ECCHR is an incredibly dynamic, vibrant and cutting edge human rights organization — and it has achieved that in less than six years. Walk into its large, light filled loft in Berlin and prepare to be immersed in the key human rights struggles of our world today. Working with their global partners, ECCHR is taking on issues from challenging clinical trials performed without consent on 20,000 girls in India to securing an investigation into the accountability for the fire in a Karachi textile plant that killed 259 workers who were producing clothing for the German market among others. It filed a case in Germany against a Swiss timber production company for brutal beatings and rapes in the Congo and is using the OECD mechanism to challenge German and UK surveillance firms for their potential complicity in serious human rights abuses in Bahrain. ECCHR has always been concerned with accountability for those, including Western governments, who commit gross violations of human rights. Recently, it and a partner organization filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court concerning the torture and abuse of Iraqi detainees by UK military forces. This just gives you a flavor, but there is a lot, lot more.
The office is a beehive of activity and there are young lawyers and law students from around the world including China, India, Colombia, Malaysia, and Europe. The Bertha Foundation has been instrumental in ensuring that generations of future lawyers will be trained in the kind of legal advocacy that can make a difference. When I walked in one day, twenty-five or so of these lawyers were engaged in a moot court against a company manufacturing harmful pesticides that injure workers. On another occasion, alumni day, perhaps a hundred young lawyers (and some getting older) had set up a series of workshops on current issues including migration, human rights defenders, whistleblowing, environmental justice and access to legal support.
Building on some of its work of the last few years, ECCHR has established an important regional focus in Asia and has partners on the ground in India, the Philippines and elsewhere. It has held workshops in both countries and recently completed a field trip to Pakistan to work with the victims of the Karachi fire. Its work includes challenging pesticide use in Malaysia, war crimes and sexualized violence in Sri Lanka, sexual slavery during World War II and drone strikes in Pakistan.
An important part of ECCHR is the understanding that making change, helping grass roots groups and holding governments and corporations accountable is not achieved by law and litigation alone. It publishes extensively on issues ranging from the responsibility of European corporations for human rights violations in the supply chain to making sure that European corporate subsidiaries protect human rights such as the right to unionize. Seminars, talks and events on these and other topics are held not only in Europe but with partners, particularly in Asia and the Global South. ECCHR has an integrated, global program that is really making a difference.
Finally, during the last year, ECCHR, led by Wolfgang Kaleck, engaged in a look into the future, also known by many as strategic planning. What should its plan be for the next five years? What are the keys issues and what can and should ECCHR address? It was decided that ECCHR should explore issues such as migration in the Mediterranean region — where hundreds of migrants die — as well as the global arms trade and protecting human rights defenders. The strong educational program should be expanded and communications strengthened. Without going into more detail, I can only say that ECCHR is more than ready and able to take on the challenges that the future holds. I expect our coming years to be as exciting, important and as meaningful as our past six. All of us owe a great deal of respect to those who work at ECCHR and particularly those who trust that we can make this world a better place.
Council of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights