Human Rights

No Development without Human Rights

Almost all countries in the world have committed themselves to universal human rights, but only very few fully protect the rights of their population. Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World) and its partner organisations work towards the worldwide fulfilment of human rights.

Born Equal in Rights

In reaction to the horrors of the Second World War with up to 70 million deaths, the world community adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The declaration is based on the principle of universality and makes clear that all human beings have the same rights to ensure that the barbarism of the Second World War does not occur again. Since then, the United Nations have adopted nine human rights conventions that have been ratified by up to 193 states. Despite these efforts, violations of human rights are still widespread.

„All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.“

Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948

Who is affected by human rights violations?

Human rights violations can happen to anyone: small-scale farmers, owners of houses or land, workers or activists. Particularly affected are persons in vulnerable situations – like refugees – or persons who belong to marginalised and poor communities.

Often, human rights violations are linked to business activities. This is the case when local communities are displaced because a company opens a mine site, plantation or a dam on their land, or if industrial waste and toxic pesticides are contaminating their soil and water resources.

Industrialised countries contribute to this situation to a significant extent. In many cases, the companies which invest in development countries and exploit the local resources and workers have their headquarters in Germany or other European countries. Many of our everyday items – textiles, foodstuffs, cell phones and laptops – are produced under conditions that constitute human rights violations. For those affected it is very difficult to raise their voices and obtain justice.

Shrinking Space for Civil Society

Throughout the world, civic engagement is linked to ever-higher levels of risk. Activists, employees and volunteers working for associations, NGOs and social movements are increasingly being threatened, arrested and even murdered. In addition, their organisations face systematic restrictions on their ability to conduct their work. They may have their registrations or licenses withdrawn or simply be outlawed. In fact, more and more countries are establishing laws or adapting existing legal frameworks to make civic engagement almost impossible. Today, only four per cent of the world population live in countries where they can fully enjoy their civic freedoms. Countries which silence independent voices and massively violate people’s freedom of opinion, assembly and association, typically face grave difficulties in terms of their political, economic and social development.

What needs to be done?

A vibrant democracy that aims to fight poverty and to secure human rights needs a strong, independent civil society. It is involved in and critically accompanies democracy in the country. This is the only way of ensuring that poor and vulnerable people can gain a voice and that the fruits of development and economic growth reach them instead of merely benefiting the privileged.

In order to be strong and resist Shrinking Space civil societies need to form networks of solidarity. Governments, especially those of powerful states like Germany, need to speak up against the repression of civil society and show the harmful effects of this trend on international level. Germany also needs to lead by example by paying particular attention to civil society engagement, to the defence of a world order that puts human rights before business interests and to the respect of international institutions such as the United Nations (UN) and its organs. Thereby, the German government needs to do more than rely on businesses to voluntarily choose to respect human rights and the environment in the countries, where they operate.

What we need is a world order that is determined by binding regulations with which everyone must comply. Moreover, when such laws are ignored or undermined, people need the opportunity to voice concerns, peacefully protest and defend themselves in the courts.

What Brot für die Welt Does

We stand by NGOs in the Global South when state or non-state actors violate human rights. Together with our partner organisations from more than 80 countries worldwide we document human rights violations and the shrinking space for civil society engagement.

We organise regional consultations to enable affected organisations to share experiences and develop common counter-strategies. We use the mechanisms of the UN Human Rights Council to garner international attention for human rights violations and the repression of civic freedoms. And we fund trips made by partners for lobby and advocacy work before the UN bodies in Geneva or the EU institutions in Brussels.

We help to protect human rights defenders through security trainings, urgent actions, the organisation of diplomatic support and an emergency fund that we use to cover legal aid, secure escort as well as medical and psychological care. We campaign for the rights of migrants and refugees around the world and demand that they receive protection during their flight.

We involve ourselves in politics in our own country and on the EU-level and bring the issues of our partner organisations to attention. And we demand from the German government and the EU that they pursue policies consistent with their human rights obligations. This includes the support of processes, for example a binding treaty on business and human rights, that seek to establish mandatory human rights standards for global business enterprises.


Civil Society Atlas 2023

Civil society actors have an alarmingly small amount of room for manoeuvre worldwide. Only three percent of the world's population live in countries with open civil societies, while more than two thirds live in authoritarian states or dictatorships. Our report shows the situation worldwide and how people working on behalf of refugees are coming under increasing pressure.

Analysis 105: Digitalisation and Civic Space

Digitalisation is an important building block for sustainable development; provided that barriers to access are removed and human rights are respected. Because of its global importance, in its fourth edition, this analysis focuses on chances but also on challenges of digitalisation for civil society.

Toward global Regulation on Human Rights and Business.

Position paper of the Treaty Alliance Germany on the UN treaty process on transnational corporations and other business enterprises. [514 kB]

Removing Barriers to Justice

How a treaty on business and human rights could improve access to remedy for victims. [571 kB]

Analysis 64: The Weakest Should not Bear the Risk

Following the financial and food crisis in 2008 the phenomenon of land grabbing through large-scale investments in land leading to forcible displacement of rural population, increasing their food insecurity and disregarding Human Rights became a hot topic on the global agenda. The most important question is which sort and form of investment is needed and by whom? [3.1 MB]

Analysis 75: Platinum for the World Market, Iron Shacks for the Workers

In 2012 the miners of a South African platinum mine in Marikana went on strike for higher wages and better living conditions. The strike was brutally dissolved by the local police, 35 workers were shot and 78 injured. Till this day, little has improved for the Marikana miners. The work in the mine is hard and dangerous. The miners live with their families in tin huts without electricity, running water and sewage water system as well as without protection from the pollution caused by mining. The study illustrates the negative effects of platinum mining in South Africa and points to the responsibility of German companies. [5.6 MB]

Analysis 70: Victims bring a Dictator to Justice

On May 30, 2016, a special court in Senegal convicted the exiled former dictator of Chad Hissène Habré of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture, including rape and sexual slavery. It was the first time ever that a head of state had been prosecuted in the courts of another country. The case was widely hailed as a milestone for justice in Africa. The Habré case shows that it is possible for a coalition of victims and NGOs, with tenacity and imagination, to create the conditions for a successful universal jurisdiction prosecution, even against a former head of state. This paper by Reed Brody seeks to highlight some of the lessons of the Habré campaign, in the hopes that it can assist others who are organizing to bring their tormentors to book. [2.5 MB]

Global Justice 4.0

The digital economy and e-commerce often inspire great hopes for the Global South. But unless it is regulated, digitalisation runs the risk of amplifying the existing inequality within countries and between the Global South and the Global North. This publication discusses the extent to which digital technology can help tackle poverty and social inequality and concludes with a list of nine ideas that would help make digitalisation fair. [0.8 MB]