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Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the 28th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council

03.03.2015

-- Translation of advance text --

Mr President,
High Commissioner,
Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour for me to speak to you today. And I also feel a need to do so, as the tasks ahead of us are colossal.

We are confronted with a multitude of international crises and conflicts that is unprecedented in the recent past.

The world seems to be out of joint.

And this is by no means an abstract finding. Like all the problems this Council deals with, it too involves human lives and human suffering.

People in Syria, Iraq, Central Africa, as well as nearby in Ukraine ‑ to name just a few of the places where war and conflicts are raging ‑ are experiencing untold suffering.

In each of these conflicts, the most basic human right is being violated countless times: the right to life and physical integrity.

And with the violation of this basic right, other essential rights are being breached in ways that are difficult to even say out aloud. People are being tortured; families are being displaced; and women and girls in particular are being abused, enslaved, trafficked and killed.

This means that we cannot talk about the global human rights situation without mentioning these key trouble spots in world politics. It also means that we must never forget that our work for human rights is inextricably linked with our work for peace and security.

We cannot have human rights without peace and conflict resolution.

***

But the reverse also holds true: peace can never be assured without respect for human rights!

Disregard for and violations of human rights are not only the consequences of conflicts ‑ they are the cause of conflicts. Situations where human rights are systematically undermined are fertile ground for social and political crises ‑ and in such situations, conflict is virtually inevitable. This is why the Human Rights Council is called upon to investigate and respond to these situations.

If the right to a fair trial is denied, if there is arbitrary detention or torture, we cannot expect people to simply resign themselves to this state of affairs! If the right to freedom of expression is curtailed and the debate on the future of a society is stifled, we cannot expect people to feel in good hands in their communities or to strengthen these communities. Instead, there is a growing risk that marginalisation and repression will find another outlet, and that dissent and protest will take a radical turn. In this sense, standing up for human rights is a very practical and very direct means of preventing conflicts. And in this sense, our work for peace and stability can never be complete unless we systematically recognise human rights violations and intervene at an early stage.

Authoritarian regimes like to stress the need for stability ‑ at times also at the cost of human rights.

I regard this as a fallacy. In a dynamic world, stability does not come about by force. Instead, societies can only be stable in such a world if they ‑ and their political systems ‑ are able to constantly adapt and to develop freely and peacefully. By definition, a society that does not provide space for this type of development is built on shaky ground.

***

Given the mutual dependency of peace, security and human rights, I believe that we need to continue strengthening the links between these pillars of the UN system and with the relevant institutions outside the UN.

The Human Rights Council does not operate in isolation. Some of the issues debated here are also relevant to the Security Council in New York and to the International Criminal Court. I very much welcome the efforts by the High Commissioner and the President of the Human Rights Council to intensify exchange with the other parts of the UN system. This is also part of the imperative of the responsibility to protect ‑ a responsibility that we must comprehensively meet.

***

The current international crises are taking on new and frightening forms. Armed, non‑state groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram are trampling on even the most basic human rights. They are massacring entire villages, raping, and taking and killing hostages. What we are seeing there is nothing less than the return of barbarity.

There is no question that the barbaric acts committed by these non‑state actors require unequivocal responses. We must use all available means in the fight against these groups. But to dry up their support for good, we also have to critically examine how, at the start of the 21st century, such medieval thinking could gain ground in the first place. We need to ask ourselves why young people who grew up in the midst of our own societies are in thrall to those who preach hatred and barbarity. We need to address the fundamental causes of extremism, and we need to reassert the standards of human rights and international law laid down by the community of states during the last century, also in these times of non‑state movements, cultural and ideological poles, digital realities and global interconnectedness.

***

But there is hope. For me personally, this hope is embodied in the countless courageous people who stand up for human rights all over the world. I meet many of them during my travels. They often act against the mainstream, facing opposition or even physical repression, and at risk to their freedom and life.

Even if some people cannot accept or do not want to accept this fact ‑ these individuals are vital for the future of their societies.

However, human rights defenders do not only deserve our respect ‑ they also deserve our full support. We note with great concern the tendency in some countries across the globe to limit the space for civil society and to restrict the activities of non‑governmental organisations. I call upon the Human Rights Council not to let this happen here, and to stand up for the rights of citizens all over the world to fully participate in public discourse. I would like to thank the President of the Human Rights Council, my fellow countryman Ambassador Rücker, for recalling the firm place civil society has at this Council. I support his willingness to follow up any reports of reprisals against people who appear or wish to appear before this Council.

Two brave human rights defenders were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year: Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai. They fully deserve this award because to promote human rights is to promote peace. In a world out of joint, we must never lose sight of that dual hope.

Thank you very much.

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