English summary

Diplomatic immunity is protecting torturers


In July 2001, the newly appointed Israeli ambassador to Denmark Carmi Gillon admitted on Danish television responsibility for several cases of “moderate physical pressure”/torture during his time as head of the Israeli Security Service, Shin Bet in the mid-1990s. According to the UN Torture Convention, State Parties, including Denmark, have an obligation to prosecute any person present on its territory suspected of acts of torture if he is it not extradited. In September, Danish authorities announced that ambassador Carmi Gillon is protected by diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and that this convention “takes precedence over the general provisions in the Torture Convention.

The article describes developments in international law in this area and the relation between the Torture Convention and the Vienna Convention. It concludes that in contemporary international law it is doubtful whether immunity takes precedence over the obligation to prosecute international crimes, including systematic torture. Danish authorities are criticised for not having given the reasons for their decision and for disregarding developments in international law.

Human rights, politics and love


This article discusses the paradox of an international law that aims to create space for a non-political normativity in the form of human rights that can be opposed to the politics of States but that is undermined by the practical experience that what rights mean, and how they are applied, can only be determined by the politics of States. This leaves reformist lawyers uneasily poised between a naive enthusiasm and sophisticated cynicism. A familiar psychological trap, I suggest. In order to reconceive the emancipatory ethos of rights it is necessary to grasp their open-endedness, their irreducibly political nature, the way they lead into a dialectic between universalism and particularism, individualism and community, and perhaps, like love, sometimes make the two seem the same, if only for a moment.

The concept of rights as friend and foe


The history of the idea of (human) rights in the West is little more than 200 years old while the age of ethics is roughly 2500. In the post-World War II era the concept of rights has gained a remarkable popularity. The reason for this global, normative expansion is in part to be found in the overwhelming documentation of officially and politically instigated atrocities - Holocaust, Srebrenica, etc. - directed against peoples, ethnic groups, and individuals; and in part in the reflection of such events in transnational initiatives such as The Nuremberg trials after World War II and The United Nations World Declaration of Human Rights. But the basic concept of a right is probably even less clear than before: what are its relations to other normative notions such as permission and indifference? A third reason for the increasing popularity of the concept of a right is the fact that to have a right is sometimes – but not always – to have a legitimate claim to the use of some kind of good, or access to it. At this point it is easy to see a linkage between human rights and consumerism. But to respect or recognize the right of another – a people, a group, an individual – may involve a moral and/or legal obligation (duty) for "the respecter" to see to it that the right becomes more than mere rhetoric.

The paper ends with a scenario involving the moral tension between two distinct sets of rights: the right to life and a minimum of decent of living on the one hand, and the right – at least in the West – to maintain or even raise people’s standard of living. In a nutshell: given the present demographic trends – more people living longer and longer – can we defend a continued acceptance of such rights without transnational decisions to introduce restraints, say, on the right to unrestricted consumption and the right to have as many children as we please – while the medical profession is still duty bound to prolong as many lives as long as medical knowledge allows?

Housing rights


The point of departure of this article is the inadequate protection of housing rights as framed in the specific conventions on economic, social and cultural rights. Against this background the article analyses the extent to which housing rights can be protected by the restriction of property rights as they are protected in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). On the basis of case law from the European Court of Human Rights the article concludes that the ECHR allows for a quite comprehensive restriction of property rights when housing policy is taken into account. However, the protection of housing rights is of an indirect nature since the protection concerns the general housing policy of the Member States rather than the individual tenant. The article concludes that the so-called integrated approach to human rights protection is far from being the only solution to the weak protection of housing rights, and that the need to strengthen the individual protection by means of the conventions on  economic, social and cultural rights is still pressing

Europe's linguistic rainbow

Anne Lise Kjær

When studying European and national language policy today, it becomes clear that the trend is to stress the importance of maintaining linguistic diversity as an expression of the cultural wealth and tradition of Europe. But while languages are seen as the media through which cultures and national identities are expressed, it seems to have been forgotten that languages are also means of communication and the exchange of information between people. In the process of integrating the peoples of Europe in an ever closer Union, the need for cross-border and cross-language communication and understanding is increasingly important. Therefore, European language policy should focus on how an equal and mutual understanding of all Europeans might be secured across linguistic diversity and language barriers. The most reasonable and just solution would, in my opinion, be to define one lingua franca common to all peoples of Europe. In the world today, the global medium of common understanding is English. Speakers of the large languages of Europe have difficulties accepting English at the cost of their own languages. Regretfully, speakers of the small languages, including the Scandinavian languages, only think of the threat from English. They should be aware of the risk that, while Germans and Frenchmen speak of protecting the cultural and linguistic wealth of Europe, what they really mean is that their own languages should survive as first foreign languages, thus contributing to the formation of new linguistic minorities in Europe.

In the borderland of gender. The Western relativization of human rights


The Western democracies brandish constantly the principle of the universality of human rights. It would therefore be interesting to look at the position of those social groups who fall outside of the traditionally accepted gender roles, bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender people. In all Western countries, save the Netherlands, these groups are the object of direct discrimination by the authorities, a lack of protection against often rampant discrimination and violent abuse, and what Amnesty International calls a conspiracy of silence. The basis for the limited rights bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender people now enjoy is not an idea of equal rights, but a traditional pattern of legal and cultural discrimination that has gradually been made less severe. The rights of people outside the traditionally accepted gender roles do not represent inviolable rights, but are the object of political bargaining.
The officially sanctioned or condoned human rights violations against bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender people in the Western world, is, however, a problem which is serious not only for those who are affected directly - and is vital for anyone concerned with the most basic principles of human rights. The same Western leaders that talk of the universality of human rights, sanction the human rights abuse of bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender people, thus relativizing the principle of universality.