Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council

27.02.2023 - Speech

“I didn’t have a chance to stop it. I couldn’t hide the children, I couldn’t take them anywhere else.”

That is what Volodymyr Sahajdak told reporters. He runs a children’s home on the outskirts of Kherson. But on the 3rd of March last year, Russian troops entered his city.

They took away 15 children – the youngest was 9 years old.

These 15 are among countless Ukrainian children that Russia has reportedly abducted during its war of aggression against Ukraine.

What could be more abhorrent than to take children out of their homes, away from their friends, their loved ones? Children who need adults to take care of them – not to destroy their lives.

We will not rest until every single child is home. Because children’s rights are human rights. And human rights are universal.

A life is a life, regardless of origin, race, gender, sexual orientation or belief. This is why we will speak out in this Council whenever human rights are violated – whether in the East, the West, the North or the South.

“I didn’t have a chance to stop it” – these words of Volodymyr Sahajdak hurt.

Because the bitter truth is: There is no quick and easy way to end or prevent these or other crimes. But that does not mean we should give in or give up. On the contrary.

What we must do, as international partners, is to speak up for the victims. Each of them has a name. Just like each of the 15 children from Kherson has a name, and a life.

We have to say their names and uphold their rights. And we have to call out the perpetrators.

This is why it is crucial for this Council to prolong the Mandate of the Commission of Inquiry and to empower it to investigate the cases – each and every single case – of the children abducted from Ukraine. Because impunity prevents justice.

It hurts to see that our power to protect the victims is limited. We can also see these limits very clearly with regard to the situation in Iran.

But we have not folded thrown up our hands in resignation. In November, this Council voted in favour of setting up a Fact Finding Mission to document the human rights violations in Iran – the brutal suppression of protesters, the deaths of hundreds of women, men and children.

I met so many courageous human rights activists who told me after our vote: “This gives us hope that the world has not forgotten us.”

I can assure you in Iran: We will not forget you. We stand with you every single day.

We call upon the authorities in Iran to grant the Fact Finding Mission access to the country, to stop the violent crackdown on the peaceful protests, and to refrain from imposing and carrying out the death penalty.

No one in the 21st century should be able to trample on human rights without facing consequences. And I am glad that today the High Commissioner has especially pointed out the need to promote women’s rights. Because women’s rights are not only human rights. Women’s rights are also an indicator of the state of justice in a society.

That is especially true in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have forced women and girls out of all areas of public life: out of universities and high schools, and even parks. These women are surviving. But what kind of a life are you then living – being forced to spend every hour, every minute, at home?

What we are witnessing are the most brutal and systematic violations of human rights one can imagine – in Afghanistan with regard to women.

And these actions must have consequences. That is why, in the European Union, we pushed for tough sanctions against those in the Taliban regime who are responsible for these blatant violations of women’s rights.

And we should not forget that these measures add to the hardship and the suffering that we are already seeing in Afghanistan. There are 26 million Afghans in need of help. But if women are not allowed to work, especially in the humanitarian field, many women and girls are cut off from aid, because they are not permitted to receive aid from men outside their families.

Therefore, we will make sure to continue to help all Afghans who need water, who need food, who need medicine. And at the same time, we will not become the “willing helpers” of those who fundamentally breach women’s rights by excluding them from work.

That is why it was so important that we as an international community took a clear and united stance on our international aid programmes – making it clear that humanitarian work depends on women being part of it. Because otherwise, women and children won’t be reached.

We know that our efforts will not change the brutal violations of Afghan women’s rights in a heartbeat.

But it matters. It matters to every single woman who is not allowed to go outside, it matters to every single child who wants to go to school, to every single person who needs water and food.

Ladies and gentlemen,

“I didn’t have a chance to stop it.”

Unfortunately, these words by the director of the children’s home in Kherson are not only true for the children in Ukraine.  

They are also true for the women in Iran and in Afghanistan – and for far too many people across the globe.

But it is worth trying, for every single one of them.

Because if you save one life, you save the entire world.

That is what this Council is all about.


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