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[Luxembourg 2005 Presidency of the Council of the European Union]
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Speech by Jean Asselborn before the Human Rights Commission in Geneva

Date of Speech : 14-03-2005

Place : Geneva, Palais des Nations

Speaker : Jean Asselborn

Policy area : General Affairs and External Relations

Mr President,

High Commissioner for Human Rights,

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me, Mr President, to congratulate you on your election to the Presidency of the 61st Human Rights Commission and to express my hopes for your role. In the important and delicate task before you, you will be able to count on the unconditional commitment of the European Union for the Human Rights Commission. It is in the name of the European Union that I have the honour of addressing the Commission.

May I, Mr President, also welcome our High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Louise Arbour, in her new functions. Her diplomatic skill, perseverance and broad experience will be useful in our joint efforts towards a world that has more respect for human beings. That a woman is once again assuming the post of High Commissioner for Human Rights leads me to mention the importance the European Union places on the equality of sexes and women’s rights. I know that Ms Arbour is attentive and sensitive to this point.

Mr President,

Each day we measure how far we are from the full application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the world and in all of our societies. By making respect for human rights a basic value incorporated into our founding documents, the European Union is applying to itself the same criteria that guides its external actions and its dialogue with Third Countries.

Respect for personal freedoms will never become a definitive acquis in any of our countries. Arbitrariness, absolutism and human degradation are not on the path to extinction. They can resurge in the most peaceful and just of our societies if there is a crisis or a threat, or insidiously if we relax in the face of the curse of violations of the most basic rights. The European Union is perfectly aware of its own imperfections and the risks of xenophobia, racism and intolerance that threaten our European societies. In concert with our partners in the Council of Europe, the European Union has an effective and binding legal framework for ensuring respect for human rights. I can assure you of our unfailing political determination to persevere on this path.

The realisation of universal and individual human rights is the responsibility of each one of us, but it is also our common responsibility to the people we will represent, in their diversity and in their community of ideas. Through the numerous thematic initiatives grouped by country we submit to the Human Rights Commission, the European Union assumes this responsibility which is not easy to exercise.

Because human rights are a common value of humanity, the European Union makes it a duty to examine on an individual level the situation in all States in the world to make an objective assessment, to warn without prejudging, and to deter those who are tempted not to respect human rights. Sometimes, worrying situations allow no other choice than to call attention to the worst violations. But the European Union will never lose sight of the fact that critical and discreet dialogue can be a powerful encouragement to persevere on the path to greater respect for human rights.

In the interest of the objectives which we are pursuing and which we share with the Commission, we are guided by concern for dynamic effectiveness:

• if, in a specific case, our criticism – open and direct today – reveals violations or serves to dissuade, our approach tomorrow could give priority to dialogue, always critical but discreet and encouraging;

• on the other hand, our recourse to dialogue, encouragement and to discretion should never be viewed as relaxing our attention or abandoning the option of an open review.

Mr President,

As with any human undertaking, the actions of this Commission could also be perfected. The European Union is committed to active participation in the reflection launched by the report of the High-Level Panel to fully value the potential of the Commission. The idea of universalising the HRC or, in the long term, of establishing it as a human rights council is interesting. It deserves examination in the broader context of the reform of the United Nations. If we understand how to effectively promote and defend human rights, one of the principal objectives of the UN, we assure the High Commissioner of the necessary financial resources and that we advocate the High-Level Panel. As far as the idea of an annual report of the High Commissioner on the global human rights situation, the European Union sees this as a supplementary basis for the resolution by countries which also allows better follow-up on the implementation of the previous resolutions.

The European Union supports the ideas for a better integration of the aspect of human rights into the United Nations system, in particular into the deliberations of the Security Council. The report by the Panel implicitly recognises that violations of human rights are significant threat to peace and security. The European Union emphasises the importance of human rights in the activities of prevention and welcomes the adoption by the Panel of the principle of the responsibility to protect. Large-scale violations of human rights demand an active response by the international community.

