How are rights and obligations connected?

German democracy

Horst Poetzsch

To person

Until 1992, the historian and political scientist Horst Pötzsch was head of the "Political Education in School" department of the Federal Agency for Political Education.

The fundamental rights protect the freedom of every individual. They are laid down in Articles 1 to 19 of the Basic Law - but also in judgments of the Constitutional Court or in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Street of Human Rights in Nuremberg: the short version of one of the 30 articles of the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights is engraved on each element of the installation. Photo: Dierk Schaefer License: cc by-nc-sa / 2.0 / de

article 1

(1) Human dignity is inviolable. It is the duty of all state authorities to respect and protect them.

The first article of the Basic Law begins with this solemn declaration. The basic rights have been placed at the top of the Basic Law in Articles 1 to 19. The high priority that the constitutional givers attached to fundamental rights is explained by the experiences of the Weimar Republic and the time of the National Socialist regime. The Weimar Constitution also contained a catalog of basic rights, but they were not enforceable and could be overridden by emergency ordinances. An emergency ordinance, the ordinance of the Reich President "for the protection of the people and the state", introduced the arbitrary National Socialist rule, and the humiliation of people began.


Defense rights and basis of the order of values

Many see fundamental rights as something that is taken for granted and that hardly affects their personal sphere. As historical experience shows, they are by no means guaranteed, and they influence the everyday life of the individual and the coexistence of everyone in the state and society. Fundamental rights protect the individual's freedom from attacks by public authority, they are the citizens' rights to defend themselves against the state. At the same time they are the basis of the value system of the Federal Republic of Germany, they belong to the core of the free democratic basic order of the Basic Law.

Human and civil rights

A distinction must be made between general human rights, which everyone is entitled to, and civil rights, which only apply to nationals.

Human rights are supranational rights, they are part of human nature, they are natural, innate rights. This includes most of the rights of freedom or fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of the person, freedom of expression, freedom of belief. Civil rights are, for example, the right to freedom of association and association and freedom of movement. In the Basic Law, human rights begin with the words: "Everyone has the right ...", while civil rights say: "All Germans have the right ..."

Freedom, equality and inviolability rights

Another division differentiates between freedom rights, such as the right to freedom of expression, equality rights, for example the right to equality before the law and equal rights for men and women, and inviolability rights or rights of defense, such as inviolability of the home, freedom of movement, letters, mail and telecommunications secrecy.

In addition to the catalog of fundamental rights in Articles 1 to 19, the Basic Law also contains other fundamental rights:
  • Art. 20 Para. 4: Right of Resistance,
  • Art. 33: Equal access to public offices,
  • Art. 38: Right to vote,
  • Art. 101, 103 and 104: Basic judicial rights.
In Germany, data protection is not yet explicitly anchored in the Basic Law. In many constitutions of the countries, however, the right to the protection of personal data is included.

With the census ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court of 1983, the "right to informational self-determination" was enshrined early on. The Federal Data Protection Act of 1990 subsequently contributed to "protecting individuals from having their personal rights impaired by handling their personal data" (Paragraph 1). With two further rulings in 2008 (February 27 and March 11), the Federal Constitutional Court significantly strengthened the right to informational self-determination and even created a new basic right to protect digital communication.