What Price Human Rights?

In democratic societies, there exists a fundamental consensus about the importance of human rights and adherence to human rights standards. This consensus, however, begins to falter when specific human rights are found to be in an apparent or genuine conflict with other important human sights, such as security, prosperity or the majority principle in a democracy.

The upcoming 5th international Václav Havel Human Rights Prize Conference, which is awarded by the Václav Havel Library in Prague together with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Charta 77 Foundation aims to discuss these conflicts and their resolution. Its three panels dedicated to human rights and security, human rights and prosperity, and human rights and democracy will offer the floor to leading Czech and international experts, activists and politicians. 

International conference in honour of the laureate of the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize 2017

Prague, 11 October 2017 Prague Crossroads  

9.30 Conference Opening Michael Žantovský

  • Michael Žantovský, executive director, Vaclav Havel Library (Czech Republic)

9.40–10.30 Interview with The Václav Havel Human Rights Prize finalists

  • Chairman: Michael Žantovský, executive director, Vaclav Havel Library (Czech Republic)

  • Panelists: Murat Arslan, Judge, President of the Association for the Union of Judges and Prosecutors, in detention since 2016 (Turkey), represented by Christophe Régnard (France), President of the International Association of Judges Hungarian Helsinki Committee (Hungary) Nongovernmental human rights organisation represented by Balázs Tóth, Lawyer, Head of the Law Enforcement and Human Rights Program (Hungary), Georg Sporschill, SJ, Jezuit who has devoted his life to the care of the most vulnerable, notably children (Austria)

10.30–11.00 Keynote Speech by Irwin Cotler

  • Irwin Cotler, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, human rights activist (Canada)

11.15–12.30 Panel I Human Rights and Security

Most Western countries adopt legal and administrative measures in the face of a series of terrorist attacks against civilian targets. What is the appropriate balance between the legitimate goal of protecting the civilian population and the preservation of liberties and rights that are at the core of liberal democracy?

  • Chairman: Tomáš Pojar, Vice President for International Relations of the Prague-based CEVRO Institute (Czech Republic)

  • Panelists: Eva Romancovová, Head of the Strategic Project Operations Section at the Department of Security Policy of the Czech Ministry of the Interior (Czech Republic) Joshua Muravchik, Writer and Specialist on U. S. Foreign Policy, Distinguished Fellow at the World Affairs Institute (USA)

13.30–14.45 Panel II Human Rights and Prosperity

Many Western business people and politicians are reluctant to raise the issues of human rights with governments and business partners abroad, and/or to apply or observe sanctions against those who violate human rights. Does an open debate about human rights represent a net cost to economic interests, or can it contribute to prosperity as well?

  • Chairman: Martin Veselovský, Journalist and Editor, DVTV (Czech Republic)

  • Panelists: Olga Lomová, Sinologist, Head of the Far East Institute at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University Prague (Czech Republic) Grigory Pasko, Director, Community of Investigative Journalists – Fond 19/29. Journalist, writer, film-maker, ecologist and human rights activist (Russia) Jiří Šitler, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Sweden, Diplomat and Historian (Czech Republic)

15.00–16.30 Panel III Human Rights and Democracy

The protection of basic and universal human rights is one of the tenets of a liberal democratic system. To what extent can human rights be ignored, neglected or constrained without corrupting the core of the democratic system? On the other hand, how far can the concept of human rights be expanded without starting to interfere with the democratic process?

  • Chairman: Martin Palouš, university professor and former politican and diplomat (Czech Republic)

  • Panelists: Annie Yang, formal political prisoner in China (China) David Eubank, Founder and Director of Free Burma Rangers (USA / Burma / Iraq), former major of the US Army Rangers (Thailand / Usa) Roland Oliphant, Senior foreign correspondent at the Daily Telegraph, covers Rusia, Ukraine, Crimea, Myanmar, Bangladesh (United Kingdom)

16.30 Closing remarks Karel Schwarzenberg

  • Karel Schwarzenberg, politican, former President of International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (Czech Republic)

Letters to Olga – essays written in prison, letter

„Once you’re here, however, whether you want to or not, you have to ask the question: does all of this have a meaning, and if so, what?… Ultimately, I can only find an answer – a positive answer – within myself, in my general faith in the meaning of things, in my hope. What, in fact, is man responsible to? What does he relate to? What is the final horizon of his actions, the absolute vanishing point of everything he does, the undeceivable “memory of Being”, the conscience of the world and the final “court of appeal”? What is the decisive standard of measurement, the background or the field of each of his existential experiences? And likewise, what is the most important witness or the secret sharer in his daily conversations with himself, the thing that – regardless of what situation he has been thrown into – he incessantly inquires after, depends upon, and toward which his actions are directed, the thing that, in its omniscience and incorruptibility, both haunts and saves him, the only thing he can trust in and strive for? “

Václav Havel:
Letters to Olga – essays written in prison, letter, August 7, 1980

Václav Havel’s Prague