Speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the 55th session of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations

26.02.2024 - Speech

Sometimes, numbers can be devastating:

Every four minutes, a woman in Germany is assaulted by her husband, a partner or an ex-partner.

Worldwide, every single second, eight women are physically assaulted.

That’s now... – And now... – And now.

But we are not talking about numbers. We are talking about human beings.

Eight in a second. That’s not numbers. That’s always a mother, a daughter, a sister.

It could be anyone. It could be you. It could be me.

In this Council, we hail from all regions of the world.

But none of us, no country on the planet, has managed to completely eradicate gender-based violence.

If we want to change that, each of us needs to start at home – as my Brazilian colleague has pointed out so precisely.

Germany has just presented its human rights record to all of you in the Universal Periodic Review.

The 346 recommendations we have received from you address key issues, such as the proportion of women in our labour market, the significant gender pay gap in Germany, and the number of women’s shelters in my country.

We take those recommendations very seriously. Frankly speaking, I am grateful for them. Because they help us improve our own human rights situation. And sometimes it’s helpful to have a view from outside, to learn from one another.

We take those recommendations on board because we know human rights aren’t something we can pick and choose.

Human rights are neither something western nor eastern, southern or northern. Human rights are indivisible. Human rights are universal.

Here in Geneva. In my capital, Berlin.

As much as in Tel Aviv. Or in Rafah.

In its ruthless attack on Israel on 7 October, Hamas maimed and killed Israeli men, women, children, babies. Hamas specifically targeted Israeli women and girls, using sexual violence as a weapon.

Like any other country in the world, Israel has the right to defend itself.

Like any other country in the world, it must do so within the framework of international humanitarian law and human rights law. The Israeli government must abide by the ICJ’s order of 26 January.

The same order calls on the Hamas terrorists to finally release all the hostages.

To not abuse Palestinian civilians as human shields.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza is simply catastrophic.

Mothers – like us, like me – running from the fighting, dragging their crying kids behind them, in panic and despair. Orphaned children, wandering the ruins of their homes. Barefoot, hungry – alone.

I sometimes imagine these were my daughters.

We are working non-stop for a humanitarian pause, leading to a humanitarian ceasefire.

Civilians must be protected. More aid must get through to the people of Gaza.

That’s also what I have told our Israeli partners – in my five trips to the region since October. I did so again only a few days ago.

Because human rights are universal.

Because a life is a life.

In Tel Aviv. In Rafah.

And in a Russian penal colony known as “Polar Wolf”.

That’s where Alexei Navalny died a few days ago, at the hands of the Russian regime, before the eyes of the world.

But no-one can deny a people their rights forever.

Not in the Russian Far North. And not in Tehran.

And I want to be crystal clear to those who claim that calling out violations is an interference in internal affairs:

Human rights aren’t something western, northern, eastern or southern. They are universal.

They aren’t confined to compass points.

They are indivisible.

Because as Margot Friedländer, a 102-year-old Holocaust survivor, recently said: “There is no Christian blood, no Jewish blood, no Muslim blood. There’s only human blood.”

Human blood of human beings, not numbers.

Eight women in a second. That’s always a mother, a sister, a daughter. That’s always us.

None of us wants to be tortured, raped.

None of us wants to be arrested for showing our hair in public.

No woman, and, I would guess, no man.

Yet, in October of last year, in Iran, they went after Armita. A young woman who was brutalised for not wearing a hijab on the metro. She died after weeks in a coma.

They went after Zeynep. A schoolgirl who was arrested at a protest with her friends – and raped by a guard.

A schoolgirl. Like my daughter. Like your daughter.

These are just two people’s fates. Two lives.

But there are thousands whose fate we don’t know for sure.

In the autumn of 2022, brave Iranian women and men started the Woman – Life – Freedom protests. Thousands took to the streets. Thousands were arrested.

The Fact-Finding Mission established by this Council has investigated the repression, the violence, the crimes committed in Iran since the beginning of the protests.

It is collecting and preserving the evidence. It is giving the victims –women, girls – a voice.

This is why we are calling for your support to extend the mission’s mandate, so that it can finish its job.

Because that is the whole purpose of us gathering here, of this Human Rights Council:

For the international community to show that a life is a life.

An Iranian woman’s life is a life.

A Russian woman’s life is a life.

A Palestinian woman’s life is a life.

An Israeli woman’s life is a life.

A Chinese woman’s life is a life.

A South Sudanese woman’s life is a life.

A German woman’s life is a life.

Human rights are universal.



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