Mission & Strategy
The statutes of the NHC, a foundation registered in the Netherlands, define the objective of the organization as the promotion of an international and societal rule of law under which human rights can be fully realized. The NHC sets out to reinforce and support the activities of international and national governmental and non-governmental organizations in conflict prevention, human rights protection, upholding of the rule of law, and promotion of democracy.
The statutes specify that particular attention is given to the region covered by and to the work of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the follow-up organization of the inter-governmental conference which led to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. Since 1975, substantial progress has been made in the rule of law, democracy, and the protection of human rights in Europe. Dictatorships and authoritarian rule in Southern Europe have disappeared, and the end of the Cold War has led to great positive changes in Central and Eastern Europe. This revolutionary shift led to a huge demand in Central and Eastern Europe for knowledge and expertise on human rights and the rule of law. The NHC, established in 1987, has concentrated on the development and implementation of projects to respond to this demand. The NHC approach has thus been marked by a constructive approach: building up human rights protection and the rule of law with whoever had a role to play in this field and was willing to engage, both in governmental agencies and in civil society. A great deal of expertise and an extensive and broad network has been built up.
Yet no guarantee for permanent peace, security, and democracy exists. The extreme violence accompanying the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the 1990s already showed that the capacity of the OSCE to ensure comprehensive security was limited. In the former Soviet Union, a wide variety of state and societal models have developed, from democratic and open to strongly authoritarian and repressive. Russian troops have become active outside the borders of their country. This has led to a crisis in which the continued validity of the Helsinki Final Act and the OSCE are at stake.
It was a great step forward when all European countries joined the Council of Europe in the 1990s; yet this broad European human rights cooperation has gradually become subject to strain as well. Authoritarian and nationalist political tendencies are on the rise across Europe.
The prospect of EU accession continues to be an engine for reform for a number of countries, as it was fifteen years ago for the Central European countries. This continues to provide scope for NHC projects. The challenge is to make reform structural rather than superficial.
At the same time, in many member states of the EU, public appreciation of international human rights mechanisms appears to be affected by concerns about immigration and cultural and societal changes. The integration of increasing numbers of migrants is a challenge for many member states’ societies. Austerity policies have led to additional strain on human rights observance. Maintaining human rights standards requires vigilance and continued reform also in the European Union.
The NHC until recently did not undertake further activities in countries once they had joined the European Union. Since it became apparent that substantial improvements in human rights and rule of law are still necessary in EU member states, project development was directed at those countries as well. In 2013 a first project was started in this field covering several EU member states.
There is a great need and urgency to defend, build, and secure human rights and the rule of law in Europe. The NHC will continue its focus on this region. We will continue to develop and implement projects to improve government policies and legal protection for vulnerable groups such as minorities, migrants, economically marginalized persons, and people in detention. The situation of women and youths will be given special attention where appropriate.
Access to justice will be promoted for all sections of the community. Special attention will be given to improvements in the implementation of verdicts of the European Court of Human Rights, both by the judiciary and by the executive and legislative branches of government.
It is important to insert human rights in a broad range of international interactions, including the economic, professional, academic, and cultural spheres. The NHC will actively contribute to developing this approach. The NHC will continue to give attention and support to human rights defenders, including the organization of legal support, taking part in trial monitoring, assisting in international advocacy and contributing to solidarity campaigns. Efforts will be made as well to explore new organizational and funding models, which make human rights work less dependent of government subsidies, either from their own government (if available at all) or from foreign governments.