Thorbjørn Jagland
Secretary General of the Council of Europe

Written message of Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe for the Yerevan School of Political Studies

Human rights have been the most transformative forces in changing the world. When people scaled the Berlin wall they wanted freedom. When people in North Africa recently took to the streets they did the same. They wanted freedom.
But freedom cannot exist without high ethical standards by those in power. Where there are no ethics in politics, there will most certainly be corruption, misuse of power and violence which defy basic human rights. Without ethics, human rights become empty phrases.

Today Europe is a continent united around common values, but more than ever we need to talk about ethics and politics.

Globalisation transforms societies rapidly, and citizens request new ways to run society in order to bring the right answers. But as part of this, commonly accepted ideas and values are being questioned as pillars of society.

But globalisation has no aim of it’s own, it has no leader and it has no ethics. It is a raw non-human force that the politicians, the media, and you must seek to steer in the right direction to make it a tool for prosperity of and solidarity between citizens.

Facing the challenges of today’s world, each and everyone of us are responsible for the future of our democracies. Human rights are the single most important common ground for Europeans to take on the ongoing changes of our societies. But to do so we must all place ethics at the centre of our acts. 

We should remember that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – of which the European Convention on Human Rights is a direct consequence – states that human rights are innate and unchangeable because they come from our human dignity and not as a result of political decisions. These rights are natural rights.

We must not forget that human rights are a safeguard against political power. They are a right of the minority to be protected by – and from – the majority.