Address by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the opening event of the Elisabeth Selbert Initiative

18.06.2020 - Speech

(Video conference)

The images we have been seeing since the death of George Floyd are actually quite unusual under the current circumstances: huge crowds of people on the streets. Hundreds of thousands of them, all over the world. In Europe, Australia, America. Despite the global pandemic.

Many of them have been wearing face masks, but unfortunately social distancing was mostly impossible. With their important protests at this time, the demonstrators showed in a particularly drastic way that it is a matter of life and death.

After all, racism kills, not only in the US, but all around the world.

In many countries in the world, an engagement for equality and against discrimination, but also for human rights in general, was life-threatening even before corona.

But the pandemic seems to be increasing even further the problem of “shrinking spaces” in authoritarian regimes. They are calling it “crisis management” and restricting civil freedoms – disproportionately and indefinitely.

In Hong Kong, Moscow, São Paulo. In Istanbul, Tehran, Budapest. Human rights defenders are coming under pressure across the world. Precisely now, in the face of the threat of restrictions on civil freedoms worldwide, we will not leave them on their own.

Because the commitment to human rights is a cornerstone of our foreign policy.

We support the work of human rights defenders

politically, as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva and the Security Council in New York, where we have made human rights one of our priorities.

Similarly, during our Presidency of the Council of the EU, which starts in July, we want to work to ensure that human rights form the foundation for all political activity in Europe, despite coronavirus.

We also support human rights defenders

financially. The Federal Foreign Office funds over 100 human rights projects throughout the world: from the West African Human Rights Defenders Network to projects designed to protect human rights defenders in hard-to-reach areas.

And today we are taking a key step in expanding our engagement: with the Elisabeth Selbert Initiative, we are launching a new programme to support human rights defenders who are in acute danger simply because they are doing their job.

They are being offered a safe haven in a host organisation, either in a country in their home region or here in Germany.

We already run initiatives under our cultural relations and education policy that do exactly the same for culture workers and researchers. But lawyers, journalists or trade unionists weren’t specifically covered.

Today we are closing that gap.

To help implement this Initiative, we have got ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) on board.

My sincere thanks go to ifa, and especially to its President, Professor Raulff.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There is one thing we need above all if we are to breathe life into this Initiative – and that’s you!

Many of you represent organisations which already run their own protection programmes.

Many of you work in other ways to protect human rights, but also those who defend them.

We need you – as advisers for our Initiative, as supporters, and as host organisations for the human rights defenders around the world who are seeking refuge.

Let us seize this opportunity and work together to protect human rights!

Ladies and gentlemen,

Despite their face masks, the demonstrators last weekend revealed themselves. They revealed their opposition to racism and intolerance. They revealed their opposition to human rights being violated day in, day out.

It takes courageous women and men to defend human rights. It is up to us to do everything we possibly can to protect them.

I hope you enjoy good discussions today. Thank you very much for taking part!


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