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Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the German Bundestag debate on the 14th Human Rights Report of the Federal Government

17.12.2020 - Speech

Human rights protection has seen setbacks around the world during the past years. Conflicts, forced migration, repression, sexual violence and discrimination are the causes. In some parts of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has also been used as a pretext to impose yet greater restrictions on human rights. It is thus all the more important for us to view the protection of human rights as a key priority in all policy fields, including foreign policy.

This pertains firstly to the creation of a truly European human rights policy. I am therefore extremely glad that just a few days ago, during the final weeks of our German Presidency, we achieved a breakthrough on the EU sanctions regime for human rights violations. It is high time we ensured that perpetrators responsible for serious human rights violations are not free to shop to their hearts’ desire on the high streets of Europe and park their money in the European Union. We have put an end to that. We have created an instrument we can use against such people. That is a positive sign for the European Union.

Esteemed colleagues, when China cracked down on the democracy movement in Hong Kong this summer, we Europeans responded in a concerted, coordinated manner – as proposed by Germany and France – for example by introducing targeted export restrictions and suspending our extradition agreement with Hong Kong. That, too, was right and necessary.

The sanctions imposed on Lukashenko and others responsible for the human rights violations in Belarus also send a clear message. We are in the process of adopting the third package of sanctions in Brussels, and will probably complete that today.

As Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, a role we took over a few days ago, we will also do all we can to advance a European human rights policy.

We will campaign for better implementation of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. We will, for example, call on Turkey to immediately release Osman Kavala and other political prisoners, in line with the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights.

We will also address the more everyday challenges to human rights in Europe, too, such as protecting people from hatred and incitement on the internet and supporting minorities such as the Roma.

The second point, esteemed colleagues, concerns human rights protection worldwide. As a member of the UN Security Council for the past two years, we have repeatedly sought to put human rights violations on the Security Council agenda. We have also campaigned for perpetrators around the world to be held to account. German courts and prosecutors are global trailblazers in this field. I will also use the visit by Secretary-General António Guterres to Berlin today and tomorrow to discuss with him how we can further intensify this work at UN level.

The third and last point, esteemed colleagues, concerns the people who courageously defend human rights around the globe. They, too, need our protection.

When I am travelling abroad, I am often asked about our programme “Parlamentarier schützen Parlamentarier” (parliamentarians protect parliamentarians). Through this programme, many of you, the honoured members of this House, make a vital and sometimes life-saving contribution to our human rights policy in a spirit of solidarity. It reflects well on all of us when the Federal Government highlights this issue within the scope of its competences and in its various functions. The steps taken as a result of this programme have saved many people’s lives in difficult situations, and they are immensely grateful to you all.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Federal Government now also has its own instrument to remove human rights defenders from the line of fire, at least temporarily – the Elisabeth Selbert Initiative, which it launched this year. The first applications for safe residence in Germany have already been received. The first human rights defender will thus soon be able to travel to Germany. She is in danger because she campaigned for the rights of former child soldiers in her home country.

Esteemed colleagues, the 14th Human Rights Report draws attention to such situations – to the big issues and to the many small places worldwide where human rights are violated every day. As long as that is the case, we must continue to fight for their protection.

Thank you very much.

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