By Dimitris Avramopoulos
Former European Commissioner and Greek Foreign Minister, currently serving as a member of the honorary board of Fight Impunity.
Published: New Europe 12 July 2021
In 2006, Thomas Lubanga was the first person to be convicted as a war criminal by the International Criminal Court. For the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the international community sent a clear, decisive and unified message that the safeguarding of human life and dignity remains a prime objective of the democratic world, and that mass violations of human rights can and will be punished by due force of law.
However, since that landmark decision, mass violations of human rights continue blatantly in many parts of the world. Ethnic and religious minorities are suffering genocidal attacks, noncombatants are executed and tortured, journalists are being targeted, dissidents jailed, and in short, every kind of discrimination is being exercised at the expense of the citizenry.
At the same time, impunity reigns among the powerful, who find immunity from the crimes they commit, which expand ever more widely. Today some 40,000 noncombatants lose their lives each year, while in the past four years alone about 80 million people have been forced to leave their homes to avoid the violence of war and the despotism of regimes.
The collective effort of the Western world to entrench democracy and safeguard human rights beyond its immediate reach has often been inadequate. Yet, the ability to stand up for human rights abroad presupposes their strengthening and deepening at home.
In the aftermath of World War II, the leaders of the free and democratic world managed to lay the foundations of a period of stability, peace, democracy and growth while consolidating human rights and state justice and liberties.
In recent years, however, multiple crises and the radical rise of nationalism and populism in various guises have been a direct challenge to global democracy, undermining the postwar democratic order and international cooperation. Alliances have been vitiated and commercial rivalries have intensified. The previous American president, Donald Trump, elected to conduct a foreign policy based on business considerations, placing values and human rights on the back burner.
President Joe Biden intends to restore basic democratic values and the international institutional order, while taking initiatives for collective action against new threats. As he has said, nothing less than the validity of democracy in the 21st century is at stake.
But for our democracy to be useful and effective, it requires that it promote the global collective action and understanding which our times require, so that human rights violations can be eliminated as far as possible.
During my past tenure as European Commissioner for Migration, Internal Security and Nationality, the protection of rights – especially those of vulnerable social groups – was central to my policy. It also defined the system of rights and principles which I served in the name of the European Union.
Today, in my new parallel position as a member of the governing board of the Fight Impunity international organization, I continue this task, along with renowned personalities from around the world, contributing to the global project of effectively confronting mass human rights violations. Our common aim is to put an end to violence, injustice and all forms of discrimination. It is to provide nations and societies with the principles of harmonious coexistence, freedom, democracy, justice and equal opportunities.
For the attainment of these goals, however, global cooperation is necessary. It is true that we cannot effectively meet the dangers if our efforts are fragmented. Fragmentation makes us all vulnerable. It has been a hard lesson the world has had to learn in recent years, especially in handling the multiple crises the world community is afflicted with.
No nation or organization alone can meet the emerging challenges in Europe or the US, but above all in areas where impunity is a veritable scourge.
States, organizations and businesses – all need to contribute to the collective effort to decisively confront crimes against humanity and mass human rights violations by upholding the requirement that perpetrators will be called to account, a requirement that is the main pillar of international justice.
We need to jointly work out a consensual approach against impunity. We also need to coordinate a targeted action plan involving all interested parties in the direction of setting up mechanisms of investigation and control.
To create more peaceful, secure and inclusive societies presupposes a strong international system based on international law, principles, rules and cooperation. International law and international justice, along with their principles and organs, are the guardian angels of peaceful coexistence as well as the prime instruments of international cooperation.
They are the codification of ethics and practical relations among nations. They are the values system that guides our collective effort to remove the impunity from those who have committed crimes against humanity, human dignity and democracy.
It is this mission, including a web of activities and initiatives, that the Fight Impunity international organization has undertaken, and which is here to meet the present and future requirements of the world community of citizens.