Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to the German Bundestag on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

05.12.2008 - Speech

Sixty years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, its worldwide implementation remains a key objective of Germany's foreign policy. Closing the gap between aspiration and reality was the most difficult task, said Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in the Bundestag.

-- Translation of advance text --

The adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sixty years ago was a signal of hope. It was a signal of hope for a world which lay in ruins following the Second World War and whose future was uncertain in the light of the Cold War.

We live in a different world today. Europe is politically united and peaceful as never before. What's more, many countries which were still under colonial rule in 1948, which were marked by poverty and underdevelopment, have leapt into the modern world. Particularly in Asia, hundreds of millions of people have gained a – largely modest – measure of prosperity. Today, knowledge is available at all times and almost everywhere. That doesn't guarantee protection of an individual's rights, but it does change societies. For even where censorship and oppression haven't disappeared, people are aware of their potential and complain that their rights are being denied. Mobility, information and political action are no longer the preserve of Europeans and North Americans. That's the change I'm referring to.

Not only the world's markets are growing closer together. The social fate of people is also merging. We are concerned about many problems which wouldn't have been on our radar screen sixty years ago. Regional crises are receiving global attention. And that's because we're aware that the risks know no boundaries nowadays and affect us all. The conclusion to be drawn from this is clear: globalization of the markets must be followed by political globalization – and this has to include the implementation of human rights. More than ever before, we are called upon to shape this second globalization.

The international institutions don't yet meet the demands of this task. That is particularly true as regards the newly established Human Rights Council. There are some hopeful signs. The resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council last Tuesday on eastern Congo shows that the Council is able to react quickly to new situations – in this case to the serious human rights violations in the Kivu conflict, which has broken out again.

We need basic rules which provide us with orientation as we work to create the global responsibility partnership. We need a normative compass. And universal human rights are such a compass.

They show us which direction to take. But it doesn't spare us the political effort of gradually moving closer to the goal of equal rights for everyone. Declaring our aspirations is not our most difficult task. Rather, closing the gap between aspiration and reality is the hard part.

Experience has shown us that civil rights are the hard currency of human rights. Democracy based on the rule of law is indispensable for ensuring that human rights are not just a principle but directly enforceable rights.

I therefore want to take this opportunity to remind you that five months after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the mothers and fathers of our Constitution placed protection of fundamental rights at the heart of government action. When we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Basic Law soon we should not only celebrate our history but also think of the present: we need strong governance to enforce equal rights for all.

Social division poses a threat to human rights. Civil liberties can only be enjoyed by everyone if they are accompanied by social participatory rights. That's our joint task in Europe. Europe must be more than a market. It must also be a social Europe in order to meet the expectations of its citizens.

Respect for every individual and protection of their inalienable rights – that is a key pillar of Germany's policy.

During the last ten years, we have worked together to better protect human rights in this country. We have strengthened the advocacy of human rights principles in Germany: with the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights, with the Institute for Human Rights and with the presentation of a national action plan for human rights.

We've have launched the Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union. And we supported the EU's Constitutional Treaty which contains the Charter. Even though we were unable to reach agreement in the EU: the Charter has preserved its significance. We stand by it. It formulates the political and social rights which have become part of Europe's identity.

Together with our partners in the EU, we are campaigning for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty. Let me turn to Uzbekistan in this connection. Of course, there is still so much to do there in the sphere of human rights. But some positive steps have been taken. I called personally for the abolition of the death penalty in Uzbekistan. It hasn't been carried out for two years and this year it was formally abolished. We have created benchmarks. For example, we successfully campaigned for the ICRC to be at long last allowed access to Uzbek prisons again. I ask for greater understanding for the EU's policy on Central Asia.

For the first time, the United Nations has called for a moratorium on executions. That is all down to Europe, which spoke with one strong voice.

Of course, we also have to step up the political pressure for the recognition and enforcement of women's and children's rights.

It's high time that Germany's reservation to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was dropped. I call upon everyone who has an opportunity to do so in the Bundesrat, the upper house of Parliament, to raise their voice. The 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a fitting occasion to take this step.

Thank you.

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