*A commission of inquiry is a comittee of the German Bundestag that consists of members of all parliamentary groups as well as external experts and deals with a specific topic or a controversial issue. It is convened if at least a quarter of all members of the Bundestag demand it. Its members work intensively on complex issues and prepare a consensus-oriented final report. This serves as a point of reference for the members of the Bundestag, makes recommendations and prepares legislative decisions. The work of an commission of inquiry can take several years.
146 recipients of the Federal Cross of Merit are demanding that a commission of inquiry* be established to investigate causes of displacement. What motivated you, personally, to join in the call for such a commission?
As president of the Protestant relief organization Brot für die Welt and of Aid for Victims of Catastrophes under the aegis of the Protestant charitable institution Diakonie, I have been confronted by the experiences of human displacement and flight for some years now. Having often visited places where refugees sought shelter, I have had the opportunity to talk to many of the displaced. The plight of people who have embarked upon such an exodus sometimes appears unbearable. It is very important to meet and communicate with them. Such exchanges help us understand that the reasons for displacement and flight are complex and quite varied, and that we in Germany need to find better ways to deal with the issue of the causes of displacement.
Flight always involves escape from degrading and violent life-situations that seem unlikely to end in the foreseeable future. A commission of inquiry is on the agenda not least because so many more people have fled their homes in recent years. We need it in order to understand better how wars and violent conflicts arise and how we can help nip them in the bud or de-escalate them. Furthermore, political decision-makers should focus with a greater sense of urgency on human rights violations and sudden or creeping environmental change as causes of flight and displacement. The commission of inquiry should help sharpen the focus here as well.
Who should be asked to participate in the commission?
The commission of inquiry should call on expertise from many different spheres. Besides enlisting the participation of members of parliament and scholars (peace researchers, development sociologists), we should include experts with experience in the regions where displacement and flight are happening. Thus, we should invite representatives of humanitarian and development organizations and civil society groups, as well as—ideally—the refugees themselves and representatives of diaspora organizations. The odd feature of commissions of inquiry is that half of their members must be parliamentary deputies and the other half scholars and specialists.
The coalition agreement between the CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party indicates interest in setting up such a commission, but unfortunately it does not specify its nature and function. It merely states in very general terms that a “commission on the causes of displacement” is to be set up “in the German Bundestag”. We attach a great deal of importance to the principle that it should be a commission of inquiry in the sense of Paragraph 56 of the Bundestag’s internal rules of procedure.
In your appeal you say “The commission should investigate how Germany is contributing to the causes of displacement and flight all over the world.” What kind of causes do you have in mind here?
Certainly, Germany is in no position to remedy the causes of flight all over the world. But poverty and violent conflicts are often more or less directly linked to politics in our country or the EU, our lifestyle, and our consumption patterns here in Germany. It is important to shine a spotlight on the fact that Germany, the world’s third-largest arms exporter, to some extent may be exacerbating such conflicts. The commission of inquiry also should investigate whether and to what degree an unambitious German climate policy may be making life more difficult or even impossible in other places. Another example would be the generous subsidies lavished on agricultural products that enable Germany to export them to developing countries for extremely cheap prices. There, locally produced commodities frequently can’t compete with imports. Local markets are destroyed, while jobs and opportunities to earn income are lost. The commission of inquiry must discuss those kinds of issues with an eye to finding solutions.
You are demanding that we fathom “the causes of displacement rather than combating refugees!” To what extent should that comment be understood as a criticism of the previous approach to combating the causes of displacement?
Europe’s refugee and migration policies should no longer simply acquiesce in the fact that every year thousands of people die or suffer brutal violence on Europe’s external frontiers. At this time, under the label of “combating the causes of displacement,” borders are being reinforced and those seeking protection are literally being prevented from fleeing. Shifting European border controls into developing countries that lack the standard guarantees under the rule of law increases the risk that asylum seekers and migrants will be mistreated or subject to arbitrary proceedings. So it is important to strengthen the role of civil society organizations committed to supporting human rights and migrants in transit countries and countries of origin. They are needed to monitor the effects of European migration policy. Development aid should not be misused as a way of outsourcing border controls nor should it be attached to conditions that are definitely incompatible with the goals of sustainable development. Rather than using development funds as means to coerce other countries into being willing accomplices in migration controls, we should be supporting aspects of migration that promote development. At the same time, we ought to arrange economic, financial and trade policies such that they protect the economic foundations of people’s livelihoods rather than undermining them.
The commission is supposed to recommend measures and initiate legislation consistent with Germany’s responsibilities. What might such measures and laws look like?
We could imagine measures for quite a few different areas. Our arms export policies should be more restrictive and we should take binding, sustainable steps to protect the climate. In addition, the National Plan to Implement UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights of December, 2016, should be translated into legally binding regulations with liability provisions attached for trans-national corporations. Those regulations would protect the rights of people who work in production facilities and subcontractor firms abroad.
What can Germany change by acting alone? Doesn’t this require an international approach?
Yes, commitments on the issue of the causes of displacement should always be coordinated with international efforts. Germany is a very important initiator in these matters. When an economically powerful country like Federal Republic shows how determined and committed it is to respect the Geneva Refugee Convention, achieve the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations, create global compacts for migration and refugees, and resolutely protect the climate, that acts as a model and incentive for other countries to follow suit.
Since 2012 pastor Dr. h.c. Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel is president of Brot für die Welt and of Aid for Victims of Catastrophes under the aegis of the Protestant charitable institution Diakonie.
FES-contact: Felix Braunsdorf, Migration and Development