Thirty-fourth Lecture - Terry Davis

Terry Davis

Thirty-fourth Lecture - March 18, 2009

"The Universality of Human Rights and the Work of the Council of Europe”

Speaker: Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe: "The Universality of Human Rights and the Work of the Council of Europe"

In the XXIV lecture of the Lecture Series of the Americas entitled The Universality of Human Rights and the Work of the Council of Europe, Right Honorable Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, discusses the Council, the European Convention on Human Rights, and challenges to universal human rights in today’s world. The Council of Europe is an intergovernmental organization created in 1949 to defend democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Its four pillars come together to set standards and legally binding rules, monitor these standards and make suggestions, cooperate with assistance programs and other organizations, and communicate with the general public about human rights and the work of the Council of Europe.

In this lecture, Davis insists that human rights are universal, and this universality has not yet been fully accepted. He explains several challenges to human rights. Sometimes differences of opinion on specific issues such as the death penalty, anti-terrorism, and gay rights make consensus difficult. Older democracies that consider themselves above suspicion create double standards that developing democracies use to justify their own human rights abuses. Some claim that human rights are a Western concept, authoritarian rule is more effective in Eastern societies, and cultural and religious practices should be respected even if they are seen as against human rights.

Davis reiterates the universality of human rights. He states that every country must provide basic human rights, and that intercultural tolerance and dialogue is a key component of advancing them. He describes the approach of the European Commission as one where human rights and cultural diversity are not mutually exclusive. According to Davis, intercultural dialogue is an antidote for intolerance, division, and violence and creates a climate of mutual respect, justice, and safety. In this climate, universal human rights thrive.

In the end, to achieve universal human rights, every political body must act on its word. Davis points out that the Council of Europe has managed to draft international law, balance the rights and freedoms of individuals against the interest of the larger community, and effectively and fairly respond to the threats faced by society. He rejects the notion of a trade-off between freedom and security and embraces the idea that universal human rights are a reachable goal.

Full Speech