the membership and decision-making structure of the Security Council, international law, just as any legal system, has a strong immune system and phases out – through state practice – rules which do not conform to the aspirations of the majority of states. 

Again, it is like a box of chocolates. Intrinsically good, but with some bitter pieces. 

To continue in this line of thought (and, yes, I am getting hungry as I write this), Hugo Grotius, often described as the “father of international law”, wrote that there lies in each person an “appetitus societatis”, an appetite, or desire, to live peacefully in an ordered society, structured by binding rules of a general nature and applicability.

I see no reason why states would not also have this “appetite”. In fact, I would argue, they do.  International law needs to be binding, it is binding, and states accept it as binding – Goldsmith and Posner’s arguments notwithstanding.

More than forty years ago, Louis Henkin ’40 formulated, in How Nations Behave, that 
“[i]t is probably the case that almost all nations observe almost all principles of international law and almost all of their obligations almost all of the time.”
 While not wrong, he was, as often, too modest: It is not only “probably” the case, but evidence has shown that his statement is unequivocally true. 

States follow the Forrest Gump Approach to International Law, eating the sweet and the bitter pralines, enjoying their rights and respecting almost all of their obligations almost all of the times, even if they contradict state interest in the short run. 

They do so, because they know that the international legal system, and not any particular rule, reflects their values, and will, in the long run, ensure the realization of such values with more effectivity and sensibility to human rights than any nation could possibly achieve alone.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

EU hires German plagiarism prince to promote Internet freedom: a silver lining?

The EU's Internet initiatives need representatives displaying intellectual vigour who are of high moral standing, not copy&paste experts. (c) http://www.flickr.com/photos/nuccini/1854713722/

On 12 December, the EU Commission announced  that

"European Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes has invited Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, a former Federal Minister of Defence, and of Economics and Technology, in Germany, to advise on how to provide ongoing support to Internet users, bloggers and cyber-activists living under authoritarian regimes."
As a policy, this is a good move. Authoritarian rulers have traditionally had a choice to limit access to information (and thus reduce the danger of opposition) or to allow information and communication technologies to be used and risk the subversion of their rule. This dictator’s dilemma has been impressively confirmed by recent events in the Arab Spring. 

In the wake of the revolutions in the Arab World, the Commission has published a Joint Communication, "A Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean" (COM(2011) 200). The Commission underscored that "ensuring the security, stability and resilience of the Internet and of other electronic communication technologies is a fundamental building block in democracy" and committed to 

"avoid[ing] arbitrarily depriving or disrupting citizen's access to them. Given the trans-border and interconnected nature of electronic communications technologies, including the Internet, any unilateral domestic intervention can have severe effects on other parts of the world. The Commission will develop tools to allow the EU, in appropriate cases, to assist civil society organisations or individual citizens to circumvent such arbitrary disruptions."

Again, that's a good thing. Assisting civil society is circumventing repressive measures, including filtering and blocking, is both intrinsically positive and a good policy choice. 

As the Commission writes in its press release,

"Enabling citizens of authoritarian countries to bypass such surveillance and censorship measures depends on two basic conditionsavailability of appropriate technologies (in particular software programs that can be installed on one's desktop computer, laptop, smart-phone or other device) and awareness / knowledge, both of the techniques used by authoritarian regimes to spy on citizens and censor their communications, and of the appropriate counter-measures to use."

This echoes the two dimensions of access which UN expert Frank la Rue wrote about at length in this report on freedom of expression and I briefly summarized.  

But this is not the problem. 

The problem is that the EU has hired a former German minister who had to step down after lying about plagiarizing his doctoral dissertation.

The Commissioner proudly proclaims that 
"This appointment forms a key element of a new "No Disconnect Strategy" to uphold the EU's commitment to ensure human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected both online and off-line, and that internet and other information and communication technology (ICT) can remain a driver of political freedom, democratic development and economic growth."

These are noble goals, sensible goals, but the choice of personnel is bad. 

Among all the cyber experts in the world, the EU Commissioner chose a former German politician who is widely known to have  plagiarized most of his dissertation. 

