Speech by Minister Bruins Slot at the Human Rights Tulip award ceremony

Speech by Hanke Bruins Slot, Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the Human Rights Tulip award ceremony in the Peace Palace, The Hague on 14 December 2023.

Enlarge image Minister Bruins Slot en Hülya Gülbahar
Minister of Foreign Affairs Hanke Bruins Slot awarded the Human Rights Tulip 2023 to Hülya Gülbahar.

Good afternoon everyone,

I’d like to extend a very warm welcome to the finalists of the Human Rights Tulip Award. And of course to the students from het Christelijk Gymnasium in Utrecht. It’s a pleasure to see you here, on this symbolic occasion, the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And in such a symbolic venue, too. The Great Hall of Justice. Because the need for justice is what binds us. It’s what we all seek.

The 30th of November was a dark day for human rights. It was the day the Russian Supreme Court labeled the international LGBTQI+ movement as ‘extremist’, criminalising all its activities in Russia.

This saddened me deeply: As a strong believer in democracy, in justice, and equality. And as a human being, fearful of a future that will be less fair, less equal, and less safe.

Oddly, on this day, when the crumbling of human rights and progress was so painfully visible, I also experienced a profound moment of optimism. In Skopje, where I met three courageous Russian human rights defenders. Their story was not one of fear, but one of courage and empowerment.

Despite repression, despite harassment, despite intimidation, they are still there. They are still standing strong. And they are still doing their important work.

One of them – I will call him Victor rather than using his real name – told me how he is trying to raise awareness of the horrific and inhumane treatment of people in prison. Including Russians who refuse to fight. Despite increasing constraints, he continues to find new ways to carry out his work. And thanks to his efforts, victims sometimes achieve justice.

Victor’s story gives me hope. It’s because of people like him that the flame of human rights still burns brightly, 75 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed.

The 30th of November is just one dark day in a list of many. The 7th of October, the date of the horrific attack by Hamas, is another. And so are all the days that have unfolded since then. I recently visited Israel and the Palestinian territories. In Kfar Aza, a kibbutz, I saw evidence of the gruesome violence that had occurred there.

Once home to 700 people, the kibbutz is now deserted. But it was far from quiet. The sound of artillery from just across the Gaza border made it painfully clear that human suffering persists in this terrible conflict.

A conflict in which the highest price is being paid by the most innocent, and the most vulnerable: The children. But there are so many other victims too. 63 journalists, critical to ensuring independent information, are also confirmed dead.

Overall, the situation throughout the world is becoming more and more grim. Look at what’s happening in Darfur, and the violations being perpetrated there against women and girls. Look at the dire position of Iranian women, and of those who dare to speak out. And look at the killings of human rights defenders in 2023. More than 400 lives taken away… putting human rights at even greater risk. This applies most of all to the rights of indigenous human rights defenders. And our common right to live in a healthy environment.

And so, on the Declaration’s 75th anniversary, we must ask ourselves a difficult question: How do we defend our rights when those rights, and the methods we have relied on to protect them, are enormously under pressure, and crumbling beneath us?

Of course, the Netherlands remains strongly committed to promoting human rights, guided by the belief that where there’s a will, there’s a way. But to give a frank answer to this question: we can’t just go on as before, relying solely on trusted partners and hoping for progress.

We need to explore new avenues, like Victor is doing. First, by finding new partnerships. Broad, cross-regional coalitions, for example with the Czech Republic, Mexico, South Africa and the Maldives. We’re working with these partners to champion digital human rights and tackle new forms of repression, such as internet shutdowns.

But we also need to forge partnerships with individual countries. For example in Sri Lanka, where the Dutch embassy is partnering with the police and a local LGBTQI+ group. Together, we are training officers to foster a safe environment for everyone.

Second, I strongly believe that a meaningful dialogue on human rights starts with finding common ground. Something that is very much in evidence here today. While we might use different words to describe injustice, we all see it. We all feel it. And we all want to change it.

Yet I believe our cultural diversity can also help us to see each other’s blind spots. Defending human rights must involve listening. And reflection. In this respect, it is fitting that the Netherlands issued an apology last year for its role in the history of slavery.

