Speech by Guido Westerwelle to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva

03.03.2010 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Mr President,


Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to speak to you here today.

The United Nations is at the heart of a global politics that is dedicated to cooperation. To secure peace and protect human rights, we need a strong and efficient United Nations. We need it for a policy that is committed to the well-being of mankind, a policy that recognizes mankind as a multitude of individuals. Man existed before there were states. Man does not exist for the state, but the state for man.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the relevant conventions call upon us to protect and promote universal and indivisible human rights. We must not avert our eyes. We must not remain silent about human rights violations. In this Council, we will continue to criticize states that do not live up to their human rights obligations.

Universally recognized values - such as the respect for human dignity - mark the line beyond which the principle of non-interference becomes one of shared responsibility. Heinrich Böll, the 1972 Nobel laureate in literature, admonished us that we have a duty to interfere when it comes to human rights.

The German government’s steadfast commitment to human rights is the lesson drawn from the darkest chapter of German history. That is why our constitution, Germany’s Basic Law, states at its very beginning that human dignity shall be inviolable, and that the German people acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights as the basis of every community, of peace and of justice in the world. We are committed to protecting fundamental rights within our country. We are championing the protection of human rights outside of our country.

Ladies and gentlemen,

German foreign policy is value-led and interest-based. Our commitment to human rights is in our vested interest. States that respect human rights and the rule of law are reliable partners for political and economic cooperation. Interests and values do not contradict one another, but stand for responsible foreign policy; this has long been a tradition in our country.

Our policy is not a policy of preaching. Rich and developed countries do not have a monopoly on safeguarding human rights. Our societies, too, must find answers to the questions that arise in a complex and globalized world. We must decide on the extent to which a state may collect and store data on its citizens. We must find reasonable ways to resolve the difficult tension between the freedom of our citizens and the security of our citizens. We must meet the new global challenges with regard to migrants. We will only live up to our role and standards if we accept that safeguarding human rights at home is every day a new task.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Those who dedicate their lives to the protection of human rights deserve our unconditional respect. These people often risk life and limb in their work. I thank and greatly respect the many courageous men and women who defend human rights.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,

The extent to which human rights are respected and protected serves as a yardstick for a society’s stability and sustainable development. Only by fully focussing on the individual can a policy of peace be pursued. Peaceful coexistence within a society and among peoples will only succeed if we recognize religious freedom and faith as an inseparable part of our identity. Every individual must be free to practice the faith he or she has accepted as his or her true belief. This applies to members of Christian minorities just as it does to members of any other religion. Every individual must be free to adopt a new faith. True religious freedom is always also the freedom to have no faith.

Economic, social and cultural rights are integral parts of a comprehensive human rights policy. Together with our Spanish partners, we have placed on the Council’s agenda every person’s right to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, which currently billions of people are denied. These efforts must continue. We need to include the private sector to make sure that the right to water becomes a reality for every man, woman, and child.

With regard to children’s rights in particular, we must do more than we have done in the past. We need a procedure for individual complaints concerning the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child. I call upon all states to work towards concluding a relevant optional protocol.

Mr President,

It is with increasing concern that my country has been following developments in Iran in recent months. This Council is not the place to discuss the Iranian nuclear programme. However, the Council certainly is the place where I will condemn human rights violations in Iran. This Council cannot and must not ignore the violent crackdown on demonstrations, the suppression of opinion, and the intolerable disregard for other fundamental human rights. The persecuted human rights defenders, journalists, women and trade unionists, members of religious minorities and many other ordinary citizens are merely asserting the rights they are guaranteed by the Iranian constitution. They demand that Iran meets the obligations it has accepted as legally binding under international agreements. They all should know that we stand firmly by their side.

A few days ago, the Iranian government made it clear here in Geneva that it does not intend to comply with international human rights standards. I deeply regret this development. Above all, since in its 31-year history, the Islamic Republic of Iran has had a much better record on protecting human rights. If Iran rejects international human rights standards and then seeks to become a member of the Human Rights Council, this is an affront to all the values on which the Council is based.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Human Rights Council is key to the protection of international human rights. Germany wants a strong, efficient and credible Council. What has been achieved must not be belittled, or be made contingent on different traditions or cultures. There is no room in this Council for ideological debates that aim to weaken the protection of human rights.

We must seize the opportunity offered by next year’s review of the Human Rights Council. The Council must more swiftly and consistently condemn adverse developments and heighten international public awareness. To fulfil its role as a guardian, the Council requires objective and comprehensive information. We should therefore think about enhancing the Universal Periodic Review. Appointing an independent expert for each country in the world would strengthen the Council’s credibility and efficiency. More than in the past, the Council can become a forum for cooperation, where the members mutually support each other through advice and by exchanging experiences.

To me, membership in the Council is a privilege. Only such countries should join the Council that are ready to fulfil objective minimum requirements.

Germany is prepared to contribute its own ideas to the reform of the Council. With a view to improving the work of the Council, all ideas must be welcome. Proposals will be assessed as to whether they help meet the Council’s objectives. We want dialogue in a spirit of partnership. You can rest assured that Germany will continue to be engaged for, and steadfastly committed to, the protection of human rights.

Thank you, Mr President.

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