Anja Mihr, Ph.D., is a political scientist, consultant, senior lecturer, writer, and researcher on International Human Rights Law, Governance, Public Policy, and Transitional Justice/Transitology focusing on Eurasia. She is the founder and program director of the Center on Governance through Human Rights at the Berlin Governance Platform in Berlin (Germany) and has held various international professorships at different institutions, such as the OSCE Academy in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), the Willy-Brandt School of Public Policy at Erfurt University (Germany), and the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM), University of Utrecht (Netherlands).
In 2023, she received the International Award in Human Rights in Higher Education from the UCCHRE for establishing numerous Human Rights Education and Master Programs around the world.
She is a well-known international academic in international human rights law, and her recent publications are on governance, transitional justice, and transitology. She has been co-editor of the Book on Transformation and Development in the OSCE Region, a two-volume International Handbook of Human Rights, the European Yearbook of Human Rights, and the German Journal for Human Rights. One of her key research books is ‘Regime Consolidation and Transitional Justice in Europe: Case Studies of Germany, Spain, and Turkey’, Cambridge University Press, 2018; ‘Glocal Governance: How to Govern in the Anthropocene’, Springer Briefs in Political Sciences, 2022; and ‘Human Rights Dissemination and Human Rights Education in Central Asia’ with Springer Briefs in 2023.
BERLIN GOVERNANCE CENTER
The Berlin Governance Platform’s Center for Governance through Human Rights advises on governance and human rights issues. Transitional justice, climate justice, and cyber justice (human rights on the Internet) are key areas where the Center has much experience. The Center follows a transdisciplinary and multi-stakeholder approach, advises ministries and foundations, and organizes and moderates events between business, politics, academia, and civil society.
Combine human rights and governance. The Center focuses on forging a strong link between human rights and governance in all areas of its work and on better governance through human rights, not human rights. Human rights can be focused on all areas of work and decision-making, whether in the context of freedom of expression on the Internet, minority rights in transitional justice, freedoms of assembly in cyberspace, or women’s rights in climate justice. This connection makes the Center unique, and the unique combination of its transdisciplinary policy tools, relevant research, and capacity development sets it apart from other centers. The Center’s fellows work on cutting-edge policy issues in governance, answering questions about how to govern successfully in and through human rights in specific areas.
Global, not regional. The Center’s work is not restricted; it is global. The Center works in multiple languages where there is a need for better governance in and through human rights. The Center does not limit its advisory services to a single sector. For example, we work at the request of multinational companies, EU institutions in Brussels, a United Nations Internet Governance Forum, or a civil society organization in Bangladesh and Colombia.
Human rights make headlines every day. However, their observance and implementation still face significant challenges at all levels. Whether rampant violence, abuse and trafficking of women, ethnic cleansing, cybercrime, climate change, exploitation of immigrants, or repression of civil society, the wave of human rights violations has given rise to a new public debate on human rights and its control through good Governance. Therefore, the Center aims to explore how human rights can be better and more effectively applied and respected in the future in politics, business, education, or everyday interactions.
Better Governance in public and private organizations can only be achieved if both good Governance and human rights are anchored in decision-making processes as criteria by international law and human rights, and if the two principles are intertwined. They complement each other. In times of globalization, digitalization, and open borders, nation-states can no longer remain the sole guarantors of human rights. Companies, civil society, international organizations, and transnational networks are as obliged to respect and promote human rights as state institutions.
The work of networks, organizations, and institutions must be continuously monitored, analyzed, and supported at the local, national, regional, and global levels. Only in this way can the level of human rights and Governance be made visible and compliance with human rights guaranteed. At a global level, business, academic, and political institutions have committed to this task through international agreements. They monitor, measure, and analyze both the quality of Governance of the respective actors and institutions and the work of governments in the field of Governance.
The Center provides education, training, and practical Governance and human rights support. The Center also includes an international research network that conducts reliable and application-oriented studies.
Studies and policy briefs
The Center focuses on the reciprocal relationship between Governance and human rights. Perspectives from different disciplines are included, such as social sciences, law, economics, or philosophy, as well as from the private, civil, and public sectors. Therefore, the Center’s studies always encompass transdisciplinary knowledge and experiences from academia and practitioners.
The Center provides consulting services to governments, organized civil societies and networks, and businesses worldwide. It brings together the expertise of policy advisors, academics, and other experts with many years of experience in their respective fields, e.g., campaigns, advocacy, research in Governance, and human rights.
