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Human Rights Policy – The Power of Principle by Dr Friedbert Pflüger

03/10/2009

A new visiting Professor to King’s College Department of War Studies, Dr Friedbert Pflüger gave his introductory lecture on Human Rights Policy at the College last Wednesday.

Looking back at the history of American diplomacy from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama, Dr Pflüger gave a comprehensive talk on foreign policy as it is practiced in the US, through the scope of human rights.

Contrary to the European history where the concept of nation-state was older than those of freedom or democracy, the birth of the United States is rooted in a struggle for human rights and self-determination. Since the days of the Founding Fathers, the United States have vowed to create a new world which would be the starting point and model of a new international order in which personal freedoms are respected.

The core of his lecture explored the different ways in which the United States tried to promote this model of a new international order based on human rights: isolation, interference, missionary zeal… He elaborated on the concepts of idealism and realism in US foreign affairs, underlining the differences between European and American human rights policy.

He concluded by giving 10 lessons to promote human rights worlwide:

1.    Human rights must be the cornerstone of every democracy because the only way to protect them at home if they are also taken seriously abroad
2.    Human rights policies should concentrate on gross violations,  and try to fight hell rather than try to create heaven on Earth
3.    Human rights policy should not come about as moral imperialism
4.    More emphasis should be given to the rule of law, to the habeas corpus, the accountability and the liability of a government if one wants to promote human rights
5.    Human rights need basic standards to flourish: housing, food, education
6.    Human rights cannot be the only aim of a country’s foreign policy which should be balanced with other aims
7.    Do not be afraid of quiet diplomacy
8.    Use multilateral  institutions to promote human rights
9.    If there is a real humanitarian catastrophe, do not rule out the use of force in the accordance with international law
10.  Be aware of the limits of your country’s power

He eventually concluded that “the best way a country can serve the cause of human rights is by setting an example by its domestic policies”.