And that my country acknowledged the lasting effects of this history on the present. Because universal human rights come with universal responsibilities.

And third, exploring new avenues means broadening our scope. Human rights thrive in democratic countries that care about the rule of law. The Netherlands wants to invest in promoting such a climate. For example, we are taking the lead in establishing the first set of global norms to combat online disinformation. This initiative aims to protect not only human rights, but also the international legal order, which can function properly only if online information is accurate and reliable.

Dear everyone,

Universal rights aren’t just owned collectively. They were created collectively. By people worldwide. Just look at the founders of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Pen-Chun Chang, who was Chinese, and Charles Malik, who was Lebanese, Eleanor Roosevelt, who was American.

And just think of the many others involved, such as Hansa Mehta, who was Indian, and who made the text gender-neutral, replacing ‘all men’ with ‘all people’.

Despite their different cultures and different perspectives, they found common ground. Thanks to them, the declaration was not only drafted and signed, but has also become a lasting success. A cornerstone. Almost literally in fact, as a copy of the declaration was deposited in the first building block of the UN headquarters in New York. But the declaration, which is the world’s most widely translated document, is also the cornerstone of more than 60 constitutions that refer to it.

With the world facing conflict, hunger, and a climate crisis, it would be easy to lose sight of human rights. Yet they are our most powerful tools to combat our problems. While the declaration is an important achievement, on its own it is just words. We must put those words into action. And that is something that you, the ten nominees for the Human Rights Tulip, know better than anyone.

Your work is truly invaluable. Your work is making a difference in the lives of many people. You are the powerful women and men who are keeping that declaration very much alive today. Not only by actively defending people’s rights, but also by inspiring others to do the same.

Before I hand over this beautiful tulip to its rightful owner, let me introduce the three finalists.

Claudelice dos Santos

I find it incredibly impressive how one person, a single mother of two young girls, has achieved so much. For the education on environmental rights. Raising awareness of Amazon conservation efforts. And providing a safe refuge for human rights defenders.

To protect the lives of all the people who need shelter. And doing that against the odds, and considering that your own brother and sister-in-law were murdered. I'm so impressed that you have endured the loss of your loved ones, and you're now saving lives yourself… Human rights fuelled by the strength of one individual’s determination.

Thank you so much.

Hülya Gülbahar

If there’s anyone who truly understands the value of partnership, it is Hülya Gülbahar. For over forty years, you have contributed to the women’s rights movement in Türkiye. Drawing on your robust legal expertise and on an influential network of people, mainly women, who refuse to be ignored.

You have achieved great success. You blocked an amnesty law for child abusers, and helped prevent children from being forced to leave school or to marry. With the support of 700 civil society organisations, you also safeguarded the position of civil rights in the Turkish constitution, and thereby protecting the rights of women and minorities.

And perhaps your greatest achievement is ensuring that the voices of those speaking up for human rights don’t fade into silence. With your knowledge, skill, and charisma, you mobilise women, men, and young people. Please give a warm round of applause to this powerful and extremely dedicated woman.

Julienne Baseke

The third nominee, Julienne Baseke, excels at empowering women.

For example, through your movement Rien sans les Femmes (‘Nothing Without Women'), you campaign against impunity, providing legal assistance to victims, amplifying the voices of rape survivors, and elevating women’s visibility and participation.

And that’s not all. You gathered 200,000 signatures for a petition in support of a legal amendment to boost women’s roles in politics. You have also given women a stronger voice in the media. And as the head of Femme au Fone, you're leading a communication network to alert women about potential dangers related to sexual violence.

You stand as a beacon for women’s rights. So thank you for these remarkable achievements!

Announcement winner

So you understand that is was extremely difficult to choose.

I won't keep you in suspense any longer. It’s time to announce the winner. Three individuals who are making a world of difference. Three beautiful examples of human strength and resilience.

The winner has made a clear impact in both her local community and society at large. She has served as a catalyst for mobilisation in so many organisations. And she has successfully fostered systemic change. Helping women. And inspiring so many people.

Hülya, I’m truly inspired too!