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Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the German Protestant Kirchentag in Dortmund 

23.06.2019 - Speech

Wherever I go, I am constantly greeted with the comment: “The Federal Foreign Minister is our guest today. We’ll be dealing with serious issues now.” And I notice how it grows quiet, people’s expressions become sober, because a lot of what is going on in the world at the moment does indeed seem to be very difficult. But in spite of all that, I want to tell you that I am a very optimistic person. I was recently in Tehran, I was in Baghdad, I was in Amman, I was in Abu Dhabi. I’m frequently on the phone to Washington. And I’m still an optimistic person. And I’m not going to let anyone in these cities or others rob me of that optimism! Nonetheless, when you are in the party I belong to, it is sometimes a good thing to meet a crowd of happy, optimistic people at the Kirchentag.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Last year I was asked in a totally different context to choose my favourite passage from the Bible for a book.

I settled on Psalm 34, verses 13 and 14:

“Keep your tongue from evil,
And your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil and do good; 
Seek peace and pursue it.”

Of course, many of you will be familiar with those words; they feature the watchword for 2019. But I chose that passage for another reason: the advice expressed in this Psalm is actually the job description of a good foreign minister. And around the world you can encounter quite a few who haven’t yet read that passage.

That’s why I would like you to accompany me mentally on some of my most recent journeys in the pursuit of this peace.

Let’s start to the south-west of Bogotá, somewhere in the green valleys of the Colombian Andes. A couple of weeks ago, I visited a reintegration camp there for former FARC rebels – men and women whose day-to-day lives consisted of decades of fighting, fleeing and violence – until approximately three years ago.

Female combatants were not allowed to have children because the camps had to be disbanded every two days and set up again so that the rebels wouldn’t be found.

And that’s why one hut in the camp left a particularly deep impression on me and was an especially poignant symbol of peace: the kindergarten. The camp was full of children, most of them under the age of three.

Peace has brought about a real baby boom among the FARC combatants in Colombia.

Ladies and gentlemen,
The kindergarten is also such a clear symbol of peace for another reason: the women who work there, who look after the children, are the women who used to be responsible in the FARC for kidnapping rich people’s children – to force them to pay a ransom, as that was one way in which the FARC funded its activities.
Now these women are running a kindergarten. They look after the children. And just imagine the picture that confronts you there.

Yet it is anything but a miracle   that would be too simplistic. It is a phenomenon that can be experienced all over the world: where women assume responsibility, villages and communities can come together. Societies can heal. That is a message I want to share with you today.

Women make an impact wherever we try to put their engagement on an international footing, as in the United Nations. Far too little use is made of this potential. There are not nearly enough female peacekeepers. We know that where women have been involved in peace negotiations, the goal of long-term peace has been achieved much more frequently. Because the injuries inflicted on women as a result of war cannot simply be healed by a peace agreement.


Ladies and gentlemen,
When I look at Denis Mukwege, I think of another stage on the journey in the pursuit of peace.

That was not so long ago in New York, in the United Nations Security Council. And you have already heard that we adopted a resolution on combating sexual violence in conflicts at the end of April. Finally. After long struggles. It was proposed by Germany.

We negotiated for weeks. Incidentally, we negotiated things where we didn’t even understand why there was any need for negotiation. Because they seemed so self-evident to us.

About bringing perpetrators to justice more resolutely. Or about the call to, at long last, give survivors of sexual violence the help and support they deserve.

In the end we were successful. In the resolution we were able to enshrine the stipulation that perpetrators be brought to justice to a greater extent. Not least through targeted sanctions. But also because, together with Nadia Murad and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, we intend to fight to ensure that those who use rape as a systematic means of warfare can in future be tried by the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Because that is where they belong. At the moment these are just words, and words need to be followed up with deeds.

But first, we need to focus on according greater prominence to the rights and needs of mothers and their children born as a result of rape. In many countries and cultures, that is no easy task. And we will broaden the focus to include boys and men who can and have also become victims of sexual violence. This aspect is often much more difficult to talk about in certain countries.

Our commitment to promoting the participation of women in peace processes and protecting them from sexual violence is not only a question of gender equality. It is a question of peace and security. Sexual violence does not just violate women and men, girls and boys on a massive scale. It also destroys families, communities and entire societies. We need to do something to combat this. We cannot stand idly by.

Denis, you know more than anyone what I’m talking about. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where you encourage and help women of all ages, people speak of the objectification of women. We need to counter this.

And this struggle is not getting any easier, as we sensed in the Security Council. Because many of our proposals met with opposition not only from those quarters where we expected it, the Russians and Chinese, but also from our American friends. And at the end we, Denis Mukwege, Nadia Murad and Amal Clooney, were sitting together and I asked them: “Is the content of this resolution adequate? Will it help you? Is it enough to facilitate and improve your work?” And they said that it was. And ultimately we did adopt it. That is the second message I want to share with you here today. We owe our success to the work of those who were involved in New York. But also to numerous NGOs, to progressive governments, to experts who supported us. We need these kinds of new alliances.

We need civil society, because we are now living in a world in which populists and nationalists are on the advance.

And we also need the church. Christians have a special responsibility, and many are already embracing this responsibility in many places.

They can establish secure spaces for victims of sexual violence in their churches and give survivors a voice.
They can provide help with healing psychological and physical wounds.
They can oppose those who condone violence in the name of religion.

This is a battle in which we need to engage together. And I would be glad to have the churches alongside us in this undertaking.


Ladies and gentlemen,
Since I’m here today, I can’t avoid raising another issue. For everything I’m talking about we need courage and more unity to take a stand against those who would like to turn the clocks back many years. Who want to reduce women to the role of devoted mothers. I’m referring to those who, here in our country, but also in many other places in Europe, stir up hatred against minorities.

There are 12,000 potentially violent right-wing extremists in our country, 450 of whom have had warrants issued for their arrest. Any democracy, our democracy, needs to take a stand against these people, too!

And I want to share my own story with you to emphasise how important that is. This is something that now really concerns me. I was born in south-western Germany in 1966. Everything that makes my life attractive and good was already in place. Peace – I have never had any experience of war. But in the meantime I have witnessed war on my travels, and it is more terrible than anything else I have seen in the course of my life. It doesn’t just destroy buildings, it doesn’t just destroy lives, it robs people of their courage and hope. And some of their faith. Most people living here in our country have no experience of anything else, that things can be different. Democracy, freedom, the rule of law have all been in place for a long time, they have always been constants in my life. And I realise that even in my generation it is all too easy to take these things for granted. They have always been there, and will always be there. But that’s not the case. You just need to look at the world. It’s enough just to look at Europe. The time of taking things for granted is over. Democracy, freedom, human rights – we are allowed to appreciate them, we should appreciate them. But sometimes we also need to defend them. And in my opinion, we are living in times in which it would be appropriate not only to embody all these values, but also to defend them.

Victor Klemperer once said, “Words are like tiny doses of arsenic: they are swallowed unnoticed without appearing to have any effect, but after a while their poison begins to work after all.”

The death of Walter Lübcke is a tragic example of this.

Ladies and gentlemen, that is why the democrats and motivators need to stand up against the hatemongers and fearmongers.

We are the democrats and motivators! Who, if not us? We are in the majority, and this is our country. And we must never and will never hand it over to the hate-filled enemies of freedom.

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