Withdrawing his academic title, the former German defense minister's alma mater, the University of Bayreuth, was described what he did clearly: Guttenberg "extensively violated academic standards and intentionally cheated." In the words of SPD parliamentarian Thomas Oppermann, Guttenberg is "an academic impostor and a liar", he "lied and deceived."

When an international organization seeks an expert for dealing with sensitive human rights issues, it will usually select a person of high moral standing and unquestionable personal integrity.

Guttenberg's personal integrity is highly questionable and his standing as an advocate for Internet freedom beyond the freedom of copy and paste and steal the thoughts of others without proper attribution leaves something to be desired.

If it were April 1, we'd have a laugh and return to our work. 

But it's September 13, and we won't laugh and formulate a belated suggestion to the Commission.

What EU Commissioner Kroes should have done is hired real experts of high moral standing, impeccable character and great expertise in analyzing and applying circumvention technology. 

Instead of an unemployed plagiator, I'd have suggested Hal RobertsEthan Zuckerman and John Palfrey, of Harvard's Berkman Center, who have recently published the most important report on the tools of the trade of circumvention technology, the 2011 Circumvention Tool Evaluation report. Also, they haven't plagiarized their PhD dissertations.

But there might be a silver lining to the Commission's seemingly ill-informed appointment. 

Guttenberg and the dictators fighting Internet freedom have something in common.

Both are experienced with angry crowds of online activists publishing information online that they'd rather not have the world see. In Guttenberg's case, it was plagiarism in his thesis. In authoritarian regimes, it will be human rights violations.

So here's the silver lining: Guttenberg can share his personal experience - and he can walk the walk.

If he convinces dictators to act the same way he did - lie a bit, if they must, but then accept the inevitable and go peacefully - he might actually not have been such a bit choice after all.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Global Information Society Watch publishes its 2011 report

On Human Rights Day 2012, the Association for Progressive Communication and Hivos published the Global Information Society Watch 2011, a must-read report dedicated to Internet rights and democratization. It's a really interesting collection of essays and country studies. The following description is from theannouncement:

"Launching on December 10 --Human Rights Day-- the Global Information Society Watch 2011 report investigates how governments and internet and mobile phone companies are trying to restrict freedom online -- and how citizens are responding to this using the very same technologies.
Everyone is familiar with the stories of Egypt and Tunisia. GISWatch authors tell these and other lesser-known stories from over fifty countries including:

  • PRISON CONDITIONS IN ARGENTINA Prisoners are using the internet protest living conditions and demand respect for their rights.

  • TORTURE IN INDONESIA The torture of two West Papuan farmers was recorded on a mobile phone and leaked to the internet. The video spread to well-known human rights sites sparking public outrage and a formal investigation by the authorities.

  • THE TSUNAMI IN JAPAN Citizens used social media to share actionable information during the devastating tsunami, and in the aftermath online discussions contradicted misleading reports coming from state authorities."
 They've also included a small statement of mine which I was happy to give:

“Written by internationally-renowned experts, the report brings its readers easy-to-read and yet comprehensive articles, many with policy proposals, on the most important challenges protecting human rights on the internet is facing today,” says lawyer Matthias C. Kettemann, co-chair of the Internet Rights and Principles Coalition. “The report's country studies –which are in turn saddening, moving, uplifting-- shed light on how the internet can truly be a catalyst for change – and how it can be misused.”


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sternstunde der Menschlichkeit: zum Tag der Menschenrechte 2011

„Immer müssen Millionen müßige Weltstunden verrinnen“, schrieb Stefan Zweig 1927, „ehe eine wahrhaft historische, eine Sternstunde der Menschheit, in Erscheinung tritt.“ Solch ein Ereignis von weltweiter Bedeutung fand am 10. Dezember 1948 in New York statt: Es sollte nicht nur eine Sternstunde der Menschheit, sondern eine Sternstunde der Menschlichkeit werden. An jenem kalten Dezembertag, der sich, heute, am 10. Dezember 2011, zum 63. Mal jährt, nahm die in den noch jungen Vereinten Nationen versammelte Staatengemeinschaft eine wegweisende Resolution an. Mit 48 zu 0 Stimmen bei acht Enthaltungen gab die Generalversammlung einem Dokument von fundamentaler Bedeutung seine Zustimmung: der Allgemeinen Erklärung der Menschenrechte (AEMR).

