Introducing the European Human Rights Ambassadors: A Joint Blog

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There is no doubt that COVID-19 has turned our world upside down. It has brought to the fore – and exacerbated – different forms of inequality. This is especially true amongst high-risk and vulnerable groups. Children and young people have been denied their education. Violence against women and LGBTI persons has increased. Democracy and the rule of law have been undermined in some countries.

Human rights matter. They matter whether we are in a pandemic or not. Human rights are the foundations for sustainable growth, peace and security, and fair and open societies – not an afterthought or something that can be ignored when things get tough.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes it clear that we have an obligation to ensure respect for, and the observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. But this isn’t enough. We know that the existence of international treaties and resolutions will not necessarily stop countries, groups or individuals from abusing or violating these rights.

A growing trend

Back in the 1980s, Sweden was the first country in Europe to appoint a Human Rights Ambassador. They started a growing trend. Today, nine European countries have dedicated positions: Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

These appointments signal our countries’ strong collective commitment to protecting and promoting international human rights obligations. It also demonstrates that our governments recognise the need to mainstream human rights into broader foreign policy objectives.

Our exact priorities may differ but what unites us is a shared personal and professional passion for human rights. We meet often as a group and issue regular joint statements via social media, because joining forces puts us in a stronger position to stand up against human rights violations and abuses, and better enables us to protect the most vulnerable in society.

Our pledge

We pledge to use our collective voice to:

  1. Raise human rights concerns during the pandemic. We will continue to highlight issues of particular concern including shrinking civil society space; combating rising levels of racism and xenophobia; and highlighting the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on minorities, LGBTI persons, journalists, activists, as well as women and girls.
     
  2. Work with and strengthen the multilateral system. We are committed to strengthening the multilateral system so that it can better protect and promote human rights – forums such as the UN Human Rights Council are essential in upholding established global norms and international legal responsibilities.
     
  3. Reach all corners of the globe. Through our visits to and engagement with different parts of the world, we want to encourage dialogue and exchange best practice. We recognise that all countries are different and some may need capacity building support.
     
  4. Ensure no one is left behind. We engage directly with civil society, victims of human rights violations and abuses, businesses, academia, experts and young people around the world to hear first-hand testimonies. We want to share these stories.
     
  5. Protect Human Rights Defenders, even when it is difficult to do so. They have a powerful and unique role but also expose themselves to danger because of the work that they do. We will continue to celebrate their courage and protect them as far as we can.

Together our voices are louder. We will continue to speak out.

Get to know us

“It is a privilege to be the first UK Human Rights Ambassador. I will continue to champion human rights around the world and through the Human Rights Council. Whilst my focus is on UK priorities – such as promoting media freedom and advancing girls’ education - I am proud to stand alongside a growing number of European counterparts on our shared agenda.” -  Rita French, UK Ambassador for Human Rights

“Ensuring dignity and fair treatment for everyone is the starting and end point of our foreign policy goals. Ever since helping to lay the foundation of UN Women in New York in 2010, working to eliminate violence against women has been in my particular focus.”- Minna-Liina Lind, Estonia’s Ambassador at Large for Human Rights

“Promoting human rights is core to Germany’s foreign policy. My job is to support and amplify that goal. I see my role as a bridge: a bridge between civil society and the foreign ministry, between government and the parliament, since I am also a member of the Bundestag.” - Dr. Bärbel Kofler, Germany’s Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance

“Human rights are for everyone, regardless of who you are, where you’re from, what you do and what you believe in. I’ve always had a passion for human rights. In 2020 I acted as a Gender Equality Champion for the Media4Women campaign. I strongly believe in an inclusive and diverse media landscape.” – Bahia Tahzib-Lie, the Netherlands’ Human Rights Ambassador

“Human rights, democracy and the rule of law go hand in hand. They are essential for one another and are fundamental for peaceful and inclusive societies. Together they form a whole in Swedish foreign policy.” – Annika Ben David, Sweden’s Ambassador for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law 

“For me, Human Rights means both freedoms and justice. We shall advocate equality and non-discrimination. As the Chair of the Freedom Online Coalition in 2021 Finland promotes free, open and secure Internet for all.” – Rauno Merisaari, Finland´s Ambassador for Human Rights and Democracy

“The respect for human rights and our strive for sustainable development that leaves no one behind, are inextricably linked. I am proud of Luxembourg’s commitment to an ambitious human rights agenda, in a strong multilateral setting, with the United Nations at its centre.” – Marc Bichler, Luxembourg’s Ambassador-at-Large for Human Rights

*France and Spain also have Human Rights Ambassadors – new appointees will be confirmed in due course.