Human Rights & Flanders' International Policy
In its new policy document titled “Human rights and Flanders’ international policy”, the Government of Flanders has the ambition to integrate human rights as a cross-cutting theme in its international relations. This shows Flanders’ commitment to being a solidarity-based federated state, within as well as beyond its borders. After all, strengthening the protection of international human rights brings about a long term improvement in the living conditions of billions of people.
Flanders has a long tradition in human rights issues, enshrined in documents that date as far back as our regions’ medieval charters. These rights reflect the fundamental values of a community, such as justice, equality, dignity, mutual respect and solidarity.
Not only is the Government of Flanders legally bound, within its powers, by a large number of international treaties on human rights to which Belgium is party, it has in most cases explicitly approved them as mixed treaties and has often been involved, through experts, in the development of new standards. For Flanders, respect for human rights through its own policies is a legal and ethical obligation.
Better respect of human rights by all states contributes to the development of a more democratic, more peaceful and safer international order. But human rights are not just an obligation towards a state’s own citizenry, but a guiding principle for foreign policy. Given that respect of human rights undeniably leads to greater peace, security and economic and social progress, a proactive international policy on human rights advances the long term interests of Flanders.
Flanders realises that the interpretation of international human rights is not straightforward, and that there are many cultural differences between the various continents and civilisations of this world. However, the universality of all human rights is beyond dispute and the debate stretches only to whether and how there might exist room within the universality principle for a degree of cultural and regional variation when interpreting these rights. When it comes to human rights, relativism needs to be out of the question.
Flanders wishes to take action to counter the trend of declining respect for human rights, for example, through its own, exclusive international treaties and cooperation agreements, through participation in the Belgian coordination of multilateral (human rights) institutions, through the adoption of positions with respect to European Union external policy and through the framing of its development policy via Flemish Parliament Acts.
It is in this way that the Government of Flanders intends to give interpretation to the coalition agreement’s call to conduct “an active and coherent foreign policy” which is “designed to emphasise our openness” and in which use is made “of progressive cultural, economic and public diplomacy”. The new policy document lays out all the guiding principles to “Human rights and Flanders’ international policy”.