Wenn die Menschenrechtshochkommisarin der Vereinten Nationen, Navi Pillay, heute vom "Imperativ von Tunis" spricht, dann baut sie auf ein Fundament auf, das von der AEMR gelegt wurde. Wir befänden uns, so Pillay, an einem Scheidepunkt der Weltgeschichte. Wir müssten uns deklarieren. Für die Menschenrechte.

"There are moments in history when each of us is called upon to declare where we stand. I believe this is one of those moments.
Over the past year, in Tunis, Cairo, Madrid, New York and hundreds of other cities and towns across the globe, the voice of ordinary people has been raised, and their demands made clear. They want human beings at the centre of our economic and political systems, a chance for meaningful participation in public affairs, a dignified life and freedom from fear and want.
Remarkably, the spark that lit the fire of the Arab Spring, which would eventually spread to cities across the globe, was the desperate act of a single human being who, repeatedly denied the most basic elements of a life of dignity, set himself alight, and, in doing so, declared that a life without human rights, is not a life at all. But the dry kindling of repression, deprivation, exclusion, and abuse had been piling up for years, in Tunisia, across the region, and beyond."

Die Bedeutung der AEMR für diese Entwicklungen, für die Verfestigung der Menschenrechte im Weltgewissen, ist kaum zu überschätzen. Dies rechtfertigt einen Blick zurück: Das vorrangige Rational der noch nicht den konfrontativen Denkmustern des Kalten Krieges verhafteten Staaten war anlässlich der Verabschiedung der AEMR, diese als ethisches Fundament der internationalen Ordnung zu definieren, auf dem das Gebäude der UNO organisch wachsen sollte. Das Fundament war in Rekordzeit gegossen worden. Sofort nach Gründung der Vereinten Nationen 1945, deren Satzung ursprünglich einen Menschenrechtskatalog beinhalten sollte, wurde eine Menschenrechtskommission ins Leben gerufen, die sich rasch dem Entwurf eines umfassenden Menschenrechtsschutzsystems zuwandte.

Schutzsystem mit Lücken

In der zweiten Sitzung der Menschenrechtskommission kristallisierte sich die Idee heraus, eine „International Bill of Human Rights“ zu verabschieden, die aus drei Teilen bestehen sollte: eine Erklärung, ein bindender Menschenrechtsvertrag und eine Vereinbarung über Implementierungsmaßnahmen. Doch die Zeit drängte, und die Kommission rang sich nur dazu durch, die Erklärung zu behandeln. Vertrag und Implementierungsmechanismus fielen – wie auch die in der Satzung vorgesehenen, dem Generalsekretär zu unterstellenden UNO-Streitkräfte – den beschränkten Mitteln und den Zwängen der Politik zum Opfer. An der Achse der beiden nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg verbliebenen Großmächte – die USA und die Sowjetunion – scheiterten sämtliche Versuche der Festschreibung von Umsetzungsmaßnahmen.

Die Frage bleibt: Wie effektiv wäre das Menschenrechtsschutzsystem der Vereinten Nationen wohl geworden, wenn schon 1948 neben der Erklärung eine bindende Menschenrechtskonvention verabschiedet und konkrete Umsetzungsmaßnahmen beschlossen worden wären? Von diesem Webfehler sollte sich der internationale Menschenrechtsschutz bis heute nicht gänzlich erholen. Aufgrund der sich verhärtenden Konfliktfronten zwischen Ost und West und des politischen Mächtegleichgewichts bei gleichzeitig divergierendem Menschenrechtsverständnis dauerte es bis 1976, bis die – in bürgerliche und politische sowie wirtschaftliche, soziale und kulturelle Rechte künstlich aufgeteilten – Internationalen Pakte in Kraft treten konnten. Effektiver Umsetzungsmaßnahmen harrt die Staatengemeinschaft heute noch.

Ihrer Zeit voraus

Die als „allgemein“, englisch: „universal“, konzipierte Menschenrechtserklärung stieß bei ihrer Annahme zwar nicht auf Widerspruch, aber doch auf Vorbehalte. Die Sowjetunion und ihr ideologisch nahe stehende Staaten enthielten sich mangels expliziter Garantie des Selbstbestimmungsrechts der Völker und der prononcierten Stellung von Abwehrrechten der Stimme, Saudi-Arabien kritisierte die säkulare Grundlage und die eurozentrischen Tendenz der Erklärung und Südafrika mit seinem Apartheid-Regime verabschiedete sich auf Jahrzehnte von menschenrechtlichen Grundkonsens. 

Zwar ist nicht abzustreiten, dass für die Ausgestaltung der Menschenrechtserklärung zentrale Figuren wie Eleanor Roosevelt und René Cassin westlichen Menschenrechtstraditionen verpflichtet waren; dass die Allgemeine Erklärung in ihrem Tenor eine Bestätigung von international gültigen, gegen den Staat formulierten individuellen Menschenrechten darstellt; dass sie ideologisch auf den liberalen Individualismus des Westen rekurriert; und dass die bürgerlichen und politischen Rechte stärker vertreten sind (Artikel 1-21). Doch finden sich in der Erklärung auch grundlegende wirtschaftliche, soziale und kulturelle Rechte (Artikel 22-27) und mit Artikel 28 ein Recht auf eine „soziale und internationale Ordnung“, in der die verbrieften Rechte auch realisiert werden können. Damit hat die Generalversammlung schon 1948, so UNO-Sonderberichterstatter Manfred Nowak, die Interdependenz der Menschenrechte vorweggenommen. Formell rang sich die Staatengemeinschaft erst 1993 in Wien zu der Anerkennung der Unteil- und Untrennbarkeit der verschiedenen „Generationen“ von Menschenrechten durch. Die AEMR war somit ihrer Zeit voraus; selbst im Hinblick auf die niedergelegten Rechte: Das Recht auf Asyl (Artikel 14) und das Recht auf Eigentum (Artikel 17) sollten sich in später verabschiedeten, bindenden Menschenrechtskodifikationen teils nicht mehr finden.

Dreifacher Geltungsanspruch

Schwerer als Kritik an den niedergelegten Rechten wiegt die Hinterfragung der Legitimität ihres Geltungsanspruchs: Wie bindend kann eine Erklärung sein, bei deren Ausarbeitung große Teile Asiens und der globale Süden, der 1948 nur marginal eigenberechtigt in das Weltgeschehen eingebunden war, kaum mitwirken konnten? Die vielleicht ein Symbol des Kulturimperialismus ist? (Oder sind vielmehr ihre Kritiker Menschenrechtsrelativisten, die sich aus ideologischen Gründen der universellen Geltung von Menschenrechten verweigern?) Und überhaupt: Kann eine Erklärung Bindungswirkung entfalten?

In der Tat ist die Menschenrechtserklärung Inhalt einer Resolution der Generalversammlung und kein vorderhand bindender Katalog von Menschenrechten. Dennoch heißt das nicht, dass die niedergelegten Rechte wirkungslose Bekenntnisse sind. Vier Argumente sprechen für ihre Relevanz: Einmal stellt die Erklärung, wie Manfred Nowak erinnert, „eine autoritative Interpretation des Begriffs ‚Menschenrechte’ in der UNO-Satzung und damit indirekt Völkervertragsrecht dar.“ Weiters berufen sich neuere Verfassungen – gerade jener Staaten, die an der ursprünglichen Beschlussfassung nicht beteiligt waren – auf die Allgemeine Erklärung, was ihre „moralische, politische und rechtliche Bedeutung“ unterstreicht und Repräsentativitätsmängel zu heilen vermag. Ferner haben manche der in der Erklärung verbrieften Rechte – zu denken ist an das Folterverbot und das Verbot der Sklaverei – über den Umweg des Völkergewohnheitsrechtes Eingang in die internationale Rechtsordnung gefunden.

