Protection of Human Rights: 10 Years Freedom Barometer
The notion that human rights are important is maintained throughout the region and very few politicians dare to attack the concept openly (even the most authoritarian leaning ones do not), at least not in the way in which the very concept of the rule of law in general is criticised by, for instance, the highest political and religious authorities in Russia.
While personal security and safety have been attacked mainly by out-of-government factors or actors, education as an important element of human rights saw advances. In some of the monitored countries, such as Russia, education – namely the free and indiscriminate access to it and a good quality thereof – remained as one of the quite rare shiny aspects of the overall grim human rights situation. Corruption and nepotism in some countries marred academic work despite academic freedom. Plagiarism was fought with different degrees of success, which mostly depended on the immunity of academic communities against it and the willingness of the political elites to cleanse themselves of corrupt individuals. In Germany, the political scene thereby saw resignations of numerous politicians due to plagiarism, while in Serbia the ruling class defiantly refused to purge.
CORRUPTION, NEPOTISM AND PLAGIARISM MIGHT ENDANGER ACADEMIC WORK EVEN IF THERE WERE NO DIRECT ATTACKS ON THE FREEDOM TO LEARN AND RESEARCH.
If any aspect of human rights is to be noted as the one with most advances, it was the treatment of sexual minorities. In the most developed democracies and throughout Western Europe marriage equality became a norm, allowing same-sex couples not just equal access to legal protection and social services but equal dignity as well. In transition countries, the regulation of same-sex unions became a priority, and before that there came anti-discrimination laws and their implementation, including the right of LGBT organisations to merely bring the issue into public view, via Pride rallies or through continued public dialogue. The biggest breakthroughs for LGBT people were achieved in the Western Balkans, with the tremendous transformation of Albania from a country of utmost fear into one of a cautious hope, with the first openly-lesbian PM (in Serbia), and with bold measures by governments in Slovenia, Croatia and North Macedonia to overcome homophobia in society by taking every available legal opportunity to protect equality of this group of people.
Women also achieved easier access to politics. In several countries it was via quotas, which is unsustainable in the long run. Yet these many women in their nations’ highest political positions must be an incentive for thousands of others to become politically active, to educate, to train, and to become fit for equal political competition with men. Additional improvements, or at least promises thereof, have been made by the adoption and broad ratification of the Istanbul Convention on the eradication of domestic violence.
Both in cases of LGBTs and of domestic violence against women there were also push-backs, but rare and just in individual countries, where the situation worsened during the decade. In the case of LGBTs it was in Turkey (itself historically one of the most tolerant in this field), Russia and Tajikistan, while in the case of domestic violence mostly in Russia.
IN THE BALKANS, HATE SPEECH AND HISTORICAL REVISIONISM OF BOTH WW2 AND THE ICTY’S RULINGS ON WAR CRIMES OF THE 1990S REMAIN AS THREATS TO HUMAN RIGHTS.
Inter-ethnic grievances became less visible in 2010s than, for instance, in the 1990s. Yet, in the Balkans, hate speech and historical revisionism of both WW2 and the ICTY`s rulings on the war crimes of the 1990s remain as a threat to inter-ethnic relations and to the human rights of ethnic minorities. In addition, migrations to Europe by people from war-torn, or simply poorer regions of the world have posed new challenges for society, where populism is on the rise, feeding on anti-immigrant rhetoric and spreading irrational fears about the alleged per se impossibility of cohabitation of people of different cultures.
Yet another challenge to human rights is coming from the use of new technologies. Surveillance and the processing of data on citizens is today easier than ever, while legal mechanisms to protect the privacy of an individual citizen are constantly adopted too late, when governmental or nongovernmental (such as commercial) actors have already developed even more sophisticated methods of breaching that privacy.