The training and education programs offered by the Center combine principles of Good Governance and human rights to promote sustainable decision-making and policy formulation. They mainly aim at students, diplomats, NGOs, decision-makers, and business representatives. They are based on best practice examples and are particularly important for regions undergoing social transformation.
Analysis of the situation
Today’s borders are liquid, non-state actors undermine the nation, and cities rapidly transform. However, if we continue as we currently do, its sustainable development becomes unfeasible. On the one hand, the presence of some challenges, whether related to climate change, natural disasters, the depletion of natural resources, or security, among others, generates constant concern for us. On the other hand, some others, such as challenges related to security, immigration, pollution, cybersecurity, automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence (to name a few) are already surpassing us all, since these challenges cannot be faced if not from a global strategic approach.
The political regimes, no matter how democratic or authoritarian, and the structures of the current economic, social, and political model are far behind technological development. The increasing social dimension of poverty, the need to incorporate broader innovation systems that include other actors to the traditional unit of analysis, the fragmentation of knowledge systems, and the need to modernize many institutions of all types led to a change—paradigm, and model of society.
There is a global quest for a Third Way of Governance: Glocal GovernanceAnja Mihr
Anja Mihr argues that we see the rise of locally organized governing bodies around the world, based on multi-stakeholder principles, that overtake national governmental tasks of problem-solving and public policies. These locally organized groups of citizens, businesses, and experts apply global principles, norms, and standards in their work and solve local issues. Hence, they bypass centralistic and national governments and establish a Glocal Governance regime. Bearing that most countries govern in an authoritarian, ineffective, and dysfunctional manner, glocal governance is a timely and necessary response to this trend, not a deliberate choice of city counselors, local businessmen, hospital directors, or school teachers. It is their way of keeping societies going and communities striving.
She defends that the Nation-state and governments become redundant, even in the few remaining democratic societies, central governments decentralize power, and establish citizen councils and assemblies to respond to the global trend to allow more active participation of locals – also thanks to the Internet and social media. Elections have turned into a game show among corrupt and dysfunctional elites backed by organized crime and clans, and in democracies, they more and more depend on financial resources and the control of social media accounts. Hence, the local and private have replaced the national, and the global might replace the standard and law-setting function of the state. The challenge of these power shifts from the national to the global and the local simultaneously is the following: Who will de facto control and enforce commonly or internationally agreed norms, standards, rules, and laws if the nation-state is absent or dysfunctional?
1. Do you believe many global challenges can only be addressed through a global strategic approach?
– The answer is glocal. Global and international organizations and institutions respond to migration, climate change, and artificial intelligence (AI) challenges by setting international standards to resolve problems, for example, by treaties or human rights norms, and the local level and actors implement and enforce them. Thus, it takes both levels to respond to these challenges most effectively. It is a combination of local and global, namely setting and agreeing on norms among international actors, such as human rights treaties by the UN, taxation and trade standards set by the WTO or G20, or for example, global health standards during the Covid-pandemic set by the WhO, or the global UN Migration Pact or the UNFCC for norms related to Climate Change, and then implementing them at the local level, namely where migrants arrive or depart from, on the city level.
The significant challenges we face often need a direct and simple solution. Many interests are at stake, and not all economic and social agents and institutional Governance have the same interest in solving our current problems when power games come in. On the local level, the contact among people is more direct, and albeit there is no governing without power or political parties’ games, these are less dominant when, for example, there are floods after heavy rain, droughts, local schools lack teachers, companies and business need a functioning infrastructure to provide work and food to the people, etc. Locally, city counselors fight over issues, less over ideologies and faith.
2. Are the current institutional and spatial forms of multi-level governments in many European and world countries appropriate to address our complex challenges effectively?
– The UN regimes and their different agencies and sub-organizations remain the dominant entities and institutions with access to all the actors involved in the ‘New Glocal Reality’, as I illustrate in my book on Glocal Governance in 2022. The UN bodies are still the main global standards setters for human rights, health, education, migration, and food security, hence the fundamental matters for all of us. They also are setting standards for the law of the sea or in outer space, artificial intelligence, or climate change, and hence have a direct impact on our quality of life. Regarding decision-making, the UN, overall the main body in New York, lacks substantial reforms that would make the UN a more relevant and influential actor in the 21st century. The UN Security Council and many other state and government-based decision-making bodies no longer represent the new citizen-driven decision-making systems and will become redundant. Hence, the UN Future Forum in 2024, aims to respond to the need for change, and it remains open whether these meetings will lead to any of the reforms much needed.