Diese moralisch gegründete und politisch gefestigte Relevanz der Menschenrechtserklärung wird von der internationalen Menschenrechtsarchitektur der Vereinten Nationen bestätigt. Die zwei wichtigsten Säulen des Schutzsystems, dessen Fundament die Allgemeine Erklärung darstellt, sind die beiden Internationalen Pakte von 1966. Zu den tragenden Gebäudeteilen zählen weiters die ihnen folgenden sektoriellen Menschenrechtverträge der Vereinten Nationen mit ihren jeweiligen Überwachungsorganen mit Berichts- und teils auch Beschwerdesystemen. Wichtige Akteure im Menschenrechtssystem der Vereinten Nationen sind auch das Menschenrechtshochkommissariat, die Menschenrechtskommission sowie ihr Nachfolger, der Menschenrechtsrat, und die Sondermechanismen: länder- und themenspezifische Berichterstatter. Die Förderung der Menschenrechte, deren erste und gültigste Definition sich in der Menschenrechtserklärung findet, ist der große, vielleicht der größte Verdient, den sich die Vereinten Nationen an die Fahnen heften kann. Demgemäß hat Richard Jolly, Hektor der UNO-Geschichtsschreibung, in einem Projekt über die Geistesgeschichte der Vereinten Nationen Menschenrechte als die erste von neuen Ideen identifiziert, mit denen die UNO die Welt bereichert und verändert hat. Nirgendwo findet sich die Idee der unteilbaren, untrennbaren, voneinander abhängigen und aufeinander bezogenen Menschenrechte klarer ausgedrückt und prägnanter formuliert als in der Menschenrechtserklärung.

Nur in Parenthese: In Österreich zeitigt die Menschenrechtserklärung nur bescheidene Wirkungen. Ein „low profile“ attestieren Menschenrechtexperten Wolfgang Benedek und Manfred Nowak der Allgemeinen Erklärung in Österreich. Sie komme kaum im politischen Diskurs vor und werde von Höchstgerichten nur en passant erwähnt – und dann nur, um ihre mangelnde Bindungswirkung aufzuzeigen. Der Grund für die mangelnde diskursive Präsenz der AEMR in Österreich, den die beiden Autoren diagnostizieren, ist indes positiv: Da die Europäische Menschenrechtskonvention in Österreich im Verfassungsrang steht, bedarf es etwa nach Sicht der Gerichte bei menschenrechtlichen Fragestellungen nicht des Rückgriffs auf die Allgemeine Erklärung.

Es gibt aber auch bemerkenswerte Gegenbeispiele, wie die 2001 im Grazer Gemeinderat einstimmig erfolgte Erklärung der steirischen Landeshauptstadt zur „Menschenrechtsstadt“, ein ganzheitlicher Prozess, der in der Tradition der AEMR steht. Die Menschenrechtserklärung war auch Grundlage des Monitorings des Grazer Gemeinderatswahlkampfes 2008, für das der damals von Wolfgang Benedek geleitete Menschenrechtsbeirat Sorge trug. Um die Bekanntheit der Allgemeinen Erklärung der Menschenrechte zu fördern, wurde schließlich ein Menschenrechtsweg in einem der beliebtesten Grazer Naherholungsgebiete eingerichtet, auf dem man die Allgemeine Erklärung Artikel für Artikel erwandern kann: Am Wegesrand finden sich gut sichtbare Tafeln mit den einzelnen Bestimmungen.

Der Mensch im Mittelpunkt

Doch kehren wir abschließend zurück von der lokalen Verwirklichung des Menschenrechtes, seine Rechte zu kennen, auf die globale Ebene: Als die Menschenrechtserklärung 1948 angenommen wurde, war die internationale Ordnung geprägt von beginnenden Machtspielen zwischen Staaten, die sich in den folgenden Jahren noch intensivieren sollten. Individuen als Träger von Rechten und Pflichten kam in der Nachkriegsordnung eine untergeordnete Rolle zu. Doch mit der Erklärung war ein erster wichtiger Markstein gelegt auf dem Weg zu einer menschenzentrierten internationalen Ordnung, die ihr Handlungsrepertoire nicht mehr ausschließlich durch die Souveränität von Staaten einengen lässt, sondern Instrumente entwickelt, die sich am Wohlergehen der mit einem höheren rechtsmoralischen Schutzanspruch ausgestatteten Menschen orientieren. Diese langsame, von Rückschlägen geprägte Entwicklung ist als Humanisierung des Völkerrechts bekannt geworden. Die Menschenrechtserklärung ist ihr eine zentrale Inspirationsquelle.

