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Statement by the German Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, Günter Nooke at the Human Rights Council in Geneva

10.12.2007

On the occasion of the beginning of the year of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Right

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Mr. President,

It is a great honour for me to speak today on behalf of the German government before this Council.  I wish to fully align myself with the statement made by the distinguished Ambassador of Portugal in the name of the European Union.

Today we mark the beginning of a year long celebration commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which gives us the opportunity to emphasize once again our full commitment to the implementation of the universal principles laid down in the Declaration. The Universal Declaration was a milestone in the development of the idea of human rights and remains the cornerstone of the international human rights architecture today.

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." The first article of the Declaration should be the guiding principle for all our action as responsible governments serving for the well-being of all our citizens. Human rights are not an abstract concept, but an essential and tangible component of dignified human life – far from being fulfilled in the lives of far too many men, women and children around the world. It is through the existence – or non-existence – of human rights that we may put trust in a country’s political and judical system, because respect for human rights is the yardstick for the development of a peaceful and stable society.

"All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated." This formula, reaffirmed in the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993, retains its key importance. I sincerely regret that there is a tendency within some parts of the international community to roll back the principle of universality and to make the enjoyment of fundamental rights dependent upon factors such as tradition, culture, religion or the level of development. No tradition, no culture, no religion gives anyone the right to suppress peaceful demonstrations by force, let alone to shoot at people expressing their legitimate aspirations for freedom and civil rights.

Today, as we start celebrating the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the greatest documents of all times, we here, present in the Human Rights Council, a body set up to protect and promote all human rights worldwide – we should today stand up against such attempts and send out from here a clear signal that the universality of human rights – just as their indivisiblity, interdependence and interrelatedness – will remain untouchable. This, of course, does not relieve us from our obligation to further develop both human rights and human rights standards. The recent adoption, in the 3rd Committee of the General Assembly, of a resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty, adopted by the majority of UN member states, is a shining example of such development in the service of human rights.

All of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration are universal and fundamental. Freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of religion, but also the right to food and the right to education are fundamental human rights.

On an occasion like today, we should also mention those people and organisations which – very often under the most difficult circumstances – defend human rights on a local, national or international level. These brave people and their invaluable work deserve our highest respect and support. They remind us governments that it is the fate of the people and not mere national interests that should be the driving force of our human rights policy.

As to this Council itself, and after a difficult institution building process, it has the chance to prove from now on, very fittingly at the moment of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that it can fulfill its vocation to be the world’s main human rights body, being able to effectively address serious human rights violations in a timely manner whenever and wherever they occur.

Finally, Mr. President, I would like to encourage all of us to not only recall what has been achieved since 1948, but to contribute to the accomplishment of what has been promised in 1948.

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