Online Module: The Holocaust and Fundamental Rights

Chapter 3: European efforts to maintain human dignity

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Content-Author: Constanze

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Respect for and protection of physical and mental integrity, guarantee basic needs, the right to equality before the law and protection against discrimination, and the protection of personal identity are prerequisites for a positive understanding of a life in human dignity. The European Union tries to provide the framework for protecting these rights.



Common values: The Charter of fundamental rights in the European Union

The Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union (EU Charter) reflects on the main aspects of human dignity already in the Preamble:

„Conscious of its spiritual and moral heritage, the Union is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity; it is based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. It places the individual at the heart of its activities, by establishing the citizenship of the Union and by creating an area of freedom, security and justice.“

Especially in the first five articles it is further explicated, what the right to live in human dignity means on a basic level:

  • Article 1 Human dignity
  • Article 2 Right to life
  • Article 3 Right to the integrity of the person
  • Article 4 Prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • Article 5 Prohibition of slavery and forced labour

and Article 21 (Non-discrimination) defines the protection of minorities and the prohibition of discrimination.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU brings together in a single document the fundamental rights protected in the EU.
The rights of every individual within the EU were established at different times, in different ways and in different forms. To clarify things and to include them all in a single document, the Charter was proclaimed in 2000. It contains rights and freedoms under six titles: Dignity, Freedoms, Equality, Solidarity, Citizens' Rights, and Justice. It has become legally binding on the EU with the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, in December 2009.

Full text of the EU Charter see the download section

Safeguards and preventative measures in today's Europe

“Today's Europe has put in place a set of safeguards and preventative measures to guard against any resurgence of the terrible events of the past.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights, which has been incorporated into the Union's draft Constitution, prohibits discrimination in the strongest terms.

Member States have adopted strict laws against the production, sale and dissemination of anti-Semitic propaganda.

In November 2001 the Commission put forward a Framework Decision on racism and xenophobia [see document here]. It has three aims: first, to make racism and xenophobia punishable by law by introducing effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties; second, to improve and encourage judicial cooperation by removing potential obstacles; third, to define anti-Semitic acts, including any public denial or trivialisation of the Shoah, as crimes punishable by law.”

Romano Prodi, former President of the European Commission (1999–2004)

European Union Framework Decision for Combating Racism and Xenophobia (2007)

After six years of discussions, the proposal for a framework decision on racism and xenophobia met the consensus of EU Ministers gathered at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in Luxembourg on 19 April. […]

The text establishes that the following intentional conduct will be punishable in all EU Member States:

  1. Publicly inciting to violence or hatred , even by dissemination or distribution of tracts, pictures or other material, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.
  2. Publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivialising
  • crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as defined in the Statute of the International Criminal Court (Articles 6, 7 and 8) directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin, and
  • crimes defined by the Tribunal of Nuremberg (Article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, London Agreement of 1945) directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.

Member States may choose to punish only conduct which is either carried out in a manner likely to disturb public order or which is threatening, abusive or insulting.

The reference to religion is intended to cover, at least, conduct which is a pretext for directing acts against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin.

Member States will ensure that these conducts are punishable by criminal penalties of a maximum of at least between 1 and 3 years of imprisonment.

The Framework Decision will not have the effect of modifying the obligation to respect fundamental rights and fundamental legal principles, including freedom of expression and association, as enshrined in Article 6 of the Treaty of the EU.

Member States will not have to modify their constitutional rules and fundamental principles relating to freedom of association, freedom of the press and the freedom of expression.

After its adoption, Member States will have 2 years to comply with the Framework Decision.

See also "Council framework decision 2008/913/JHA of 28 November 2008 on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law"


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