1948 wie 2011 ist die Allgemeine Erklärung der Menschenrechte der elementarste Grundrechtskatalog der Weltgemeinschaft und, wie es in der Präambel heißt, „das von allen Völkern und Nationen zu erreichende gemeinsame Ideal“. Jedes Jubiläum erlaubt auch den Blick nach vorne. Der Wunsch drängt sich auf, dass sich – um erneut die Präambel aufzugreifen – „jeder einzelne und alle Organe der Gesellschaft […] diese Erklärung stets gegenwärtig halten und sich bemühen, durch Unterricht und Erziehung die Achtung vor diesen Rechten und Freiheiten zu fördern und durch fortschreitende nationale und internationale Maßnahmen ihre allgemeine und tatsächliche Anerkennung und Einhaltung“ zu gewährleisten. Kurz gefasst: Lesen wir sie. Lehren wir sie. Leben wir sie.

Das ist, was Navi Pillay, als den "Imperativ von Tunis" bezeichnet: 

The Declaration laid out the rights necessary for a life of dignity, free from fear and want— from health care, education, and housing, to political participation and the fair administration of justice. It said that these rights belong to all people, everywhere, and without discrimination.
Today, on the streets of our cities, people are demanding that governments and international institutions make good on this promise, with their demands streamed live via internet and social media.  Ignoring these demands is no longer an option.
Rather, governments and international institutions should follow their lead by making a dramatic policy shift toward the robust integration of human rights in economic affairs and development cooperation, and by adopting human rights law as the basis for governance at home, and the source of policy coherence across the international system. This is our mandate for the new millennium. This is the Tunis imperative.

Stefan Zweig schied 1942 aus dem Leben. Hätte er die Annahme der Menschenrechtserklärung 1948 noch miterlebt, er hätte vielleicht seinen Sternstunden der Menschheit eine weitere, eine Sternstunde der Menschlichkeit beigefügt, zumal jener 10. Dezember vor 63 Jahren, dessen wir uns dieses Jahr erinnern, zeitenüberdauernd „den Schicksalslauf der ganzen Menschheit“ unwiderruflich bestimmt hat.

Friday, November 25, 2011

We're not dummies ... and we don't play in a sandbox

For the last two days, an interesting conference took place in Vienna: "Our Internet - Our Rights, Our Freedoms, Towards the Council of Europe Strategy on Internet Governance, 2012-2015" organised by the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs of Austria and the Council of Europe.

During the discussion of an interesting panel on how best to protect human rights online (through a new charter? a compendium of rights?), I made a brief intervention: 

"I don’t like the image of the Internet as a  sandbox [that a panelist proposed] because it implies that what we do there doesn’t actually matter. 
It does.
The Internet is the new public space of the 21st century and we do play – but we work, vote, think, write, publish, organize, too.
We don’t need a “human rights for dummies” guide to the Internet? We’re not dummies. We’re able, intelligent, interactive human beings. Human beings whose human rights and human security has to be ensured online.
And because of that we need to create normative added value.
I’d echo Wolfgang Benedek and Dixie Hawtin [two of the panelists]: we don’t need a compendium – a compilation of a body of knowledge. We need more than that.
The Internet Rights and Principles Coalition’s Charter and the Council of Europe’s Internet Governance Principles together would form a strong normative basis to build upon and to operationalize.
Because this is what we’re charged with now. 2011 was the “year of principles”, of thinking. 2012 must be the “year of practice”, of setting standards, of doing.
And if you like sand and sunny imagery quite so much, think of the Internet as a beach volleyball court. A fun place, but with interactions based on rules." 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Two kinds of access

A quick thought a couple of weeks after Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Frank La Rue, presented his important report on (inter alia) the online dimension of freedom of expression to the General Assembly's Third Committee. 

In his oral statement, Mr. La Rue highlighted the two dimensions of access: access to Internet and access to online content. Both pose specific, but interrelated human rights challenges. Using the  Internet as a facilitator for other human rights presupposes access to the Internet in the first place (connectivity) and then unfiltered access to content. 

