Speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands, Sigrid Kaag, to the Human Rights Council

Speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands, Sigrid Kaag, to the Human Rights Council, 26 February 2018

Ladies and gentlemen,

‘Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world’. These words are from the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They are just as true today as they were in 1948.

These words inspire the Dutch policies that seek to prevent conflict and address the root causes of instability, poverty and inequality. Stability and security are our top priorities. I is our firm conviction that respect for human rights is a sine qua non for achieving them. This is in line with the SDG-agenda. An open space for civil society, freedom of expression, religion and belief; these are all goals that cannot be achieved if we do not fully comply with fundamental human rights standards for all, including women and LGBTi.

Unfortunately, there are parts of the world where this conviction cannot be taken for granted. Human rights are in jeopardy. The values enshrined in the Universal Declaration are being called into question. Or more and more often, people are suggesting that there is a tension between economic progress and human rights, and that economic progress should be the priority.

But there is no such tension. Respect for human rights and the rule of law is not a luxury that countries can only afford once they have achieved economic success. Nor is there a pause button that can be pushed in times of economic hardship. On the contrary: respect for human rights is the foundation of stable and sustainable prosperity. In good times and bad. You cannot have one without the other. Not in the long run.

Courage and resolve on this issue are rewarded. Respect for human rights and the rule of law are prerequisites for stability. And it is stability that provides the favourable climate that attracts investors and entrepreneurs and enables sustainable development and economic growth. Respect for human rights and the rule of law are the best insurance against the escalating conflicts that we are witnessing today in too many parts of the world.

Countries that deny this, do so at their peril. The evidence is mounting that excluding groups on the basis of religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, social determinants or other factors is more than a breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As human rights are to be true universal there is no us or them. There is only us. To deny this, apart from moral considerations, is economic folly.

Let me cite some of that evidence. The World Bank Group has found that exclusion of the LGBTI community causes severe economic harm. Lost labour time, lost productivity, underinvestment in human capital and the inefficient allocation of human resources caused by discrimination in education and hiring, cost countries several percentage points of their GDP.

Studies by the World Bank and the International Center for Research on Women show that child marriage will cost developing countries trillions of dollars by 2030.

So as I said: not only is exclusion and neglect of human rights unjust, it is economically unwise.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dialogue in the Council helps broaden understanding for our values. But when fundamental human rights are at stake, we have to be able to call each other to account. As High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has set an excellent example. He has for years been a courageous, independent advocate of universal respect for human rights. The Netherlands greatly admires his work, and the good work done by OHCHR generally.

I would also like to highlight the outstanding work done in many fields by human rights activist Asma Jahangir, who died on the 11th of February. She was most recently special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and before that, on freedom of religion and belief. But in her own country she was also an example of an active participant of civil society. She showed how important the voice of civil society is. Shrinking its space to operate denying citizens to take part in shaping their own society and defend their fundamental rights.

The Human Rights Council has the essential task of promoting and protecting human rights worldwide. In that spirit, let us go in search of areas where we can collaborate. We should help each other, and learn from each other’s experience.

In recent years the Council has adopted major thematic and country-specific resolutions. The resolution on Yemen, which was adopted by consensus, sends a powerful message that violations of human rights and of the law of war will not go unpunished.

The road towards accountability and ending impunity is long, but we have travelled it with success in the past: the Yugoslavia tribunal and the Special Court for Sierra Leone are notable examples. The Netherlands trusts that the investigation will be able to proceed without hindrance throughout Yemen.

The unprecedented levels of violence we witness in Syria today are a reminder that we need to continue on this road towards accountability. We cannot let the sheer disregard of human life by parties to the conflict, erode the hard-won rules-based international order and make it seem like a parallel universe. In general, these violations of international humanitarian law and human rights are a blunt attack on and sheer contempt for human dignity and can never be justified by efforts to combat terrorists and terrorism. Therefore, if we fail to prevent these violations and protect the civilians, we should hold the perpetrators to account, because, in the end, justice should prevail.

Communication between Geneva and New York needs to be strengthened. The Human Rights Council has a lot of information, much of which is relevant to the work of the General Assembly and the Security Council. Major reports by special rapporteurs and international investigative bodies mandated by the Council should come before other international forums more often. As a member of the UN Security Council, the Netherlands sees it as its task to ensure more frequent discussion of these reports in the Council.

The Council is doing good work – but after 12 years, there is still room for improvement. It is almost a victim of its own success. It adopts too many resolutions on too many issues, so that it has trouble tackling the most important ones. The Netherlands believes that the Council’s work is important, so we will join forces with others to spur on and facilitate the discussion in Geneva on ways of making it stronger.

In conclusion, in the period from 2020 to 2022, the Netherlands would like to uphold the undiminished significance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by participating in the world’s most important human rights body. We therefore ask for your support for our candidacy for membership of the Human Rights Council.

Thank you.