International House Sonnenberg
Sonnenberg Kreis e.V. is an independent, non-profit organisation of international education in Europe, whose founders were Danish and German teachers. They founded the organisation after the World War II. Its conference centre, the International House Sonnenberg, has thousands of visitors every year from all over the world. Their conferences are focused on the subjects of peace, solidarity, human rights.
During our stay at the International House Sonnenberg we learned a lot about human rights and we planned our trip around Europe. We had a great time there. We found out that there are different ways of learning and they don’t have to be boring. We played a lot of interesting games, and through them learned what we could about human rights.
Route A – Human rights during World war II
The documentation centre
On our journey, we visited Nuremberg, a city which once was a centre of the Nazi Party, and now is the city of peace and human rights. There we visited the Documentation Centre, a museum situated on the location that was used for the Nazi Party Rallies. Pictures and documentary movies in the museum show causes, context and consequences of the Nazi regime and also the Nuremberg trials after WW2.
Besides the museum, you can also visit the grounds around it. We walked through the Big Street, which was supposed to be used for army parades. We went to the Zeppelin Field, which Hitler used for his speeches.
The documentation centre was a place where we learned a lot about the past of Nuremberg, and the Nazi regime in general.
Human Rights Office + Contemporary witness Mr. Peer
Nowadays, the City of Nuremberg has a Human Rights Office. Its work mainly consists in Human Rights (HR) education in the Nuremberg region and the promotion of HR in businesses, as well as being a centre for meetings, conventions and awards related to the topic.
Ms. Brandstätter, one of the project managers, invited us to talk to a contemporary witness of the 3rd Reich, Mr. Peer. He was born in 1926. And thus, beginning with elementary school, the Nazis were able to take away his ideals and inculcate their way of thinking into this boy – and millions like him.
We asked him: “How could this happen?”. Well, it was the combination of massive propaganda in public, in school, in the media and even in free time on the one hand with the ‘buying’ of the children’s and people’s loyalty with at that time unknown and usually unaffordable activities and journeys and welfare on the other hand. Mr. Peer himself had wonderful times on vacation on the German island Sylt. This made almost an entire nation turn a blind eye to the crimes committed. The Germans not only gave away their own rights – we checked and found out that not a single HR was granted to German citizens at that time – but also many of the citizens were an active or a passive part of a system that caused millions to flee their home countries, a system that discriminated against social, ethnic and religious minorities, a system that was responsible for maltreatment and oppression of other nationsand which was responsible for a genocide, which caused 50 million people to die in World War II.
And we asked Mr. Peer: “Why do you volunteer to be a contemporary witness?” His answer was:
“We want to show to you how easily one can be misled, how easy it is to be cheated of one’s ideals. You know, as an adolescent, you believe, you think that you have all the skills in the world. And then, suddenly, you realize that everything was wrong, that you were excited about something which was totally criminal. And this is why I do it.”
Ludwig Boltzmann Institute
Ludwig Boltzmann Institute (BIM) is an independent research centre on human rights founded in Vienna in 1992. They believe that if you want to change the society, you have to work on the individual. In order to do that, you need to change the system. That’s why the Institute works at both the theoretical and practical levels.
In order to achieve their aims, they collect and analyse facts and figures on the state of human rights all around the world and thereby facilitate opinion forming or decision making. University law professors work with the institute’s research team, whose results are the basis for work of counselling, monitoring, prevention, implementation. Their research approach is multidimensional and interdisciplinary and it takes the role of interlocutor between the state, business, media and civil society. They are developing citizenship education through practical engagement by starting to involve children from the age of 8 up to high school; the sooner children start to learn about human rights, the earlier their brain will start reflecting about the meaning of human rights in everyday life. They are also trying to improve the living conditions of people who are persecuted or discriminated against.
The team for human dignity and public security
Our next meeting also took place at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Human Rights. There we talked to the team for human dignity and public security.
They fight against torture in Austria, Europe and the whole world (show the members on the Team on the photo of the PPP). They are a part of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. The head of the team told us something about the history of torture, e.g. that has been common since the Roman Empire (medieval times…) (Do you think that there is still torture in the world? – in your country? …)
In every country there are elements of what you can legally call torture. In some countries torture is even used systematically for political aims. But the usual case is the torture of “normal” criminals in order to get a confession. This takes place during the police detention before the suspect is convicted. Especially when the policemen are not well trained, underpaid or corrupt, they do not have any means for long investigations and torture happens very often!
