Speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs Ben Knapen at the Max van der Stoel Award Ceremony at the Peace Palace, 19 November 2021

Your Excellencies,

Family members of Max van der Stoel,

Ladies and gentlemen,

In the autumn of his life, Max van der Stoel was asked to serve as the first OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities.

The role and mandate of this institution had been left intentionally vague.

He had no clear idea how his work might help resolve conflict, or improve the lives of national minorities.

But he did it anyway.

In his personal diaries, he wrote that being High Commissioner reminded him of some lines by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado:

“Traveller, there is no path,

The path is made by walking…

Beat by beat, verse by verse…”

How fitting that today we are presenting the award that carries his name to Pavee Point: an organisation that has made a path for Travellers and Roma in Ireland – beat by beat, verse by verse.

A path that needed to be made.

Because when Travellers or Roma move, they often find that barriers have been put up, or that laws have made moving to certain places illegal, that their children are shunned in school or that they themselves can only find work by concealing their cultural identity.

Pavee Point was started by people who witnessed all of this, and refused to accept it.

People who saw the devastating effects of discrimination and exclusion on Traveller and Roma communities, who believed that society could do better and who set out on the long road to actually improving it.

People like Martin Collins – who has been with Pavee Point from the beginning – and Anastasia Crickley, who has long served as its chairperson.

I am pleased to say that both of them are here with us today.

The work done by Pavee Point has been foundational.

Starting small, you created a professional organisation with a wide range of volunteers, and broad networks throughout the Traveller and Roma communities in Ireland. You identified challenges faced by these communities, and pioneered health, wellbeing and social-justice programmes. And you fought ceaselessly to give Travellers and Roma a voice at tables where they would otherwise have remained voiceless. To make sure they are heard in the halls of power, and seen in the courts of law.

For more than thirty years, Pavee Point has done all of these things, and with remarkable results.

In 2017 Ireland recognised Travellers as a distinct ethnic group; an act which acknowledged and valued their culture and identity, and conferred the status of a protected group in Irish equality legislation. A major step on the road to acceptance and equality, and an achievement that would have been appreciated by Max van der Stoel.

Throughout his life, Van der Stoel was guided by his deep-seated respect for human rights, and the notion that democracy and international institutions are the best methods for fighting injustice.

He was one of my predecessors as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and an example in more ways than one. He was later called ‘the quiet diplomat’, because he preferred being effective to being in the limelight. But he was anything but quiet when it came to the causes he stood for.

He spoke out against injustice: thoughtfully and effectively.

He was the first foreign minister to place human rights front and centre in Dutch foreign policy – a priority which I’m proud to say we have upheld ever since. Because we as a country believe, like Max van der Stoel did, that human dignity is universal, that human rights are universal – and that we have a duty to help protect and advance them.

To paraphrase one of his speeches, they are not just decorations we put on policy, they are the policy. Because ignoring injustices will eventually lead to discharges of tensions, which could sweep away stability, anywhere in the world.

That is why we believe everyone is entitled to rights and dignity, no matter if they’re different, vulnerable or disagree with their governments.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Over the course of the last two years, we have all had at least some experience of what it is like to have our movements restricted, and our opportunities limited.

Even this ceremony is symbolic in that regard.

As 2021 draws to a close, we are celebrating the winner of the 2020 award. An organisation that fights for the rights of groups whose culture and identity are built around movement and an unrestricted life. Something that we can all appreciate, perhaps now more than ever before.

I want to commend Pavee Point on the excellent work it has been doing for over three decades.

Where there was no path, you have made one by walking.

Today’s award is well-deserved. Your work is an example to us all, and I’m proud that we can honour Max van der Stoel’s memory by celebrating your achievements.

Now it is my pleasure to invite the representatives of Pavee Point, Anastasia Crickley and Martin Collins, to join me on stage to receive the Award Certificate.