The importance of access - and access to information cannot be underestimated: 

As Mr. La Rue wrote in his report: 
"[By enabling individuals to exchange information and ideas instantaneously and inexpensively across national borders, the Internet allows access to information and knowledge that was previously unattainable. This, in turn, contributes to the discovery of the truth and progress of society as a whole." 
I agree. The discovery of truth and progress is a social act. Though we can never predict what "truth and progress" will be discovered in any given society, as both truth and progress are always contingent upon the constructions of reality and their perceptions in each society at a given time, we should support the process.

This does not mean that we should reroute development funding completely to the Internet. Even bloggers need to eat. But an important part of development aid must go ensuring the physical infrastructure to gain access. 

In a second step the international community needs to highlight the differences between illegal content and content that is harmful, offensive, objectionable, or undesirable. Illegal content should be dealt with by the authorities thus enforcing the informal social contract between users. But ideas that only, the words of the European Court of Human Rights in Handyside v. UK, "shock, offend and disturb" a society or parts of it, need protection. 

To quote Mr. La Rue again: 
"[The] Internet is one of the most powerful instruments of the 21st century for increasing transparency in the conduct of the powerful, access to information, and for facilitating active citizen participation in building democratic societies. Indeed, the recent wave of demonstrations in countries across the Middle East and North African region has shown the key role that the Internet can play in mobilizing the population to call for justice, equality, accountability and better respect for human rights. As such, facilitating access to the Internet for all individuals, with as little restriction to online content as possible, should be a priority for all States."

Friday, November 11, 2011

5th Graz Workshop on the Future of Security: Human Security in the Information Society

I'm co-organizing an exciting workshop, the 5th Graz Workshop on the Future of Security, which will be dedicated to the interlinkages between two topics I've been doing much research on: human security and information society. 

Have a look at the Call or read on:

Call for Papers

5th Graz Workshop on the Future of Security

Human Security in the Information Society: Regulating Risks – Empowering People

15-16 March 2012 | University of Graz, Austria

The Institute of International Law and International Relations of the University of Graz, Austria, the European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (ETC), Graz, and their Human Security Focus Group, in cooperation with the Austrian National Defence Academy, the Austrian Institute for International Affairs (OIIP) and the Marie Curie Action “Sustainable Peace Building” funded under the EU’s 7th Framework Programme, invite contributions to the 5th Graz Workshop on the Future of Security on 15-16 March 2012, dedicated to Human Security in the Information Society: Regulating Risks – Empowering People.

The fifth workshop in a series of academic events dedicated to furthering our understanding of today’s and tomorrow’s security challenges unites two of our central areas of research: human security and Internet Governance.

The interdisciplinary workshop is dedicated to furthering our understanding of the security challenges of regulating (and not regulating) new and emerging information and communication technologies (ICTs).

We welcome abstracts tackling any aspect of the general topic, but are particularly interested in presentations focusing on

  •    the specific challenges of protecting human security and human rights in the information society; in particular the roles of the rights to access and to education (e-literacy) and of freedom of expression;
  •    the role of non-state (and other non-traditional) actors in regulatory processes, especially the principle of multistakeholderism and its relation to furthering security;
  •       the importance of non-traditional norms (principles, codes of conduct, soft law) and non-traditional normative processes (international forums, conferences, online meetings) for ensuring human security;
  •       the impact of social media and ICT on conflict (management) and peace(building);
  •     the use of ICTs by states (“federal trojans”), armed forces (cyberwarfare), non-state groups (cyber-terrorism, cybercrime) and civil society (social media) and the ensuing human security challenges;
  •     and the role of human security in influencing the development of Internet Governance.

All presentations are selected on the basis of academic merit. Abstracts of no more than 300 words describing your presentation should be sent together with a short bio no later than 16 December 2011 to HumanSecurity@uni-graz.at.

For more information, see http://goo.gl/ptyv3. Selected excellent contributions will be published in a special edition of the peer-reviewed internationally renowned journal Human Security Perspectives.

Organizing Committee: 
Wolfgang Benedek | Paul Gragl | Matthias C. Kettemann | Heike Montag | Cristina Pace | Pascoal Santos Pereira