What does their work consist of? They can request to visit any country and go to prisons and any place of detention to assess the situation relating to torture. This means that they go to the prisons and talk to the people in private to talk to see if there is torture. They often see horrible conditions in prison and meet people who have been tortured in a horrible way.
Route B – Human rights today
Let’s visit Cabana e.V.!
An organization dealing with encroachments on Human Rights in today’s Germany-
The place we want to visit is a nondescript house, the front of the building is grey. The entrance is located in a side street next to a café, not far away from Dresden downtown. The only hint that these walls house what we are looking for is a small sign on which is written: “Cabana e. V.”
It took us quite a while until we found this building and now we have to walk up to fourth floor. There we finally meet Annegret Krellner and In Am Sayad Mahmood with whom we go into a very light room with few furniture. In the middle of the room desks are pushed together to a rectangle. We sit down around it – the two women at the front.
The first impression of the „social worker“ Mrs. Krellner is that she seems to be a calm, strong person who is really living for her job and thus sensitive, empathetic but nonetheless very determined.
The other woman, who introduces herself as In Am Sayad Mahmood, has a comfortable aura as well – but still totally different. On the one hand she is polite – almost reserved, on the other hand she is very welcoming with her quite, grounded charisma that shows her will to live.
In Am Sayad Mahmood originally comes from Iraq, but she had to leave her country in 1993 with her family, because her husband was prosecuted for giving humanitarian aid. In 1996 they arrived in Germany as asylum seekers.
The living conditions in the asylum seeker accommodation centre that they were brought to were absolutely unacceptable: The family was made to live – together with many other families from all over the world – in a torn house in the woods with broken windows and unbearable hygienic conditions. Furthermore it was almost impossible to reach the surrounding cities. And it was almost impossible for her son with special needs to get out of the house or just to the second floor as an elevator did not exist. They were not allowed to leave this house and go to any other place more than 20 kilometers away. Instead of getting money to buy food, clothes and other things for daily life, they only received food packages and they weren’t even allowed to work to earn some money.
Today In Am Sayad Mahmood is working for Cabana e.V. as she isn’t an asylum seeker anymore and got the permission to work
Looing back she summed it all up by saying that a migrants situation makes one become a criminal.
And indeed asylum seekers in Germany still have to live in pretty bad conditions (for example they often get food packages instead of money, they have to live in special asylum seeker accomodation centres and frequently have to deal with the German language as all the forms are only available in German) although the situation has considerably changed to the better within the last ten to twenty years.
Mrs. Mahmood and Mrs. Krellner work at “Cabana e. V.”, an ecumenical information centre in Dresden. “Cabana e. V.” has many concerns: Ecumenism, peace, developing policy, environment, nonviolent conflict resolution. The issue we have been talking about is the situation of refugees in Germany.
Mrs. Krellner and her colleagues have specialiced in the topic of working for migrants who shall be deported soon and therefore are kept in prisons. This “custody to secure deportation” is meant to prevent migrants from going into hiding, so that the later deportation is as easy as possible for the state (and no escape needs be feared). It is against Human Rights – and also against the German state law – to imprison someone for indefinite time and just because of the fear that he or she might run away and even though they didn’t commit any criminal activities.
But “Cabana e. V.” also works with “normal” immigrants. They give legal and social advice to their clients, arrange German classes and try to enable migrants to live an independent life in the new society they find themselves in.
What is quite important about organizations like “Cabana e. V.” is that they respond individually to the migrants and try to find suitable solutions for every single person.
Another essential point for the organization we visited is to inform citizens about migrants and their situation. And they also try to get those two groups into contact with each other. In this way they want to fight prejudices on both sides and bring forward the integration process in Dresden and Germany in general.
For this last reason, “Cabana e. V.” engaged In Am Sayad Mahmood who, as an asylum seeker was helped by the organization herself. Citizens from all kinds of backgrounds – kindergarten groups as well as youth projects and “normal”, interested people – shall be brought into contact to a migrant and muslima.
For more information about Cabana e.V. visit http://www.infozentrum-dresden.de
In the case of In Am Sayad Mahmood, several Human Rights were violated. We will list up some:
- We are all free and equal (article 1)
- No unfair detainment (article 9)
- Innocent until proven guilty (article 11)
- Right to privacy (article 12)
- Freedom to move (article 13)
- The right to own things (article 17)
- Right to work (article 23)
- The right to food and shelter (article 25)
- The right to education (article 26)
Our journey took us to Prague. In Prague we met Pavla Dobrovolna who is a social worker of the organisation for aid to refugees (Organizace na Pomoc Uprchlikum, abbreviated as “OPU”).