The European Union is indeed an exciting regional player with a global outreach; it has undergone dramatic reforms over the past decade, becoming more citizen-orientated, shifting Powers to the European Parliament, introducing local governance regimes, and becoming more responsive to global threats, including the climate, migration, and security crises and wars on the Eurasian continent. It could be better, by far, but up to now, it is the only functioning supranational body in the world that has adapted and been able to reform itself towards the needs of the new global reality, for example, with the Green Deal announced in 2018, and the Global Gateway Initiative (GGI) in 2019. Remember that other regional organizations, such as Mercosur or ASEAN, are much less prone to reform and wait and watch what the EU is doing and then copy EU standards and policies (after they were tested) and adapt them to their own. Hence, watching how the EU responds to the New Glocal Reality remains fascinating, and I see more progress than retreat.
3. Is it necessary to experiment with new forms of Institutional Governance to find a balance between it and constantly evolving technology, which simultaneously earns citizens’ trust?
– Certain modes of Governance, whether autocratic or democratic, are not carved in stone. If they do not or are unable to adapt and change to global crises, the regime will not survive. Most regimes, no matter the ideology, collapse from the inside if they cannot respond to citizens’ needs or claims.
There are many forms of democratic Governance; some are more presidential and centralistic, others more parliamentarian and decentralized, including direct democracy, and then we have very successful constitutional monarchies. However, whether democracy is thriving depends on how that system respects and implements global standards in areas such as Good Governance, human rights, and climate change and how it adapts to the needs of the citizen to engage them in problem-solving and gain their trust. In the Anthropocene and the era of AI, democracies are better equipped to adapt to these dramatic changes by allowing citizens to engage and participate, using technology to support that, making the necessary reforms, and modernizing, bearing in mind the challenging task that we all have to keep AI under control.
Since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created in 1948 as an ideal for all peoples and nations, substantial advances in its development and global reach have occurred. However, there is a long way to go regarding its implementation and enforcement. Governing systems that respect human rights and foster their compliance and implementation will be more successful in establishing an equal society that offers opportunities to all people, regardless of their background and class, than systems that do not respect human rights and instead propagate ideology or religions over human entitlements.
4. Why do you think such fundamental principles as those of the Declaration of Human Rights are so challenging to implement in many countries?
– This new world is more local and private than ever, people live in a very local environment and a virtual space that is personalized in echo chambers and social media bubbles that define people’s identities. Human rights respond to individual identities, expressing mutual respect and ways of interacting personally. In a recent chapter on Global Human Rights, I highlighted that it is not only knowing about human rights but also using them as guidelines in our day-to-day reality when dealing with family, friends, colleagues, or superiors. Hence, the community has the best chances to prosper – no matter where you live. That is appealing. It is the new liquid world, and territorial and virtual borders are becoming more and more redundant. But the main question remains, namely, how to govern that liquid space?
In our new MA Programme for Human Rights and Sustainability (MAHRS) for Central Asia at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) we follow that approach to human rights being general guidelines and tools for everyone to aim at sustainable development for the whole community individually. Hence, we strengthen the idea of global governance being a third way to govern if the Nation-State and corrupt and dysfunctional governments fail to keep their constitutional promises.
Regarding the difficulty of implementing fundamental principles in some countries, one reason is the existence of political systems and governments that see human rights as a threat to their power and level of control over citizens. The more dysfunctional governments lose control over their citizens, the harder they fight against and violate human rights. This is a paradox and often expressed by ‘Anti-Western Sentiments’. It is easy to blame the West or what it stands for, such as the EU or UN as principal global standard setters, for all the wrongdoings and problems in the world. But in fact, these authoritarian governments cannot respond to citizens’ needs and claims, providing equal opportunities for their Youth, and fair access to education, health, and other public services, which many governments fail to deliver because of their lack of resources, clientelism, nationalism or other forms of exclusive ways of governing. Not surprisingly, by not responding to climate change, they become dysfunctional, which, in the end, leads to poverty and domestic migration movements that can lead to conflicts and wars, as we have seen in Syria since 2012, as well as in other countries. Subsequently, this deadly spiral concludes in massive migration and exodus worldwide. The root causes for poverty, conflict, and migration are always the same, namely dysfunctional, corrupt governments and failed Nation-States.
