Speech by Minister Rosenthal presenting the Human Rights Defenders Tulip

Speech by Uri Rosenthal, Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the presentation of the Human Rights Defenders Tulip to Bertha Oliva, 10 December 2010

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to welcome you all to this ceremony. I am delighted to have the opportunity to address you this afternoon. This is the third time the Human Rights Defenders Tulip has been awarded. The ceremony is being held on the 10th of December: International Human Rights Day, the day when the importance of human rights is emphasised around the world.

The Dutch government created the Human Rights Defenders Tulip to support human rights defenders and highlight their work. For countless people, defenders are a symbol of hope in dark times. Their fine efforts should not go unnoticed, and their exceptional courage should be rewarded. That is what we are doing today.

I am very pleased that the two previous winners – Justine Masika from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Shadi Sadr from Iran – are here today. You received the Tulip from my predecessor, Maxime Verhagen, who founded the award. Maxime, I am happy that you too could be with us today. I would also like to welcome the other foreign guests, a group of fifteen human rights defenders who are in the Netherlands for a seminar. Your presence makes this event all the more special.

Ms Oliva, you deserve a special world of welcome. I’ll be presenting you with the award very shortly. As the chair of the jury has just said, you were selected from 174 nominees from over 80 countries. It is a good thing that so many people have the courage to defend human rights – but a sad irony that so many are needed.

Ms Oliva, you are receiving the award for your outstanding work on enforced disappearances in Honduras, your native country.

It began with the disappearance of your own husband, almost 30 years ago. Your son has never seen his father. What you have suffered strikes me as almost unbearable; it must have had an immense impact on both your lives. But you found the strength to fight back. You turned powerlessness into action. Together with other women who were living in uncertainty after the disappearance of their husbands, you set up the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras. Your aim was to find out what had happened to the 184 people who disappeared in Honduras between 1980 and 1989. Your Committee has enjoyed successes: the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has held the state responsible for some of the disappearances. Your work has helped to strengthen awareness of the problem in Honduras. It has led to a programme for the victims of human rights violations, including disappearances.

You gradually broadened your focus to human rights in general. With five other organisations you recently formed the Honduran Human Rights Platform. The Dutch government is awarding you the Human Rights Defenders Tulip for your struggle to clear up the disappearances, for your efforts to obtain justice for the victims, and for your untiring commitment to human rights.

As Ms Dresselhuys has already said, we are not doing this because we are ‘do-gooders’. We are doing it as a tribute to all human rights defenders worldwide. Today you are a symbol of all the nominees, and of those who were not nominated. Your work, their work, is vital, and that is what we want to highlight with this award.

Our commitment extends beyond this award, and beyond today. We know that the Tulip allowed Justine Masika to continue her work for rape victims in Congo. Thanks to the award, she now enjoys greater protection. We know that Shadi Sadr used the award to launch a project to end sexual torture in Iranian prisons. The Dutch government wants to continue supporting human rights defenders who expose gross human rights violations and defend fundamental freedoms. There are limits that must not be crossed. Ms Sadr, we are now urging the European Union to follow the example of the United States, and ban travel to Europe by those guilty of serious human rights violations in Iran. More and more of our European colleagues are supporting our call.

Ultimately, we are all better off in a world where human rights are respected and the rule of law is upheld. Upholding human rights not only has an intrinsic value; it also has a clear practical value. Human rights help to foster peace and security and open the way to greater prosperity. This is in the interests of us all. So values and interests are not in conflict: they go hand in hand.

Ms Oliva,

I am presenting you with this award for your important work in opposing enforced disappearances in Honduras. Work that is deserving of the highest admiration. You have shown extraordinary courage. I wish everyone who suffers from repression the freedom for which you have fought so hard.

Please come forward to receive the award.