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Statement by Human Rights Commissioner Bärbel Kofler on Human Rights Day (10 December 2016)

09.12.2016

Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, issued the following statement today (9 December) to mark Human Rights Day on 10 December: 

After almost one year as Human Rights Commissioner, I would like to use the opportunity of Human Rights Day to flag up some of the priority areas that have been a constant topic in my talks with civil society and government officials in Germany and abroad.

The human rights situation has deteriorated. The space available to civil society to demand human rights is decreasing all over the world. When I criticise the fact that this space is shrinking, the counterargument is almost always that human rights take different forms and cannot be implemented in full and in the same way everywhere. However, I only ever hear this argument from governments, never from those affected. The latter invoke the universality of these rights, and I too repeatedly underline that human rights apply in full, everywhere and for everyone – they are not subject to borders.

This is one of the reasons why the German Government’s National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights (NAP) will list expectations regarding adherence to human rights due diligence that will apply to all German companies, irrespective of their size and main business activity. Work on the NAP text has been completed. It must now quickly be forwarded to the Cabinet so that the implementation phase can finally begin.

A further NAP of great importance to my work was updated this year and helps to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. No conflict can be permanently resolved if half the population is excluded from peace efforts. That is why UNSCR 1325 is a milestone, not only for the protection and inclusion of women, but also for international peace policy. We must continue working next year to include women to a greater extent in all phases of conflict prevention and conflict management.

We also endeavoured to foster human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout our OSCE Chairmanship this year. Our priorities were to enhance the freedom of the media, tackle discrimination, improve the rights of national minorities and promote the rule of law. The inclusion of civil society and the role of women in peace processes were further key issues for us.

As Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid I was repeatedly confronted with reports on targeted attacks on medical infrastructure this year, mainly in Syria, but also in Yemen. These attacks must stop. If it is not possible to end a war, then at the very least international humanitarian law must be upheld.

Along with human rights, international humanitarian law is a fundamental part of the international community’s framework of values.

I have many wishes for the new year. However, the following is not a wish, but rather a clear demand: the law of war must be upheld as a minimum level of humanity.

Background information: 

The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris on 10 December 1948. Two years later, the General Assembly decided to make 10 December Human Rights Day. 

Resolution 1325 was adopted by the United Nations Security Council on 31 October 2000. It reiterates the important role of women in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, peace talks, post‑conflict peacebuilding, peace missions, humanitarian aid and post‑conflict situations. It also calls for women to be involved and for gender aspects to be taken into account in all United Nations endeavours on behalf of peace and security. 

The aim of the German Government’s National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights is to enable all those involved to implement the UN guiding principles on business and human rights. 

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