The global trend of backsliding democracy, as yearly published by v-dem continues. I believe we are just at the beginning of a Global meltdown of frozen conflicts, such as we have seen since the Pandemic in the Caucasus Ukraine, Israel, Myanmar, Caucasus Iran, Nicaragua, Mali, and China (to mention but a few) that will accelerate the rise of autocratic regimes over the next decade. Persecution, discrimination, ethnic cleansing, expulsion, and even terrifying genocidal acts are the consequences, and sadly enough, illustrate that these countries and their systems have not been able to resolve conflicts deliberately by including citizen in their conflict resolution, instead of governing over them.
The Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) publishes annual reports on the Global State of democracies in the world, pointing out the strong continuation of these negative trends with setbacks in representation and rights. However, they also recognize the contrary if citizens are more included, and present a form of global governance that decreases corruption through high citizen participation is present.
5. What are the main activities at your Center on Governance through Human Rights in Berlin?
– The presence of the Center’s activity lies in the principle that Good Governance on any level, whether local, national, or global, is best achieved by adhering to human rights standards. Governance through Human Rights means, for example, governing and providing adequate housing to all people, equal distribution of resources, or right to participation by understanding and adhering to global social economic, and political human rights. Good governance practices such as Transparency, Accountability, and Participation allow human rights norms and standards to be best disseminated and safeguarded.
But of course, institutional mechanisms to materialize this are needed, such as independent courts or parliamentarian systems and a vivid and free civil society. Accountability is infringed if the judiciary in a country is restricted because judges are religiously blinded or politically biased, bribed, blackmailed, or depend on a president’s will. Thus, the right to a fair trial is violated. People will need more trust in a biased judiciary.
This is where we aim to make a difference with the Center’s work, mostly in political consultancy, public talks, publications, and teaching.
In some of my publications, I highlight these aspects of Cyber and Climate Justice, governance, or Transitional Justice. In Glocal Governance (2022), I develop an analytical framework to evaluate how local actors and institutions implement global and international norms to govern more effectively without the interference of state authorities or governments.
6. Please tell us some actions directed by your Center to improve human rights in development policies.
– The most recent work is on ‘Transitology: pathways to and from democracy‘. There is a MOOC available at the Global Campus of Human Rights, which describes the actual need for a debate on transitology countries that decline in terms of democracy or those who struggle to maintain their democratic standards. The concept of transitology was curbed in 1970 by the sociologist Dankwart Rustow and currently enjoys a revival. We are living in a period where we see failed statehood and rapid decline after dramatic democratic and governance reforms in the 1990s all over the world, such as in Turkey or Russia, and even China for that matter. Around 2010, they started to backslide and even turned back into entirely autocratic regimes. The failure of the Arab Spring in 2011 is another example of an unsuccessful attempt at democratic regime change. The last country that failed to keep minimum standards of democracy and human rights was Tunisia in 2022. Ukraine, instead, which did not want to follow that path and started fighting anti-democratic trends, is currently paying the highest price that a country and its citizens can pay for their strive for democracy, namely the war with Russia since 2022.
7. You currently work on transitology and promote the concept of a successful transition from autocracy to democracy and all that can go wrong or is suitable to do. What are the pitfalls, stages, and steps for a successful transition?
– One of the empirical research that we can add today to transitology is to have a thorough transitional justice process and education reforms after regimes change, in addition to democratic institution building. I illustrated this correlation between Democracy and the Transitional Justice process in a chapter on Transitional Justice in Ukraine in 2023. Successful transition out to be accompanied by a nonpartisan political and human rights education system aiming, as described in my chapter on Human Rights Education in Central Asia in 2022. It is important to raise awareness and empower people to strengthen their conflict resolution capacities.
It is never up to an external power, force, or strong man to do it. In addition to the classical criteria of democratic consolidation of institutions such as media, civil society, legislative, executive, and judicial ones, the likelihood of successful transition or consolidation of democratic systems is high, if the wrongdoings of the past are dealt with by applying international human rights standards such as humanitarian and criminal law, and introduce a resilient vetting and lustration process that is also reflected in the public debates. I described this in my book on Regime Consolidation and Transitional Justice in Europe in 2019, focusing on the case studies in Germany, Turkey, and Spain in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Apart from the classical criteria of successful transition and transitology that we know from Rustow, Huntington, Przeworski, or Linz and Stepan, the fact that Transitional Justice and Human Rights Education contribute to successful democratic transition comes through the empowerment of civil society, the strict separation and independence of powers, secularization, and promoting anti-patriarchal reforms… often seen in promoting women in leadership, etc. However, reforming patriarchal power structures is more than simply empowering women to take leadership positions and introducing quotas for female citizens or members of minority groups or diverse gender participation. It also empowers men to see their vital roles differently in an equal society. Both sides, namely those that believed to be privileged by birth or excluded and suppressed based on their gender, ought to see the benefits of reaching an equal society through regime change. Only if there is a general agreement that these ‘fundamental matters of inequalities’ need to end and be changed, as Rustow called it, will a transition toward democracy be successful. Identifying these inequalities that are often manifested in patriarchal structures and cultures, and assessing the system behind them as a threat to the development of today’s and future generations can only be done if people have a basic understanding of the UDHR and the political system. Otherwise, they will not see a reason for system and regime change, even though they are dissatisfied with the present situation.