Mr President,

The temptation to violate the rights of the weakest threatens us everywhere. This is more easily fuelled in crisis situations. The international community has imposed limits in the conduct of war. In case of conflict, non-belligerents should not find themselves in a lawless zone in which the civilian populations involved in the armed conflicts are left without protection.

Armed conflicts are not the only crises in which the imperatives of security risk being elevated to an absolute priority to the point of taking the place of individual freedoms.

The fight against terrorism, in which the international community has been engaged in over the past few years, demands a great deal of vigilance on our part. In its global dimension, the problem of terrorism is new. It affects all of us and it tests even those among us who believe we are safe from the temptation to violate human rights. The worst choice would be to want to avoid the debate. As despicable and unspeakable as the hideous crimes of terrorism may be, they do not justify the calling into question the rule of law and the Geneva Convention. Our societies based on the rule of law should not be reduced to wishing to fight evil with evil. We would lose the moral strength which invests us with the power to judge and punish those who commit acts of terrorism. The solutions that reconcile respect for human rights with the fight against terrorism can only come from a joint discussion that focuses objectively on the fundamental sources of terrorism. Addressing the causes of terrorism does not mean a lax or permissive approach. On the contrary, it is an essential contribution to the eradication of this phenomenon.

This context of terrorism allows me to emphasise the importance we attach to the absolute prohibition of all forms of torture. There must be no exception to our opposition to this form of abuse by one human being against another.

The most irremediable abuse of state power is the practice of legal execution. The European Union welcomes the global trend towards the abolition of the death penalty. This is a perfect illustration of the self-limitation of the sovereignty of the State in the face of individual rights. Our own experience in Europe teaches us that universally abandoning the death penalty can only be progressive. We exhort all countries to at least declare a moratorium, which would mark the first step towards its complete abolition, and to immediately abolish the execution of the mentally handicapped and of those who were minors at the time of their crimes.

I would also like to emphasise this other priority of the European Union, which is our support for the action of the International Criminal Court, an essential instrument for putting an end to impunity and for preventing crimes against humanity. Those who share our ideals in the area of human rights but who hesitate to fully accede to the International Criminal Court should recognise the ability of this permanent jurisdiction to dissuade. The European Union reiterates its appeal for the ratification of the Rome Statute and for full respect for its universality and its integrity.

Whoever the perpetrators or the victims may be, and whatever the circumstances may be, the violation of Human Rights is always an abuse of power against the weak. I would also like to mention before this Commission the efforts to be undertaken to protect the weakest of the weak, that is, children. Faced with multiple violations of the rights of children in daily situations such as armed conflicts, we cannot be content with our indignation. We must overcome our hesitation to act when it comes to the higher interests of children.

A well-established principle of the Declaration of the Vienna Action Plan is that all human rights are universal, inseparable, interdependent and inextricably related. From this fact, equal importance should also be given to the realisation of civil and political rights and to economic, social and cultural rights. Extreme poverty and humanitarian disasters can have catastrophic effects on stability and the enjoyment of certain essential rights. Aware of this fact, the European Union and its Member States together provide more than half of all international development aid. An effective strategy for reducing poverty should nevertheless also pass through democratic participation of the population for making decisions, the rule of law and respect for the rights of the individual.

In our fight for the respect for human rights, our governments are effectively aided by civil society and the press. Those who report on, observe and denounce abuse, sometimes at the risk of physical harm to themselves, deserve our respect and our support. Obstacles to their work are obstacles to respect for human rights. The European Union welcomes the role that NGOs play in the Human Rights Commission. We will maintain a follow-up dialogue with these organisations in order to improve even more the transparency of the activities of our Governments and of this Commission.

Mr President,

As universal values, human rights can bring both union and division. Beyond the passions and the often animated debates, few institutions other than this Commission could symbolise so well the common destiny of all humanity. I hope that its work will be guided by a spirit of humanism in the service of basic rights for each individual.

Thank you very much.

This page was last modified on : 15-03-2005

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