As the organisation’s name already implies, its mission is to help foreigners, especially refugees and other vulnerable groups such as women and children. To achieve this, OPU employs professional, experienced and friendly staff whose main goal is to provide effective help. With their offices in four cities (Prague, Brno, Ceské Budejovice and Plzen) they are able to act and offer their services all over the Czech Republic. Their projects are financed by EU programmes and local governments.
Their mission is to assist asylum seekers who request asylum in the Czech Republic due to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, as well as recognized refugees and persons under the temporary protection regime.
When migrants enter the Czech Republic they are sent to closed camps in order to ensure quarantine and provide medical care. After a period of four weeks they are transferred to an open camp. In contrast to German regulations the migrants in the Czech Republic have the legal possibility to leave those open camps, but in practice it is impossible because they cannot afford it financially.
During the first year of their stay in the Czech Republic they don’t have permission to work and receive only a small social benefit which is hardly enough to cover their basic human needs.
The decision about a migrant or asylum seeker’s permanent residence should officially be made within 90 days after they applied for it. In reality it rather takes several years.
If a migrant does not apply for permission to stay within a period of seven days after his arrival or does not have any valid documents, he will be sent to detention camp and finally expelled and deported to his/her home country.
The most severe problem foreigners face during the migration process is the language barrier. There are only few language programmes available for them, so they are neither able to understand the legal procedures they are involved in nor to demand or ask for their rights.
In addition to that, the decision-making process of the Ministry of Interior takes too long and the permanent insecurity is stressful and irksome.
Besides, there are only two open camps in the CR that are both overcrowded and generally in a miserable condition offering really poor living-conditions. These circumstances lead to frustration which again decreases the migrants’ will to make an effort to integrate.
So how are the employees of OPU trying to help the refugees?
One of their most important projects is concerned with unaccompanied children who entered the CR alone. Until they turn eighteen they live in special facilities for foreign children but afterwards they often face a lot of difficulties organizing their lives, for example finding a job or a flat. OPU offers them advice and practical help as well as psychological care. Additionally they assist their adult clients by providing specific legal and social aid, information, advice and assistance in dealing with the Czech authorities and organisations.
To raise public awareness of the migrants’ situation and problems, they also offer lectures and training sessions for students. Informing both the Czech and the European communities of the plight of asylum-seekers in the Czech Republic, fighting discrimination and promoting racial harmony are part of their aims. As Pavla Dobrovolna put it: “The majority should be open-minded and not afraid of foreigners.”
The European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy & Graz as a Human Rights City
The last stop on our journey was Graz in Austria. This city has a special role concerning our topic: It is the only European city with the official status as a “Human Rights City”.
In Graz we met Alexandra Stocker from the “European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy” and she introduced her organisation to us.
The ETC has two main fields of work: The first one is scientific research work. In this field they work together with the city’s university. The second one is educational work on human rights with civil servants and pupils.
Graz became a Human Rights City in 2001. The main point is that in such a city the government involves the question of human rights in each of their decisions.
But this only works on a voluntary basis of self-commitment.
Although there is no outside control of the decisions of the city government it works together with NGO’s and there is a special institution: the “Human Rights Advisory Council”.
It supports the government in human rights questions and consists of different members of NGO’s in Graz.
The ETC, the organization we met, also is part of the “Human Rights Advisory Council”. This council works on a “Human Rights Report for the City of Graz” each year. In the report it evaluates the situation of human rights in the city and makes recommendations concerning each human right to the government.
What we really liked about the Human Rights City idea was that human rights are involved not only at an international level (like in the United Nations or the European Union) but also on a more regional one.
The problem is that the title “Human Rights City” often is not more than a name (like the name of the “Human Rights Square” in the city who has nothing really to do with the topic) and if you ask the people in Graz today, they are not aware of the status of their city.
Therefore we think it is important that there is an awareness of what lies behind this term.
A Human Rights City should be based on human rights and the people and the city government have to cultivate it and work together.
Friday night we arrived at our final destination, Zagreb. After we got settled, Vera showed us the city and told us about monuments and buildings of Zagreb (most of the information having a Human Right background). We always had dinner together. Afterwards we either went to the cinema, to the upper town, where we listened to music or just stayed in the hostel for some relaxation.
We also had to work a lot, though. We met in a classroom in the hostel and in a dormitory to work on this presentation. It was hard and exhausting but also a lot of fun because we learnt new things. And the hard work was also worth it: We presented our project and our journey to the public at I.tehnicka škola “TESLA” in Zagreb. Sixty people came to listen and we had very nice discussions afterwards.