Collective Intelligence and Empowerment of Civil Society
When finding solutions to problems related to current challenges, on many occasions, the sum of knowledge from the triangle of knowledge and Institutional Governance needs to be improved. For many challenges, it is essential to unite the entire global community by implementing a systemic approach, where parts and wholes, innovation, and collaboration are fundamental. Collective intelligence is a form of intelligence that arises from the cooperation of several individuals or communities to address a common problem.
8. Are you confident that collective intelligence can effectively contribute to a development process that combines the protection of human rights and Governance?
– An active and free civil or citizen society makes a difference between authoritarian and democratic regimes. Next to governmental institutions, it can be understood as the “third sector” of society, distinct from government and business, and including the family and the private sphere. It is a space of organized social life that is voluntary and independent, autonomous from the State, and limited by a legal order or rules. The devastating effects occurring throughout the planet, whether as a consequence of the environmental, ecological, energy… and global security challenges, make it necessary to empower civil society as a mechanism to shift the powers of States to the local and global level worldwide.
We have to realize and be aware that future generations do not have to pay for the bad practices and erroneous behaviors carried out by us, which is leading to nothing more or less than our destruction as a civilization, without us being capable of raising their voices with determination and effectiveness to redirect the situation around the world.
The discussion about the rights of future generations is familiar. Still, in light of climate change and AI, as illustrated in work on Glocal Governance and in my book on Cyber Governance in 2014, we need to look at who controls de facto, not only de jure, and hence govern the consequences of climate change and AI. That is, in fact, not governments alone, but rather a multi-stakeholder mix of governmental authorities, businesses, entrepreneurs, civil society, and scientists that have a significant impact on future generations than on ourselves at present times. Most national governments have yet to consider it and include other stakeholders in their decision-making process rather than being controlled and pushed by them.
Over the past six years, I have lived and worked in Central Asia, with Afghanistan to the south, China to the East, and Russia to the North. These countries’ governments are not only hostile to human rights and democracy, but also to people who do not share their belief systems. It is a challenge to promote individual empowerment and citizen participation in these environments, and overall it is a toxic mix when dysfunctional post-soviet bureaucracy is paired with a new (albeit not novel) belief system such as the political Islam in the region. I admire the people there who aim to fight against these trends and instead believe in glocal governance. Our teaching and training can only be an offer to them to acquire an understanding of transitology, but more importantly, believing in them that they can change their societies if they want to, is the main contribution we can make.
Governments in most of the Eurasian continent are authoritarian and only busy with upholding their powers. Citizens feel left behind and migrate either abroad or inside their own families. Hence, their so-called ‘family values’ almost become a proxy belief system. Future generations are not of concern for these governments, and patriarchal structures enjoy strong revivals, based on group and family loyalties and suppression. The future is an abstract distance.
But what is more worrisome is that these governments expect international organizations to resolve problems of climate change or AI and need to do more to face their impact on their own countries locally. Citizens are literally left alone facing these crises. In Eurasia, the big players are China and Russia, and some even expect Turkey and India to resolve their problems. However, those are far from being democratic, and their conflict resolution policies are based on violence, force, and propaganda. Hence, in addition to their inability to face reality, they hope other countries, sometimes even more autocratic than their own, resolve the issue. The trust in patriarchal hegemony reminds us of antique ways of making politics. Still, unfortunately, we see a revival, too, in the West when we hear about the debate on ‘Old White Men’ and their fightback towards feminism or gender diversity. Hence, de facto, only a small number of states in the world, overall in Europe, address the issue of future generations. But Europe, let alone the EU, only represents a small fraction of the world population and states, and hence, its influence and power for change should not be overburdened with expectations.
I believe we all should send a more vital message to everyone on the planet that in the era of the Anthropocene and AI, it is our citizen’s responsibility (also thanks to the Information Technology and Internet) to glocally participate and build the system that we want and not wait for others to fix it for us.