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Udenrigsministerens tale ved FN's Menneskerettighedsråd

FN's Menneskerettighedsråd 19. samling den 29. februar 2012

Thank you, Madame President,

It is my privilege to take the floor at the 19th session of the Human Rights Council on behalf of the European Union. As such I am acting at the request of the High

Representative, Cathy Ashton. 

Dag Hammarskjöld once said: “Never for the sake of peace and quiet deny your own experience or convictions”.

These words were as significant as ever in 2011, a year in which citizens stood up for their rights, and demanded “freedom from fear and freedom from want,” the shorthand of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

When we met last year, the focus of our attention was on the Arab Spring. In a number of cases throughout the past year, the Human Rights Council has demonstrated its capacity to react to urgent human rights violations.
We pay tribute to the important democratic changes and progress on human rights in several Arab countries.  Such progress proves that multilateral institutions matter. But as serious concerns still remain in some situations, we should not be satisfied. The Human Rights Council cannot afford to be silent.  It needs to speak up and act when confronted with serious violations of human rights.

Madame President,
This is certainly the case with Syria, which remains at the centre of the world’s attention, and whose government continues to ignore international calls to stop the widespread and systematic violation of human rights. The EU welcomes the urgent debate of the Human Rights Council and its expected outcome, the first meeting of the Group of Friends of the Syrian people last week as well as the resolution on Syria adopted by an overwhelming majority of the UN General Assembly on 16 February and co-sponsored by all EU Member States. The human rights situation in Syria must stay high on the agenda of this session, and the Human Rights Council should preserve a strong, effective capacity to monitor the situation.

The Human Rights Council cannot ignore the appeals of those men and women who dedicate their lives to defending and upholding human rights worldwide. The peaceful protests that have been held in many places over the past year in the name of human rights have been driven by strong civil society organisations and free media. In particular, we have all been struck as to how women are increasingly engaged in every aspect of society, from running civil society groups to standing as candidates for election.

In 2011 the Human Rights Council stressed that peaceful protests should not be viewed as a threat and reaffirmed that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are essential elements of a democracy. It also stressed that free and unhindered contact and cooperation with individuals and civil society are crucial to enable the UN and human rights bodies to fulfil their mandates. Against these clear statements by the international community, the growing tendency by some States to unduly restrict the work of civil society organisations and human rights defenders shows up more clearly than ever as unacceptable.

Of particular concern are the operations aimed at limiting freedom of expression on the internet, which we see in several countries. One such case is Iran, where the systematic harassment and persecution of journalists and internet bloggers is in clear contradiction of the human rights obligations that the country has adhered to.

Madame President,
The EU has welcomed the political reforms undertaken by the Government and Parliament in Burma/Myanmar, together with its commitment to economic and social development. These actions represent essential steps towards establishing a democratic state under the rule of law. At the same time, serious challenges remain.  They must be addressed to improve the human rights situation in the country and deepen its transition to democracy.  This Council with the continued support of the Special Rapporteur will need to continue following the situation there closely.

Accountability for past violations must remain high on the Council’s agenda. Impunity for human rights violations is an unsolvable debt, which, if unaddressed, is transmitted through generations. No country, no society can afford this. This is true in the case of Sri Lanka, where accountability must be an essential part of any process of national reconciliation. We believe that the Human Rights Council should encourage the authorities to fully implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, and to engage with the UN on the Report of the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts.

Today, I also wish to reaffirm the commitment of the European Union to the entitlement of all people, wherever they are, to enjoy the full range of human rights – and to do so without discrimination.  The EU therefore, looks forward to continuing to work with partners to reaffirm this Council’s collective response to acts of discrimination, intolerance and violence against persons belonging to religious minorities. Freedom of Religion or Belief is a universal human right that needs to be ensured for everyone everywhere.

Another type of discrimination relates to gender identity and sexual orientation, which continue to be used as a reason for serious human rights violations, often involving extreme forms of violence.  We have a collective responsibility to bring such violations to an end.

Madame President,
In a turbulent year for the United Nations, the Council played a key role in placing human rights at the heart of UN action, but more still needs to be done, including through technical assistance and sharing best practices. The EU calls for renewed discussions on possible ways to implement the recommendations stemming from the Universal Periodic Review [UPR], as well as those from Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures.

In conclusion, the EU stands ready to engage and cooperate with countries from all regions of the world to strengthen the role of the Human Rights Council. I wish a good session to you, Madame President, to your staff and to all delegations.  Let us all strive to make the outcomes of this session impact directly on the empowerment of our people, and the sustainable development of our States and nations.

I thank you, Madame President.