The variety of perspectives and experiences suggested that not all is well with regard to the promotion and protection of human rights. Xenophobia, homophobia, religiously motivated violence and violation of principle rights (victimising mainly women, but also migrants, refugees, and other minorities) remain a challenge. Indigenous people and other communities with a particular, non-mainstream identity, face continued harassment, prosecution and attacks. Human rights activists are often regarded as unpatriotic ‘traitors’ or ‘dissidents’ by the authoritarian regimes they dare to challenge. They are discredited and prosecuted when challenging undemocratic governance and advocating a rule of law, while those holding power define and apply a law of the rulers. Racially, religiously and culturally based sentiments thrive, and the effects of the global economic crises not only result in a decline of living standards but also in a growth of aggression towards migrants, refugees, immigrants and other minority communities considered as competition on the labor market. At the same time, almost as a fatal complementing tendency, the austerity measures in the EU and elsewhere impact negatively on NGO support and limit even more the interaction and engagement of the kind this EU-NGO Forum represented.
As contributions stressed, the old patterns and stereotypes of racist discrimination have since the turn of the century been replaced by other forms of stereotyping and discrimination, often involving a security discourse in the “war against terror”. References to culture and religion as well as the claims to be entitled to the individual freedom of expression as integral and substantial part of democracy in a liberal society, are furthermore increasingly used as arguments to justify the expression of sentiments to ‘otherness’ and to water down the search for universal, common denominators of humanity and human rights. This popular claim to one’s own legitimate opinion intends to justify all sorts of humiliating and offending statements with regard to the identity, dignity and pride of others and disrespects the right to be different.
Ironically, while the universality of human rights remains contested by at times very different governments and their ideologies, the forms of autocratic rule by repressive dictatorial regimes seem to share some universal kind of interventions. These are applied as common instruments for oppression and elimination of human rights activism beyond any cultural or religious differences. This often includes narrow restrictions for local organisations to accept external funding (if at all), which if received, allows banning them as declared foreign agencies for regime change. Following the same logic, human rights activists are often ridiculed and accused of being foreign agents in the service of other powers seeking to undermine and overthrow a legitimate order or accused of terrorism and conspiracy. The prosecution of these activists turns increasingly into physically violent forms, including imprisonment and assassinations. Other forms of control include rigid media laws and, for that matter, restrictions limiting research to prevent the exploration and subsequent documentation of social realities through tough legal interventions.
But – similarly ironical – if justice systems, transparency and public accountability do not work for advocates of human rights, they also do not work for businesses and their commercial interests. Hence anti-democratic, autocratic regimes risk being isolated from international economic collaboration too, if potential investors have reasons to doubt that the rule of law is anything but reliable as a point of reference. The irony remains, that regimes claiming to be unique in their cultural traditions, historical common goods and religion from other (often denounced as Western notions of ) human rights, share some universality in their ways of seeking to eliminate the proponents of these rights. In their efforts to stay in power, they behave despite all claimed differences like a universally like-minded collection of despots.